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Smartphone Photography 101 - 6/5/2012 -

10 (mostly) universally true tips for getting great photos from your smartphone.

By Jennifer Ragan-Fore and Heidi Ellis

It happens more often than you’d think: You need to take a photo—a good photo—and the only camera anyone has handy is in their smartphone. Here are 10 tips for improving your smartphone photography skills.

1. Find your light

· Look for ways to use natural light whenever possible, with the sun behind you or over your shoulder (shooting directly into the sun is seldom a good idea when you can help it).

· When shooting indoors, find the brightest spot in the room and position your subject directly under it.

· If you need to use flash, try to ensure there’s still some additional light so the flash can fill-in/add detail, but doesn’t serve as the only source of light.

2. Follow the rule of thirds

· Imagine your screen is a tic-tac-toe board and position your subject or main focal point along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Try to avoid placing your subject dead center.

· Some smartphones (such as the iPhone) have an option to "turn grid on.” This will help you follow the rule of thirds and also will help ensure you keep the horizon steady and straight—or the opposite approach when you want to shoot a "dutch angle” or "jaunty angle” for visual interest.

3. Get a little closer

· You’ll often get your best shots if you move in close. Try not to frame your shot with excess dead space, and consider how small details (rather than a whole object) might make your photo more interesting.

· Zoom is the enemy of good smartphone shots—avoid it if at all possible. Because the zoom is all digital, it doesn’t really zoom—it just blows up the pixels, which you can always do later in editing software if you really want to crop out the edges.

4. Plant yourself

· The clarity of your photos is often related to how steady you kept your phone while shooting. Keep it firmly planted in your hands, lean against something steady like a wall, or use a small tripod if possible.

5. Use your ear buds

· A little known trick on iPhones running iOS5 is that you can use the volume-up button on your earbuds to release the camera shutter. This is a great option when you’re shooting in low light or unsteady conditions because it removes the potentially shake-inducing touch screen tap when taking a photo.

6. Tap, Tap Revolution

· One time when you do want to tap the touchscreen is just before taking a photo. On most smartphones, tapping the subject in your frame does two things:

1. It adjusts the lighting to match the subject (which is great when you have to shoot into the sun or when you’re shooting a dark subject in a bright space)

2. It focuses on the subject (which is ideal when you have a long depth of field).

7. Turn on HDR

· HDR is high dynamic range imaging. In the simplest terms, turning this on means that your camera will take two photos instead of one—one that focuses on the brights and one that focuses on the dark areas of a composition—and then intelligently stitches the two images together into a single good shot.

8. Clean your lens

· Dedicated cameras tend to live in camera bags or cases, but smartphones get stuffed into pockets and purses, and get pulled out for multitasking in just about every situation. Your lens gets dirty and can degrade picture quality over time. Use a Q-tip to gently clean your lens periodically.

9. Use your shades

· Professionals use polarizing lenses to ensure the best outdoor shots, which remove glare and soften harsh lines and shadows. To do the same, hold a sunglass lens over the camera lens as close as possible. You can also achieve this in a photo editing program, but this is a good, quick, on-the-fly tip for instant sharing.

10. Spruce it up in post-processing

· One of the best things about shooting your photography with a smartphone is the wealth of camera, editing, and effects apps that allow you to do all of your post-shot processing right in the field. Get really familiar with a two or three that work for you, and edit your shots as you take them. It’s much harder to find the time to go back and process dozens or hundreds of shots days or weeks later, and you’ll be more pleased with your efforts if you have a photo roll full of great shots.

Links and Resources

1. Camera Pro Preaches Smartphone Photography

2. Favorite iPhone Apps

· Instagram—social/sharing app with multiple filters and editing options; can shoot or edit directly from app,

· Hipstamatic—camera app (no post-editing) customize the film, type of camera, and flash; great for people who already know something about photography or want to learn; lots of sharing options including to Instagram.

· CameraBag—post editing app, can also shoot from app; easy to use, variety of filters, some similarity to Instagram but without the forced sharing.

· Novelty/Fun apps—FantasyLens, Comic Touch, ColorSplash, Faces Wild!, GhostCam Pro.

3. Favorite Android Apps

· Retro Camera—camera app (no post-editing), five camera types, easy to share an e-postcard, review: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC4oX1M5pnk

· Pic Say—editing app, very easy to use to adjust exposure, contrast, brightness, hue, etc. Easy to crop and add talk bubbles, marker, titles.

· Camera 360—camera app and post-editing, nice user interface, many filters.

· Vignette—camera app and post-editing, time-lapse, lots of filters, frames, settings, options. Does it all. Examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtMENEppw_Y

· Other fun apps—PhotoFunia, PicPlz, MyTubo, Instagram.

4. Sharing Resources

· Instagram—your only option on Instagram is to share (photos are automatically uploaded); many other camera apps are building in support to send their edited photos directly to Instagram.

· Text message—easy, most phones reduce photo size or give you a variety of size options.

· Flickr—share with your Flickr friends, organize, order prints.

· Facebook—share with your Facebook friends.

· Twitter—creates a link where your followers can view your photo.

· Dropbox—easily upload to your Dropbox account to access them anywhere (computer, phone, tablet, any internet connection); limited storage space.

· Tumblr—quickly post to your Tumblr blog.

Jennifer Ragan-Fore, director of new media and member communities, and Heidi Ellis, membership program manager, are with ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education.


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