5 Tips to Remember when Shooting on your Phone
- Dynamic Range
- Clean those Lenses
- Take Control
- Use that Size
We've talked a lot on this show recently about backpacking with your camera gear, but there is a simple way to reduce your pack weight and size and still get great images on your next adventure. Don't bring that interchangeable lens camera; leave it behind and travel with just your phone. Mobile photography has come a massive way in the last few years, and modern phones can produce stunning images. They are a great way to create photography on the go and reduce the weight you put on your back. So today is all about leaving behind your big camera and its fancy lenses and going full mobile on your next adventure - whether that's backpacking, hiking, biking, or whatever. Mobile photography is a fabulous way to create amazing photos with no added weight. But, mobile photography involves some different thinking than using a DSLR or mirrorless camera. So today is about things you need to think about when shooting on your phone vs a DSLR or mirrorless. If you're curious about my other tips for phone photography, you can check out episodes 16 and 29 of this podcast. I'll put a link in the show notes.
Alright, let's get into the episode!
Tip #1: Dynamic Range
The one big downside of mobile photography versus an interchangeable lens is the sensor's dynamic range. This is how much information your camera can record in the highlights and shadows. And this affects how much post-processing you can do to an image. Most larger cameras, especially full-frame cameras, have substantially more dynamic range than phones do, meaning it is easier to edit the raw images produced by an interchangeable lens camera. You will be able to do more with the image.
BUT, this doesn't mean your mobile should be left at home. It just means you need to think differently when shooting mobile photography. On a bigger camera, you can get away with some underexposing and overexposing of certain areas of an image and be able to recover that information in post. But with your phone, you don't have that leeway to recover as much data. So you need to be more intentional about how you shoot. This could mean shooting multiple exposures to be recombined into an HDR in post. Or, this could mean accepting the limitation and leaning into it. On bright days, you can create silhouettes instead of trying to expose everything properly. When it's dark, expose just the bright spots and let everything else fall off into darkness. It will depend on your preference and the scene. Just expose for the story you are trying to tell alongside the limitations of the gear.
Remember that - even in RAW - your phone doesn't have the same leeway an interchangeable camera does, and adjust for that in your shooting.
Tip #2: Clean those Lenses
Your phone is always getting dirty. It goes in pockets, on tables, into bags, and onto the floor. And at least a few times a day, you're likely brushing your fingers over the lenses themselves. This covers them in all sorts of grit, grime, and oil. And that can make your images look foggy, soft and out of focus. It can even cause focusing problems. So you need to clean your camera lenses.
This may seem like an obvious thing, but how many times have you pulled your phone out of your pocket, shot a couple of images, and then dropped it back in. I know I have. I'm sure most of us have. Chances are, those lenses were covered in something that affected the image quality. So, when you pull your phone out, quickly wipe off the lenses. I always carry around a small microfibre cloth to do just that, but a soft shirt will do the trick as well. Before you just wipe off your lenses, though, you should blow on them gently and from an angle. This would remove any grains of sand, dirt or other objects that could scratch your lenses if you moved them around. Once you've gently blown on the lenses, go ahead and clean them. Now you're ready to get that shot!
Tip #3: Take Control
I find remembering to take control of my iPhone's camera way more difficult than on my mirrorless. It's easy to just pop the phone up, snap a photo and put it down again. But that won't always give you the best images. Just like on your bigger camera, you want to take full manual control to get the best results. On the iPhone, this means downloading a third-party app, but you can do this straight from the camera app itself on most other phones. Although, you can control exposure at least on an iPhone. And it is so worthwhile to learn how to do this. There will be situations where the auto settings on your phone will be unsure what to do, so you will need to take creative control. Learn how to do this before you are in the field trying to figure it out on the fly.
Tip #4: Stabilize
Mobile photography is much more susceptible to shake than some people realize. The small size mixed with the software-dependent stabilization makes people forget to brace their cameras properly. But in poor light conditions, at sunset, sunrise, or when it starts getting dark, you will need to stabilize your phone. The lack of built-in image stabilization doesn't give you the same wiggle room that a bigger camera does, and the digital stabilization can quickly add artifacts and other problems to an image.
But thankfully, because of the size of a phone, you have a lot more options for stabilizing your camera. You can use the same methods as stabilizing your bigger camera - a tripod and bracing yourself as you shoot. But because of the small size, you can get away with tabletop tripods and smaller options if you want the flexibility of a tripod. Bracing yourself is also easier because you don't need to deal with the weight of a lens and body, just your couple of pounds of smartphone.
Finally, you also have options for using all sorts of natural objects like small rocks, light posts, or pretty much anything that you can balance your phone on. This is a lot easier than a big camera because there aren't as many things to easily balance one of those things on.
So, when the light starts to go bad, or you want a slower shutter speed, don't forget that you will need to brace and stabilize that camera somehow, even though this is really easy to forget.
Tip #5: Use that Size
One of the best things about mobile photography is the ability to get into really unique places that a bigger camera can't. I'm thinking into crevasses, between fence posts, stacked on shelves, just so many options for where a cell phone can go that a DSLR can't. And this opens up your creative possibilities massively. Say you are out rock climbing, you can put your phone securely on a ledge and get a great photo of yourself on the wall high up in the air looking like your photo is being taken by a professional photographer while you're on the wall. Now try doing that with a DSLR, tripod, timer, and everything else involved. The cell makes this easy. I've seen cell phones tapped to ceilings to create shots, suspended from trees, tucked in behind waterfalls. There are so many places you can go! So, start looking for unique places to place your phone to create new images.
To make your life easier, you can get a Bluetooth remote for your phone; this means you don't need to worry about using the 10-second timer to set up the phone and then run into position. You can take your time and make sure you are in the right place.
The size of your smartphone also means that the accessories and everything else gets smaller as well. With their cases for my phone, my circular polarizer and neutral density filters weigh less than just one of my circular filters for my DSLR. The tripod is smaller and lighter as well. Just everything gets to be that much easier to carry and move around. So, take advantage of those weight and size savings as well!
You can follow along with Robert’s adventures on Instagram @RobertMasseyPhotography.