Want better cell phone pictures? Use ISO settings!

I guess you know the story: you like spending a good deal of time playing around with settings of your „real“ camera. Yet when you face the adventure of taking photos with you cell phone, you just ignore it completely. Maybe, you even did not notice that you smartphone camera have some functions that can be set. But, believe or not, they can you help to do much better cell phone pictures.

(If you are an iPhone user, please check out my detailed text: IPhone 6 photography: Apps, tips and tricks.)

Cell phone cameras are really getting smarter - and the pictures better.
Cell phone cameras are really getting smarter – and the pictures better.

Let me to take you to a lovely forest bike ride – it´s a great chance to show you some well hidden feature your Android smartphone – ISO setting.

No, no, please do not stop reading, do not leave the page saying „I do not have time to study theory of photography and will not be bothered to fiddle with my mobile phone settings.“

Just believe me that the mysterious abbreviation ISO is basically a miraculous thing able to cure instantly you cell phone picture problems. Actually, your smartphone can be a good evidence of one the great rules of photography: there is no life without knowing (and actively using) ISO setting.

Your cell phone just cannot know you are moving fast - in its Auto ISO mode it used ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/40 (too long). Result: blurred picture.
Your cell phone just cannot know you are moving fast – in its Auto ISO mode it used ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/40 (too long). Result: blurred picture.

Let´s just make one point clear: Frankly, quite often it doesn´t make much sense to fiddle with your cell phone settings –  but there are at least two notable exceptions. 1. You should have command of the flash and be able to use it even during day-light (to compensate shadows in a very sunny day, for instance). The second exception: yes, you have guessed it: ISO.

By setting ISO (sensitivity), we give our camera (or a cell phone camera) a command how „sensible“ it should behave. In a sunny day, we mostly do not have to care much. But once light becomes less intense, we might have problem: and face the simple most common problem of photography of all times: your pictures are blurry.

The great think about the „mystery of blurry pictures“ is the fact there is no mystery. Your pictures are not sharp, because you either did not focus, or are using too long exposure time. Let me explain it to you from the saddle of my bike – which, I admit, is not the greatest position for taking cell phone pictures.  In fact, there is simply no way of taking a picture of my wife and kids from it. Really, no way at all…

cell phone photography
How easy! If you switch off the Auto ISO and “force” the camere for higher ISO (400 in this case), everything is fixed. The camera can use a shorter exposure time.

Why? Because your cell phone „just cannot know“ you are moving (quite fast, in fact).  The camera in my smartphone was set to default Auto ISO. We let the cell phone decide everything – but the camera in it is not that smart as you might think: in my case, it just decided to use ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/40 (which is long enough to make everything blurred).

And now let us try the magic: just try to find ISO setting, switch off the Auto mode and make the camera to use a higher ISO (400 in my case.). And here we go: the camera is now able (well, it is actually forced to) use much shorter exposure time (around 1/200). And the photos get sharp.

Amazing, isn´t it? I am sure that 99 % smartphone owners do not know about this litter trick. So the world is bit blurred around them…

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