The Blog

Turn it sideways

That isn't my computer, or my cup of coffee. I think it might be my Mom's. But it looks nice, right?

That isn't my computer, or my cup of coffee. I think it might be my Mom's. But it looks nice, right?

So, I get asked pretty frequently for camera recommendations by everyone from aspiring pros to people just wanting to take better pictures of their grandkids. Almost everyone is looking for cost efficiency, which is understandable. And absolutely everyone wants to take great, print-quality photos. 

I usually start my response with a question, and I'll pose it here. Do you know what the most popular camera in the world is? I'll even throw in a hint: You've probably got one sitting next to you, or in your pocket, or maybe you've got headphones plugged into it. 

Yeah. It's your cell phone. 

Specifically, Apple's iPhone is the single most popular camera in the world, with the Samsung Galaxy line coming in second place. More pictures are snapped with those devices than any fancy Nikon or Canon or Sony.

There's really no great mystery as to why this is the case, guys. For starters, Steve Jobs changed everything when he unveiled the original iPhone, and at first the camera on the device was something of an afterthought. I mean, prior to that nobody was going around expecting to take professional quality pics on their Motorola Razr, or Nokia Whatever. But in the years since, as the devices have gotten smaller - then bigger again - and more technologically advanced, the camera hasn't become just a popular feature - it has become absolutely essential. It's a selling point. Apple and the host of Android-compatible phone manufacturers duke it out every year for the title of "Best Smartphone Camera on the Market," as it is what many looking to upgrade their phones look to first when making purchasing decisions. 

It has never been easier to take a photo and immediately share it to Facebook or Instagram, or just text it to friends. And these aren't just snapshots anymore. Some of the world's most renowned photographers and publications have done entire series with smartphone cameras, and they're stunning. So before you head off to buy a "real" camera, consider that you've already got one in your pocket - and there are a few things you can do to dramatically improve the quality of your images!

I took this with my iPhone 7, and I love the shot - if only because my daughter actually gave a halfway normal smile for once. That's a rarity. Trust me. 

I took this with my iPhone 7, and I love the shot - if only because my daughter actually gave a halfway normal smile for once. That's a rarity. Trust me. 

1. For the love of Pete, turn your camera sideways

I know, I know. it's so easy to just bring up the camera app and snap a picture. I get it. But let me ask you something? Are your eyes stacked vertically on your face? Unless you hail from the planet Omicron Persei - 8 (If you get that joke, I love you.), the answer is "Nope"! We're naturally made to view things in landscape mode, and our photos are no different. If you take a picture vertically, you're eliminating so much possible space that could be used to create an even more dynamic image. Want to squeeze two buddies into a picture, but having trouble fitting them into the frame? Just turn the camera! This is especially relevant with selfies. If you're taking selfies with your phone held vertically, it's time to think about upping your game. I'm 35, and even I know that. C'mon. 

Additionally, it's always easier to crop a "landscape" orientation photo into a portrait than vice-versa. And while it might be awkward to hit that digital shutter release, consider that most smartphones these days have a button on the outside of the camera - it's the volume up button on iPhones - that serves the same purpose. Piece of cake!

2. Steady hands + steady subjects = Crisp and clear photo

For everything they CAN do, one thing smartphone cameras can't is photograph action. They just don't have the power of a solid DSLR. The shutter speed is too slow, they don't zoom much - if at all. It's not worth it. If you're going for action, switch the camera to video and preserve the memory that way. Trust me. 

In that same vein, if you want your pics in razor sharp focus, two simple tips will make a world of difference. Keep your hands steady. Tuck your elbows against your sides if you need to, in fact. And do you best to keep your subject still as well. This is difficult with kids and pets and lots of the best stuff to photograph, we know, but it will keep you from getting frustrated later if you can find a way to keep your subject still for the two seconds it takes to line up and snap a shot. 

3. Really, really, really step away from the zoom

So, there are two types of zoom. Optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom involves components within the camera shifting and rotating to bring a distant subject closer. There's no compromise in image quality. Digital zoom is...something else entirely. The only zoom 99% of smartphones have is digital. And from the moment you pinch your fingers on the screen and expand them to zoom in on a subject, your photo is going to be unusable. There will be so much digital "noise," as the phone's processor struggles to interpret the data it is receiving, that there's just no way to achieve a clear photo. 

YOU are the zoom. It's this way with photographers who use prime lenses as well (meaning ones that don't have a telephoto zoom). Getting used to moving around to compose your shots so they look the way you want them to look without relying on the camera to do the heavy lifting will make you a better photographer in the long run. Trust me!

Those are just a few simple smartphone photography tips. Now, get out there and shoot. The best camera is the one you have on you, and these days, the one you have on you is actually a pretty excellent piece of hardware.