Expert Answers: Better photos with your phone

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This article is from Issue 81 of Woodcraft Magazine.

tripod mount

Tripod mount. This simple shop-made accessory holds your smartphone steady for careful composition and sharp images. (See onlineEXTRAS.)

Better photos with your phone

 Q The camera phone tripod mount featured in issue #80’s Tips and Tricks column really helps me take better shots of my work. However, I’m still struggling to improve my camera phone photography. Any advice?  

—Mark Clemons, Biloxi, Mississippi

A Professional photographer John Blackford replies:

Shooting with a camera phone can be challenging because of its tiny sensor, which limits dynamic range and tends to produce digital noise, especially in low light. The fixed wide-angle lens can also cause distortion when the camera is too close to the subject. Try these suggestions to improve lighting and minimize noise and perspective distortion. And remember; the best way to learn is by experimenting. 

Camera settings. In your menu settings, select the highest resolution possible. Also, select auto focusauto white balanceauto ISO, and auto contrast. These auto settings will help you initially, but as you gain more experience, try the manual controls for better results. 

Camera position. To minimize perspective distortion, move the camera back until the project’s vertical edges are nearly parallel. (As a reference, select grid view in your camera settings.) Then, fill the frame using digital zoom, by spreading your fingers on the live-view image. (Note: Digital zoom or cropping reduces image quality.) Using a tripod mount produces sharper images. 

Composition. Avoid shooting a project straight-on. Orient it at an angle, with the front, a side, and a bit of the top visible. Avoid distracting backgrounds or shoot against a plain light-colored wall, a suspended bed sheet, or a roll of seamless photo paper.

Lighting. To compensate for the small sensor, flood the scene with light. For best color, avoid mixing natural and artificial light. If your light source is a window, use a white poster board to reflect light onto the project’s darker side. If any highlights in your shot are “blown out” (lacking detail), adjust the exposure setting or move the lights back. To create more visual depth, begin by placing one light twice as close as the other, with each aimed in at about 45°. Then fine-tune direction and placement.

Post-processing. You can improve your images in a photo app, tweaking exposure, sharpness, color balance, and more. Adobe Lightroom Mobile lets you sync with your computer, and Google’s Snapseed offers extensive filters and lighting effects. Both apps support iOS and Android.

Perspective distortion.
Placing your camera phone too close to your project can cause keystoning, in which parallel edges converge too sharply.
Normal perspective. Here, the camera was pulled back about 6 feet to gain normal perspective, and then the image was zoomed in digitally to fill the frame.


For tips on making the camera phone tripod mount and more lighting and composition basics, visit our website and click onlineEXTRAS.


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