Taking Pictures from a Cell Phone - Top Ten Tips for Capturing the Best Camera Phone Pictures

Taking Pictures from a Cell Phone - Top Ten Tips for Capturing the Best Camera Phone Pictures
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1. Treat it Like a Camera

Your phone is a camera and you should treat it like one. Learn the ins and outs of how to maximize the camera’s performance. Just like any other device, you want to know what it can and can’t do. Look at the instruction book to see what features your camera phone has. Most camera phones are designed to be easy to use and their functionality is straightforward. However, there may be something you did not know about the camera, whether it has the ability to set white balance or shutter speed, a timer, or another function would be good to know about.

2. Hold the Camera Phone Still

For the best chance at getting a clear picture and avoiding a blurry photo, hold the camera still until you see the image appear on your screen. Review the photo by zooming in to ensure that blurring is at a minimum. Depending on the lighting situation where you are shooting, hand-holding the camera may not be adequate. In this case, you can find something stable to set the camera on, and then set the shutter release timer, if you have one. Another option is to get an adapter that allows you to mount a camera phone on a tripod. These work well and give you valuable, needed support.

3. Light Your Subject

Even if your phone has a flash, it is likely not powerful enough to overcome a dark environment. Most camera phones are not sensitive enough to shoot in low-light situations. Lighting your subject is an essential way to ensure your picture comes out well. You do not need a high-end set of studio lights for this. Just turn on some lamps or overhead lights, whatever you normally use to light the room. You may need to move the lights closer to your subject to get a good photo. Experiment with different lighting positions and see what kind of results you get.

4. Don’t Use Digital Zoom

Avoid using too much zoom. Most camera phones use digital zoom, which simply enlarges a portion of the photo, thereby reducing the quality of the photo. A select few camera phones have optical zooms, which entail the glass elements in the lens moving back and forth. One way to tell which type of zoom you have is to listen to your camera very closely as you zoom. If you hear a tiny motor working, you have an optical zoom. More than likely your zoom is digital, though. You can also tell by looking in the paperwork and manual that came with your phone.

5. Examine Your Settings

Camera Phone Settings

Most camera phones have some sort of settings menu you can look at. The most common features I have seen include some sort of day/night setting to adjust the exposure, as well as different size pictures - small, medium and large. Some have pretty advanced features. My Nokia N95, which has a 5.0 megapixel camera, has a white balance control, a flash, and different programmed settings, including macro for up-close shots, among other features. Make sure you dig through the menus, in addition to reading the manual that came with the device. Making the picture look better may only be a few dials away.

6. Keep the Lens Clean

Many people don’t often clean their phones. In general, this is a good idea, but since your phone has a camera, it is an especially good idea so you can keep the lens clean, in addition to the rest of the parts. Because your phone likely lives in a pocket most of the time, the lens will often have lint and other dirt on it. Use a soft dry cloth, such as a handkerchief, or better yet, a microfiber cloth made for cleaning cameras, to remove any foreign objects on the lens. You can use the same cloth to polish the lens and remove any fingerprints or other oils. One piece of dust on the lens may not show up in the photo, but over time the build-up of dirt will greatly lessen the image quality.

7. Use White Balance

Most camera phones do not have white balance options but if yours does you should definitely use this function as often as possible. White balance allows the camera to see white as white under different lighting conditions. Different types of light have different colors, so if you are shooting in incandescent light, your final photo may have an orange hue, while fluorescent light will impart a greenish tint. Using white balance is easy because you can choose from a handful of presets that accommodate different types of light. You might also be able to use custom white balance, which will tune your phone’s computer to the exact lighting conditions where you are shooting.

8. Remember Composition Rules

Rule of thirds

So far everything discussed has been more or less technical. At this point everything should be set up so you are ready to start taking pictures. Don’t forget basic rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds and how lines and angles affect your final picture and can be used to draw the viewer’s eyes in certain directions. The rule of thirds is one of the most dramatic compositional tricks you can use to enhance a photo. It involves seeing the picture in the viewfinder overlaid with a hash mark or “crosses and noughts” (tic-tac-toe) board. Your points of interest or action should be along one of the lines or at an intersection of the lines.

9. Edit Your Photos

Don’t stop after you upload the photos to your computer. Whether you are using a free service like Google Picasa or go all-out with Adobe Photoshop, edit your pictures until you are satisfied. Numerous photo editing programs exist, and they vary in both price and complexity. A number of free options are out there too, so don’t forget that your best solution may be less expensive than you think. When I edit photos, mostly what I change is the cropping and possibly the light or color levels. I am a minimalist in this regard, but you may want to change a lot more than this. Get creative and experiment with different photo editors to find one that does what you need and is easy to use.

10. Keep Experimenting

Play around with and try as many of the features on your camera phone as you can. The best way to understand how your camera phone works is to take lots of pictures with it with different lighting, at different times of day and night, and changing other variables as well. Change the settings in your camera’s settings menu to understand how those different functions work. Don’t be afraid to take bad pictures when experimenting. Chances are that those bad photos are the ones you will learn the most from. When we take great photos, we rarely question how we did it, but taking bad photos always makes us ask what we did wrong and how we can do things better next time.


Information gathered from author’s experience as a photographer and photography teacher.

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