Part 1: Getting the right set-up
You just got a shiny new smartphone and all the reviewers say that it has a killer camera, but you’re unconvinced by the quality you’re getting and the likes aren’t flooding in on the ‘gram either. Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong. The problem is that smartphone manufacturers want to take the lead in creativity, here’s how to snatch it back.
Kill the robot
You know how the phone brands say that the AI enhancements will benefit your photography? Well, that comes with trading your decision making for the juicy colours. Leave the HDR settings in auto so that you get a little hand holding with exposure balancing, but switch off the auto scene recognition if you want a human in charge of what the subject of the picture is.
Artificial intelligence has been trained to recognize specific scenes like green plants or human faces and will apply the filters that the engineers instructed. You can always throw on a filter afterwards, the automatic scenes do nothing more than reduce the amount of data you’ll have to work with later.
Go full frame
While those square or wide camera modes seem like a quick shortcut to a specific look, a camera sensor is designed at a specific ratio (usually 4:3) and shooting at a different ratio like 16:9 doesn’t use the full potential or resolution of the image sensor, so you get less data to work with when you edit later. Rather get everything you want into the composition and crop afterwards.
That said, many of the current smartphone cameras are high resolution (many megapixels) but are designed to combine four or more pixels into bigger ones that give better details. Samsung combines nine pixels together on the 108MP sensors, for instance. These generally don’t work well at full resolution because there’s a lot of computer processing that goes on to get better pictures.
Fun fact: on the non-Ultra versions of the Note20 and S20, the “telephoto” camera is 64MP and achieves zoom by cropping to 12MP. Samsung needs the high pixel count for 8K recording, so that justifies the stretching of the truth.
Live with your flaws
Turning off skin smoothing on the selfies is the best thing you can do to boost your selfie image quality. Skin smoothing works by softening the focus on the images and then the image processing tires to sharpen up everything else except what the AI recognizes as your face. Again, this starts the process with a compromised image and the AI tries to polish it to make it better. Rather start with the best image quality first.
When there’s only one selfie camera, but there’s an option for a wide-angle shot, the wider angle is the higher resolution and the actual quality of the sensor. Again, rather shoot stills at 8MP if it’s a 32MP camera sensor – the extra resolution is only there for 4K video.
Turn the lights down
Remember how we told you to leave HDR turned on or at least in auto mode? Well, to get the levels right the sensors can shoot brighter than needed. Pulling down the exposure compensation (usually a +/- sign, or a sun that appears next to the focus block) will reduce the exposure and the camera will make the shutter speed faster or reduce the ISO. This makes for more balanced shots and can add a specific mood to your images.
Only do this once you’ve tapped on the subject you want the camera to focus on. Also remember that the phone is wanting to do the HDR AI stuff, so it won’t hold the exposure compensation setting for too long. Shoot your shot.