With a little help from my cat.
This post was fully intended to be an eBook but I figured that I want as many of you to see it as possible, so... in the spirit of Christmas... here's a little gift from me to you.
It may be a bit long but it is packed with thoughts for you on your iPhone as a camera (or other phone - I just happen to have an iPhone). It's not all the tips I have but it is a start.
The best camera is...
A little muttering first.
It might surprise you to know that I take huge numbers of photos on my iPhone (thousands every year). I reckon for every ten "professional" photos that I take I've most likely got one image on my phone. I use it for taking notes. I use it for capturing memories. I use it for being playful. I use it to record my progress as a baker...
Mobile phones are easy to use. They're usually right by you. And the quality these days is pretty reasonable.
I've got a 16" (40cm in new money) square picture on my lounge wall taken on an iPhone 4.
I really got into my iPhone photography when I started a "365 project" determined to take one image every day and publish it on Instagram that year. It was a challenge but it stopped me and made me think. (If you want to see that you'll have to go to my personal "malthousemark" account and scroll down past my obsession with sourdough bread!
When I go to a party I don't take a big camera. Why would I want to process images when I'm having fun? I just take photos that appeal to me.
Taking photos on my iPhone doesn't mean I stop thinking like a photographer though.
My top tips to using your mobile camera (I mean phone).
I know that this Christmas you're going to want to record things and you'll have your phone at the ready. If all you ever do is point it at the subject and press the button on the screen the tips below might just help you to make better images this Christmas.
This lot isn't in any particular order.
Oh and whilst I mention kids a lot: if you don't have kids the tips are still valid. 😉
Get ready before you're ready
Photography is all about the light. I always look for where I'm wanting to take a photo and then get ready to take it.
Want to take a photo of the kids unwrapping presents?
Think about the light in the room. Where do you want them to be sat to use it best?
Once you know that: take some test photos and "get ready" before they are in the picture - or if they're already in the picture take some quick test images so you know what settings you want to use on your camera (more on settings in a moment).
By taking some test photos before you get the kids involved they won't get so bored with "being photographed" - face it, you don't like having your photo taken either, so why should they?
When I am taking photos at weddings I often take images of the back of my hand so I can see what the difference is with different settings.
Once you're ready - then you can take photos without thinking about the settings.
Turn off the flash!
You see that line of icons at the top of the phone's screen? They look like this.
In order they are:
- High Dynamic Range (don't worry what that means - HDR is just a way of seeing more stuff between the darkest and lightest bits of an image)
- Live images (which I'll ingore here)
- Self timer (which I touch on briefly)
- Effects (which I'll also ignore here)
That first one, if you tap it, is the settings for the flash. Note the line through it - that means I've turned it off. That's how I use it 95% or more of the time.
If you tap it the "flash settings" open.
You could have it on Auto (and let the camera decide) or have it turned always on or always off. For me - it's off!
Here's why, illustrated with two Christmas subjects.
A Christmas star - with taken with the flash turned on. And then with the flash turned off. A bauble with the flash on and the flash off.
Personally the lighting that drew me to make the images in the first place is better shown by the ones with the flash turned OFF. It was the muted star with reflections on the wooden surface in front of it, or the warm cozy feel of the bauble on the tree.
The images with the flash turned on are blitzed.
Occasionally I want the flash turned on, but it's unusual.
Turn the room lights on, or open the curtain a crack to let a shaft of light in. It's likely to look better than the flash.
So when do I use flash on my camera?
Here's one time - you're at a party, it's dark. BUT... don't have people look at the camera or they will have horrible demonic red eyes. And don't have anyone next to a wall or there will be horrible shadows. And don't have the close to the camera . Look at that bauble above, it is surrounded by darkness but has a huge white spot on it - not a good look if that were a person.
As I say, I avoid it nearly all the time.
Get your camera open FAST
No it's not Tinder, but if you press the little button on the right of your phone (or pick it up so you see the lock screen) just "swipe left" and the camera opens. Genius.
Shoot for the end result
I love Instagram for my personal stuff so I shoot lots as square images. If you want to post on Instagram go square (there's a row of options at the bottom of the camera screen). It saves editing the format later. Likewise if I want a panorama I don't want to crop an image I want to use the panorama settings and adjust them ready for the the image I am thinking of creating.
Tell your phone to keep the settings last used...
In your Settings>Camera there are two options to turn on:
- Grid (I'll come back to that)
- Preserve Settings which brings up another screen
By having your Preseve Settings "camera mode" turned on it will stay at square, or panorama or... whatever you want.
Focus and expose all on our own - don't let the camera do it for you!
Have you ever taken a photo and then thought - but the subject is not in focus! Or - but they're all black in the photo! ???
That's because the camera is doing its own thing.
Time to take control.
Here's another bauble. To focus where you want it (and tell the phone what you want exposed correctly) tap where you want to photograph. A little square says what it will try to focus on. To tell it how dark/bright you want the image... do you see that little "sun" below the square? You can press it and drag one way or the other and the whole image will get darker or lighter.
Personally I like Christmas tree images a little darker to make the lights "show up" a bit more. Here's our tree this year.
Generally you'll see I try to keep my images simple. I don't like too many distractions. Above I say about turning the "grid" on - compare my camera image with yours. See those two horizontal and vertical lines? They help me put my subject where I want it (often where the lines cross, but not always).
They also help if I'm taking a picture where I want something to be level or vertical (e.g. the horizon on a photo over the sea) because I can line up the line with the feature or use it to simply check that it is parallel with the feature.
Give the HDR setting a whirl
I honestly don't use the HDR setting much. I mention it above but really it's not one I use a lot... unless... let's say you're shooting in light that is very bright. In that situation things fall into deep shadows, or they are bright as bright can be. HDR will "even out" that, giving you more detail through the image. It can be useful also in a dark room where the subject has a light behind them (for example a light on a wall).
Try it if you're having problems.
Hands up for some support
Particularly in the low light of say a Christmas morning or at a party your camera will struggle.
Beware of shooting in low light or you'll get blurry photos.
Many folk hold their phone at arm's length, often with one arm. Tuck your elbows in. Bring the camera closer to you. Hold the camera with TWO hands. Be still whilst you take the photo.
If you're doing a group photo that has to include you then making a support out of even a loo roll and putting it on a table can work wonders compared to an arm's length "group selfie". That's when you use the self timer.
If you're shooting festive lights around town use a tree, or a post, or a table, or a railing or... well whatever you can... to support the camera whilst it takes the photo.
Walk - don't pinch
It's really tempting to zoom-in by "pinching-out" on the screen. That sort of zoom gets rid of information (pixels). Just walk closer if you can.
Don't shoot from behind
When the kids open presents get in front of them so you can see their glee (or not!!!) as they open the gifts.
Wipe your lens
That camera has been in your pocket/handbag/wherever gathering fluff and muck. Even if you just wipe your thumb over it before you take the photo that's going to make for a clearer image.
Lights, camera, ACTION!!!
If your kids are being lively, just hold the button down and the camera will take a "burst" of images.
Go into the "Photos" app later and delete the ones you don't need (but do remember to do that or your camera's storage will fill up fast).
Turn the volume UP.
Use your camera like an old fashioned camera. In case you didn't know it your volume up/down buttons can be used like an proper camera shutter. That means you don't have to try to press the screen with a thumb, you can just hold the camera (with two hands, remember) and squeeze the trigger more carefully.
Indeed you can use the volume up/down buttons on your earphones to take a photo.
Back-lit subjects don't suck.
Us photographers love back-light. We call it "contre jour". But if you're not careful it can wreck a photo.
First it can make the subject too dark. By now you know the answer to that - fix the exposure by tapping the subject and dragging the sunshine up to where it looks best.
It can also make things look "washed out" if there is flare.
Here's an example using my cat.
The first picture is shot towards the light. There is a window behind her. It is the only light in the room. In the second shot I've not moved. Neither has she!
Two things have changed.
The first is that I tapped the focus and exposure where I wanted it.
The second is so subtle that it's daft. I put a finger just above the lens.
Imagine you're outside on a bright day. You might put a hand up to your forehead to "shield you eyes from the sun".
^^^ THIS! (as current parlance has it)
Essentially I'm making a "lens hood" (one of those sticky-out things in front of a lens that you see professionals use) to get rid of the light hitting the lens awkwardly.
Sometimes I'll use just one or two fingers, I might use my whole hand, or a notebook, map, or get someone to stand there blocking the sun and helping me.
You can see that it can make a big difference to the image that you're going for.
Get down to the subject's leve.
This is the equivalent of the Christmas morning shots of kids. We all tend to shoot down on them as they sit on the floor. We're hardly awake, they are sat down there and our sofa is comfy... My cat kindly didn't move for me. Compare this shot to the previous one - see how messy this one is. In the previous one I've got in close, I've simplified the image (no extra cushions and no book-shelf), I've positioned her where I wanted her and... I've got DOWN to her level so that she and I are seeing eye to eye.
Admittedly she was wondering what on earth I was doing and didn't really want to be bothered... but the difference is marked between the two.
Leave the cheese on the cheese-board
Admit it you HATE having your photo taken. Most people do.
Your kids are no happier having their phot taken than you are.
If I screamed at you to "smile for the camera" you would hate it.
You'll get a Pavlovian grimmace which isn't even close to a smile.
Don't ask your subject to smile. Interact with them. Those that have seen me do groups at weddings know that I am more likely to tease them than anything.
Simply watching and try to anticipate what is going to happen may get you far better images. Getting a child (or a pet) involved with some activity, game, or object, and photographing them whilst they do that, is going to make for better photos than asking them to smile. It will make for far more memorable images. They've got new toys to play with, yes? Well there you go. Take photos of them playing with toys.
When you look back at your digital memories vault some of the most talked about images are likely to be small groups of people - images of all the kids together, or of you and your siblings, or of you with mum and dad and grandparents.
You can do groups around a dining chair, or a table, or on the sofa, or sat in a park, or climbing a tree or... however you do it the whole thing doesn't have to be regimented. Relax, have fun, cuddle up - you're family. I'd avoid the "absolutely everyone in this image" shot simply as you've then got to worry about using the self timer. Get someone else to press the button (several times, and check the eyes are open and it is in focus).
If you can't avoid having everyone in the shot remember about supporting the camera (for example using a loo roll or a bit of card cut to support it) and then look back up to the top of this article where you see the "self timer" - use that rather than the "outstretched arm" approach for the selfie and it will look much better.
Do remember to take some small groups though - one day someone will be missing from that shot. You'll be glad that you had the group from previous years.
There's an app for that
If you're feeling adventurous and start getting into this "iphoneography" lark then that's great. You'll soon find out more tips about the built in camera online (or ask me). I've used a bunch of camera apps over the years. Hipstamatic, Camera+, 645 PRO are all good. I've got the latter installed still but rarely use it.
Bottom line - thre is an app for that - but you probably don't need it this week.
Can you Photoshop me?
If I had a penny for everyone that asked me that I wouldn't need to work again...
... not this week anyway.
There are plenty of apps for editing images on your phone. Photoshop Express, Lightroom CC Mobile... personally I rarely use much more than Snapseed from Google. It does a lot and whilst it can take a while to learn I find it's really brilliant for giving the odd image a little polish up.
Relax, and have fun. Remember it's Christmas and these are family snaps not artwork so if it doesn't quite work - don't worry. Have some more egg-nogg and chill.
That's my little list of tips complete. There's far more in my head but that covers an awful lot of ground. I hope you enjoyed it and got something from it. If you still have a "how do I?" question do ask and I'll see if I have an answer for you.
Enjoy your Christmas. See you on the other side. 😀