Make the Most of that Great Camera in Your Pocket


By Mike Gast, Vice President of Communication at KOA

The advent of the smartphone has made everyone a photographer. Just watch the behaviors at your next family event. Nearly everyone will be staring into the backs of their phones, snapping away.

But, just because you have a smartphone capable of taking good photos doesn’t mean you have the basic skills to take advantage of the amazing technology you hold in your hands.

So, let’s take a look at some of the sins most “Weekend Ansel Adams’” make with their phone cameras, and some easy ways to do better.

Get Closer

Photos taken with Smartphones, especially the iPhone 6, really come to life when you get close to your subject. Smartphone cameras are also “macro” lenses that will automatically give you sharp focus from as little as 4 inches away from your subject. Close ups give you the ability to get intimate with your subject, be it a flower, a coin or a wedding ring. You’ll look at your world in a whole new way.


Crop with Your Feet

One of the easiest ways to improve your smartphone photos is to fill the viewfinder screen with your subject before you take the picture. Don’t use the zoom feature that comes with the phone, because it always degrades the quality of the photo. Just get in the habit of walking closer to your subject, fill the frame with exactly what you want, and snap away.

Too Far Away:
image001 2

Ideal Distance:
Close Crop

Lose the Fancy Apps

There are tons of applications for your smartphone that offer goofy filters, “retro” washes and other treatments that can make your photo look nothing like the actual scene you shot. Just take a trip through Instagram to see what I mean. You’re better off downloading a quality editing app such as SnapSeed or PhotoShop Express where you can make adjustments to brightness, contrast and white balance without screwing up the actual image.


While You’re at it, Lose the Flash

The nifty “flash” on your smartphone really isn’t a flash. It’s a flashlight. The little LED light isn’t capable of figuring out color temperatures and they just aren’t fast enough to freeze any action. Try looking for other available light – even a nearby lamp. Save the onboard flash for when you don’t have any other option, and a bad photo is better than no photo at all.

Wipe Off the Lens

The beauty of a smartphone is that it’s always in your pocket, ready to go. The downside is, it likely shares your pocket with a wide array of lint, dirt and other miscellaneous muck. Get in the habit of cleaning the lens on your smartphone frequently. This can be as thorough as a cotton swab and alcohol, or as informal as a quick wipe with a t-shirt. The clear cover over the actual lens is extremely hard plastic, and will take a lot of abuse. But it can’t clean itself.

Keep the Sun to Your Back

Your photo subjects will look better when the sun is shining on them, not on you. Keep the sun to your back, and you’ll avoid underexposed faces and whacky lens flares when the sun makes it into your frame.

Avoid the Windows

Smartphones are smart, but not smart enough to figure out what you want if you are inside a room and have a window behind your subject. The smartphone automatically tries to adjust for the brightest object in the room (the window) and therefore makes everything else in the room very, very dark.

Dark Windows

The “Rule of Thirds”

Have you ever wondered about that little nine-square grid that pops up when you turn on your camera? It is there to help you better compose your photos. Photos are more interesting when you place your subject where the lines intersect, rather than smack dab in the middle of the frame. Try it. You’ll like it.

The Bigger, the Better

Most smartphones now let you select a file size for your photos. All iPhones, by default, take photos at the camera’s maximum resolution. Try to stick with the largest size possible to enhance the quality. This will also make things nicer should you decide to print your photo. Android users can adjust the file size within their camera app.

HDR Example

Be Careful with HDR

The HDR (High Dynamic Range) setting on your camera actually takes multiple photos, and sandwiches them together to get a more detailed, more “rich” photograph. This works well when taking photos of static subjects, like mountains. But it can be a problem when taking photos with moving subjects. Just save it for the pretty mountain photos.

Don’t Forget to Print

Photos are fun to share with others, and that’s why you likely have a load of them right now on your phone. But as your photos get better, you may want to consider printing a few the “old fashioned” way in order to display them. Consider a free Shutterfly account to store and print your photos, or Snapfish, which is an app that gives you free storage options as well as the ability to print from your phone.

And, don’t forget to share your camping adventures with us too!  Just remember to tag with #KOACamping and they’ll be featured on our Greater Outdoors blog.

When he’s not doing vice presidential things at KOA, Mike Gast and wife Lori love to travel (mostly to beach-y places) and find those out-of-the-way restaurants you see on TV.