Metering - The basics of shooting photos on your phone - Phonetography

Literally millions of photos are taken everyday by people with smart phones and it's easy to see why. Cameras in our phones have gotten so good! Megapixels rival that of older DSLRs, sensor sensitivity is rapidly improving - especially in low light situations, and there are photo opportunities everywhere! Seriously! 

Portability is easily the biggest advantage of phone photography. We carry our phones everywhere on a daily basis so is no extra gear to take with us when we go out. We look at the world differently too. For example, would you have wasted a shot on their dinner back in the film days? Definitely not. But now, people are willing to take 30+ just for one decent one to throw up on Instagram.

It's not just dinner that now gets snapped though! So many random things that few people would have ever thought of taking a photo of before are now being shot. Live music events are a very good example.

This isn't to say they're good photos however. To get good photos from your phone a little knowledge has to be implemented. So let's teach you some Phonetography! 

 Note: I use a Samsung Galaxy s7, so other brands may work differently. 

Metering.  

Let's start with metering. If you're using your camera phone in automatic mode, it will adjust settings based on the brightest part of the screen, pretty much causing the rest of the photo to be dark/darker. 

Leaving the camera to meter for itself. Here, it reduced the brightness down to save details in the clouds

Leaving the camera to meter for itself. Here, it reduced the brightness down to save details in the clouds

 

This is to preserve highlight details from turning into a white mess. (We also call this blowing out the highlights)  

Metering taken from the Gherkin (the building circled)  

Metering taken from the Gherkin (the building circled)  

Tapping on our subject will tell the metering mode that our subject is the most important part of the image to be seen. It will lighten the whole screen to suit the subject and probably blow out the highlights.  

 

Without shooting in an HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, we can't achieve both images in one shot. So we have to compromise. 

If your phone is getting the metering wrong regardless of where you touch on screen, or you'd like to fine tune the exposure yourself,  you should hopefully have an adjustment slider to brighten or darken the photo. 

I have something called Pro mode on my phone which I use probably 85% of the time. This essentially gives me control of everything.  

Here's the pro mode on a Samsung Galaxy s7

Here's the pro mode on a Samsung Galaxy s7

After you choose Pro mode, the controls change allowing you to change the shutter speed and ISO.  

The shutter speed allows you to essentially change the amount of light you allow into your camera.

A speed of ¹/1000 will allow your camera's shutter to be open for only 1000th of a second. Not drawing much light in at all. A faster shutter speed will generally freeze action. 

Notice how the bottom bar changes and allows fine control of the exposure  

Notice how the bottom bar changes and allows fine control of the exposure  

A speed of 1/6 will allow your camera's shutter to be open for ¹/6 of a second. It's still very brief by human standards, but for a camera it's an eternity. This will draw a tonne of light in and probably cause camera shake though so be wary. 

In review, the shutter speed freezes action and controls light. Fast shutter speeds (¹/1000 for example) makes an image darker but captures action well. Slower shutter speeds (¹/6 for example) makes for brighter images but cannot capture action.  

ISO is the camera's sensor sensitivity to light. A low ISO (ISO 100 for example) makes for best image quality but needs the most light to perform.

 A higher ISO (ISO 800 for example) needs less light to perform the same way, but with higher image degradation. 

Try it out. Set your shutter speed to ¹/250 and ISO to 100. Take the shot. Now keep the shutter at ¹/250 and change the ISO to 400. Take another shot. Notice the difference? Try a third. Keep the shutter at ¹/250 and change the ISO to 1600 and take another shot. Do you see how the ISO affects the shot? 

By using a slightly higher ISO, you can use a faster shutter speed to capture action. 

Here's a brief example of the effects of ISO while sitting in my car  

Here's a brief example of the effects of ISO while sitting in my car  

This is a very brief overview of ISO and shutter speeds, but it should give you a basic understanding of how these two things work along side each other.