Articles on photography: Mobile phone photography
By Shoot & Tellshoottell. Thursday, August 16, 2012 5:28:57 PM
Mobile phone photography
Written for Shoot & Tell by Sami
What has always fascinated me is a possibility to take, edit and upload pictures on the road. And thanks to mobile phone cameras and mobile browsers this has become possible. The only limitation left there is a mobile backup storage that can be used without needing laptop. Here I try to share some useful tips how to get along with this mobile gear.
I recommend using GPRS (aka 2G) most of the time to save the battery. Most of the phones often comes with 3G/4G enabled, which is usually just waste of energy. If you have Opera Mini on your phone, it works just fine even with GPRS speed. That way you make sure you get the battery running longer also for camera.
Only when you upload pictures to Internet you may wish to use 3G or faster, even WiFi if that is available. I myself often upload the pictures and upgrade the Android software when I'm at home where we have WiFi for all the laptops in the house.
Uploading to Internet
Since most of our readers are already using MyOpera albums, then the best mobile browser to get pictures uploaded is of course Opera Mini or Opera Mobile. The upload page of MyOpera albums look a little different than on deskotp browsers, giving you an option to upload only one picture at the time. But it is often a nice way to share pictures especially when on the road.
I recommend downsizing the images to 1024x768 pixels to make the files smaller and thus quicker to upload. How to get this done on phone camera is explained later on this article.
Unfortunately there have been issues with MyOpera uploads quite often. If you have problems, then try email upload instructed on your album front page. There you should have email address displayed where to you can send the picture. Just do not reveal that email address to anyone else! It is private, unique and personal, aka only for your own use.
If you have option to use WiFi, then it sure makes the uploading much faster. But at home, and if you have PC, then it is much better to upload the pictures to your PC to get backups and also to see and edit the pictures in full size.
If you have PC then it is best to use USB cable to get the pictures copied to your PC hard drive. Bluetooth is often way too slow method. One should backup the pictures at least once per month.
For those who have just a cell phone, but also for PC owners, I suggest using some online service like DropBox. For DropBox there are software at least for Android phones, which makes it easy to get the pictures saved to DropBox server. Only problem is that the free few giga byte server space do run out quickly, especially if you backup full size images. Moreover, you definitely need at lest 3G to get the large files uploaded in reasonable time.
One option is to buy a large micro SD cards as possible. One may come up with an idea to use multiple micro SD cards on mobile phone, but I advice you not to do so. Camera is not the only software using SD card, and therefore switching the memory card may cause serious issues, But in general I do recommend investing at least into small netbook and external hard drive to get backup from all of your precious pictures. You will regret later if you don't!
Using camera software
At least for Nokia (Symbian and WIndows), iPhone and Android there are alternative software to use as a camera. For Android I recommend you visit https://play.google.com/store/apps/category/PHOTOGRAPHY?feature=category-nav
Then choose the tap for free software. Start exploring and testing the free software first. That way you find out what is best for you. However, I personally recommend investing in paid for software. The Android software I have and like the most are Vignette and Camera Zoom FX. There also used to be Camera 360 but for some reason it no longer seem to be available.
The advantages of getting paid for software are many. Quite often freeware is limited in some way. Either it does not let you save images in full size or they don't save all the EXIF data like date when picture taken. Therefore it is a good idea to spend few dollars for a good software in a long run.
One quite important thing to keep in mind is the phone's internal memory size. At some point you may find out run out of memory. It is often recommended to keep the software on internal memory, and not on the micro SSD. This is because the software then runs faster and is more reliable. However, internal memory is often quite limited in size. Therefore it is a good idea to find out how much space the software needs, especially before you buy it!
The most important thing to keep in mind is that any phone camera does not offer real optical zoom! In practice this means that the digital zoom on camera actually just crops down from the full size image. However, some software does this in clever way and keeps the image size the same as when taken with wide angle view. The software then just use some algorithm to fill in the "missing pixels". It then does more or less the same as in kids "combine the dots" images. In general I recommend not to use digital zoom ever! You can crop the image afterwards if you wish to use a smaller area in the picture.
Another important thing is to get prepared for very long shutter lag. On some mobile phones it can take even a second before picture actually becomes taken after you press the shutter. Just try to anticipate when shooting something like moving objects. After awhile you should get quite good on this. But remember, camera phone is never good for something like sports photography.
Using electronic flash or LED
Some camera phones come with either electronic flash or LED light. I do recommend keeping it switched off most of the time. Approximately the straight flash light available on compact cameras and camera phones works only between 0.5 and 3 meters. Any subject closer than that often get heavily overexposed when flash used. Also LED gives very strong shadows and less pleasing light than when ambient light used. And on subjects further away it is just waste of battery and time to use either flash or LED.
There are of course exceptions even in flash/led photography. Especially some LED lights are quite usable in close distances. I suggest you turn camera so that the LED is above the lens, thus giving shadow under the subject. That looks often better than dark black shadow either on left or right. On most of the phone cameras this means you then get vertical picture. But you can then crop the image afterwards to get what ever aspect ratio you want.
You can also try to soften the shadows and limit the power of light on flash or on LED by attaching a piece of paper on front of the light. This may work nicely on close-up photography.
Try to use any external optics you have. For example I discovered my phone camera performs very badly in bright sunny daylight. Therefore I had to use polaroid sunglasses to shoot through. Moreover you may wish to try shooting through magnifying glass or binoculars. Just experiment with all kinds of optics and you may get surprised how cool results you can get. If you get some vignettting (dark corners) when shooting through binoculars, then just either let it be as little extra or crop the picture smaller on editor.
In general there are two options. You can either edit the pictures on camera, using some mobile phone software, or do the editing on PC. Both ways can be very rewarding. On my old Sony Ericsson K800 there was a very good software to do the basic editing like adjust the brightness and contrast. For Android the best softaware I know is PicSay. The Pro-version of it gives option to edit pictures in larger size and saves the EXIF as well. That software is also rather small in size, taking less then 1.5 MB on internal memory.
First thing I always do first is downsizing the pictures for Internet. I use 1024x768 pixel format because it is small enough to run quickly on software and large enough to get displayed on Internet. On PC software likeGIMP this is under menu 'Picture > Scale down..'. On Picsay for Android you get an option to choose the presentation size right when opening the image.
Quite often increasing the contrast a little greatly improves the picture. Just try to adjust contrast and lightness to find out for yourself. Moreover a little sharpening helps as well. On GIMP I recommend using 'Unsharp mask' with values radius 1.0 and amount 0.5. This works nicely for 1024x768 pixel images.
More phtography and editing tricks you can find on my blog: http://my.opera.com/serola/archive/