Better Landscape Photos Using Smartphone
Today, as much as we deny it, more images are shot with a smartphone rather than with a DSLR. Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone more and more people are getting hooked on to photography. It is a good thing.
The best camera is the one you have with you
– Chase Jarvis (There can’t be any better statement!)
Whether or not the quality of images is improving, however, is a different story altogether. That precisely is the topic of our discussion today.
How to improve your photography. But rather than talk about how to improve our smartphone photography overall, I would like to center this discussion on smartphone landscape photography.
Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.
– Ansel Adams
There are so many things that can go wrong when attempting to make a landscape photo. And they usually do. The thing is our eyes are way better ‘cameras’ compared to the ones we wield in our hands.
Our eyes can continually adjust for the difference in light value across the scene, adjust for the difference in contrast as well for the varying distances from one interesting point to another in the frame.
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Moreover, your eyes don’t focus on a particular point in a scene but keep shifting the focus point around. Your camera does not do any of those.
This is why it is imperative that you don’t look at a scene from the point of view of your eyes, but from the point of view of the lens on your camera. That is the first step in getting a better image.
Depth Of Field
Whether you shoot with a DSLR or a smartphone, your camera is as dumb as it gets.
It does not know whether it is in front of a breathtaking landscape at the golden hour or in front of a busy street under the mid-day sun.
It has no idea how much of the scene needs to be in focus or for that matter how to expose for it. You have to tell it where to focus and how to meter so that the image closely matches what you intended to shoot in the first place.
Quick Composition Tips
- Compose and then tap on the screen to focus about 1/3rd into the scene. This will ensure that a large part of the scene will be acceptably focused.
- In order to assist your eyes in focusing right about the precise point, turn on the grid line (the one you use for complying with the Rule of Thirds) on your smartphone camera. Then focus on the first line from bottom.
- Choosing to focus at the bottom or 1/3rd into the scene will give you the maximum depth of field for your images.
When you focus on something, that point in the image and everything else on the same plane turns out sharp. The question is:
- What if the lower one-third does not have anything of significance?
- What if the important point of your image is towards the center of the frame?
If you use the above rule, however, you risk blurring (even if it is slight) this most important point of focus.
I employ these approaches for such situations. In situations where I don’t have a foreground subject or a subject that is not in the bottom third of the frame, rather towards the middle of the frame, I prefer to focus where the subject is.
A lighthouse perhaps, would be focused and not the rocks on the beach. This is because my smartphone lens has some serious limitations and it would not be able to stop down the aperture and create a depth of field vast enough to bring the entire scene into focus. In case I don’t have anything of interest in the foreground I would use the above rule.
Choose The Pro Mode When Shooting Smartphone Landscape Photography
Believe it or not, the Pro mode in most smartphone cameras open up a bunch of options that you would have never known before. These options would include a customized white balance setting and a customized shutter speed setting.
It also allows you to use an ISO number of choice as well as adjust the exposure using exposure compensation. The Auto mode does not offer these options to you. Even these simple controls will help you incredibly to improve your photography.
Another important piece of camera control is changing the metering mode. Metering mode denotes the mechanism that controls how much of the image is to be sampled for evaluating the light value in a scene. In plain English, depending on the light value of the specific areas of the scene the exposure values are auto set.
There are three different types of metering modes in cameras (some cameras have the fourth mode). These modes are spot, matrix and center-weighted. Spot metering gives an accurate reading sampled off of a small area of the scene. I use spot metering for a majority of my photos when shooting with a DSLR.
But when I shoot smartphone landscape photography I choose matrix metering as it tends to do a better job of metering a complex scene.
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Use The Delayed Shutter Mechanism
The delay shutter mechanism on your smartphone camera is a smart and very effective tool to ensure sharp smartphone landscape photography. This technique works best when you use a tripod. Since remote shutter releases for smartphones are not that common, and there is a perfectly good alternative to it, built right into your smartphone, why not use it?
How does a delayed shutter speed work?
- Select the delayed shutter option from the shutter menu first.
- Next, set up your smartphone on a tripod.
- Tap to focus after making the composition.
Press the shutter button. Your smartphone, may or may not try to re-acquire focus after you do it. But the important thing is that the shutter does not fire immediately. It waits for the number of seconds you set at the time of setting up the delayed shutter and then fires the shutter. The advantage is it eliminates any wobbling of the camera due to your finger tapping on the screen. shutter and then fires the shutter. The advantage is it eliminates any wobbling of the camera due to your finger tapping on the screen.
One of the most elementary aspects of smartphone landscape photography (and for that matter shooting landscape with any camera) is the positioning of the horizon line.
There is nothing in the rule book or anywhere that says that the horizon has to be bang in the middle of the frame. You are free to place it anywhere in the frame.
For a start, look at the foreground and the background (which is where the sky should ideally be). If there is a lot happening in the sky, place the horizon line 1/3rd into the frame. If there is nothing interesting going in the sky, place the horizontal line on or around the 1st line of the grid. That way you will have a much larger foreground to work with.
Place Something Interesting In The Foreground
That brings us to the next topic – putting something in the foreground. Putting something in the foreground works as a visual stepping stone for the viewer, to get inside the image. A foreground element also adds depth to an image which would otherwise be flat. It also works as a point of reference in some compositions.
This is one of the most important aspects of shooting smartphone landscape photography. An image with a blurry foreground is an absolute no-no. The eyes of the viewer will immediately be attracted towards the blurred out areas and will keep looking for something that is sharp. It is imperative that if there is a foreground element, it must be sharp.
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Camera stabilization is yet another important parameter of good, clean blur-free images. There are some ways you can stabilize when shooting smartphone landscape photography.
The primary among them is a tripod. There are some sturdy tripods idea for use with a smartphone.
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You will need a unique head that facilitates mounting a smartphone. With a tripod, you can keep your smartphone perfectly still as you make a landscape image. The tripod allows you to stretch the shutter speed and exploit the whole range of creative possibilities just like any other camera.
Download Apps For Better Photography
The built-in camera app on your smartphone is a powerful one for shooting images. No doubt. But there is a limit to what it can do. Downloading specialized apps for shooting videos is the way to go.
This lets you make creative photography, the way you would normally do with an SLR or a mirrorless camera. Dragging the shutter speed gives you the ability to use your ND filter with it.
If you are an iPhone user, you may want to have a look at the Camera Awesome App by SmugMug which allows you to adjust your settings more like a pro photographer.
Using ND Filters
ND filters have traditionally been used by photographers who wield DSLRs and with them wide angle lenses. But these filters can also work with smartphones with incredibly great results as well.
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The thing is you will have to use your creative brains to get the maximum out of them. There are no mechanical ways to mount a traditional round (or square) ND filter to a smartphone camera lens. The non-traditional way is to use an elastic (rubber) band.
Perfecting the art would require some effort as initially, you may experience light leaks and other problems. But once you perfect it, this will open a whole new world of photography for you.
Otherwise, you can now get neutral density (ND) filters, which were made especially for smartphones. Here is one from Amazon.com we recommend: