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Apr 102012
 

Taking Sharp Pictures with your iPhone or Smartphone

It seems simple enough, hold up your iphone or your smartphone and press the camera button and “viola” beautiful pictures all the time right? Well, not so fast. I had a friend ask me, man how do I get my pictures in focus when I use my iphone? After a little bit of getting to the heart of the issues I found out that he had no idea of how the camera in his phone works at all. It seems like a simple thing but lets break it down.

Bad Habits

With most smart phones and specifically an iphone there are two ways to “take” the shot, one is the icon of the camera on the touch screen and, two the volume + button on the left side of the phone. (with the latest iOS software). I’m sure with other smartphones depending on the one that you have there may be a dedicated camera button in a similar location as the volume + button on the iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4s.

Holding the iPhone or Smartphone

If you observe most people using their iPhone or camera on their Smartphone you’ll see that they usually use the “one handed, eye level” method or the “two handed, arms extended” method. The problem with both of these methods, and many other methods are that you have no stability when taking the picture. If you are in “full sun” outdoors and there’s a lot of light, this may not be an issue. The problem is when you get indoors, and you want to take some pictures of your friends, pets, kits, etc. There may not be enough light, and your pictures end up blurry. What happens is when you press the camera icon or the volume up key to take the picture you usually move the camera in the direction you are pressing the button at. Please see the pictures below for an illustration.

"One handed, Eye level" Method

Taking a picture with the "one handed, eye level" method

"Two arms extended" Method

Taking pictures with the "Two arms extended" Method

Other Factors

Other factors that contribute to blurry images with your iPhone or your Smartphone are the weight of the device. Because the iPhone or your Smartphone is relatively light, it is more susceptible to shaking, twisting, or turning the phone when you take the picture. If you use one of the two methods above to take your pictures you will most likely twist or turn the phone the moment you press the button. Please see the pictures for examples.

The Fixes

The best ways to fix the problem is different for every individual. There are basics, but it can and will change from person to person depending on your body type, how large your hands are, what your subject is, and the location you are taking the picture. The important thing is to learn the basics and understand the theory and you will be on your way to taking blurry free pictures in no time.

Breathing

Seems silly that your breathing would affect taking sharp images but its true. It’s a one in a handful of factors that may affect the sharpness of your images. So how should we breathe in order to take sharper images? Very slowly exhaling! When you hold your breath even for a short period of time right before taking the picture your whole body starts to shake. Your body starts to shake because your muscles tense up and the strain in the muscle creates the shaking. I’m not saying that your whole body will start to convulse, but it will start as a very small shake and start to increase over time. When taking sharp pictures you want to eliminate as many factors that contribute to the instability as possible to take the sharpest possible pictures.

Brace yourself

One of the basics is to brace yourself. What does this mean. Just think of your body and legs as two of the three legs of a tripod. You want to relax your body enough and brace your self against the back of a chair, a table. Use your one hand as a brace and put the other hand on top so that there is more surface area touching the table which in theory should be stable.

Bracing your hand for sharper images

Bracing your one hand over the other gives a wider base touching the table

Bracing your iphone with the "crab claw" method

Using the "Crab Claw" method for horizontal shots

Use an anchor

Find an object like a wall or table or the floor and anchor your phone to it. If you anchor to an object that is not moving then you are more likely to stay still. You can try sitting on the floor for interesting low shots. The problem start when you squat and are trying to get a low shot you are basically on two legs of a tripod. Your body will start to sway back and forth and this will cause blurry images.

Anchor to the back of a chair

Use the back of a chair to anchor yourself making a tripod with your legs and the chair

Anchor your iphone to a wall

Anchoring to a wall helps keep your phone from moving

Use your iPhone ear bud shutter release

This fix is one of my favorites. Use one hand to stabilize the iPhone and use your ear buds with the volume control and use it like a cable release. A cable release is like extending the shutter on button on a long cable and in the iPhone’s case you use the volume up button on the ear buds to take the picture. This is very useful to prevent shake because you don’t have to touch the phone to take the picture. All you need to do is press the volume up on the head phones and “bingo” you just took a picture. In the pictures below I’ve shown a couple of ways that you can use this technique. In the first image you can use a towel or other object to stabilize your iPhone, and use your other hand to take the picture with the ear buds. In the second picture you can just stabilize your hand to the table or other “anchor” point and use the ear buds to take the picture. Come up with your own techniques to use is great feature of the iPhone. Whatever you come up with keep in mind the basic theory and develop good practices.

Use your iPhone's ear buds to take a picture

Use a towel to stabilize and your iPhone's ear buds can be used as a cable release

Use your iPhone's ear buds to take a picture

Anchor your iPhone to the table and your iPhone's ear buds can be used as a cable release

Conclusion

Now that you know what to look out for and why you get blurry images, you can use the “Fixes” you read about here to create your own techniques to help prevent blurry pictures. I must warn you that it will take some trial and error. Once you start to understand your body, your own limitations and get better at identifying the situations when you get the most blurry images, you can hone your solutions to the problem and get better and better results. Results is what we care about. So go out and take many pictures and hone your skills. Happy Picture Taking!!

Use the comments area to share your techniques and ideas on how to take sharper pictures with your iPhone or Smartphone.

Images shot with the Sony NEX 7 with 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Kit lens.
Please leave comments on how I can make these tips better and if you have any questions please Contact me, and I’d be happy to help.

Related article: How to take better Ebay photos with your iPhone

  4 Responses to “Take Sharp Pictures – iPhone or smartphone”

  1.  

    That was very helpful.

    Thank you for this useful article.

  2.  

    what a great article, thank you so much.

  3.  

    Great information and you communicate so well. Thanks………….

  4.  

    Thanks for the info that you provided. Very helpful. All your techniques that you showed I have never used. I really learned from your artical.

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