You are probably wondering how comes I gave this guide such a title. I decided to share some of these tips after a lot of consideration.
But before we delve into the tips and tricks, allow me to dispel some few misconceptions you might be having when it comes to phones and their cameras.
First, I created this simple guide due to the number of people who just have to take a hundred photos only to get one great looking snap. Because they think that for a phone camera to take the best shot, you have to be lucky, really?
By a great looking snap, I do not mean how good you look on the pic due to your lovely pose, far from it.
I mean, can you praise your camera-phone for the great color reproduction or color balance? Well, say, you want to take a photo of a certain building, like the one below, which I took using an HTC Desire which has a 5MP camera (the first generation in fact, yet it looks awesome):
Htc Desire’s photo
I have cropped the photo a bit but I am sure you can see how great it looks like. The photo was takes using a HTC Desire, the 1st generation.
Or you want to show people how your environment looks like, like this pic I took a year ago with a 8.7MP Lumia 925:
Lumia 925 photos.
Just take a look at the sky and the objects. These two photos have not undergone any post editing. Yet, they really look similar. Click on the image to see the full resolution photo. The photo was taken using a Lumia 925
By the way, I am not a professional photographer.
What is the secret? Why do the two photos look great yet the cameras were different? In fact, one camera is of a phone that has long been discontinued by the maker. HTC Desire simply belongs to the past decade, yet, it compares to the Lumia 925.
Remember, there is a huge difference between the camera sensors of the two phones but the results are just within the same quality range. It thus appears that you do not need a great camera phone such as the Lumia 1020 or the 925 or the latest iPhone.
This other photo, in fact, was taken using the MI-A531 and it looks great too:
MI A531 photos
This photo was taken indoors using the MI-A531. As you can imagine, MI-A531 is by no match equal to the Lumia 925. But if its camera sensor could take such a photo, believe me, it means there is no much disadvantage that its owner has to bear with.
I think there are some secrets in there. Even though most of the great-looking scenes were accidental, the secrets I am going to share with you have always resulted in WOW snaps.
The photos I take, no matter the type of phone I use always end up looking great, if not just jaw-dropping. If you want to believe what I am saying, here are a few of them that I picked from my personal album.
Back in 2012, below is a photo I took with a Chinese phone. Can you imagine that! It was a ZEDD. Its camera was of a mere VGA quality:
Another pic taken using the ZEDD. Even though the resolution is extremely low, it looks great.
A pic taken using the ZEDD. Even though the resolution is extremely low, it looks great.
A photo taken using ZEDD
This is a photo taken using a VGA camera on a ZEDD.
VGA quality pic from a ZEDD
Another ZEDD pic just to show that Megapixels and camera quality are not synonymous. HTC was able to prove this when they outed the original HTC One M7 which only had 4MP primary camera. The phone went ahead to become the best phone in existence on its year of release. Megapixels only work on your favor when you are thinking of cropping your photos later on, or you want to print the photos.
Which simply reinforces my point: You do not need the best camera in the world to take the best photos. If you find that you get lousy results, friend, you are just not using that thing correctly.
Moving on, this is a photo I took with an X2-01 back in 2011. Well, 2011 is a long time ago in technology and I want to confirm to you that this is a result obtained from a 0.3MP camera. Yet, it is a great pic:
X201 pic Tech Kenya
X-01 Pic. It is low res but looks colorful.
By the way, I pinched this one from Facebook uploads just because back then, I did not have any idea on how to backup photos to the cloud (Dropbox was a savior when I met it in 2012, so, if you want to stop losing your photos, start using Dropbox. There is no need for a Dropbox app if you are using a Windows Phone though, because OneDrive offers you more storage and is easy to set up).
Where were we.., I though Id upgrade a bit. I got myself a 3.2 MP camera phone. In 2011, Huawei Ideos was being touted as a phone that gives you access to 60,000 applications from the Android Market.
Sorry folks, Android Market is what the current Google Play Store used to be called. And 60,000 applications in 2011 was a great milestone for Android, which is very pale considering that number now stands above 1 Million!
Still, with a 3.2 MP snapper, you will not believe some of the thrash I ended up with before I got used to the phones camera. I found that either some photos were darker than I had expected, or they were washed out due to excess exposure. Just take a look at this pic if you think am joking:
A dull Huawei Ideos pic
A very dark Huawei Ideos pic.
However, the same 3.2 MP camera took this other photo:
Tech Kenya- Huawei Ideos Pic
This is a pic taken using the Huawei Ideos U8150 back in 2012. The photo looks great despite a small amount of noise as a result of too much exposure.
Those were the days I had to experiment a lot with several lighting situation. Gradually, I realized that photos that I take in a dark room, facing a light source always looked ghostly, but I know you already know this.
So, I had to look for an app that could help me in such a situation since I could not force the camera to focus on a darker section of the viewfinder. The Huawei Ideos camera app just sucked. I found an HDR app from the then Android Market and it did help, really.
So, with trial and error, I finally cracked how to take great photos. I believe that you do not have to go through the same learning curve, but instead, just try to move ahead with what works, which is the key reason that compelled me to compose this short guide.
This is another 3.2 MP snapper, an Orange San Francisco, and I must admit that I found HDR+ app very useful on some situations even though this was taken without the HDR+:
Orange San Francisco Pic- Tech Kenya
This is a pic taken using the ZTE Orange San Francisco. The details are not that plenty but the photo is usable at that.
But then again, being very steady is called for when using HDR apps. In the case of the Orange San Francisco for example, a phone with just 512MHz processor (Even thought I finally overclocked it to slightly above 700 GHz), and a 512MB RAM, you can imagine it used to take eternity to complete an HDR shot.
I do not know if am already proving some point. The point am driving at is: no matter the phone camera you got, you can take awesome photos by combining the best photo-taking apps with a few basic skills you can learn!. I cant stress this hard enough.
Imagine when you want to purchase a new phone, you have to stress yourself looking for one with the top Megapixels yet falls within your budget. This is a miscalculation. Megapixel count does not equal the top quality.
Megapixels, really, do not matter that much, the amount of light the camera can take in, the auto-focus speed, and ultimately the shatter speed matter more than that.
To get a great phone specs wise, you will have to purchase a current iPhone, a high end Lumia, a Samsung S5 and above, an LG G2 and above, the latest Sony Xperia, or just go for a compact digital camera. Hard to imagine but true.
Can you recall when you wanted to capture a certain scene (your lovely baby sister in action) and only ended up with useless blurry photos?
Well, that was a result of slow autofocus and extremely slow shatter speeds on the side of the camera and there is little to nothing you could do.
In fact, this is a good example:
A blurry pic- Tech Kenya
A blurry pic due to the slow camera I used to capture it while on a speeding vehicle. Here is when a camera with fast shutter and autofocus speeds becomes of great help
For such a scene, If only I had a top of the line phone, such as the Sony Xperia Z5, which has just 0.03seconds autofocus speed, I would be able to take a crisp photo. But I didnt have it, so, this is what I have to live with.
Sad, is it? Well, a bit, yes. But I do not have to buy a phone worth 100k for that. Rather, I will go for a 35k Canon compact camera and I am done. Problem solved.
So, you cannot just start believing that taking the best pics is a result of having huge Megapixels on your phone. Some other things matter more than that.
I wanted to expel the Megapixel believes you might be having. Of course, megapixels matter in some other situations, like when you want to crop your photos later.
Also, color-reproduction achieved by a phone camera matters. If you want to choose the best camera-phone, consider taking a few snaps of multicolored subjects. Candies, if they are nearby, are the best for this test.
Try to compare the photo with the original subject. Are they original? Are they a bit washed out (most likely if the phone is one of the unbranded Chinese ones). Are they over-saturated? Are the photos too dark? Does the photo look like a painting job?
If any of the above scenarios applies, try tweaking the saturation settings, the exposure, and ultimately, the sharpness among others.
Well, some phones do not give you the luxury to tweak all these settings and you will not find them on the camera settings menu. That is when third party apps such as ProCapture come in.
There are several other third party Android camera apps you can install. It has been a long time since I last went searching for the best android camera app, but the last time I did it, which turns out is almost a year ago, ProCapture turned out to be the best camera app for me.
I have since then advised my friends to install it on their phones and they do not come back complaining. This assures me that I am still using the top Android camera app, otherwise, I will be looking for another one soon.
Just to let you know, ProCapture, like most Android apps has two versions: a free one, and a paid one. If you want extra features of the camera app, such as Panorama, you will have to pay a few dollars for the Pro version.
That out of our way, here are the best settings you should have on your phone camera app. I mean, they are mostly set this way by default. Therefore, if you restore camera settings to default, which is advisable, this is what you should get on the settings:
exposure value = 0
color effect = none
scene mode = auto
white balance = auto
saturation = medium
brightness = normal
picture size = max (depending on the Megapixel count of the camera)
ISO = auto
aspect ration= 4:3, or 16:9. Sometimes, 4:3 is the best because some phones take a lot of time processing a 16:9 pic. Sometimes, actually mostly, the photo you get will result from the original being cropped which reduces the resolution all together.
That is where you need to begin: by setting everything in the phones camera app settings back to DEFAULT.
I have decided to cover just basic scenes that will be complex when you want to take a pic. The other scenes will not be much of a problem to you though, and you can keep doing what you have been doing with your camera.
- Capture An Object With Too Much Light In Its Background.
You want to make sure a dark object that sits against the window or against any source of light is visible. This can be complicated to achieve, but first, make sure that the object at least covers most parts of the picture to make it easy for the camera.
With an app like ProCapture, when you want to take a photo of such a subject, all you need to do is tap on the darkest part of the display. The camera will automatically do its best to balance the light so as to capture the image.
What goes on in the process is really beyond our scope here, but the thing is, you will have your object well focused and at the same time, you will find that it is visible.
A church photo, showing how to take great photos on Android.
Case 1: While taking the photo, I tapped the buildings roof, just next to the clouds: However, I realised that the result was not desirable. My aim was not to capture the clouds, (which are the only pasts of the photo that have clear look) instead, I wanted to get a clear photo of the building. So, I had to do something different, without going to the camera settings. The photo was taken using an MI-A531, with an 8 MP snapper, using ProCapture.
An image of a church, showing how to take great photos on Android
Case 2: Tell me you like this. Dont you? Well, this time around, I decided to take a photo of the building by instead tapping next to the banana leaves. This resulted in a photo that, even though the clouds no longer looked sharply focused as seen in Case 1, the building and its surrounding, which was my aim ended up looking just awesome! Click on each individual pic to see the full resolution. The camera is still an 8MP Snapper, MI-A531.
- Capture A Subject Through A Window
This is a common situation when you are inside a car or you just want to take a photo of a subject that is outside of your house but you are not close enough to the door or window. It can be complex, since the camera can decide to do its best, which will actually be the case, to make sure the door frame, or the window, and what is outside are both visible.
Remember that a phone camera always lacks in dynamic range. By this I mean, the cameras ability to make the brightest and the darkest objects in a photo well visible without overexposure or underexposure.
So, to get the best results here, make sure you tap on the object that is outside of the house when trying to focus. Again, if you tap on an object and you are using ProCapture or any other good third party app, the camera will focus and take the photo automatically.
If the camera app that you use does not support taking a pic by just tapping on the subject within the viewfinder, then, just tap to focus on that subject (that is outside of the window) and then take the pic.
capture and object through the window
This is a photo that was taken using an MI A531. As you can see, you can only perceive the objects that have enough light on them. While taking the pic, I had tapped on the blue sky. This automatically made the camera to compensate for the excess light that came through the window, and in the process, we end up with dark faces within the room. It is a great way to capture a subject that is outside the window. However, it results in undesirable results if you wanted to clearly capture both the subjects that are within the room, and those outside. If you want that, you will need a camera with high dynamic range.
- Capture Both A Dark And A Bright Object
This is where the capability of camera sensor matters. It is the dynamic range. As I said before, the dynamic range allows a camera to visibly highlight a dark and a bright subject in the same photo.
A good example is a dark guy, like me, with a bright shirt on. If the camera can show both my face and the shirt, like on this photo, then that is a great camera. That is what I call good dynamic range, I do not care what other techies call it because I do not study photography.
Anyway, this is a worst case scenario. Can you see how the sky is washed out? Well, this is a typical phone camera, and there is nothing much you can do except purchase one of those above 30k Samsung or Lumia. By the way, that was a Lumia 925, and the worst case scenario resulted from an MI 531.
To take the best shot that will likely have both the bright and the dark object in a nice view, just hold your phone steadily, and then take the photo using the camera button (whether it is on the screen or on the side of the phone. Do not tap anywhere else!
A washed out photo, showing how to take great looking photos on Android
This is a problem of trying to capture an image that has an extremely bright background. If you manage to capture the object you are focusing on, you will get washed out colors on the brighter section. HDR mode will help you in such a situation. Remember, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which is achieved by taking three shots. One, with the low exposure, the second one with a normal exposure, and the third one with high exposure setting. The three are then merged together to get a good looking snap, with normal colors and vivid objects, no matter the amount of light in the background.
washed out objects and colors due to low dynamic range, how to take the best photos on your Android device
This is another case of low dynamic range camera results. Every phone will struggle with such a situation. However, to get the best results, focus on the medium-bright section, such as on the trouser of this guy. The camera will end up highlighting the dark and bright sections alike, and you will get a photo with moderately bright areas and moderately dark sections. I do not know the exact science behind the processing of such a scene, but all I know is, it works. Try it next time. When I am done convincing this lad to climb the roof once more, I will post better results. Keep coming back 😉
- Outdoor Photos: Inside A Shade On A Sunny Day
This is a tricky scene to be sincere. If you let the camera app do the job on its own, you will end up with dark faces. This is still the result of the low dynamic range that phones cameras come with.
You will have to tap on the darkest spot on the photo. For example, you can tap on a shadow. However, make sure the shadow that you focus on is at the same distance with your subject to make sure that the focus on the subject remains crisp. Also, try playing with exposure settings as long as the bright sections of the photo do not get washed out, or get overexposed.
A shadow pic – Tech Kenya
This photo was taken on a sunny day. However, the camera button was just pressed without focusing on the darker sections(the shadows) thus resulting in a very noise filled photo.
- A Subject With Highly Contrasting Colors, Such As A Person In A Black Trouser And A White Shirt
If you think this is not tricky, then you go try it first. The trick is the same. Focus on the dark colors to make sure the camera tries to balance the colors well. If you focus on the bright areas, you will end up with a lot of noise on the dark sections of the pic.
Such a scene is the best if you want to try to see how capable a camera is.
Highly contrasting colors
There is a very high contrast between the color of the sky and the ground. The camera struggled to highlight both though.
Okay, you have taken your pics, now what? Now, we make some of the messy pics look awesome.
What is the best application you can use to correct colors on your pics? Well, whichever you use. Just make sure to use one that allows you to easily control saturation, brightness, contrast, highlights and anything else that matters in achieving your post editing requirements.
For example, if your photos are dark and dull-looking, you might want to increase the brightness before you apply any saturation settings. The simple reason for this is, you do not actually see much of the saturation effects on a dark pic and this might end up ruining the experience all together.
So, the rule of thumb, as someone always says, is to keep your editing to the minimal.
Also, try to experiment. First, you can use the automatic correction settings of the app you are using such as, automatic color boost, automatic balance and so on.
The particular terminologies that each app uses for such features may vary but that does not really matter. As long as the settings are applied automatically, without you having to use a slider for example.
If the automatic post editing features of the apps you use do not work, try to go manually about it. Go to individual settings that we mentioned earlier. That is, increase or reduce the brightness to your liking, then also do the same for contrast and saturation.
Anyway, which app do I always use for this? Well, I do not really need to use Photoshop or Gimp to edit my pics to achieve the desired effects. Picsay Pro, since 2012, has always sufficed for my needs.
You need to pay for the app though if you want to use the Pro features, which it is just a few hundred shillings. But for basic photo editing needs, you can use the basic version that is available from the play store.