My friend Judy had her first opera recital last Sunday. At age 70 she looked and sounded terrific, but no official photographer was in attendance and neither were bevies of hands pointing phones at the action – this was no rock concert. I own a smartphone with a great camera, but I’m a lousy photographer. Still, when I saw that no one was snapping what might have been Judy’s first and only professional recital, I stepped up to the plate. Too bad that I had no idea what I was doing and wound up with a lot of fuzzy photos, pictures of my lap and a few passable though badly lit shots of Judy – plus excruciating pain in my arthritic shoulders from holding up the camera for an hour.
Since the holidays are coming up and photos of friends and family are de riguer, I thought I’d do a little research on how to take decent photos on a phone or tablet. I found some great tips at Consumer Reports, Lifehacker and the School of Digital Photography, along with some at Tech Radar and NDTV.
Before I share the best of the tips I found, there’s one thing I learned that will make those of you with a tablet and no smartphone feel less ridiculous when you use it to take pictures: Tablets have advantages when it comes to picture taking, especially when you’re older. A tablet’s larger screen makes it easier to preview your photo if your eyesight isn’t great. Editing photos is also easier on a tablet because you can see what you’re doing. And showing them off to friends is more fun, because the images are bigger and brighter and you can look at them together. Let’s face it, unless you’re still paying to have prints made, this is probably the only way your friends will ever see your pics of your grandkids or your trip to Italy.
Back to the tips – here’s what I found.
First Things First
- Take a lot of pictures – they don’t cost anything! Gone are the days when we had to buy film and pay for prints.
- No, it’s not a Nikon or even a point-and-shoot, but while your impulse with a tablet or phone is just to get the shot and to hell with artistic flourishes, paying a bit of attention to lighting and composition can turn your photos from flat to fantastic.
- Just because the lens is so teeny you weren’t even sure where it was until you started hunting doesn’t mean it doesn’t need cleaning. Give the lens a wipe down before you start snapping photos with your phone or tablet.
- Avoid redeye by telling your subject not to look directly into the camera, and by making the room brighter. If this fails, you can use an app to eliminate it after the fact. Learn more here.
- Using a tablet? Use both hands to hold it, and lock both elbows into your abdomen to provide stability. Awkward, but it works. If you don’t hold your tablet steady – especially if it’s a larger one – your images will be blurry and video will be jumpy.
- Don’t zoom. Because the zoom on a mobile device is digital and not optical (ie: it doesn’t actually lengthen the lens), zooming in reduces image quality; you can always crop later using an editing app – though you’ll lose image quality that way, too. The best way to make your subject bigger is to move in closer.
- On an iPhone or iPad, you can use any button to take the picture; this makes it easier to shoot one-handed.
- Once you take your photo, look for icons for Facebook, email, and other sharing options around the edge of the screen. You can also use the phone or tablet’s settings to save a photo you took as your wallpaper.
- Your phone or tablet’s biggest weakness is its inability to take good pictures in low light, which means you generally will want to get as much light as you possibly can on your subject. It’s always important to make sure your subject is facing the light source and you’re not; it’s even more important with a phone or tablet camera.
- LED flashes – the type that phones and tablets use – can be really harsh. Even in lower light situations, you may find that turning off the flash will give you a better result, so snap one with and one without if you’re in doubt. If the photo looks too ghostly with the flash, but you still need the light, place a piece of tissue or white paper over it to soften the LED effect.
- Be aware of the background. When you’re focused on the people in your picture, it’s easy to ignore the mess behind them. Find an uncluttered space to shoot your pic or if this isn’t a posed shot, move around in relation your subjects until you see the background you want.
- Use the “Rule of Thirds.“ If you’re posing someone, have them stand or sit one third of the way into the frame of your photo. It’s more visually interesting than smack dab in the middle. If you look at where the grid lines intersect on your screen in preview, you’ll have found the best spot to place the main subject.
- Not seeing grid lines on your preview screen? You can turn on the grid in your iPhone camera app under Options. If you have an Android phone download the Google Camera app.
- Use foreground for landscapes. A shot of a lake with a boat in the foreground will have more interest and depth than just a flat picture of water with trees around it. Get more composition tips here.
- All the other tips apply – look at your background, try for ambient lighting, take lots of pictures, etc.
- Unless you’re using an app that lets you take remote selfies (see Using Apps), let the person with the longest arms hold the phone. With luck this is also the tallest person – selfies taken from a higher perspective make everyone look better.
- If long arms don’t run in the family, consider splurging on a mechanical one; you can get handheld camera holders for as little as $5 on Amazon.
- If you’re shooting a group selfie, be aware that your phone’s front-facing camera is not as sophisticated as its back-facing one. If you care about resolution, try using the front-facing to compose your shot, then turn it around to shoot.
- Use an app!
- The one huge advantage that “real” cameras had over smartphones was the ability to finely control exposure and focus. With apps like Pro Camera, and the newer Pro Camera 7 for iPhone and iPad, you can now control your focus and exposure. You can set focus, slide the exposure icon around until you have the right exposure, then snap away. Check out TechRadar for more info.
- Use a camera app for editing. A good all around favorite is Snapseed, which is available for both iPhone or iPad and Android.
- If you want to get fancy, Lifehacker recommends a more advanced camera app, like CameraZOOM FX for Android or Camera+ for the iPhone.
- Shooting selfies? CamMe is your app. It’s compatible with both the iPhone and iPad (not yet available for Android) and has the power to turn even a tablet into a selfie machine. You don’t need to be anywhere near the device to actually take the picture; the app can recognize gestures. All you have to do is set up your device on a stand and then back away. Raise your hand and close your fist to activate the countdown and take a picture from several feet away. For more info check out NDTV.
If you want to master your phone or tablet’s camera, Photojojo University provides an online four-week photography course for $10.00. After you sign up, you’ll receive a stream of quick and easy-to-follow tutorials by email.
We would really like to see your holiday photos, so post your Thanksgiving pictures to Instagram. Download the Instagram app (see our Tech Tip on how to get started with Instagram. Then hashtag your pictures #seniorholiday, and we’ll share them on Pinterest.