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Three free ways to improve your smartphone photos

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 9:27AM Friday January 17, 2014
under Stuff We Like

>With great power comes great responsibility. Fortunately, you're not Spider-Man, so this doesn't really apply to you. But you do wield a certain form of power with that smartphone you're carrying--the power to freeze people in time forever! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

In other words, you can take pictures. But if you're like most amateur photographers, you're making mistakes that can result in less-than-stellar snaptshots. Fortunately, the big ones are easily corrected. Here are three free and easy ways to improve the way you shoot people. (Wait, that came out wrong...)

1. Zoom with your feet
Most smartphones offer a zoom feature, which can help if you're far away from your subject. However, in most cases it's a digital zoom, meaning the image sensor is merely cropping away the outside of the shot and enlarging the center.

That's bad for a couple reasons. First, it will make for a lower-resolution--and therefore grainier--photo. Ah, but with today's multi-megapixel smartphone cameras, is that really a big deal? Perhaps not, but here's the second issue: Unless you're using a tripod, zooming will make it that much harder for you to get a steady shot, meaning you're likely to introduce more blur.

Ultimately, you're better off taking an unzoomed photo, then cropping/enlarging later using an image editor. Of course, the best zoom option of all is your feet: move yourself as close as you possibly can to your subject--even if it means elbowing your way past other parents to get closer to that first-grade staging of "Macbeth."

2. Get horizontal
There's a very real and alarming problem facing this nation, and only by helping our fellow photographers can we ever hope to resolve it.

I am talking, of course, about Vertical Photo Syndrome, in which smartphone-wielding shutterbugs hold their devices vertically instead of horizontally.

Why? Unless you're photographing the Statue of Liberty or Leaning Tower of Pisa, you typically want a photo that's wide, not tall. It's only because we usually interact with our smartphones in an upright orientation that most folks never bother to turn them sideways for snapshots. But that's a mistake.

So "turn the corner" and help wipe out VPS in our time.

Oh, and for heaven's sake, never, ever shoot vertical video! VVS is even worse. (Thankfully, there's actually an app that can help combat this dreadful syndrome.)

3. Turn off the flash
A smartphone flash is really just an LED-powered flashlight, and it can ruin an otherwise decent photo by over-exposing the subject and/or introducing red-eye (because it's so close to the lens).

Solution: Just don't use it. Instead, improve your chances for a better low-light shot by making your phone's camera as rock-steady as possible, either by placing it on a solid surface (like a table) or using a tripod. And often it's easier to improve the quality of a low-light image (via editing software) than it is to fix a washed-out one.

Okay, now that you've learned the basics, go out and use your camera power for good, not evil.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.