Everything Good Happens Before 8AM

If you look closely, you can see my bobber floating in the water...

Although the weekend wasn't a total success for fishing, getting up early did yield a few nice photos. I didn't bring a real camera - this was taken with my iPhone. Not bad at all, although I doubt it would make a great large print.

Here are some tips for getting decent photos from your phone:

  • More than anything else, take advantage of good light, especially golden hour. The image sensor in a phone is tiny and noisy, and artificial light usually isn't practical with a phone, so good natural light is critically important. It makes a huge difference! Golden hour light is bright enough to work with the sensor, but still has softer, side-casting shadows and a lovely warm hue. These are all usually very good things in a photo. So when you're out and about around sunrise or sunset, take advantage of the opportunity and get some photos.
  • Clean the lens! Or more accurately, the glass window on your phone that protects the lens. It's terrible about accumulating dust, fingerprints, and general schmutz, and that is degrading your sharpness and contrast. Ideally, you'd use some lens cleaner and a good microfiber cloth, but who carries that shit around with them? I certainly don't. If I were going to bother with that, I'd carry a real camera. I just exhale some hot breath on it and wipe it off with a cotton shirt. Even that helps tremendously.
  • Hold the camera still. Use both hands, tuck your elbows against your torso, exhale, and slowly but deliberately press the shutter without jostling the camera. Or if you really want to go to town, use the timer function, place the camera on something (a rock, a bench, etc.) and take the photo that way. But I almost always just handhold it for a phone photo because I'm usually busy doing something else.
  • For a landscape, choose your focus point to optimize exposure. This is a little bit technical to explain, but it's really easy to do in practice and it can turn an okay photo into a terrific one. The standard camera app on an iPhone doesn't allow you to manually set exposure (how light or dark the photo is). Instead, it automatically sets exposure for whatever is in the focus square (that little square overlay on the screen that the camera uses to select what it's going to focus on). You can move the focus square by tapping on the screen. Now, in a landscape photo (and in many other types of photos actually because the sensor is so dinky), what you focus on doesn't really matter much because the phone camera optics will make everything in the scene in focus. So place the focus square instead to get the best exposure. Is the sky showing up as white and blown-out? Then tap on something light colored in the scene, perhaps the sky itself, and the phone will darken the exposure - there, now the colors in the sky are back. Is the scene too dark? Then tap on something dark and the camera will lighten everything up. So it's really simple: Experiment by tapping on various things in the scene until you get an overall exposure that either matches what you're seeing with your eyes, or just looks nice to you. One great thing about a camera phone is that what you see on the screen is what you'll get in the photo, so you can see the exposure before actually taking the picture.
  • Get an image editor app. This is optional, but very worthwhile. Consider it extra credit. An image editor app will let you tweak the photo afterwards to compensate for the inadequacies of the phone's image sensor and processing firmware. For example, with a landscape I might place my focus square to get the exposure of the sky right (in order to capture the colors in a sunset) but that will cause everything in the foreground to be a silhouette. I'll use an image editor app to lighten up the shadows (i.e. the foreground) so it matches what I actually saw. Best of all, you don't have to be a Photoshop expert to use these apps; they're highly simplified so that a normal person can figure them out. My favorite is Snapseed, which is excellent.