by Travis McKnight
Imagine this scenario: You’re trying to find the best angle for snapping an exquisite photo of somebody cosplaying as Mikasa Akerman from Attack on Titan, and then some oaf in a visibly-impairing bear costume accidentally shoves you from behind, knocking you off balance. During the all-too-fast plummet toward the unforgiving concrete you helplessly watch your expensive DSLR camera slip from your grip and clatter across the floor. Before you can recover the precious device it gets kicked back toward you by an unaware child. Cringing, you pick up the camera to discover a cracked lens. And unfortunately, the only camera you have left is a smartphone.
Although smartphones are not going to give you the same custom control over a photo, with a bit of knowledge you can still come away with some awesome photos from the Con. While I’m not a photographer by any means, capturing a decent smartphone photo (using an actual camera app, not Instagram filters) is something I do know. Just do yourself a favor, comic conventions are insane and people are prone to dropping things like phones. A simple case can prevent your last viable camera option from also being destroyed.
Although the quality and options are not as impressive on a smartphone compared to a DSLR, the device’s simplicity makes the process simpler and if you’re a photography novice that chances for a good photo are a bit better. The important things to think about if you’re improving your smartphone photography skills are what app you’re using, the light, camera settings, composition and editing.
The biggest issue smartphone cameras often have is that the photoreceptors don’t function very efficiently in low-light environments like convention centers or dim panel rooms. If the camera and photography app you’re using is able to shoot in HDR+ mode then you’ll fair a little bit better than other phones, but they still struggle in poorly-lit areas. Trying to angle the photograph subject in as much non-harsh light as possible will help bring them into focus and eliminate drab shadows. Try getting the cosplayer to stand under a window or some other form of direct light.
Many people shoot smartphone photos as though they’re using a phone. Don’t fall into this trap; it leads down a dark rabbit hole of crappy photos. Instead, think of the camera phone as just that—a camera. If you treat the phone as a camera instead, more often than not you’ll begin thinking of the photograph as an actual photo instead of a snap of the current moment. That mindset alone can help.
Properly utilizing your phone’s settings is also an important step, and this largely depends on your camera app. Here is a list of solid Android options, and another one for you Apple fans. Always check to see if you have the resolution set to high (the standard is 4:3), and if you have the option, enable the manual exposure focus for low light or super bright environments. Another faux pas is relying on the camera’s digital zoom. This almost always turns what could have been a decent or interesting photo into forgettable trash. Crop out the unwanted aspects of a photo. If you can’t get closer to the photo subject, then use the zoom only sparingly.
Lastly, the strength of smartphone cameras is that they have an abundance of nifty apps you can chain together to create a photo that a normal camera can’t. Most modern smartphones have a panorama option, or on-phone editing software. Using these in tandem with each other can create interested opportunities. Be creative and play around.