The Expert Guide to Smartphone Photography

While professional photographers insist that smartphone photography will never replace the full-size camera, the fact is, it already has for many of us. The casual camera enthusiasts of the early 2000s have become the smartphone camera power users of today, buying gear and software to upgrade our phone cameras for a tenth of the price of buying a full-size setup.

Mobile photography is here to stay, but are we using our phone’s camera to its full potential? Your phone might be a better photography tool than you know.

Step 1: Unlock Your Smartphone Camera’s True Power

Your phone’s camera is a far more capable tool than your phone wants you to think. Like a ‘real’ camera, phone cameras have adjustable shutter speeds, ISO/exposure, and white balance settings. Unfortunately, most native camera apps won’t let you touch those settings. For dual rear camera phones, native apps won’t even allow you to choose which lens you shoot with.

Fortunately, third-party camera apps give users access to all the manual settings on their camera. Here are just a few.

Android camera apps include:

  • Camera FV-5
  • Camera MX
  • Manual Camera
  • Footej Camera
  • Moment – Pro Camera

iOS camera apps include:

  • Camera+ 2
  • ProCam
  • VSCO Cam
  • Moment – Pro Camera

While features vary between apps, what you’re looking for are the 3 main features: the ability to control your shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. With just these tools, you’ll be able to have complete control over the images you can capture or produce.

Step 2: Edit Like a Pro

Even with access to your phone’s camera controls, getting the perfect image comes down to post-production. Here’s what you’re looking for in an editing app: the ability to adjust color, tone, and tint; blacks, whites, highlights, and shadows; and the ability to apply filters.

The leading smartphone photography editing apps are:

  • Lightroom
  • Afterlight
  • VSCO
  • Snapseed

Any one of these will allow you to adjust and fine-tune your images, but some have advantages that will depend on your workflow. For example, VSCO is well-known for their vast library of beautiful, elegant filters. Applying a filter and making minor edits might be your speed.

For people who want absolute control over every pixel, Lightroom offers selective editing tools that let you choose which elements to edit through quick selection tools. Lightroom and Afterlight also allow users to apply tone curves to their photos, creating a richer, deeper range of colors.

Step 3: Upgrade Your Hardware

smartphone photography Vector black smartphones with clip-on lensesYou know those commercials Apple puts out about their phones that say “Shot on iPhone”? Here’s what they won’t tell you—those photos were also shot using lenses, filters, and software designed to take advantage of every single pixel. Thankfully, getting yourself geared up with the industry’s leading smartphone photography gear will run you less than the cost of a single full-size camera lens.

The best upgrade you can do is get a smartphone lens. Getting a lens gives your mobile photography a boost like nothing else. Tele lenses allow you to imitate the look of a full-size DSLR camera, while wide or fisheye lenses give you that documentary/GoPro look you want for action or landscape photography.

Moment and Sandmarc are the leading makers of smartphones lenses. Sandmarc will run you slightly less, and their lenses come with a clip that allows you to attach it to any phone. The downside? Clipping the lens to your phone means you’ll need to fiddle with the lens every time.

Moment lenses are higher quality, and the price reflects that. The downside for some users is that Moment lenses require a special phone case—and if you don’t have a phone that Moment supports, you’re out of luck.

Whatever you choose, Moment and Sandmarc both offer wide lenses, tele lenses, and even macro lenses for intensely stylized images.

Wrapping Smartphone Photography Up

What makes the “perfect” camera is subject to what each photographer wants to do. If you want to create killer images for Instagram or Twitter, then all you really need is your phone, a lens, and a good app. Unlock your phone’s potential, experiment with the exposure and shutter settings, and start exploring what you can do with the camera in your pocket.

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