If you can shoot well, all you need is a disposable, toy camera or a camera phone to create great work. If you're not talented, it doesn't matter if you buy a Nikon D3X or Leica; your work will still be uninspired. It's always better to spend your time and money on learning art and photography, not by spending it on more cameras or lenses.
Why is it that with over 70 plus years of advancements in cameras, lens sharpness and film grain, resolution and dynamic range that no one has been able to equal what my hero Ansel Adams did back in the 1940s? Ansel didn't even have Photoshop! How did he do it? Most attempts fall short, some are as good but different like Jack Dykinga, but no one is the same.
Simply buying a Lamborghini doesn't mean you can drive a car like a stunt driver, and likewise, buying a great camera doesn't mean you can create compelling photographs. Good drivers can drive any vehicle and a good photographer can make great images with any camera. Cameras don't take pictures, people do. Cameras are just another artist's tool.
A camera catches your imagination. No imagination, no photo... just junk. The word "image" comes from the word "imagination." It doesn't come from "lens sharpness" or "noise levels" etc etc. Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need.
Want to know what the best wide angle lens is on the market? Your feet! Move your tush and take two steps back! And the best macro lens? Get close!
I tend to annoy a few "pros" with this attitude. They believe that their super duper amazing equipment is what distinguishes them from the others. Well…. Good for them. I just don’t happen to agree. Professional photographers are not in business to have the newest pricey stuff. We are in business to make a living. We shoot with the cheapest equipment possible to do the job. We don’t baby our gear, or have a special lens cleaning brush we keep near in case one speck of dust enters our view finder. We bash it around, we clean lenses with our t-shirt, we focus on the end product, not the gear used to get there! You probably already have all the equipment you need, if you'd just learn to make the best of it. Better gear will not make you any better photos, since the gear can't make you a better photographer.
Photographers make photos, not cameras. It's sad how few people realize any of this and spend all their time blaming poor results on their equipment, instead of spending that time learning how to see and learning how to manipulate and interpret light.
I did not go to a fancy photography school. I did it the hard way. Educating myself by reading every possible article out there, and by getting my butt outside, taking chances and experimenting. By seeing what a picture looks like at f/4 versus f/11. By pushing my cameras limits to see how well it handles high ISO.
If you are really serious about taking better pictures, I highly recommend checking something out written by Chase Jarvis, another idol of mine. He wanted to prove that the best camera is the one you have with you, and he did just that. Click HERE or HERE for more info.
Well folks, if you have made it to this point, thanks for hanging on through my rant there haha! Below are some great tips to get you well on your way to improving your cell phone photography!!!
Crop don’t zoom!
Many cell phone cameras offer a digital zoom function, but you're almost always best pretending it doesn't exist. Even in the “liveview” preview, you'll be able to see how noticeably your images lose clarity the second you start to zoom. The camera is simply extrapolating what's already there and basically guessing what the image looks like. It gets ugly fast. When you're cropping, however, you're actually just sampling pixel information that was actually recorded. Many cell phones have 8-megapixels of resolution and sometimes more. That means you can crop substantially and still have plenty of resolution left for display on the web.
Many cell phone cameras, especially the iPhone, really start to shine when you bring them in close to your subject. The small sensor provides a relatively wide depth of field so you can get entire objects in focus where cameras with bigger sensors and longer lenses would have trouble. When getting close, you can also usually have more control over the lighting of your subject. Are bright patches in the background of your composition throwing off the camera's meter and making your subject dark? Get closer and block it out all together. Small detail shots can be quite effective if done right.
Edit, Don't Filter
If you want your images to be unique, the last thing you should do is paint them with the same filters that literally millions of other people are using. For the record, I'm not anti-Instagram. I think the sharing element is fantastic, but the pre-determined "retro" washes are played out. And that goes for every other app slinging the same stuff. I suggest getting a full-on image editing app like the excellent SnapSeed, Photoshop Express, or iPhoto. They'll let you make reasonable adjustments, like contrast, sharpness, and color temperature. Stuff you'd actually do with images from a big camera. It's also not crazy to dump your images into Photoshop or another piece of editing software if you don't feel the need to share them right away. OK, it’s a little crazy, but people do it. It's with this decision that you can actually begin to choose your own style, or even extend the style you've already developed outside of your cell phone. It's a heck of a lot more effective than picking your favorite Hipstamatic filter and slapping it on every photo.
Don't Add Fake Blur
Depth of field will always be one of the biggest challenges for a cell phone camera. Wide angle lenses and tiny sensors make any substantial background blur difficult to achieve. But faking it almost always makes things worse. First, blur added with an editing app is usually applied uniformly across most of the frame. That's not the way a lens works, so it looks unnatural. Second, it's hard to be precise when selecting the object you want in focus so you can end up with harsh transitions from sharp to blurry. It's distracting and a dead giveaway that you’ve been messing with the image. If you want the viewer to focus on one specific thing, make it the central object in the frame. Try to keep your backgrounds as simple as possible, even if it means asking your subjects to turn around or move a few steps back. It's worth it.
Pick a Better Camera App
This one applies more to iPhone users than Android users, but in any case, the goal is more control. There are a couple of standard choices in this category and any of them will treat you better than the stock camera app. I like Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug) because it allows you to shoot in bursts and separates the AF lock from the exposure lock. It's also free. Other apps like Camera+ have similar options for more controlled shooting. Whatever you pick, it's worth it to spend a little time really getting used to it. It seems silly to take out your phone and practice taking pictures, but you'll be glad you did it if you manage to catch a great shot while others are still flipping through pages of apps or trying to turn off their flash.
Keep Your Lens Clean
Your pocket or purse is not a clean place, and the grime that lives within loves to migrate onto your cell phone camera lens. The results are hazy, dark images that won't look good no matter how many retro filters you slap on them. The lenses are now remarkably tough, so giving them a quick wipe with a soft cloth can't hurt (and your T-shirt will do OK in a pinch, but try not to make a habit of it). Once in a while, it's worth the effort to break out the lens cleaning solution and really get the grime off of it. It may not look dirty and you might not even notice it in your photos, but often a deep clean will make a difference.
Watch The Lens Flare
Adding lens flare is another trend in mobile photography right now that's getting more overdone by the minute. But, this one can actually work for you if you do it the natural way. The tiny lenses are often more prone to wacky light effects than their full sized counterparts, so you can really play it up if you want to. A silhouette with a bright, flaring background can actually look very stylish. If you want to control the flare in your shot, move the sun (or whatever bright light source is causing the refraction based mayhem) around in the frame. As you get closer to the edge, you'll often see the flare spread out and become more prominent. This is especially true with the new iPhone 5, which is also prone to image ruining purple fringing that should be avoided if possible. You can also cup your hand around the lens in order to make a DIY lens hood, which will cut down on the amount of flare if the light source happens to be out to the side of the frame. It may even be able to get rid of it all together.
Don't Forget The Rules Of Photography
This is by far the most important suggestion of all. The rules for taking a good picture don't change when you switch between cameras. Just because the camera can also make calls, doesn't mean you should ignore everything you know about balanced composition and expressive lighting. If you need to keep the rule of thirds or golden ratio layover on your screen at all times to help remind you, certainly turn it on. While the tips I've outlined here will help you maximize the strengths and minimize weaknesses of a cell phone camera, it's ultimately your skill, knowledge, and eye that will make photos worth looking at!