How To: Take Figure Photos with a Smartphone

These days, hardly anybody has a dedicated camera used for taking photographs anymore. Instead, we prefer to resort to our smartphones which have, over the years, gotten increasingly more competent and capable cameras. The image processing and sensor sizes of today's flagships smartphones are nothing to scoff at and it is this very rise which causes the once popular point-and-shoot compacts to go almost extinct. As good as they are, smartphone cameras still have their obvious drawbacks attributed to integration with the rest of the phone. These drawbacks include the lack of optical zoom and poorer low-light performance than dedicated cameras. For that reason, this tutorial is going to be aimed at helping you get the best shots for figure photography with what you already have! Without further ado, the things you will need are as follows.

1. Smartphone
Most smartphones today have very competent image processors and sensors capable of taking great photos in bright light. So for this task, any smartphone will do and preferably it be the one you currently own. In my case, I use the rather dated Nokia Lumia 1020 as both my daily phone and on-the-go figure shoot camera. Still, it does the job fairly well and I have no intentions of changing devices anytime soon.

2. Smartphone Mount
This one is, of course, specific to your phone's model. Fortunately, many third-party manufacturers now produce universal mounts that fit phones of a variety of size and shapes. Those used to mount "selfie-sticks" are a notably good example. Although, I would strongly recommend you get a good quality one as the last thing you want is for your smartphone to be falling off.

More important than securely holding your phone, the smartphone mount is pivotal for having a tripod screw-mount. This is paramount in allowing you to mount your smartphone securely onto a tripod for extra stability. As such, if you are looking for a mount, make sure it has this screw! In the case, the camera hand grip was an optional accessory manufactured by Nokia making for a very useful addition whenever I am on the go. Not to mention, it doubles as a battery pack too!

3, Tripod
Big or small, it does not matter. So as long as you have a sturdy tripod that is all that matters. In fact, a short tripod goes a long way in enabling you to take that picture perfect shot.

4. Manual Camera Settings
On the software side of things, you want to make sure your camera app provides you with full manual controls. This will allow you to manually adjust various parameters like ISO, exposure compensation and white balance. If your native camera app does not allow for manual controls, feel free to look for one which can in the app market/store of your phone's OS.

Whether you understand the terms or not, having manual controls makes a very big difference in the outcomes of your photos. All you have to do is follow my instructions below and everything should be a O-K.

Picture taken at Auto settings.
While the picture has come out well exposed with fair details around the center, there is very notable noise in the picture especially in the background. Noise is the term used to describe the grainy effect that occurs when a camera's ISO (light sensitivity) is bumped too high. As such, photos shot in low-light tend to be have a lot of noise as the camera's software attempts to compensate for the lack of light.

ISO 200
The exact same photo as before but this time, the ISO has been brought down to 200. As you can see, much of the noise has been eliminated from the photo giving a clean, sharp image. The only setback is that a slower shutter speed has to be utilized in order for the camera's sensor to take in sufficient light. Slower shutter speeds also equate to blurry images because our hands can only hold still for so long. This is where item No. 3 the tripod becomes absolutely essential for you to take pictures with slow shutter speeds.

Exposure +0.7
Having covered the area on ISO, let us move onto exposure compensation. For the most part, your camera's software would do a very good job at finding the ideal exposure for your shot. This takes out a big amount of guess work from taking photos and ensures we get nicely lit subjects with each photo. With figure photos though, I always recommend letting in a bit more light to make your subject appear brighter and help stand out from the background. But, be careful not to over-expose your shot as we can see in the image above. Over-exposed shots have too much light taken in causing the photos to appear washed out losing a lot of precious detail.

Exposure +0.3
Instead, try to find a sweet spot where you are able to let in more light to your shot without compromising the amount of detail and lighting. While I find +0.3 tends to work very well with most phones, this still varies from phone to phone. Experiment with your own to find the one which suits you best. Of course, increasing the exposure compensation component also results in slower shutter speeds. Which brings us back to the massive importance of having a tripod!

Similar to over-exposing your shots, you do not want to under-expose your shots too. The temptation to bump down the exposure your faster shutter speeds may always exist but, that is what the tripod is for.

Never use flash!
Under no situation do you ever resort to flash. Just turn it off. Trust me, turn it off.

The remaining adjustable settings are often White Balance and Focus but, I would recommend you leave those alone. The Auto settings on those do a very competent job and there is no need to mess with it.

With all of that settled, all that is left is to get to taking actual photos. Go wild!

While this is not an actual gallery, it just serves as a few demo shots of what you can expect from smartphone figure photography. In fact, I have done several reviews with photos solely from my phone. 

Is a tripod always necessary? Not if you have sufficient lighting. For example, the power of sunlight. But, I often find sunlight to be very harsh and difficult for figure photos. As such, I tend to keep my shoots largely indoors unless I do not have a tripod with me.

While it is no replacement for my dedicated camera, the compact dimensions and always-there availability of my smartphones has made it a very competent alternative for all my photo taking needs. Figure photos are no different, they just require a slightly different approach to the subject. Everything else remains the same. Now that you know, go out there and get shooting those high quality figure photos!

If you have found this useful, feel free to share it to anyone who you think might benefit from this knowledge. Also, if you have any questions on the topic, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments section below and I will get to them as soon as I can. Well, I hope you have found this tutorial useful. Until then next time, thank you so much for reading and have yourself a wonderful day ahead!


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