Android Photography: Still Life Up Close

Photo taken with a Samsung Galaxy Nexus

My wife is a food blogger, and when going somewhere with the intention of taking pictures, she packs her DSLT. Unfortunately, there are occasions when a photo opportunity comes up, and she does not have a dedicated camera.  Needless to say, a DSLT is a bulky device and she simply cannot bring it anywhere, everyday. What she does have with her all the time though is her smartphone. So sometimes, her phone’s camera needs to step up to the plate.

Cameras on Android phones range from mediocre to excellent. What many Android users fail to realize is that the camera software on their phones and third party software available on Google Play have some pretty powerful settings and options which can make for a better shot. Surprisingly, even mediocre cameras seem to do an excellent job at close-up still shots. I want to share a few simple tips, which should help you obtain better results taking close-ups of still subjects.

1. Prepare some basic settings: Disable the flash and set it to Macro. Taking shots up close means that the flash will be of no use. The bright light from the LED flash will overexpose the shot, so let us disable the flash. If your camera software has a Macro setting, enable it.

Screenshot_2013-07-03-21-54-452. Manually set ISO. ISO in digital photography follows the same principles as in film photography. The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive the camera is to light and the picture comes out sharper. Higher ISO settings result in grainier or noisier shots but allow the camera to use faster shutter speeds and are usual in situations when light is poor. When the camera app is set to “Auto,” it will select the appropriate ISO setting. But the camera app normally plays it safe, and usually quickly goes up to ISO 400 or 800, when a lower setting would do. For really fine shots on a smartphone camera, I like to keep the setting to 100 or 200 if possible.

3. Get rid of the shake. By using a lower ISO setting, the slight trembling of your hands is more likely to cause blurred shots. More expensive cameras cancel out the slight shaking of the hand using a technology called Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). OIS uses a gyroscope to detect the motion of the camera and the lens will physically move in the opposite direction of the motion to cancel out the movement. But very few smartphones have OIS technology. To my knowledge, only two smartphones have OIS: The Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows Phone 8 device and the Android powered HTC One. If you do not have one of these phones, you will have to get rid of the shake some other way.

The HTC Desire HD had a pretty mediocre camera, but it did pretty well on closeups with ISO set to 100.

Without OIS, one thing you can do to help reduce the shake is to keep the smartphone stable by resting it on an inverted water glass or a book.

Another option is to use an app. Camera ZOOM FX from androidslide has a feature called Stable Shot. Stable Shot uses your smartphone’s gyro to detect the shaking of your hand and takes the shot when it determines that the shaking of your hand is at an acceptable level.

That line graph going up and down the screen indicates the amount of shake. This one is shaking more than normal since I have to press volume down and power simultaneously on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to take a screenie, causing more movement.

So, if you are sick and tired of masking your poor-quality camera phone shots under layers of artificial effects on Instagram or embarrassed about subjecting your friends to your blurry mobile photo uploads on Facebook, try these three simple tips. They should help get you better shots.