A lot of people seem to think that I use an expensive camera for taking pictures but I actually just use my phone. This is because smartphone camera technology has made it so that it's no longer necessary to use a dedicated camera (under limited circumstances). As long as you are taking the type of pictures that a cellphone is suited for taking (selfies, portraits, etc.) then you should be okay! All you need is a good smartphone with built-in photo editing and you're ready to achieve easy high-quality photos with your phone.
First, let me give you the lowdown on the hardware. You see, most phone manufacturers outsource their camera technology - meaning that it could actually be a Sony or Samsung camera that's inside your iPhone for example. And, because of the part-sharing Frankenstein kind-of-way that they build phones these days, it doesn't actually matter what kind of device you have as long as it's a 2017+ flagship phone (Samsung Galaxy S20, iPhone XI) OR a flagship-killer phone (OnePlus 8 PRO, Google Pixel 4). The bottom line is that, in spite of your biases, you'll be able to take equally great pictures on all top-tier devices. That's a good thing!
Note: A camera phone will never be as good as a full-blown dedicated camera such as a DSLR or mirrorless type of camera. The problem is, professional-like cameras require massive amounts of skill and know-how in order to properly operate them. They are designed to be able to take a wide range of photos such as a wild cheetah running a full sprint or a large open night sky but the setting and hardware changes that are required to accommodate even just these two types of pictures are significant enough that most people will mess it up. Therefore, if you are just taking selfies, portraits, or product photos for social media - do yourself a favor and stick to the simplicity of a high-quality camera phone.
In case you are wondering about my photos, I shoot with a OnePlus 6T. It has three (3) Sony IMX cameras on it, but again, you should be good as long as you are using a high-end device.
It is very important that you have a lot of light when taking pictures with a camera phone. No matter how you cut it, the sensors are just too small for low light situations. Therefore, I like to make sure that I have direct natural light with very little or no shadows and a clean background. You can also use umbrella lights to artificially boost the lighting in your shot, but much of my shooting happens around mid-day near the large windows in my kitchen.
Camera phones lack optical zoom and the lenses just aren't designed to accommodate objects at a distance. It's important to remember that you will lose detail when you increase the space between you and your subject. That's why most of the pictures I take will be of something that is only a few feet or a few inches away from me. Going a step further, I like to use a setting that increases the sharpness of objects in the foreground and dramatically blurs the background, called depth-effect.
Editing is another area where you can get the best results if you invest in an expensive piece of software (Photoshop for example) and dedicate hundreds of hours to learning and practicing with it. You can even take classes in college and get a technical degree in digital photo editing.
However, that's not what I do.
Instead, I like to use the photo editor that comes with the pre-installed photo gallery on my phone. Again, in case you are wondering, the app is a part of the Oxygen operating system that comes with OnePlus devices. Oxygen is just a modified (improved) Android operating system. Regardless, your phone should have something similar to these settings...
- Exposure/Brightness - is the overall brightness of the image – the amount of light in the photo.
- Contrast - the difference between the blacks and the whites. High contrast means the blacks are really dark and the whites are really bright.
- Saturation - the intensity of color in an image.
- Color - adjustment of the intensities of the colors (typically red, green, and blue primary colors).
- Highlights- normally created by a bright or intense illumination or by various forms of diffusion or reflection.
- Shadow/Highlight- an image processing technique to correct exposure.
Again, this is just way easier to work with than a fancy photo editor and it is much quicker as well. On top of that, I believe that the amateur results produced by this method is oftentimes more appealing than what comes from doing too much editing.
Outdoor photography can be tricky. It's best to shoot at dawn or dusk but sometimes the moment that you want to capture happens mid-day. In this case, the sun was behind me and it cast a shadow on the foreground but I really want to make it work.
As you can see, there is a major difference between the edited and non-edited photos. I added light to the overall image with the exposure tool and used the shadow tool to highlight the harsh shadows. Then I increased the saturation to intensify the photo. The color tool is a personal preference, but I like my photos to have a warmth to them so I modified the image to have more red tones.
Ideally, you don't want to make your adjustments as extreme as this. The more adjustments you make to these settings, the more likely you are to end up with some negative side effects. You can avoid the need for extreme correction by making sure that you are taking a good picture to begin with.
Take a picture or find one already on your camera gallery. Drag the slider on one of the tools as far as it goes to see what it does to the photo. Once you have become familiar with each one start by combining two at a time. For example, increase brightness and increase saturation then remove the saturation and increase the color tone. It took me some time to figure out what I was doing but I got over the learning curve quickly and started making better photos for my blog and Instagram. It doesn't have to be a long or expensive process as long as you remember these important tips!
- Hardware - Make sure that you have a device that is capable of doing what you need it to do. Any of the newer high-end phones should do the trick.
- Lighting - Having natural light is the best kind of lighting for your photos! Look for locations that won't create overexposed or underexposed photos when indoors or outdoors.
- Editing Tools - They should be included on your phone from the factory. Practice, practice, practice! We are all a work in progress so don't be afraid to mess up! Keep messing with it until you reach what works for you!
Leave a comment down below if you have any questions! We all have our own way of editing photos and what works best for us!