Tag Archives: Camera settings

Tips for Better Smartphone Photography

This article contributed by Liz Pekler(Bio).

SmartPhone Photography is on an up-trend

Smartphone photography is the source of millions of images per day worldwide. It is not only an important aspect of social interaction, it is also a way to express yourself. Find out how to improve your shots and make the best of your smartphone photography.

Smartphone Photography is attracting more and more people. The number of images made on mobile devices exceeds the number taken on compact or DSLR cameras. Who could blame these keen users? Smartphones are easier to carry, cheaper to maintain, and are more user-friendly than the DSLR. And, with the constantly evolving smartphone camera apps and accessories, the future of smartphone photography seems assured. Indeed, smartphones and tablets are used in conventional photography too.

Is smartphone photography the new norm?

There’s no denying that DSLRs or mirrorless cameras are still the best types of cameras to have despite their larger size and weight. They have powerful sensors that offer the most megapixels. They allow complete user control over camera settings. However, more than that, they provide flexibility and freedom to use a range of accessories, like interchangeable lenses. The flexibility and control provided by a fully functioned DSLR can help you achieve the highest quality output.

Smartphone photography provides well for general image needs, like social media sharing and family records. Using mobile devices has become standard practice in recent years. Their hardware will need time to catch up on the quality and functions of more advanced cameras. However, there are many smartphone photography accessories available. These add-ons can enable your mobile device to get quite close to the high standard of DSLRs.

As long as smartphone manufacturers continue to develop higher specs and more powerful sensors smartphone photography will be likely to trend upward. However, no matter how good these mobile devices become, using the camera will require some user skill. The best photographs are not the product of the camera. They are a reflection of the vision and skill of the photographer – no matter what the device. Smartphone photography can be artistic, can be beautiful, can return great images.

You can get the best out of the built-in camera in your phones by practicing these helpful tips below:

Tips for Better Smartphone Photography

1. Pay Attention to the light levels

As with DSLRs, think, and make sure everything is good before touching the shutter button. Make sure the image is well-lit. One way to do so is to tap your subject on your phone’s display screen. In the smartphone camera on Auto mode, tapping on your subject will command the camera to focus on the area of the tap. Then the camera will make the exposure adjustment. That will ensure your subject is lit to its best advantage. The camera adjusts the overall image in proportion to the exposure. This shows the subject to its best advantage.

To manually adjust the scene’s brightness, swipe the ‘sun’ or ‘bulb icon’ after tapping on your subject. If you want to revert back to the default value, tapping anywhere on the screen of your smartphone usually does the trick.

Brightness changes are not the best way to lighten your scene. You can over-whiten highlights – leading to distracting white burnouts. Instead, try manually adjusting your ISO levels. Higher ISO means the sensor is more sensitive to light. A high ISO number gives a brighter scene in proportion to the ambient light in the rest of the picture. This helps you adjust your image to avoid burnt out highlights.

Raising the ISO has a penalty. High sensitivity to light levels can make your photos look grainy. It is called digital noise. Dimly lit areas brightened by higher ISO are especially likely to show noise if you boost the ISO too high. Practice with ISO a bit to get a feel for the way to use it.

The best way to avoid digital noise is to add light sources or work with natural light. Camera sensors work well with good light levels. So, think about how you can enhance the light rather than rely on high ISO, if you can.

2. Apply the Principles of Composition

Another thing to significantly improve your smartphone photography is to compose your image. This means taking photos to create a more visually appealing image. Try not to “shoot from the hip”. The quick snap often leads to poor shots.

It helps to keep these basic rules of composition in mind when taking photos:

  • The Rule of Thirds – Mentally divide the screen into a grid with 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines. Then, align your subject with any of the guide lines or intersecting points to achieve a more natural-looking and attractive image.
  • The Golden Ratio Smartphone Photography | External link - opens new tab/page – When you compose your photo, leave 1.6 bits of empty space for every 1 bit of occupied space to achieve a balanced image.
  • Leading Lines – Using lines in your composition will help influence viewing behavior, draw your audience’s eyes across an image or towards a subject, and adds motion and dynamism.
  • Three-Layer Image – Having a foreground, a subject in the middle, and a background adds a sense of depth and interest to your photo. See “River Scene” below.
  • Rule of odds – multiple subjects in an image are more attractive if they are an odd number. The most famous case is to have three of something, but five and seven are often used too.

Smartphone photo showing three compositional layers

:: River Scene ::
This smartphone photograph shows three compositional layers. Introducing clear layers into your image helps to bring out a three dimensional depth and structure. Try to use foreground, mid-ground and distance layers in your images.
(Taken on a Galaxy S6 – Android phone)
(Click here to view large)

There are many ways you can use composition to improve your images. There is a whole page of composition links for you learn more here: Composition resources on Photokonnexion

3. Move as Close to your Subject as Possible

When using a smartphone to take photos, opt to move closer to your subject instead of using its zoom feature. Smartphone camera lenses usually have fixed focal lengths so they can’t zoom optically. Instead, it zooms digitally, which visibly distorts, pixelates, and lowers the quality of your images when overdone. Alternatively, you can use a compatible lens attachment that offers optical zoom capabilities.

4. Use Natural Light

The built-in flash on smartphones can sometimes be unflattering as it can wash out your subjects and produce harsh shadows. Harsh shadows with sharp lines create an angular appearance. This is particularly unflattering on faces.

To produce the best results, go for natural lighting. Natural light has an attractive quality for our eyes. We are naturally tuned to it. If you really need a flash there are some good attachments. You can use an attachable pocket spotlight or ring flash. Better still, use a more diffused light. An attractive diffused light provides just enough light for your subjects and creates flattering soft light with shadows. Shadows from soft light helps to create depth – giving a three dimensional feeling in the image.

5. Use A Third-Party Camera App

Your smartphone’s dedicated camera app can get the job done. However, third party apps allow you to do more with your phone’s built-in camera. Some of them offer better exposure adjustments, manual focus and camera settings (like shutter speed and aperture), or even integrated photo editing features so you can touch up captured photos instantly. If your interest is in better smartphone photography then use better editing too. Work to ensure you can navigate within the app and help you optimize its features for better photos.

Also familiarize yourself with the menu, settings, and features of your chosen camera app. If you’re a beginner, spend time and effort on learning photography basics. Think particularly about the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Also, think about how they relate to each other to create the exposure. Do some reading of this blog or other photography sites. Watch a YouTube tutorial on manual camera settings. Help yourself to develop a rounded approach to understanding both exposure and how best to take photos. Smartphone photography is as good for producing images as a DSLR. That is only true, providing, you know your tools and how to use them to produce a great image.

6. Take Advantage of the HDR Mode

The HDR mode on your camera phone allows it to take multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures, and then blend them together to create an image that pleases the eye. HDR mode blends the shots to create deeper contrasts in the image. This is particularly useful when shooting landscapes or high contrast scenes where there are obviously uneven highlights and dark areas. However, it must be used sparingly, as it can leave your images looking odd and overly edited. Don’t overuse it – try to work the editor so that your eye sees reality in the results. Trust your eye.

As a safety measure, also leave HDR on Auto. Then, you can manually pick out a better photo from the bunch of shots that were initially taken, in case the HDR blend goes badly. Apply the final result afterwards.

7. Post-Process Your Images

Post-processing can never replace good photography techniques. The best images stand alone for their beautiful content. However, it is also helpful to have editing skills. You can work to enhance a great image, or to work for the overall improvement of your photos. Take out spots, noise, or other irritations. Clean the image up so you show the beauty without distractions.

Photo editing apps like Instagram, VSCO, and Snapseed can be very helpful in making basic photo adjustments that will give you your desired result. Their photo filters are also great for setting or altering the mood of your images.

However, keep your edits at a minimum – especially processing ‘filters’. Instead, strive to make naturally beautiful images. This way, you don’t have to make too many adjustments later. After all, viewers can tell when you “cheat” your way to a good-looking image. Over-editing lowers the quality of your photos.

8. Keep Your Lens Clean and unscratched

This is something that is often overlooked by smartphone owners. It may not seem to be such a big deal for a small camera. However, a lens having oil, dirt, and moisture on it can slowly damage the glass. Leaving the lens on a tabletop can lead to scratching and marking. These ultimately affect image quality. Make sure you wipe the lens before use and use a protector or case, especially when doing a lot of outdoor shoots.

Can smartphone photography ever replace the DSLR?

Not all smartphones are capable of the more complex camera functions. However, many of the models some models currently on the market already have capabilities that mimic those found in DSLRs. In fact, many of them already allow control over the important camera settings, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These controls are native to some of the phones without having to use a third-party camera app.

Some of the latest smartphones, like the brand new iPhone and the latest Google Pixel, have more powerful and versatile cameras with more megapixels and other advanced features. Optical image stabilization for sharper photos and smoother videos is appearing, for example. The LG G6, released earlier this year, has great built in features. It carries a wide-angle lens that covers a larger area and is ideal for capturing group shots, magnificent architecture, and stunning landscapes. Many smartphone cameras from other brands offer other impressive features too. These advances are appearing just a few years after we thought such innovations wouldn’t be possible.

Smartphone photography is progressing fast. In a few years time, smartphone cameras are going to become even more sophisticated. For now, it’s safe to say that smartphones are definitely catching up, but whether they will ever surpass the DSLR remains to be seen. One thing is sure, the smartphone camera and DSLR are converging on each other. Furthermore, emergent technologies could take us anywhere. Camera technology still has a long way to go. Enjoy the ride!

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Post contributed by :: Liz Pekler

I am a travel photographer with several years of experience in the field. Being a freelance blogger enables me to help photography beginners and enthusiasts to tell wonderful stories of their travels as seen through their lenses. It also allows me to share my thoughts about another advocacy of mine: social equality and change.
Connect with Liz Pekler: Linkedin :: Twitter: @liz_pekler

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The Exposure Triangle – An aid to thinking about exposure

The Exposure Triangle

• The Exposure Triangle •
Click the image to download an A4 *.pdf version to print.

Going manual with your DSLR.

For many people exploring manual settings is a challenge. There is a lot to learn. Without guidance it is difficult to work it out for yourself. Here is my approach to the subject.

Why the exposure triangle

The “Exposure Triangle” is a memory aid to help us balance light for a good exposure.

One thing you should remember. The exposure triangle is NOT a calculator. The aim is to help you get used to using the settings. The ‘Triangle’ loses its importance once you understand the settings. Instead you will see your visualisation of the shot as more important.

Beyond auto-settings

“Auto settings” in modern cameras are average types of shot. They are pre-set in the camera programming. Sports mode freezes the action; landscape mode gives deep focus in the shot; portrait mode promotes close focus and so on. The pre-sets make credible pictures but take creative decisions away from you. Controlling exposure gives you artistic control over our photos.

It’s all about control

Photographs capture light reflected from objects in the scene. Too much light – the object is over-bright, or worse, blown out (completely white). Too little light and the light does not excite the sensor enough. Thnthe object is dark, sombre, or worse – black. At the extremes we have blown out or black. In between are a whole range of capture intensities.

The trick is to balance the incoming light so the sensor can make the picture as we wish it to come out. the idea is to control the light in-camera to create optimal light conditions for the sensor.

Three essential elements

There are three critical elements that control the incoming light…

  • ISO: controls the sensitivity of the sensor and how we capture the light brightness. A sensitive sensor allows a shot in lower light conditions (example: ISO100). High sensitivity to light is referred to as High ISO (example: very high ISO = 3000). The penalty is the picture becomes noisy (Definition: Digital Noise) as the ISO gets higher. Noise affects the quality of the picture. The lower you keep the ISO, the better quality the final image will be.
  • Aperture: controls the amount of light allowed through the lens. It also controls the depth of field. As the aperture increase the amount of light entering the lens also increases. However, as the aperture gets bigger the lens loses the ability to focus at infinity. As the focus shortens part of the picture is not so clearly defined. Taking a photo at F4 means you might be able to focus on a face beautifully and with sufficient light. But you may not be able to discern any detail behind the head. The depth of field has been shortened by the wide aperture.
  • Shutter value or Time value: How long the sensor is exposed to light affects the amount of light you collect. Leave the shutter open too long and the shot is too bright, blowing out parts of the picture. Close the shutter too quickly – the result is underexposed. Long exposures tend to exaggerate movement introducing blur. Fast shutter speeds tend to freeze an object in place.
What is exposure?

There is no right or wrong for achieving the outcome we desire. But there is only ONE point at which the exposure (all three elements combined) is right for your picture. That is the one to make your photo come out the way you want. You must find the correct exposure balance for your visualisation of the picture using all three elements.

Exposure is the right balance of ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed which provides for your intended depth of field, movement blur, brightness and representation of the scene. It is a unique response to the sensor settings you think will make your shot come out right.

The Exposure Triangle is a concept to help you adjust the balance to get the exposure right. The key to using the exposure triangle is that the three elements of exposure: ISO, aperture and shutter speed, must always balance.

It teaches us to understand how the three exposure elements play off one-another. Shorten one arrow the others will need to accommodate by adjusting their length. You can increase one or both of the other elements to accommodate the change.

If you increase one element you will need to decrease one or both of the other elements to accommodate the change.

Full Manual Control

Our exposure settings aim to balance the three elements in the camera. This needs to be done on the ‘Manual’ setting or ‘M’ setting to get the desired result. To gain full creative control we must do two things…

  • First we must have a clear idea of what we are going to achieve for each shot. Do we want the water blurred in our stream or not? Do we want the final picture to look bright and breezy or dark and sombre? Do we want movement blur or sharp, frozen action… and so on. So look at the scene and determine what you want.
  • Secondly, on the basis of what we want we must adjust the camera settings to achieve the desired result.

How do we adjust the settings to get the optimal exposure? Simple. The camera light-meter indicates when exposure is optimal.

The DSLR light sensor is the key

Inside every DSLR is a digital sensor. It detects light intensity. If the light is correctly optimised it will be indicated on the exposure meter.

With the camera set to “M” look through the eye-viewer. At the bottom of the screen you will see a scale. There should be a needle above the scale. This is the indicator of the current exposure. The centre of the scale is the correct exposure level for most shots.

If the needle is off to the right the sensor is getting too much light. If it is off to the left there is insufficient light. The trick is to balance ISO, aperture and shutter speed so the needle is centred.

Your camera manual will show you how to change each of the three settings. There are normally three controls somewhere on the DSLR body to change each of them. Again, your camera manual should have a diagram of the readings in your viewer screen when you look through it. Check out that diagram. You will see the location of the settings on the screen that will change when you alter the controls.

A trick to get you started…

Put the camera on full automatic (the ‘green square’ setting). Take a shot like the one you want. Now look at the settings for that picture on your camera screen. Your camera manual will show you which setting you can look at on the screen. This gives you a guide to what your manual settings should be for this shot.

Now switch to ‘M’ or manual to vary the results. If you want movement blur then slow down the shutter speed (longer exposure, more light let in) and/or decrease the aperture (reduce incoming light) to keep the needle in place. One click of longer shutter speed needs one ‘f-stop’ less of aperture to keep the exposure optimal. But now you get the movement blur!

The aim here is to balance a change in one element by changing one or both of the other elements. In the process you try to keep the needle over the centre of the scale in your viewer. The centred needle tells you you have an optimal exposure that your sensor can use.


If you practice regularly with your camera on ‘M’ you will get control of your shots. Try to relate the settings to the type of results you get. Relate shutter speed to the resulting blur/sharpness. Similarly, relate depth of field to aperture size. Relate ISO to balancing light sensitivity to achieve the correct sensitivity for your intended exposure. Gaining experience with these attributes will help you remember settings to use in particular situations.

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
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