Mobile phone photography

Barrie Smith
18 February, 2008
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New owners of mobile phones revel in their clever and multiple abilities. It’s not just a phone, it’s also a GPS, and a web browser, and a music player, and … sigh … a camera. The big plus to taking shots with a phone camera is the "sneak factor". Very quietly, very slyly, you can take shots with your phone’s camera a lot more inconspicuously than using a digicam. Which brings in many issues relating to privacy and security and explains why some locations ban the phones’ use.

But, even when you acquire a mobile phone with a promised three megapixel camera built inside, there’s no guarantee that it will take pictures that rival an equivalent "shoot only" digital camera that doesn’t even have GPS. Why so?

The answer lies in the same reason the real estate people shout: Location. Location. Location.

Many times you’ll be using the phone in a less than ideal environment — dark, dim, lit by few lamps — like in a bar, in a restaurant or at a party.

Because you’re out having fun, you’re not concentrating on being a great photographer. You just want to get some shots of your friends — also having fun. You’re in a crowd, probably jostled by fellow funsters, with no chance of holding the camera, arms tucked tightly into your waist, finger carefully poised over the shutter button — which is for its part probably on the front of the camera, allowing you to bump the camera at the worst moment.

Sorry, I have few answers as to the best way to improve mobile phone photography, but here’s some:

* Get as close as possible to the subject so there’s not too much darkness in the picture; Not so close that your camera can’t focus or the image will be blown out by the cheap and nasty flash, but no more than a couple of metres.

* Hold the camera steady; You have to decide whether it’s more important to be getting your own groove on, or capturing a decent photo of your friends doing same — you can’t do both.

* Position yourself in a well-lit location; Light is the friend of any photographer, and when you’re trying to compensate for the limitations of a mobile phone camera this is even more true. These cameras are notoriously bad at compensating for bad light, so you’ll end up with a grainy, noisy, muddy image if the light isn’t good enough.

* Don’t use the digital zoom — it only degrades the image; Digital zoom is not really zoom at all. It just enlarges the pixels in the centre of the image. Great if you want your precious memories to look like blurry pics of the Loch Ness monster.

* Keep the lens clean; Probably the most important tip of all, and the one every mobile phone photographer neglects. You hold your phone in the palm of your hand while you talk, you toss it in a bag or a pocket while you walk around sweating all day, and then you expect the lens to be perfectly serviceable when it’s time to take a shot. Reality check — give it a wipe before you take the photo and that bad, low-resolution image might still be a serviceable memory without the smudges and smears.

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