Long ago, anyone who needed good quality photos for documentation, marketing, or other purposes had to carry and use a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. Thankfully, today’s smartphones and other mobile devices are designed to be capable of taking good quality photos similar to that from a DSLR camera. That only means everything a budding photographer needs can just use his camera in his pocket.
However, a good quality phone does not necessarily suggest one can take great photos all the time. Sometimes, it takes the right set of hands and the right techniques to improve the quality of photographs. Although it is possible to directly make high-quality photos using the auto mode of your Android device’s default camera app, taking pictures in manual mode can offer greater flexibility and better artistic control.
Basic Android Camera Settings in Manual Mode
Let us start this tutorial with the proper ways to use and adjust the camera settings in a manual mode:
1. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the span of time for which the camera’s shutter remains open to expose the image sensor. It is often measured in seconds or fractions of a second. When you take a photo of a moving subject using fast shutter speed, you can capture his image clearly, with little to no blur. Meanwhile, the slow shutter speed may be needed for low-light conditions, as the shutter will remain open for a longer time, letting in as much light to the sensor as possible.
On an average camera, a physical shutter only opens for about a fraction of a second. After that, the sensor shuts again to keep the photo from being exposed to the light. The same concept applies to Android phone cameras.
Here’s an important point to take note. If you intend to use a slow shutter speed that is lesser than 1/60 seconds, you might want to use a tripod. That way, you can prevent your device from shaking.
When film photography was still the thing, the speed of a film’s reaction to light was a very crucial factor. If the film was sensitive to light, less light was required to take photos. But in the 1970s, standards were set for quantifying the film sensitivity. The International Organization for Standardization introduced the ISO scale, which we all still use today. The scale is logarithmic, which means an ISO 800 is twice as sensitive as ISO 400.
But what exactly is ISO? It is the sensitivity of a camera device to the source of light. The lower the ISO speed, the more light is required by the camera sensor to expose the subject. In contrast, the higher the ISO speed, the lesser the amount of light required to expose the subject.
Though our Android cameras have specific ISO ranges where they are designed to perform well, that does not mean you cannot do anything about it. But, take note that adjusting the default ISO settings might result in grains in the photos.
Here’s the idea. If you use a lower ISO speed, the more amount of light will be required. The result is often a photo with lesser grains. On the other hand, if you use a higher ISO speed, the lesser the amount of light will be required, which yields a photo with more grains.
3. Metering Modes
Most Android cameras have metering sensors that help measure the brightness of the subject to expose the scene. Depending on the metering mode enabled, an Android camera’s metering sensor will automatically measure the brightness of the subject in a given frame.
When used, you can control the metering of the light, either take the light level from various points across the frame, concentrating on one area, or take the light level from one tiny corner in the middle of the frame. Here are the three common metering modes available in most Android camera apps:
- Center-Weighted Metering Mode – This metering mode allows the camera to evaluate the brightness of the light source in the middle frame. And then, it computes and gives the exposure reading.
- Evaluative Metering Mode – This metering mode helps the camera assess the brightness of the light source from the frame’s center, usually about 40 to 50 percent of the area. After that, it uses the data to compute the exposure reading.
- Spot Metering Mode – This metering mode evaluates the brightness of the light source from the center of the frame, often only about 1 to 4 percent of the area, before it gives a specific exposure reading.
4. Exposure Compensation
Exposure compensation lets you modify the exposure reading calculated based on the metering mode you selected.
Most Android cameras are designed in a way that they expose subjects to be 18% gray, regardless of the subject’s ability to reflect back the light. So, if you try to take a photo of a white car, your Android camera will often underexpose the frame. Similarly, if you take a picture of a black car, your device will overexpose the frame. This happens because your camera is trying to tell you that sees both cars as 18% gray.
Now, here’s the trick in using exposure compensation. If you are taking a photo of a bright white subject, try to overexpose your photo by choosing a value between 0 and 2. But if you are photographing a dark subject, select a value in the exposure scale between 0 and -2.
5. White Balance
The color of the subject is often affected by lighting conditions. For instance, if the subject is captured under extreme sunlight, then it will appear white in the photo.
Why do we need to adjust the white balance? Though it’s entirely your choice to do so or not, changing the white balance helps you achieve the colors of your subject as accurate as possible. The source of light will have an impact on a photo. For example, a tungsten light will yield in a yellowish effect whereas a fluorescent light source will result in a bluish effect.
Now, if you are trying to set the white balance of your Android device camera, you will have a few options available: Fluorescent Light, Sunny, Incandescent Light, and Cloud, to name a few. Select which one works best for the scenario.
6. Auto-Focus Mode
The light in your surroundings may travel through the lens of your camera. Once it passes an area with a lens, it is refracted. That is the reason why you need to adjust the auto-focus mode in your Android camera. The majority of Android cameras have three auto-focus modes available. These are:
- Auto-Focus Single (AF-S) – This mode lets your camera lock the focus on the subject once you tap on the screen. After you have locked the focus and the camera or the subject moves, the camera loses its focus. It is only best used when both the positions of the subject and the camera are fixed.
- Auto-Focus Continuous (AF-C) – If this auto-focus mode is enabled, even if the subject or the camera moves away after tapping the screen, the camera retains its focus, which means the lens will continue tracking the subject. Enable this mode if your subject is wildlife or if you are experimenting with panning photography.
- Manual Focus (MC) – Once enabled, your Android camera will not focus on the subject whenever you tap on the screen. Instead, you have to manually move the focus scale displayed on the screen to let your camera focus on your subject. This mode is best used in situations when mobile cameras are unable to focus properly, such as low-light scenarios.
5 Handy Tips to Take Good Photos
Congratulations, you’ve just learned the basic Android camera settings in manual mode. Now, consider the following tips to make your shots even better:
1. Clean The Lens.
It may sound like a simple tip, but many individuals often disregard this. Most of the time, Android phones are hidden in the pockets of our jeans. When they are there, dust particles may build up, covering the lens.
When the lens is dirty, the photos taken will often seem cloudy. So, before you start mastering mobile phone photography, make it a habit to clean the lens of your phone with a microfiber cloth and a few drops of cleaning fluid to keep your device’s lens clean and your photos clear.
2. Observe The Rule Of Thirds.
You’ve probably heard about the “rule of thirds.” It is a widely used guideline, not only in photography but also in painting. To date, this rule remains a handy guide for aspiring photographers.
The concept of this rule is to let the subject of the photo straddle imaginary horizontal and vertical lines in thirds. You have to imagine a grid of 9 parts.
Here’s the trick. Put the subjects slightly off the center. That way, you can create a balanced look and a sense of motion. Also, pay attention to the intersection points. These points are where the eyes of the viewers are often drawn. Position essential features, such as the eyes of a person, near any of these intersection points.
3. Consider The Lighting.
Lighting plays a crucial role in photography. The color, intensity, and the direction of the light source can give a dramatic effect on a photo. That is the reason why professional photographers often carry with them their lamps and other equipment used to manipulate lighting.
Because you are using an Android device, chances are, the light sources may be out of your control. So, as much as possible, take advantage of your Android phone camera aperture and any light source you can find.
To make your photographs stand out, make sure that the primary source of light is behind the person taking the photos. The light should appear like it is shining on the subject. Try to experiment as well by viewing the subject from various angles.
4. Avoid The Use Of Flash.
About lighting, the use of the flash feature of camera phones is not recommended. Although flash is excellent for taking photos in scenarios with low light, it sometimes tends to ruin the quality of the images. The bulb of the flash is positioned close to the lens of the camera. When activated, photos often have this overwhelming glare.
Moreover, when used in taking photos of people, the flash often produces unwanted effects, such as an overly lit skin or red eyes. Still, the flash function is useful in some situations, but for the most part, mobile phone photographers prefer natural lighting.
5. Try Experimenting With Your Shots Using Photo Editing Apps.
The popularity and rise of Instagram have given mobile phone photographers the chance to express art in the unique way possible. However, most amateur mobile phone photographers do not know how to use the tools on Instagram correctly, resulting in poor quality images.
When used correctly and adequately, filters and other digital editing tools can help express the art of photography most elegantly. Hence, as an aspiring photographer, try to experiment with all the available tools and apps out there. Just avoid overusing filters. More often than not, they make photos appear pretentious than real.
Photography is considered an art, so like any other forms of art, understanding and knowing the rules is equally important as knowing when to neglect or deviate from them. Use the tips we listed above to improve your mobile phone photography skills, but do not be scared to try other options.
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