Easy Tips for Getting the Best Camera Shots

The best camera is the one that's with you. It's an old saying, probably the words of a frantic photojournalist who once had to grab his mom's box camera and shoot the blazes out of a bank robbery.

But it is a saying worth remembering, especially for iPhone camera users. It is not the best camera in the world but is a pretty good one that you often carry since it serves as your cell phone, Internet access point, weather advisor and so much more.

"You might actually be amazed at what all you can do with this little camera," says Alan A. Reiter, president of Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing. As a Washington D.C. based consultant, he maintains an interest in cell phone cameras and offers several general comments on how to get the best shot using the camera.

Patience and practice

More than anything else, good photography requires patience and practice—a great photo might come when you have just about given up. It also requires that you know your photography equipment so well that its use becomes second nature when the time comes to take the shot. Practice before the big moment arrives, Reiter says.

Keep your camera steady

Start by finding the most comfortable way to keep your camera steady. The photographer's enemy is movement. "It's insidious, you don't always know when you're doing it," says Reiter who advises using the same techniques to shoot photos as used in shooting a gun.

"Don't hold your breath. But take a breath and exhale slowly. Take the photo at the end of exhaling. Always use two hands to steady the camera. Back up against something solid, if you can. Keep your elbows braced against your sides, pressing your elbows against your body—don't have ‘wings'."

It helps to use a tripod—available even for iPhones. "Or lean your iPhone against a wall or place it on a rock. While an iPhone is praised for the way you take photos—by touching the screen, this can be a problem, making it hard to hold it steady."

Get close to your subject

While you're out experimenting, try getting close to your subjects. The iPhone lens has a relatively wide angle and is good for close-ups. The 3GS lens angle is even wider than the earlier model, but generally, distance distorts and objects often appear smaller. "You're going to get tiny people and tiny buildings, so practice getting up close, but not so close that your picture blurs. This way you will get better lighting and colors. Fill up the frame with the image you want. Practice taking photos of flowers, for instance. See how far or close you can get and still stay in focus."

Crop while you're shooting

Try and crop photos while taking the picture; don't wait to crop when using software, Reiter suggests. "Forget the car and buildings or people, unless you want them in the photo. Most iPhone photography that is good is taken close to the subject.

Shoot first and keep shooting

If a newsworthy moment arrives, don't worry too much—just start shooting. "In the future, people will accept even the poorest photograph or video if it's an important piece of news," Reiter says.

For example, at the Virginia Tech student massacre in 2007, a student's photography was shaky and blurry, but CNN purchased it. "Consider the context; if you're the only one with equipment, people want something to capture the moment."

You can keep shooting as long as you have battery power and space. You don't have to worry about running out of film. "Professionals shoot dozens, literally hundreds of the same scene. You can't judge a photo taken on your phone until it is printed on paper or brought up on the computer screen where, preferably, you will do video editing," Reiter advises. "If you have a newsworthy photo, just leave it alone and get it to the experts" for final photo editing.

Tried and true tips and two apps

Here are a few more photo shooting tips from Reiter and some apps that he (and I) found useful:

  • Be aware of the sun. If the bright light is in back of the object, you get a silhouette, so most of the time you want the sun to be behind you. If you are indoors, look for light sources such as candles, windows or flashlights. (Reiter carries an LED light on a key chain that has come in handy as a light source for his trips to countries where the electricity is spotty.)

  • One fun shot is a photo of people huddled around a candle while they are seated in a bar. "The iPhone has auto focus spot metering. Just shoot and it averages the light."

  • Time some shots, if possible. Early morning and late afternoon usually offer a warmer light than other times of the day. "Look for where the sun is and make it your friend."

  • Take good care of your iPhone camera. It doesn't have lens protection—there is no lens cover so keep it in your pocket or use some sort of cover that protects the lens from scratches, dirt and finger marks. You can use a regular lens cloth to keep it clean.

  • Photo management is important; store your work rather than deleting a shot even if you don't particularly see the need to save it at the moment. "Even if you think it is not your best shot, keep it. If nothing else, save your work on the drive because you may need some of the shots in the future...Your picture of your deceased uncle you took at a family reunion might end up being the last photo taken of him in the past five years."

While we all may not end up being a famous photographer like Annie Leibowiz, with a little knowledge and practice and patience, we can produce some great photos with our iPhones.

I had some fun with a free app called HDR (High Dynamic Range), which aids in lighting areas of a scene and let's you send out photos to twitter. It's great for the non-techie who appreciates an interesting photo. I took some pictures down on the Mississippi River that came out beautifully using the ability to alter the background. HDR Camera, an upgrade, costs $1.99.

How to get the best shot with your iPhone camera
Spring 2010
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