Mobile photography Explained: Using your mobile camera as a pro

Mobile photography Explained: Using your mobile camera as a pro

This blog is focused on helping you to understand and improve your mobile photography. This will also help you shift from your mobile phones and to your bigger camera. I have many friends who have cameras lying at home and rarely use them since mobile phones these days meet most of their daily needs.

Understanding how your mobile phone cameras work will give you a pretty good picture of how cameras work in general since a camera is a camera no matter on what device it is on.

My previous blog spoke about how to get the right exposure, but if you still haven’t started getting those amazing pictures yet then you might be missing an important step of focus and how much of your image you need to keep in focus(DoF – Depth field). 

Many might feel that focusing on photography is not an important aspect. The truth is that it is like a life or death situation for your photo. If you focus on the wrong part of your image your subject might just look out of focus. See the below image. I like the image but I focused on his body instead of his eyes.

Note: This post is mostly geared towards mobile photography, even so, it might make it a bit technical but this post is geared in such a way that you get to understand how to get the best possible outcome with your mobile camera and be able to move to a more powerful camera if you want it.

There are certain limitations to taking a picture with your phone camera, but starting with those limitations in place will help you understand how cameras work much better. You need to worry about fewer settings than using a DSLR or mirrorless. 

Focusing on your Smartphone

Focusing using a smartphone is rather simple. Open the camera app and select the objec that you want to focus on.

Getting an out-of-focus image is a common problem for everyone even when you are clicking with your phone. It can be hard sometimes to tap on the correct spot. But “practice makes perfect”.

Below are the different points and terms that will help you in understanding how a picture is taken and how each part of an image is formed.

Focal-point

The point at which rays of the light meet is the focal point. Light hits the object and travels to the lens when all the light falls on the same point that is your sensor you get a sharp image. If they don’t then you get a blurred image. 

Circle of Confusion

There will be only one region in front of the lens that will be perfectly sharp where all the light from the object falls perfectly on the sensor. The size of this spot on the sensor will determine the circle of confusion. 

!Original: GoliardicoVector: cmglee / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Which means if all the light falls within the spot the image will be clear. But if it starts falling beyond this spot that picture will start getting blurred. Not every location will be perfectly sharp. But there will be regions that are acceptably sharp. See the example below.

Depth of Field

Your circle of confusion(COC) affects your Depth of field(DoF). Now, what is DoF? The region in front of your camera that is known to be “in focus”. See the below image to understand it better:

There are three different tools that you can use to adjust your DoF. 

  1. Aperture
  2. The distance of the lens and the subject
  3. Distance between your lens and the sensor a.k.a focal length
  4. Sensor size 

There are other parameters but are mostly constant based on the camera that you use. Your mobile phone is much more limited in terms of settings that you can use. Out of the three settings, the only thing that you can control with your phone camera is the distance between the camera and the subject. But smartphones today are “smart” ; they use different techniques to achieve what cameras do optically.

Bokeh

Bokeh and Depth-of-field are two different things but are used interchangeably. While depth-of-field refers to the region that is in focus. Bokeh refers to the out-of-focus region. The term itself is derived from a Japanese word for out-of-focus. 

Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Photographers use bokeh to separate the subject from the background and foreground so that the viewer’s eyes are fixed to the subject. Bokeh is also referred to as art, they sometimes tell there is a “good bokeh” and “bad bokeh”. I will speak more about bokeh in my upcoming posts if you are interested in subscribing to my blog.

Due to smartphone limitations, it is extremely difficult to get bokeh that looks good. Smartphones use two or more cameras and software to recreate the effect of bokeh and are becoming quite good at it. But cheaper phones might produce much worse results.

Photography using your phone

The two main popular types of photography are portrait and landscape photography. 

Portrait Photography

As discussed early, smartphone cameras are limited to the number of tools that are available to the user.

When it comes to portrait photography you would mostly want that nice bokeh background. There is one parameter that you can adjust to get the depth of field at least to some extent. And that is the distance from the subject and the distance of the subject to the background.

Try this with me, take an object such as the one I have below, now bring your phone close to the object. Keeping it in the frame. Make sure your background is far from your subject and you will notice that your background blurs out. 

Now walk away from your subject and you will notice that the background now comes back into focus. 

This is what professionals use to get those amazing portrait pictures. But the larger cameras come with other tools mentioned early that help them achieve the same effect.

Tip: When it comes to a person, try to focus on their eyes.

You can also use the depth-of-field mode(if available on your smartphone) the smartphone will create the depth-of-field effect for you, blurring the background. Use this option only when there is a subject that you want to choose and try to adjust the amount of background blur. Sometimes too much is also not good. Get the right balance and the pictures you get will be much better.

Landscape photography

This should be much easier on the phones. Since landscapes regularly require the full image to be in focus. Due to the small sensor size smartphones have a deep depth of field(has a wide area which is in focus) most of your picture will be in focus.

But as a rule of thumb photographers say, to focus to infinity. Which means don’t just focus on the sky or horizon but an object that is the farthest away or 3/4th of the way if you don’t have any specific object to focus. This way you get both the before and after the point of focus as sharp as possible. See the example below.

Image is acceptably sharp till infinity

Just don’t keep any object too close to the camera because of something called the hyperfocal point which makes close objects blurry like the ground in front of you more on this in later posts.

Following just these two points can greatly improve the images from your phone camera. Finally lighting is also a key factor that plays in the quality (which directly effects exposure). The next post will help you get the same or even better results from your standalone camera be it a DSLR or a mirrorless. Follow me on my social media pages and my blog to be updated on the latest posts.

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