Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Phone Camera Photography


In the documentary “Annie Leibovitz: Life through a lens”, there was a quote "really good photographers never stop taking pictures". Since it's unlikely we carry a dedicated camera everywhere we go, our phone cameras become our constant companion – ready to capture any photo opportunity we encounter on any day.

Phone cameras have improved in leaps and bounds in the past decade, with improving resolution and better screens developed for the humble phone camera. Although it may pack only a miniscule sensor size that is dwarfed by even a digital compact camera, the phone camera still has several advantages over any other digital cameras.
          - Apps for “creative imaging” (eg. Instagram) 
          - Instant image sharing via social networks (eg. Facebook)
          - It is always with you

There are a couple of disadvantages for phone cameras when it comes to capturing great images:
          - Tiny sensor (higher image noise and narrower exposure latitude) 
          - Less than optimal control (over exposure and depth of field)
          - Wide-angle lens only (for typical phone cameras)

But despite these drawbacks, there are many times when the only camera we have with us is the one built into our phones. And since "really good photographers never stop taking pictures", it will be great if one can recognize and overcome the limitations of a phone camera to take acceptable (if not wonderful) images with your phone!

Recognize that the focal length of your phone camera is fixed, and you can train your eye to look out for images that suit the nature of the phone camera’s lens. Once you can start visualizing how a phone camera will render a scene, it becomes easier to spot scenes that work well with your camera.

There are third-party apps out there that allow more control over your exposure, focusing or “shutter lag”, and they are probably worth the small investment if you are serious about your phone photography. On the other hand, apps such as Instagram will instantly give your images a visual makeover via special effects, such as color shift, increase in grain or focal plane shift effects. They are a great way to instill instant pizazz into your images, but critics feel that too many shutterbugs depend on such apps as a clutch to turn an otherwise mundane image into something snazzy, eroding the incentive to create images that stand on its own. That is to say – will your images still be interesting without the visual clutch that such apps bestow upon them? 

Personally I think that there’s a time and place for everything. Apps such as Instagram let viewers see the world through rose-colored glasses – making it look more glamorous and interesting. As a photographer though, it is up to you to maintain enough self-discipline to ensure that your image can stand up on its own merit. You can make the same argument about Photoshop and its myriad plug-ins, so there is really nothing to stop you from being lazy and depending on such software enhancements, or going out on a limb to capture the best images possible on your camera phone. 

Here are three simple tips to help you get better images from your phone camera:

          - Get in close (wide-angle lens make your subject look small)
          - Control focus point and exposure by selecting subjects on screen
          - Avoid contrasty scenes (details in deep shadows and bright lights are lost)

Don’t let the limitations of a phone camera stop you from whipping it out at every opportune moment and capturing great images. Experiment with your phone camera often and learn how you can overcome its weaknesses and limitations, and you will discover why "really good photographers never stop taking pictures"!

* All the photos in this article were captured on iPhone 4 by the author. 
* All images and text are copyright property of Nelson Tan

No comments: