Tips and Tricks: for Better Smartphone Photography

For many, phones have completely replaced dedicated digital cameras, but even pros reach for their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones to snap images from time to time. Here’s how to take better pics with your smartphone.

 

By Jim Fisher of PCMag.com

Your smartphone is always with you, a constant companion that can connect to the web to look up any tiny nugget of trivia, and generally keep you in constant contact with the outside world. It’s one of the key items you grab before leaving the house, and the last time you (probably) turned it off was at the movie theater.

This also makes your phone your take-everywhere, shoot-anything digital camera. Just a few short years ago, making images and video with smartphones was a compromise, with poorer image quality but a heck of a lot more convenience than a good point-and-shoot camera.

But times have changed and phone cameras have gotten better and better. The latest models offer superior imaging and video to budget point-and-shoot cameras, and offer nifty software tricks to blur backgrounds, just like an SLR and f/2 or f/1.4 lens.
Check out these tips to get the best images you can get from your phone. But remember, even with the latest tech, phones aren’t as versatile imaging tools as modern interchangeable lens cameras.

Start With a Good Camera Phone

Smartphone camera quality has enjoyed a big leap forward in quality over the past couple of years. If you’re using an older handset, chances are the camera isn’t up to snuff. If camera quality is a priority when shopping for a new one, make sure you peruse our list of the top camera phones we’ve tested. But remember that you really can’t go wrong with the latest Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy devices.

Look for the Light

Smartphones have very bright lenses—the Samsung Galaxy S9 has one that opens up all the way to f/1.5. But sensors are much smaller than you find in a premium compact camera with a 1-inch sensor like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. That gives them a distinct disadvantage in image quality in dim lighting. To get the best shots, look for opportunities where your phone’s sensor can shine. If you’re indoors, try to set up your shot so there’s light falling on your subject—some window light will do more to improve your photos than a new phone or camera. It’s always a better option to find good light as opposed to using your phone’s underpowered LED flash.

Adjust Exposure

Smartphones are the modern point-and-shoot, but the apps that run their cameras typically offer some level of manual control. The most basic adjustment you can make is exposure—brightening or darkening a scene—and using it effectively can turn a bland image into a head-turner. Use it to brighten the shot of your fancy dinner to make it perfect for Instagram, or to darken shadows in a portrait for a more dramatic look.

The feature isn’t always labeled the same. On an iPhone you’ll want to drag the sun icon, to the right of the focus confirmation box, up to brighten an image or down to darken it. Android phones typically have the more traditional +/- icon for exposure adjustment.

Turn On Your Grid

Pro SLRs typically have framing grids in the viewfinder window to help you better square up shots and conform to compositional guidelines like the rule of thirds. (For more on composition and other photo basics, read our tips for basic photography, which apply as much to smartphones as they do to pro cameras.)

You can turn on the same thing in your phone’s camera app. Adding a grid line gives you help in keeping the horizon straight and is a big plus for portraits in front of famous landmarks. With the notable exceptions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s generally a good idea to keep upright structures perfectly vertical in your photos.

Learn Your Camera’s Features

The imaging capabilities of modern smartphone cameras are staggering. We’ve seen advances in computational photography that allow you to blur the background of images, mimicking the look of a wide aperture lens and big image sensor, and some handsets can also capture insanely slow-motion video.

Your phone probably has a good burst mode too, and it’s never a bad idea to take a few images in a sequence to get the best one—just make sure not to post all of them. iPhone owners can check out Live Photos, which mix still images and video together.

Try an Add-On Lens

Your phone’s camera certainly has one lens, and some models offer dual rear cameras with the second lens capturing a tighter or wider angle of view than your phone’s main eye. A quality add-on lens will cost you—the bargain-basement ones we’ve reviewed have been universally terrible. Go with a trusted brand like Moment or Olloclip.

Picking the type of add-on lens is important too. I think a macro adds the most versatility to your phone’s camera, but you may prefer an ultra-wide, a fish-eye, or a telephoto conversion lens.

Focus Close

Even without a macro add-on, your phone can focus pretty close. Use it to your advantage. You can snap a shot of your fancy dinner and get close up, but keep the whole frame in focus. That’s something you can’t do with a big camera shooting at f/1.4 or f/2, and one of the areas where small image sensors have a practical advantage over larger ones.

Get a Gimbal

It’s not all about images. Entry-level compact cameras are stuck at 720p, but if you’ve got a recent smartphone you have a 4K-capable video camera in your pocket. Flagship models include optical image stabilization, but that can only go so far. If you want truly smooth, great-looking video, think about a powered gimbal to keep your phone steady. Our favorite is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, a $130 device that steadies video, can track moving subjects, and also supports time-lapse and panoramic stitching.

Add a Microphone

When shooting video, good audio is more important than sharp footage. Your phone’s internal mic is meant for making phone calls—not recording high-quality audio. Headphone jacks may be disappearing from phones, but you can get a microphone that plugs directly into your USB or Lightning port, or one that works with your phone’s audio dongle. Just make sure to read some reviews to make sure the mic is compatible with your particular phone and its operating system.

Edit Your Shots

Your phone is a powerful handheld computer, just as capable of making basic image adjustments as a high-end laptop running Photoshop. You should download some image editing software—my favorite is VSCO, a free download for both Android and iOS—or use the basic image editing tools built into your operating system.

More advanced photographers can enable Raw capture, which will deliver much more leeway in editing. And if you have a dual-lens iPhone, you can add an app like Focos, which allows you to adjust the amount of and quality of background blur in your Portrait Mode shots.

What tips do you have for shooting quality pic on a smart phone? Tell us in the comments below!

App of the Week: Gmail Archived Mail

What It Is and How to Use It?

 

Need to save that email? Try archiving it

By Scott Orgera of Lifewire.com

We live in a world of seemingly endless emails; many of us send and receive a ton of emails every day. Whether it be for professional or personal purposes, our inboxes can eventually become a cluttered repository of disarray.

While many of these emails are disposable, there are some you may want to keep for future reference. No matter the motive, storing everything in your inbox can become problematic for a number of reasons.

What is the Gmail Archive?

Rather than deleting an email and losing it for good, you can choose to archive it instead. As soon as a message is placed in the Gmail archive, it is removed from your inbox and tagged with the label “All Mail.” These messages remain within your Gmail account and can be easily retrieved at a later time, but for now they are out of sight and out of mind.

Note: If someone replies to an archived message, it’s automatically returned to your inbox.  

How to Archive Email

Sending a message to your Gmail archive is very easy, so much so that many people often mistakenly archive emails by clicking on or tapping the wrong option. For more information on how to retrieve archived messages, visit our step-by-step tutorial.

Archiving Emails on a Computer

  • 1 To archive a message on a computer, first access the Gmail interface via your preferred web browser (Google Chrome is recommended).
  • 2 Select the email or emails that you wish to archive by clicking on their accompanying checkbox(es) so that each of them becomes highlighted.
  • 3 Click the Archive button, represented by a folder with a down arrow in the foreground and circled in the accompanying screenshot above.
  • 4 Your message(s) will now be archived, and a confirmation message should appear along with a link labeled Undo – which will revert this change if clicked on.

 

Archiving Emails on an Android or iOS Device

 

Moving messages into your archive is even easier on smartphones or tablets when using the Gmail app. Simply swipe from right to left on a message in your inbox or other folder and it will instantly be archived, assuming that your swiping settings have not been previously modified.

To validate your Gmail swiping settings beforehand, take the steps below.

Android users: From the menu button, take the following path: Settings > General Settings > Gmail default action and ensure that Archive is selected.

iOS users: From the menu button, take the following path: Settings > “account name” > When removing messages, I prefer to…and ensure that Archive is selected.

Muting Gmail Messages

In addition to archiving individual emails, Google offers a similar feature with one key difference. While messages are still moved to the “All Mail” repository when muted, they are not automatically returned to your inbox when someone replies. To mute a message, take the following steps.

Muting Messages on a Computer

 

  • 1 To mute a message on a computer, first access the Gmail interface via your preferred web browser (Google Chrome is recommended).
  • 2 Select the email or emails that you wish to mute by clicking on their accompanying checkbox(es) so that each of them becomes highlighted.
  • 3 Click the More button, found in Gmail’s main toolbar.
  • 4 When the drop-down menu appears, select the Mute option.
  • 5 A confirmation message should now be displayed, letting you know that the conversation has been muted. Click the Undo button to revert this setting.

 

Muting Messages on Android or iOS Devices

  • 1 To mute a message within the Gmail app on a smartphone or tablet, first select the conversation in question.
  • 2 Next, tap the menu button – represented by three vertical dots and located in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
  • 3 When the pop-out menu appears, select Mute.

 

What best practices do you have for managing your email? Tell us in the comments below!

App of the Week: Record Player

There’s An App Like Shazam But For Album Covers

 

Shazam has proved to be a really useful piece of kit for the casual music listeners amongst us.

Hearing a tune in the background on the office radio or in a store that spikes our interest once upon a time may have ended there. A potentially momentarily frustrating situation if ever there was one.

Along came Shazam to solve such a problem, easing our mysterious musical woes. Just hold your phone up to the sound and the app will tell you what song it is as well as nudging you towards purchasing it on iTunes (support the music man).

It was obviously fairly popular as Apple bought the service last year for around $400 million.

Record Player has seen those successes and applied it to something more visual. Album covers.

The concept is simple. You’re browsing a record store and you see an album that tickles your fancy – however you may not have listened to it properly in the past. Vinyl isn’t exactly cheap so you may want to take the record out for a ‘test run’.

Snap a picture of the cover and the app will use the Google Cloud Vision API and the Spotify API to bring up the playlist on Spotify.

According to Billboard and Nielsen Music, vinyl LP sales have reached a record high, accounting for 14% of all U.S. physical album sales in 2017, an 11% increase from 2016.

Download Record Player for iOS here

Download Record Player for Android here

 

Do you have a favorite reference app like Shazam or Record Player? Tell us about it in the comments below!!

App of the Week: Out of Milk

Out of Milk, the popular shopping list app, just added support for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

By Ryne Hager of Android Police

There are a lot of shopping list apps out there, and that’s an understatement. Back in the early days of app development, shopping lists were one of the most popular simple projects, and even now people learning the ropes typically toss one together. But Out of Milk has stood the test of time for the last seven years. And now managing your shopping list is getting just a bit more convenient via the new Out of Milk voice assistant, which works with both Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.

There are a couple of steps you’ll have to make to get things working as they should. The full instructions for Google Home are here (and Alexa instructions are here), but remember that the Out of Milk voice assistant requires you to use an account created on the Out of Milk app or website. Once it’s set up you’ll be able to yell at your assistant of choice and make use of the following features:

• Add and remove items to a list (e.g. “Add rice to my list.”)
• Include the quantity of an item on a list (e.g. “Add two gallons of milk to my list.”)
• Add multiple items at once to a list ( “Add bananas, cereal, & butter to my list.”)
• Check which list their editing (e.g. “Which list am I in?”)
• Switch between existing lists (e.g. “Switch to my ‘Walmart’ list.”)
• Read off items on a list (e.g. “What is on my current list?”)
• Read off all lists (e.g. “What lists do I have?”)

If you haven’t used Out of Milk, it’s pretty nifty. It allows you to add items to lists synced with other devices as well as friends or family. And you don’t just have to type or dictate, it can also scan barcodes. So the next time you toss out an empty bottle or box, you can quickly make sure you’ll grab it on your next shopping trip.

 

 

Ready to give things a try?

You can download Out of Milk at Google Play and iTunes.

Do you have a favorite App for Grocery Shopping? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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