Are you someone who likes to get to know all the features on the camera of your latest smartphone or do you tend to just open the camera app, press the shutter button and admire your photo? If you are in the latter category you are probably in the majority yet more and more people are realising the potential of the camera that is always at hand and want to know more about its capabilities. I have singled out 5 features that have helped me get the most from my smartphone camera and which many people don’t know about.
1. A quick way to open the camera on your phone.
Sometimes we just have a split second to capture an image. Someone is in just the right place at the right time and the light is perfect to capture that great image. Our phone cameras are meant to be ‘at the ready’ but often by the time you waken your phone, key in your password or otherwise identify yourself on your screen and open your camera app the moment has passed. Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be that way because the camera app can be accessed without even opening your phone by swiping to the left (iPhone) or pressing the side button and swiping the camera icon upwards in a diagonal direction (Android). When you have the phone open it is a good idea to keep the camera icon in the dock at the bottom of the home screen to be ready to capture any image in a hurry.
Being able to quickly open our camera app means we can even try to capture fast moving insects on plants. (There is a bee in the picture!)
2. How to set focus and exposure
Most of the time your phone camera does a good job of focusing but it tries to keep everything in focus and at times you may want to choose which aspect of your scene you would like as your main subject. To set focus you just tap on the screen where you want to place your focus. To pinpoint the focus point more accurately you can pinch the screen to zoom in, set focus then zoom out again.
In these two images I chose a different focus. In the first photo I focused on the waterfall in the background while in the second photo I placed the focus on the leaves in the foreground, while the waterfall looks blurry in the background.
To hold the focus in place you press on the square and hold until AE/AF Lock appears on the screen. You can then move slightly without losing your focus point. Tap on the screen again to change or undo the focus point.
By tapping the screen where I want to focus I can ensure that I get a shot of the river, not the bars.
You can also set exposure on the camera screen. When you tap the screen to set focus a slider will appear. If your image seems too bright or too dark you can adjust exposure by moving this on-screen slider.
3. Using Portrait mode (iPhone) Live focus (Android phones)
This mode allows us to get a background blur which helps the subject to stand out in the frame rather than get lost in a cluttered background. While primarily useful for taking photographs of people, portrait mode is also good for taking images of pets or of flowers and plants. It is similar to using aperture priority mode on a dedicated camera. Although this feature on a phone camera doesn’t quite match the quality of bokeh obtained with a ‘real’ camera, it is improving with each new phone and these images from the iPhone 11 Pro have quite pleasing background blur.
4. Using Burst mode
Burst mode is a common feature on many cameras and is great for times when we want to capture fast moving subjects or action shots. I recently attempted to take photos of my 2-year-old granddaughter playing with a balloon. As she was obviously engrossed in what she was doing, and not interested in my picture, without burst mode I would have struggled to get a shot where she was fully in the picture or properly in focus. Similarly, burst mode later allowed me to capture a picture of her bouncing on the bed!!
Although I had my camera on the occasion below, it is not always easy to have a camera in the right place at the right time. That’s where the phone camera comes into its own. Burst mode ensures we’ll never miss those action shots.
Burst mode is activated by either holding down the shutter button or, on newer phone models, swiping the shutter button to one side. The best shots can then be chosen from the burst and the remainder deleted.
5. Using the expanded range of lenses
When you open the camera app on your phone it defaults to the regular wide-angle lens (1x) and it is with this lens that most photos are taken. Many phones now offer at least one other lens, most commonly a telephoto lens (2x) or an ultra wide-angle lens (0.5x). Each of these lenses gives a different perspective to our photos and it is worth experimenting with each. I particularly like the telephoto lens for getting closer to my subject although I can see how the ultra-wide angle will add a new dimension to landscape photography with a phone camera.
Wide-angle, telephoto (with some cropping to balance the subject), ultra wide-angle
Wide-angle, telephoto, ultra wide-angle
We get a different perspective by simply choosing a different lens.
This is one of my first attempts at a landscape image using the iPhone 11 Pro ultra wide-angle lens. Unfortunately it was a dull day with poor light but I can see potential for the use of this lens.
Bonus iPhone feature: Live Photos
As I have recently ‘migrated’ from Android to iPhone I have just discovered ‘Live photos’, a feature which seems to be exclusive to iPhone right now, although with advancements in phone cameras coming on-stream all the time I am sure other phone makers will soon have their own versions, if the latest ones don’t already. Live photos can be used for a similar purpose as burst mode, as it takes a short video before and after the photograph so that the best image can be chosen later.
In the original 'key photo' the fishing rod could not be seen. By using live photos I could pick a key photo showing a raised fishing rod.
Live photos has other features too, my favourite being the long exposure option. This feature tries to emulate what can be done with shutter speed on a dedicated camera so it will be worth seeing whether this technology will be taken further in the future. I have not fully explored the possibilities of this feature so I look forward to doing that.
While the debate regarding smartphone cameras vs ‘real’ cameras continues, there is no doubt that very often the phone camera is the one we have with us and it is encouraging to see that the features of these cameras are improving all the time. Phone cameras are now becoming a viable option for photographers in some situations, so it is worth exploring some of their recently added features.
Why not check them out!