Tips to Improve Low-Light Photography on an Android Smartphone

Smartphones have far surpassed point-and-shoot digital cameras as go-to devices for capturing photographs. Image quality for smartphone cameras has become a major focus with manufacturers. Every year the camera sensors have increasingly better specs to satiate consumer demand. But smartphone cameras have some significant limitations.

One of the more lamentable problems comes from shooting in low-light environments. Photography enthusiasts will be able to manipulate settings like ISO and shutter speed. But if you don’t have the know-how, follow these simple smartphone photography tips to help you capture the best photos, even in low light.

Shooting in low light often means that the shutter of your camera has to stay open for a longer period of time. This increases the exposure so that more light can be let into the lens. The problem is that the longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible it is to movement. This is why photos taken in low light are often blurry. There is one simple way to combat this without jumping into confusing manual settings – prop your phone onto something solid.

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No matter how steady you think your hands are, your camera will pick up the slightest vibrations, producing an amateurish image. To ensure the sharpest pictures possible, your smartphone needs to remain in a fixed position. There are tripods on the market made specifically for smartphones as well as smartphone mounts for existing tripods. However, if the prospect of lugging around equipment isn’t appealing, find a table, a stack of books, anything to keep that phone steady.

Refrain from zooming at all costs. Seriously, just don’t do it. Smartphone cameras lack an optical zoom, which is when the lens physically moves in order to magnify your shot. Zooming with a smartphone is what is known as a “digital zoom”. This is when the camera sensor crops a section of the photograph and then enlarges it. The result is a significant loss in quality. If you find that you are too far away from your subject, resist the temptation to pinch the screen to zoom in. Instead, start moving your feet and get in closer to the action.

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Flash is harsh light that makes people look like red-eyed albinos, not to mention it’s only good from about fifteen feet away. Shooting a subject further away with the flash will almost always guarantee that something other than your subject will be in focus, while everything else is a blurry mess.

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The only time you should be using your phone’s built-in flash is in daylight. It may seem counter-intuitive, but trust us. If it’s a sunny day outside, and the sun is behind your subject, you’ll end up with a subject obscured by shadows. Turning on your flash in this situation can help to eliminate those shadows. In all other shooting situations, natural light is preferable.

In low or no light situations, the absence of natural light is a problem. One way to remedy this is to use a flashlight or headlamp to provide artificial illumination.

Lighting conditions ultimately determine the hue and color of your subject. The human body does a good job determining accurate colors regardless of the lighting situation. Digital cameras, your smartphone included, do not. This is why colors can look distorted in low-light conditions: the camera doesn’t know what color the object should be. Instead the camera makes its best guess based on the light reflecting off the object. Luckily, you can tinker with the white balance in order to get things looking like they should.

In the manual camera settings of your phone you will find the white balance. Here you will find a variety of choices including incandescent, fluorescent, flash, sunny, cloudy, and more. If your phone is really fancy, you might even have the option to manually set your own white levels. However, most will only have the pre-configured options available.

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The names given to these choices reflect the different lighting conditions you’re likely to shoot in. Incandescent for traditional light bulbs, cloudy when it’s cloudy, flash when using flash, and so on. Try each one to determine which is best for your composition.

Even professional photographers edit their images after they have taken them. Their techniques may be a little more complicated than simply applying an Instagram filter, but the desired effect is essentially the same.

Digital photography often produces image “noise,” unwanted artifacts that compromise the quality of your image. Run your photo through some basic editing tools before you hit the Delete button and you may be able to save your shot.

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There are a plethora of post processing apps available for Android. Each one offers a variety of tools, presets and filters that will enable you to tweak the appearance of your photos. You will find complex versions of popular desktop photo editing suites, while others are easy to use image enhancers. Many of them will give the illusion of a much sharper, more vivid picture. Don’t scoff, post processing may just salvage your low-light exposures.

If all else fails, convert your photo to black and white. B&W pictures remove a lot of the noise associated with color. Black and white images are more malleable, meaning you’ll be able to tweak them even more before the quality suffers.

Barring messing around with the manual settings of your smartphone’s camera, what tips and tricks do you use to capture stunning images in low-light environments? Let us know in the comments!

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