Better Photos From Your Camera PhoneFive ways you can take better photos with your phone.
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Feature: Better Photos From Your Camera Phone
Camera phones, it seems, are taking over the world. I replaced my cell phone a few months ago and discovered something that a lot of you probably already knew: Even some basic mobile phones have cameras built in, and high-end phones can capture 2-megapixel images and even record video. In Asia 5- and 6-megapixel camera phones are available, which means it's just a matter of time before they show up in the U.S.
Overall, most of the phones at the store I went to had cameras built in.
Will we soon take all of our pictures with a camera phone? Probably not. The image quality is still pretty low, which means that we tend to use camera phones for casual, candid, lifestyle scenes. We save the stuff we want to keep forever for our "real" camera. Even so, there are things you can do to improve the quality of your camera-phone photos.
1. Go Into the Light
Almost without exception, camera phones crave light--and lots of it. You will always get the best photos from a camera phone when you shoot outdoors at midday. If you are in the shade, indoors, or photographing at night, you'll get noisy, dark images. In those situations, you should switch your camera phone to its "low light" or "night" mode. Don't be put off by the name; even if it's called "night" mode, you should use it whenever you're indoors or in shadow.
Also, a few camera phones include a flash. Don't get your hopes up: Current camera-phone flash units are weak, and even in the best of situations they illuminate the scene unevenly. Future camera phones may use much more efficient LED flashes to dramatically improve results. But for now, you're better off sticking with the sun.
2. Get Close
Not only does your camera phone probably lack a zoom lens, but its focal length is likely a little on the wide side as well. That's a bad combination if you're trying to focus on one person, or you want to include small details in your photo. You can probably get to within about 2 feet of your subject before you're inside the minimum distance where the camera can capture a sharp image, and you'll get your best results if you stay fairly close to that limit.
3. Hold It Really, Really Steady
Many camera phones are somewhat susceptible to shake; you'll know yours is if your photos routinely look blurry. There are two possible reasons why this happens.
First, the camera phone probably has a somewhat slow shutter speed, which means any movement will be evident in the picture. The blur will be particularly severe if the phone is set to night mode.
Second, many camera phones have a sluggish shutter release--press the button, and the picture may not get taken for a second or so. That's an eternity in photography time, so you may reflexively start moving the phone, thinking that the picture has already been taken. The solution is to hold the phone as steady as possible, press the shutter release, and wait several seconds. That will ensure the picture is fully recorded before you start moving around.
4. Avoid Compressing Images
Compressing photos on your camera phone is even worse than compressing them in a regular digital camera. That's because the images are far smaller. With just a megapixel or so to work with, every bit of visual information is important. The bottom line: Compressed low-resolution images look much worse than compressed high-resolution photos. Instead of compressing your low-res images, e-mail or transfer them to a computer frequently to free up space on your phone. If the phone has a media card slot, store pictures on a memory card.
5. Fix the Photos Afterwards
If you can transfer your camera phone's photos to a PC, you can clean them up a bit. Camera phones are notorious for capturing images that lack color saturation and contrast, exhibit excessive digital noise, and even have dark corners. Programs like VicMan Software's Mobile Phone Enhancer ($30) are designed to address these issues and improve camera-phone pictures.
I reviewed Mobile Phone Enhancer in April; read "Dave's Favorites" in "Straighten Your Crooked Pictures" for more information.
Dave's Favorites: Make Poster-Sized Prints With Wall Photo Maker
When it comes to "supersizing" your digital photos, your options have typically been pretty limited. You could buy a costly wide-format inkjet printer to make 13-by-19-inch prints, or send your image file off to an online photo printer for 20-by-30-inch posters.
OreWare.com's Wall Photo Maker offers yet another alternative: Tile your picture across several ordinary sheets of paper. The end result can be so large that you could cover an entire wall with your favorite photo.
Wall Photo Maker is one of those one-trick ponies that is easy to use because it has so few options. Just load your picture and specify three parameters: the final dimensions of your poster; the overall image quality, which will vary depending upon the way it's enlarged; and one of eight image editing effects like brightness, smoothing, or blur. You can specify the poster size in pixels, inches, feet, or--the most useful measure--pages. Dial in a grid of 3 by 4 pages, and you'll see tiles appear in the preview that indicate how it'll print.
After the sheets come out of the printer, you cut away the white borders around each image, line them up, and tape them together. I found that Wall Photo Maker over-prints each tile, so you'll get the best results by trimming each sheet by hand. With just a little effort, I printed 6-by-3-sheet panoramas that had no visible seams.
You can try Wall Photo Maker for free, and the full version costs $20. Download it from OreWare.com.
Q&A: Using Ansel Adams' Zone System in Digital Photography
I would like to know how to use the Zone System in digital photography. In other words, how can I process picture files in the same way I used to create images using different development times with film?
--Paulo Hernandez, Brazil
Wow, that's a great question, Paulo.
First, some background: The Zone System was pioneered by Ansel Adams; it's the technique that he used to achieve such striking black-and-white photos. Since then, it has been widely adopted in the film world by pros and serious amateur photographers the world over.
Using the Zone System, photographers usually work with about ten exposure "zones" that range from pure black (zone 1) to pure white (zone 10) with a series of grey tones in between. They evaluate a scene and then manually set the exposure so the most important elements in the picture correspond to the proper zones. The Zone System is hard to explain--many photographers spend years mastering it--but it has a strong following, especially among pros shooting outdoor subjects.
The question is: Can you do it in the world of digital photography? Absolutely. It's a pretty deep subject, though, so here are some online resources to use if you want to try it for yourself.
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique. Every month, the best of the weekly winners gets a prize valued at between $15 and $50.
Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This Week's Hot Pic: "Sunset in Yosemite," by Bob Jewell, Las Vegas, Nevada Bob says that he took this photo on Sentinel Dome in Yosemite, and continues: "I used a very early Minolta point and shoot digital.... I don't even remember the model number!" He says he used a polarizing filter and made no changes to the photo after getting it onto the PC.
Hot Pic of the Month: Each month we choose one of our weekly winners to be the Hot Pic of the Month. For May, we were captivated by one particularly pernicious "Tongue." The photographer was Peggy Shamp, from Burnet, Texas.
Congratulations to Peggy and to everyone else who won a Hot Pic of the Week last month. Keep those entries coming!