How to improve the quality of photos you take on your smartphone or tablet camera.
The cameras built into mobile phones used to be little more than a gimmick, with just a couple of megapixels and no frills. The images captured lacked the quality of those from even the most basic standalone camera. Fortunately, things have changed, and today's Google Android tablets and Google Android phones increasingly include cameras of 5Mp or more, with features such as LED flash and image stabilisation.
In fact, the standard of built-in cameras is now so good that you no longer have to kick yourself for leaving your digital camera at home when the occasion arises for a picture. Getting decent results every time, however, still depends on knowing a few tricks of the trade, so over the following pages we'll look at how to avoid – and create – blur, how to compensate for different lighting conditions using flash and ISO adjustment, and how to tag and organise photos on your PC or laptop to ensure that, once you've taken that perfect shot, it doesn't just languish on a memory card, never to see the light of day again.
1. Flash Even in bright sunlight, it can be effective in providing a burst to compensate for sharp shadows and underexposure. The flash punches up details only when you're within a few feet, so stay close to your subject.
2. Adjust ISO setting When shooting at night, increasing the ISO setting can be more effective than using the flash. Don't crank up the ISO too far, though, or you'll end up with digital noise (randomly lighter or darker pixels, creating a speckled effect reminiscent of film grain) in your shots.
You can alter the ISO in the main camera settings menu. When you're ready to take a photo, turn on the image stabiliser if your device has this feature.
3. Keep still! Thanks to autofocus, your shots shouldn't be blurred unless something is going wrong. Camera shake is the most likely suspect, so hold your device with both hands, and keep your elbows tucked into the sides of your body for support. When you press the shutter button, make no other movement until the image has been taken. If you're shooting in ample light, try increasing the shutter speed, if there's an option for that, or increase the ISO setting (as above), which will force the camera to automatically increase the shutter speed to prevent over-exposure. Selecting the Sports mode has a similar effect. A faster shutter means less time for wobbles to occur.
4. Fake bokeh Blur can sometimes be used to advantage, pulling an in-focus subject out of a softer background. When it's created using depth of field (where only objects at a certain distance are in focus) it's known as ‘bokeh'. This is hard to achieve with a smartphone camera, but another way is to follow a moving subject. Try focusing on a friend as you walk along together, keeping them in the same position in the frame as you move; when you take the shot, the background will be softened by motion blur while your friend is in focus. This effect works best with a slower shutter (more time to create blur), so avoid Sports mode, use a low ISO and turn off flash.
5. Use a timer The self-timer is a useful function for shooting without camera shake as well as for including yourself in the frame. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S's timer is accessible in the Camera, Settings menu. If your handset doesn't have a timer, third-party apps can help: try Camera Zoom FX from the Android Market. This timer gives you up to 10 seconds to get into the shot once you've pressed the capture button.
6. Add effects Under Camera, Settings, Effects, you'll find a number of filters you can apply, such as Sepia. These can be fun and help to mask any shortcomings in image quality. To get more creative, an effective trick is to shoot from an unusual perspective: try capturing a group shot from a low angle after your team conquers a mountain, for example,
7. Get up close One final and essential piece of advice when shooting with a small, low-resolution camera that has no optical zoom: always make the effort to get close to your subject. It pays dividends.