Sunday, February 27, 2011

Smart Phone Camera Tips

Several of you have asked for tips for taking photos with your cell phone camera. I'm using an iPhone 3GS, so my examples will be from the iPhone, but these tips will work for whatever phone you have.

Cell phone cameras are quickly replacing point-and-shoot cameras, and each new generation boasts better cameras, with larger files, better exposure, and faster processing. So the newer your phone, the better your camera will be.

Anticipate: Your camera is going to have some lag time between when you press the shutter and when the picture is actually taken. This can make getting an image of a running dog or a quick moving toddler a challenge. I have lots of pictures of grass to prove it! If you can pan the camera, moving it with the moving subject as you press the shutter release, your odds of getting more than grass are greatly increased. It has the added benefit of blurring the background, which gives a sense of movement, and just plain looks cool.

Another alternative is to tell the dog or the child to stand still for the photo. Good luck with that.

Most phone cameras have a fixed f-stop of about 2.8, which means you can get better pictures in low light, but it also means that there's not a lot of depth of field (only the central subject will be in focus, while things in front and behind will be slightly out of focus.)

Newer phones have the ability to focus on the object of your choice. For the iPhone, just tap the LCD on the object on which you'd like to focus. The iPhone (and probably your camera) will also adjust the color balance and exposure to that area too.

If you don't know what color balance is, you really need to get with the program. You know how when you take a picture under incandescent light it looks yellow, and under fluorescent light it looks green? A correct color balance will restore the photo to the actual color, and take out the yellow or green tint. It's cool.

Hold Steady:
Most cell phone cameras have a shutter speed that ranges from 1/10 second to 1/500 second. Standard issue humans cannot hold a camera steady for 1/10 of a second. So if you take a photo in low light, it may be a little blurry, even if you are stone sober and are really trying to be still. One tip: Find out what action releases your shutter. The iPhone doesn't release its shutter when you press the LCD, but when you lift your finger from the LCD. So press the shutter, take a deep breath and hold steady, then gently lift your finger from the LCD screen.

If you can rest your camera on something in low-light situations, all the better.

Macro Lens:
Your cell phone lens can focus down to about 2 inches, which is a lot more than my fancy DSLR can do. This is great for taking pictures of wine labels, recipes, book quotes, business cards or other cool stuff you want to remember.

Apps: There are some cool apps out there. Check your app store for the most popular camera applications.

This image was taken with Hipstamatic, an iPhone app that imitates an old toy plastic camera like a Holga or Diana.

This blog space doesn't do justice to this Pano app image. (You can click on it for a slightly larger version.) It's a 270 degree image of the studio and house, and the 8 feet of snow we are currently enjoying. You can take multiple images, and Pano automatically stitches them together into one long image. This app is a must-get!

One of the BEST things about a cell phone camera is when you pretend you're listening to a message, and you're actually taking a picture! What could be cooler? Not for use in public restrooms, but on the subway, a plane, or on the street, it's a great way to get a slice of life. BTW, be sure to get permission from the subject before doing this, just like I do.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I've had some great opportunities to make images of children lately. Kids are so fun— they haven't learned to be self-conscious yet, and are so full of energy.

Avery was very comfortable in front of the camera! By the end of the portrait session, we were all convinced that she has a bright future in modeling.

Avery and her mom had picked out this new outfit just for the photoshoot.

The studio floor is heated, so there were no cold feet!

Avery dressed up as an Inuit princess.

It was obvious during the session that Avery and her mom Jessica have a close and fun relationship.

Amalie was just a few weeks old when these images were made with her mom and dad.

Roberto speaks Spanish to little Amalie, and Radka speaks Czech. The rest of us speak English, so Amalie will grow up trilingual, or just very confused.

Amalie is always peacefully content. Almost always.

There are few things more wonderously beautiful than a newborn child.

Devi came for a portrait session with her mom and grandma, and, as you can tell from this image, she is full of life!

Steven Meyer, of Mary Meyer Toys, asked me to spend a day with a group of five-year-olds playing with Mary Meyer's delightful stuffed toys. Yes, I got paid to play with kids for a day.

We were doing the shoot at a home that had a chalkboard wall. What a perfect backdrop!

One of my favorite images from the day.

At one point we were all focused on a shoot at one end of the playroom. When we turned around, Phoebe had arranged this complete set-up and was patiently waiting for me to take her picture.

I love the nostalgia and timelessness of this image.

This was the last shot of the day, and the kids were tired, so I asked one of the dads to cheerlead. Within a few seconds the children started to smirk, then smile, then burst into laughter. Amazed by the quick turnaround, I looked to see what Dave was doing, only to discover that he was wiggling his backside right above my head.

Thanks for taking the time to look at these images!