[GUIDE] How to Get the Most from Your Camera Phone
This is a discussion on [GUIDE] How to Get the Most from Your Camera Phone within the Android Forum forums, part of the Android Discussions category; This guide and all images inside are copyright 2011 Edward Arriola. All images inside were taken with my Droid X and unedited, save for resizing.
Android Jr Member
[GUIDE] How to Get the Most from Your Camera Phone
This guide and all images inside are copyright 2011 Edward Arriola. All images inside were taken with my Droid X and unedited, save for resizing.
Camera phones are possibly the most aggravating double edged sword to come to the mobile industry, aside from the phones themselves!
With increased portability and a build quality rivaling entry to mid level point and shoot cameras, cell phone cameras have become an ubiquitous sight in our daily lives. From the high angle myspace self portrait (mirror optional!) to people posing in a bar/park/restaurant/etc. we can see people using their cell phone cameras practically everywhere.
My goal with this guide is to help you increase the quality of your camera phone photos, explore and redefine the limitations of your camera phone limitations, and give some general photography advice. I will not be covering in-phone photo editing, editing programs including Photoshop Express, Vignette, and the like, or exploring anything other than the stock Android camera phone software found on 2.2 – FroYo.
This guide will be laid out in three parts
Part 1: Hardware -- cameras and how they differ between digital SLRs, point and shoots, and cell phone cameras
Part 2: Software and what it does
Part 3: Redefining the limitations of your camera phone and working within them (with examples!). Also known as tips, tricks, and how-to.
All my testing has been done on a Droid X and a G2/HTC Sapphire. If there is a discrepancy between what I write here and your experiences, please let me know and we can figure it out together. The beauty of photography is that we all can learn from each other.
About me: I was an emerging professional photographer, until I got fed up with clients and decided to keep it strictly as a hobby. I focus more on people and models, but am quite capable at shooting the occasional landscape or still life. By day I work in sales for a Fortune 200 insurance company, by any other time I am a photographer, model, fire dancer, fencer, karaoke junkie, and occasional triathlete.
Part 1: Hardware
Cameras have evolved from a complex photo-reactive chemical coating on a plate to a complex photo-reactive sensor behind a piece of glass. Unfortunately, that simplistic view is akin to saying that astronomy is just flying around outside Earth’s atmosphere.
This section is about how camera hardware differs between their uses and builds.
There are three main types of cameras I will be writing about: Digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, point and shoots, and camera phones. DSLRs are the large “professional” looking cameras, usually with interchangeable lenses, large bodies (the part the lens attaches to), and often a thick strap to support it around the neck or carry it by. Point and shoots are the consumer grade cameras you see carried in purses, backpacks, glove boxes, and anywhere else someone wants a camera in easy reach. Camera phones are…well, if you don’t know by now, I’m curious as to why you’re even reading this guide. However, camera phones are a former accessory to cellular phones, but have evolved into an industry standard for feature inclusion.
The main differences between DSLRs, point and shoots, and camera phones are simple, sensors and lenses.
The sensor is what records the light that comes into your camera. It’s what actually records the photo.
The lens is what brings the light to the sensor.
With sensors, the general consensus in the photography world is that “bigger is better.” Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more megapixels (how many pixels it records), but rather the actual size of the sensor. A full frame DSLR has a sensor which is the same size as a 35mm film strip, while a consumer grade DSLR (often called a crop-sensor or various other names) has a 1.6 crop factor (basically, it literally records a smaller square of what the full-frame camera does). For those interested in how this works, Wikipedia has a very thorough article on how that works.
When you have your subject in focus with a large sensor, you have a lot of latitude for making the backgound blurry or sharp. This is called depth-of-field (DOF ). It depends on a number of factors, but mostly focal length (a.k.a. “zoom factor) and aperture (how wide open the lens is to let light in).
Also, with large sensors, you have more flexibility in low light situations. Everyone who has taken a picture with their point and shoot or camera phone in a dim building or dusk is likely familiar with that grain which shows up in the shadows of those pictures. If not, pull one of those up and look. You’ll see it, it’s usually just discolored flecks and specks in the shadows of your picture.
With lenses, the clearer the optics, the better. Every camera with a lens that zooms has what is called “optical zoom.” This is zoom as we know it. It’s the kind of zoom that involves moving lenses closer or farther from each other to narrow the field of view. Point and shoots and camera phones have what is called “optical zoom.” This is basically just like enlarging a small part of a picture to simulate zooming in.
Naturally, you want your lens in any situation to be free of dust, oil, smudges, scratches, and anything else that gets between your sensor and the light.
What’s all this mean, Eddie? Basic knowledge of how your camera phone acts differently than other cameras gives you latitude in choosing the right tool for the job. Don’t use your Incredible for shooting a wedding, and don’t use your DSLR for shooting the bachelor(ette) party. Also, check your lens for smudges!
Part 2: Software
DSLRs are able to shoot in a format called RAW. This is about three times the size of a JPG file with three times the data. It’s ideal for photo manipulation in, say, Photoshop. They are also able to shoot in jpg. When a camera, any camera, anywhere shoots in JPG mode, they do their own batch of photo processing to the original data. Phone algorithms for processing differ between manufacturers or programming, as do those for any DSLR or point and shoot. My suspicion is that Android has a standard set of protocols and algorithms for photo processing which manufacturers tend to leave alone, except for the user interface and menu layout.
Open your stock camera app. Touch the screen and you’ll see an overlay of “Scenes,” “Effects,” a flash on-off-auto indicator, and a switch to video. Hit “menu” and you’ll get your picture modes, tags, and settings. Tags are for organizing, video isn’t for stills, and the rest I will be talking about. Your menu may be laid out differently.
Starting with Scenes:
Auto: This is the phone’s best judgment to take the photo. The flash will go off depending on the situation, the shutter might go faster or slower, and the sensitivity of the sensor might change. It’s a solid default position and usually damn good at what it does. This is also the most versatile mode, in that you can change practically any setting (flash, ISO -- sensor sensitivity, etc.)
Portrait: Good for taking pictures of people
Landscape: Good for landscapes
Sport: fast shutter speeds, good for freezing action
Night portrait: long shutter for capturing lots of light and a flash for exposing a foreground
Sunset: longish shutter for capturing the fading light and the colors of a sunset.
Macro: shifts the camera’s focus to up close to capture close up (often small or tiny) objects.
Steady shot: fast shutter and a flash to reduce blur.
Let’s go to effects:
Black and white: converts the image to black and white.
Negative: puts colors and tones in the opposite of how we view them (dark turns bright, blue turns red, etc.).
Sepia: lays a golden hue over the scene – basically black and white with a brown-orange overlay. Mimics old films.
Solarize: mimics how the scene would look if taken with film that had been exposed to light during developing. Changes the saturation, hues, and brightness of colors.
Red/Green/Blue tints: Overlays a red, green, or blue tint, respective of the setting. This is basically sepia, but with different colors.
On to flash:
You can turn the flash on, off, or to auto depending on the scene setting. If you’re on the Auto scene, you can adjust the flash manually. If you’re on any other setting, you can’t change the flash to your whim.
With flash on, you can light up the foreground. You can use the light as a focusing aid to get sharper, more focused pictures, especially in low light conditions. You can even use it as a flash light in case you haven’t downloaded a flashlight program. However, using the flash can give you harsh shadows and red-eye with people (other colors with other animals!).
With flash off you may have better colors with people, no red eye, often less haze, and a number of other things. You also might have trouble focusing in low light conditions.
Hit the menu button. Some of you will have picture modes. These can include self portrait modes, photo stitch modes (for wide or tall photos), single shot (effectively just-plain-ol’-camera mode), and multi-shot (small pictures taken in quick succession – think of crossing the finish line). Most of these just apply to the Motorola line of Android devices, but may apply to others.
Self portrait mode only works in landscape orientation – holding the phone horizontal. It automatically focuses on a face and keeps taking pictures of said face(s) as long as they’re in front of it. To quickly stop taking pictures while you recompose, just turn the camera 90º to portrait orientation – vertical.
Photo stitch usually works best when holding the phone in an opposite position to what you would normally shoot in. For a wide landscape, try holding it horizontally so you get a landscape which is tall as well as wide, or try to pan up while holding it horizontal for a wide tall shot (say, of a building or NBA player). Of course, you can get a really wide shot by holding it horizontally and panning horizontally, same for tall by holding it vertically and panning vertically.
For self portrait mode, you don’t even need to press the shutter button. It starts taking pictures right away. With the photo stitch, you just need to take the first picture then follow the on-screen guide to take the rest. You can hit the “stop” button to finish the stitching process anywhere from 2-6 photos into it.
Finally, there’s multi shot. These are pictures which likely wouldn’t print up any larger than 4x6” and processed for quick storage. This mode is ideal for capturing sequential action. Let’s say popping a champagne bottle at a New Year’s Eve party.
Next let’s touch Settings:
Picture resolution: how large your pictures will be. I shoot as large as possible, but smaller ones allow you to store more and move on to the next one faster.
Video resolution: how large your video shoots. If you’re using it to upload to youtube, go smaller, if you want a home movie, go larger.
Quick upload account: set up a way to upload and share pictures faster and easier.
Review time: how long you get to look at what you just snapped before it files it away to snap another.
Face detection: helps in focusing on people’s faces
ISO equivalent sensitivity: change the sensitivity of your sensor (I’d leave this alone in 99% of situations)
Exposure: increase (positive numbers) or decrease (negative numbers) the brightness of what you take. Generally, darker means richer colors but less detail in your shadows, brighter means more shadow details and less rich colors.
Shutter animation: changes the cute animation when you take a picture.
What’s all this mean, Eddie? These settings are a very strong, robust start to mastering how your camera works and getting the best out of it. One of the best ways to learn what your camera phone does and can do is to play with different settings.
Part 3: Tips, tricks, and expanding your camera phone’s limitations
Congratulations on making it this far. So far, this guide has used over 83 twitter messages worth of characters, five pages (this is the second line of page six) of single-spaced word processing, and about five hours of writing.
[b]Eddie, help! My photo is hazier and more washed out than my memory of the 80’s![b]
Is your photo looking like this
when you want it to look like
Here’s what’s happening: light is basically entering your lens where it shouldn’t be, it’s basically illuminating the glass covering the lens when it should be entering the lens without lighting that up.
I recommend two options.
1: Change your angle to the light
2: Put your lens in a shadow (I cup my hand around the lens to create the shadow)
Eddie, help! My photos are as blurry as my memory of that weeklong bender with Charlie Sheen!
You can have point and shoot quality sharpness with your camera phone! See?
Here’s where practice comes in handy. You’ll want to have the settings optimized for your subject set along with the lighting right. You also need to make sure that what you want to be in focus has a defining edge from what you don’t care is in focus. This is where landscape and sunset modes are crucial if you’re taking your camera phone out for a hike.
If you’re looking to take pictures of people, put the lighting in a way so it will be on them and define edges while still putting light in their eyes and on their faces. Think of a position on a clock where they’re at 12 o’clock and you’re at 6. Put the light anywhere from 3-9 o’clock, with the ideal being 4-5 and 7-8.
Eddie, help! I lit this how you said and it’s still fuzzier than the dice in Cheech and Chong’s mirror!
Clean your stupid lens! You probably have lint, oil, fingerprints, dirt, and/or waterspots on your lens. Or any number of substances…not my business.
The glass protecting these lenses is usually harder than the screen and far less susceptible to scratching than other things we think of as clear eg CD’s, car paint (the clear coat part), plastic covers, etc. I usually just use a clean part of my shirt to make sure my glass is clean (I know, pro photographers, how you feel about this, but it’s a camera phone). Ideally a clean microfiber cloth would be used for this. You can find a great cloth locally for about $2-3 which tucks into it’s own tiny pouch. Check a drugstore or photo store.
Now, a word on composition.
Keep your horizon straight unless you mean to tilt it:
Don’t shoot landscapes when the sun is high up, the light will look flat and harsh. Photographing landscapes when the sun is lower will give you better shadows and textures:
If it’s food, pets, or a variety of other things, make like a Lil Jon song and get low. This gives you a more interesting perspective in the camera and will make your pictures more engaging.
Learn the rule of thirds and apply it. Basically, this means don’t center your subjects (look at every single picture I posted for an example).
Finally, experiment and have fun! You can’t learn if you don’t live.
Thank you and feel free to ask any questions. This guide may be updated as needed.
Last edited by SingingSabre; 03-18-2011 at 05:25 PM.
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Android Jr Member
Should be working now!
EDIT: Feel free to ask any questions and I'll address them as best as I can. I'll even update the original guide to reflect the answers.
Last edited by SingingSabre; 03-29-2011 at 06:57 PM.
Dude.. this awesome!! Hell of a write up! I'll have to sit down and reallllly read it this weekend and see if I can better my skills. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.
Android Jr Member
Exactly why there was such a delay.
Originally Posted by Bazar6
Like Bazar said, I will be reading this fully over the weekend. I'm really glad you took the time to do this. It is very much appreciated. This will help many! I also own a DX and my pictures can use some improvement...
Wow amazing guide ill def be using this and referencing to this in the future. Might want to take the guide and put a direct link to it in the android graphics section. Ill post it below and i would think that this thread would become a Sticky there.
Droid 2/Liberty 2.0.1/Oc'ed/1.3ghz
Visit our sister site Droidforums.net for more info
Android Jr Member
Thanks! I'll send a message to the mods and see what they say to do, I'm sure they don't want a double post.
Originally Posted by 252chevyboyz
Android graphics section is dedicated to Display discussions. This include Android Wallpapers, Live Backgrounds, Pictures, Icons, Videos, etc. So I think this guide is good here at General discussion and will get more exposure here and I think it deserves a sticky so it's stuck for now for easy find.
Android Jr Member
You also need to have a great app which would help you make your fotos finer through further refinements. There are many free and paid photo apps available for android users.
By dgstorm in forum Android News
Last Post: 09-30-2011, 09:12 PM
By WenWM in forum Android News
Last Post: 04-19-2011, 12:20 AM
By venom_sprintdroids in forum Introductions & Site Assistance
Last Post: 08-15-2010, 07:43 PM
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