If you have been following my blog, you may have guessed by now, particularly when it comes to photography, that I believe creativity and skill win over equipment and technology.

In point of fact, we are living in a time where consumer photographic equipment and most entry level pro-photography equipment can compete almost side by side in terms of image output and quality.

Professionally and personally speaking, I own and use a wide array of photographic equipment, from digital point and shoot cameras to large format film cameras. I love each camera I own for its individual capabilities and features.

The cell phone camera can be used as a legitimate photographic tool. In truth, cell phone cameras have all but replaced point and shoot cameras due to their portability, ease of use, and nowadays, their image quality (both still and video capture). What I love about my cell phone camera is the immediacy with which I am able to edit and post my images online. Though, I print all my own images, the ease in uploading images from your cell phone to a print service is another strong point.

Nevertheless, there is one drawback or caveat to using your cell phone camera and that is the temptation to completely ignore the basic elements of “good” photography that we have previously been discussing. To be a better photographer you must first know the rules before breaking them and this applies to using your cell phone camera as well.

To that end here are a few ideas to help you maximize the full potential of your cell phone camera:

  1. RULE #1: It’s (STILL) all about the light.

Because your cell phone flash is pretty one directional, ridiculously bright, and at it’s best truly unflattering, leave the flash off. Always. I’m not kidding.

It’s best to shoot in the most natural light as possible when using your cell phone. If you are indoors, turn the lights on. If you are outdoors find a well-lit location.

You can move around, move your subject around, move the light around if you can and need to. The key is that YOU are the boss of the light not the other way around. The number one rule of photography is; It’s all about light!

  1. RULE #2: Use the power of the *APP*

Cell phone cameras employ the same technology as a point and shoot, film or DSLR camera with one crucial difference. The key critical important difference in a cell phone camera versus your point and shoot or DSLR is that the aperture is fixed. It cannot be changed. Your cell phone will likely employ a wide aperture such as f1.8 or f2.2 in order to maximize the amount of light coming through.

Your cell phone camera will shoot on full auto unless you choose to use a photo app like Shoot by ProCam (for IOS) or VSCO Cam (for IOS or Android). Now with the power of the *app* (cue the horns), you can turn your camera into a more useful tool by controlling the shutter speed, and even the ISO.

Shoot by ProCam is a pretty powerful little app. It allows you to shoot TIFF files, which is similar to shooting RAW files on a DSLR. It has an HDR function, a level, and histogram. Additionally, Shoot allows you to employ white balancing, auto exposure lock and auto focus compensation as well.

  1. RULE #3: Zoom with your feet.

The digital zoom on your cell phone camera, to put it unscientifically, sucks, therefore, zoom with your feet. If you want a better angle or if you want a closer view of that building, flower or whatever, best to simply get closer to your subject. On the flip side, if you need to you can shoot a wider angel shot and crop in during the postproduction phase.

  1. Rule #4: Push the Limits

Understand the limitations of your cell phone camera. Again, digital zoom and low light situations are two areas where your cell phone camera will not perform spectacularly. The reason that digital zoom does not function like a telephoto lens or a set of binoculars, rather, the digital zoom on your cell phone camera is extrapolating data to make the image look like what it thinks the image should look like. (That’s as sciency as I can make that explanation.)

Low light is problematic because of noise. The darker the scene is the more noise you will see in an image. Again, noise results from the sensor trying to make sense of data, changes and gradations of light and dark. Camera phone sensors are just not designed to be highly light sensitive (YET).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your digital zoom and/or a low light situation to your creative advantage.

  1. RULE #5: Think BEFORE you shoot!

That said, you need conceive the shot before you shoot it. We’re not talking hours of preplanning and storyboarding but a general idea is helpful. Did you want you subject to backlit? Do you want a grainy, grungy look or do you want an image that is bright and cheery? Do want a big ol’ glob of light coming through (otherwise know as lens flare)? This will inform some of your choices as you are shooting and show off your creative control!

  1. RULE #6: Make it Pretty!

There are two schools of thought in terms of post-production when using cell phones. One is to throw a filter on the image and poof, whalla! And the other is to edit as would on your desktop.

Personally, I think you can do either or depending on what you are trying to achieve. It goes to bolster the last point, and that is what are you trying to achieve. Also, it depends on the level of control you want over the post-production process.

For filters, Instagram, Hipstamatic, and Camera Awesome are favorite apps.

For editing on your phone and just a little bit more editorial control, there is Snapseed (for Android or IOS), iPhoto (for IOS), Photoshop Express (for Android or IOS).

I have used all three of these apps and I like Snapseed the best. It has a simple interface and it allows you to make general adjustments such as brightness, structure, contrast etc. But also allows you to make selective adjustments such as dodging and burning. (Lightening and darkening particular areas of a photograph respectively.) Snapseed also allows you to separate version of your original photo.

  1. RULE #7: Keep it Clean

Finally, and simply keep your camera lens clean. Our little fingers have all kinds of grime and crud on them not to mention that our phone is in our pocket and our purse jumbling around, so make sure the camera is clean. Use a soft cloth to wipe it gently.

I hope these tips have been helpful! There is certainly a bit more to be said and there are some finer technical aspects to shooting with your cell phone that could be pointed out. However, because there are so many phone models and variations, I thought it best to keep the tips general in nature.

One final point is that not every shot is going to be a masterful rendition of your creativity. The point is to know the instrument you are using and to push its capabilities to meet your needs!

I’ll be back again next month. I am not sure what I am going to write about yet! But please be sure to join me again!


Carpe Diem!


P.S. If you want to see some examples of my cell phone photography please visit my other blog or follow me on Instagram!

Exposure365 – this is 365 day photography project I am working. I am using cell phone, medium format and 35 mm film formats throughout the year. Possibly also some antiquarian processes.

vparthur2002 – Instagram feed.



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