Thanks to smart phones, apps and sharing platforms, almost all of us have some kind of picture-taking device with us most of the time.
Be it for social media, fun, or simply as a memento, many of us take regular photos of our daily runs, rides and adventurous travels. But with a little more input they could be so much more.
Digital photographic technology has advanced at warp speed in the past few years, making it easier than ever to capture great images.
It really is amazing how many people think that because you have a big or expensive camera you will somehow take great pictures. Sure, the equipment does help – but it will no more make you a good photographer than an expensive wok will earn you a Michelin star.
A photographer may scoff at taking mobile phone pictures seriously, but if you know what you’re doing you can make excellent images on a smartphone.
The key to taking great phone pictures is to think of it as a camera, and not just a phone. Slow down, get you breath, hold it steady with both hands, compose the image, grab your focus and expose for the highlights (brighter areas) by touching the screen until the exposure is more even, with the bright areas not too bright. You can bring back some shadow detail with the ambiance, shadow and curve tool in Snapseed, but can do little if the highlights are too bright in the initial photo. High Dynamic Range (HDR) setting is good when exposure is extreme, like if there is a contrast between a bright sky and dark landscape, and can be turned on when you open your camera app by clicking HDR at the top of the screen. Don’t just take one image – try a few compositions.
The great thing with a phone is that you almost always have it with you and you can be ready to shoot, edit and post within seconds.
On the downside, phones have tiny sensors, which means they struggle in low light and high contrast situations. They have a fixed focal length so avoid digital zooms, it just crops the image, and a fixed aperture, which means you have little depth of field, making it hard to isolate a subject and blur the background.
There are so many good camera apps out there, too, some allowing you to shoot DNG or RAW files, which save more information from the original image than JPEG files, so give some manual control. However, they are more time consuming to use and the images are not much better than from the native phone camera app. There are some really nice film simulation apps, though it may mean you cannot do much editing to the image, like Vsco and Filmic Firstlight.
Once you have your image, you should edit it. Keep your best shots and edit lightly. Snapseed is a free editing app, and all you really need to tweak your pictures to perfection.
To get better image results and for more versatility, you will be looking at a “proper camera”. There are still a few good point-and-shoot cameras out there and action cams are also very useful for ultra wide-angle shots on the go. That said, you cannot beat an interchangeable lens system for quality.
Even entry-level mirrorless cameras (basically, a camera when you see the image on a screen, rather than through a view finder by pressing your eye against the camera) can produce stunning images, and many professionals use them. Mirrorless systems are also small and lightweight, meaning they are easy to carry on hikes and bike rides.
If you’re just starting out, buying a one or two year old second-hand model is a good plan and then getting hold of a good medium-range zoom lens. Lenses are really the most important factor, and the faster the aperture – a low F stop number, like f2.8, so you can set a high shutter speed – the better the lens will perform in demanding situations like low light or fast action shots. Consider also getting hold of a fast fixed focal length prime lens, too – they tend to be small and faster, and also produce sharper images.
DSLRs are great, and there’s nothing like a full-frame DSLR and big lenses for pro work, although their weight and bulk is something you would not want to go back to after using smaller mirrorless cameras.