So you want to take better pictures? [Guide]


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Sep 30, 2012
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Believe it or not you can take fantastic pictures with your phone. Yeah, I'm being serious. Even the worst camera in the right hands can take amazing photos. So can you with whatever camera you have. Most camera's will have limitations - even DSLR's! The purpose of this guide is to try to help you to get back to basics and improve your pictures.

Part 1 - Before the Shot

Learn your camera
Each camera is different. Some cameras will take lighter pictures, some darker and so on. The only way for you to start getting good results with your camera is to actually use it. Take pictures! Who cares if you're only going to delete them? Each time you have a session with your camera you'll learn more and more about its strengths and weaknesses and the best way to get jaw-dropping pictures is to play to your camera's strengths.

The anatomy of the view screen -

Left arrow - at the top left of the screen is a left arrow. Swiping to the right or pressing this button will allow you to view the pictures you just took quickly and easily.

... - At the top right of the screen you'll notice there's 3 dots. Pressing these dots will expand the menu so you can access the photo and video settings menus.

Switch to Video / Photo - Pressing this icon will switch your camera mode from photo (default) to video, if you want to record a video.

Front-Facing Camera - If your phone has a front-facing camera you can press this button to switch the viewfinder's video feed over to this. Press it again to switch the viewfinder back to the rear camera (default).

Flash mode
- There are 3 flash modes; flash off, flash on and auto. What more can I say? Keep pressing this icon to switch to the mode you want.

Lenses - The icon that looks like a left and right arrow will bring up the lenses. These are mini-apps that add functionality to your camera in some way or another.

[tip]If you are seeing pictures that look perfectly sharp when you're focusing on a subject and after the picture is taken, everything seems to blur it's because Windows Phone saves a low-res preview of your image for you to zoom into and look around. It's low-res in order to keep the performance high, but unfortunately this means that you're seeing a lower quality, more blurred image than the picture you just took really is. If you want to view your photo in its true quality you can either view your pictures on a PC monitor or install the HD Photo Viewer app.[/tip]

Set your expectations
As I will go onto say in the following posts, you need to understand your camera's strengths and weaknesses in order to take a good picture with it. No matter what picture you want to take, if you are trying to take a picture that your phone's camera isn't suited to (one of it's weaknesses) you will not get a good picture from it. What this means is that it's absolutely essential that you know your camera's limitations and have them in mind when you're trying to take pictures.

Aperture and F-numbers?
I think we can all agree that photography is all about controlling light. I've done a lot of reading around this subject, as it seems people have unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of their phones and it's all directly tied to this.

What the heck is aperture? Isn't it a form of science?
Aperture is the diameter of the lens opening. Our phones have fixed apertures. On a bigger camera, there will be a mechanism that opens and closes. The larger the diameter of the aperture, the more light reaches the sensor.

Not to scale.
Aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken. It's measured in F-Stops. Moving from one F-Stop to the next doubled (or halves) the amount of light getting through your lens. We can't control the size of our camera's apertures, because they're physically fixed. Below is a rundown of current Windows Phones f-stops:

HTC 8x: f/2.0
HTC 8s: f/2.8
Nokia Lumia 1020: f/2.2
Nokia Lumia 928: f/2.0
Nokia Lumia 925: f/2.0
Nokia Lumia 920: f/2.0
Nokia Lumia 820: f/2.2
Nokia Lumia 720: f/1.9
Nokia Lumia 620: f/2.4
Nokia Lumia 520: f/2.4

So what does this mean for you? All of the current phones have an f-stop between 1.9 and 2.8. Generally speaking: the smaller the number the larger the hole. Remember that. A 'fast' lens is one that has a large maximum aperture - that means we can use our phones in a wider variety of situations. The larger the aperture, the better your camera will perform in low-light situations, since a larger lens opening will let more light in than a smaller lens opening. It also means that having a larger aperture will let you use a faster shutter speed to freeze action so your pictures will be sharper and better detailed.

Focal Length and Depth of Field

So my phone is built to let me take pictures in a wide variety of situations how will that affect the pictures I take? Let me introduce you to focal length and depth of field.

Focal length - This is the distance between the lens and the camera's sensor. For our phones the distance varies between 20-35mm. A phone like the 920, for example, has a focal length of 26mm. So what? Because the distance between the lens and the sensor are so short that means our phones camera's have a wide angle of view. The wide the angle of view the greater the area captured.

Depth of Field - This is the distance that objects are in focus. Sometimes you'll want something close to you to be in focus (like a portrait), and sometimes you'll want something far away to be in focus (like a landscape). The aperture of your lens determines exactly how well you can focus on near and far objects.

Because our phones have such large apertures (f1.9-2.8) this means that our phones are designed to handle subjects close-mid range really well. Any photographer will tell you that you need to have a smaller aperture of something like f/8.0 (remember: f/8.0 is a smaller hole than f2.0, meaning less light is let into the sensor) to be able to capture details further away, as you'd expect in your average landscape. This is why we can't reasonably expect our phones to take crystal clear images of objects on the horizon; with such a small fixed aperture they simply aren't designed to take pictures aimed at mid-far range.

These photos were taken from the same place with different lenses - the mm value is the focal length of the camera. You can see our phones cameras are similar to the first two pictures. The subject is Longs Peak from Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park, taken by David Dahms.

To be clear, this is a universal issue, or 'weakness' if you will. The lens on any camera phone today, whether its the 920, 928, HTC One etc. will have small sensors and fixed-aperture lenses. This is because we demand to be able to point and click at a wide variety of subjects at all times of the day and your average user in their urban location is going to take pictures at close-mid range. If you want a camera that will take really amazing pictures both far and near you're going to want to buy a dedicated camera.

As you experiment with your camera and find out its strengths remember that this fixed aperture is both a strength and a weakness and it's honestly up to you, the photographer, to use it well to take stunning pictures.

If you want to find out more about Aperture and F-Stop and how it will affect the photos you want to take, check out any of the following links:

Focusing: Tap-to-focus vs. Shutter button
If you press the shutter button down half-way your camera will focus on whatever is in the centre of the frame. Once you hear the beep, confirming focus, press the shutter all the way down to capture the photo. If you want to focus on a specific area of the screen, you can tap on that part of the screen and you should see a focus 'box' appear around the area you tapped. Your phone will focus on that area instead of in the centre of the frame. This is particularly good when you have elements in both the foreground and background and you only want to focus on one of them. Arguably, your phone will take slightly sharper pictures if you tap the screen because there isn't so much movement from physically depressing a button, but on phones like the 920 series with Optical Image Stabilization this shouldn't matter so much.

Your Phone's Sensor

On our phone cameras we don't have a physical shutter that lets light in for a certain amount of time, so our sensor is 'powered up' for the amount of time the phone determines the sensor needs light to capture the picture. This could mean that an electrical current is passed through the sensor, allowing it to receive and process light, for as little as 1/250 of a second or even more. Our camera phones use something called a Back Side Illuminated Sensor (BSI), which you can read a bit more about by clicking here. When we're talking about sensors, bigger is definitely better. The bigger your sensor, the more transistors you can fit on your sensor and bigger transistors produce less noise and are better at gathering light in the same amount of time.
Camera sensors are compared to their 35mm motion picture film cameras that became the standard by which most SLR camera systems were based. If we consider the 35mm 'full frame' sensor to be the benchmark, the sensors in current generation Lumia / HTC devices are 1/3" or smaller. That's the yellow box in the middle or something slightly smaller than that. Next time you look at the picture you just took on your phone and start complaining its got too much noise, remember the part of your camera that actually processes the light is smaller than the size of the average 'pinky' fingernail. Kinda brings it into perspective doesn't it?

Okay, so how does this affect me? When your sensor is 'turned on' to capture light for that tenth of a second or less it's measuring the light of your scene, which is an analogue value, measured by individual transistors on the sensor. That value is then processed and turned to digital information. Our phones are really good at resolving this information when it comes to close-medium range information but look at something a little further away that's a flat colour like the sky and you'll notice a bit of noise, even taken at ISO 100. (Keep reading to find out exactly how noise and ISO works.) Now, this noise isn't ground-breaking, all camera's have a little bit of noise in some situations, and it certainly won't ruin your picture but you have to bear in mind the size of the sensor on your phone. I'm not saying your phone's camera is bad - far from it. I think phone cameras are amazing for the quality of the image they produce, but if you have expectations that you're going to be able to take pictures just as good, sharp and clear of mid-far distance objects, as mentioned above - you need to consider buying a dedicated camera.

SkyDrive Auto Upload

On Windows Phone a lot of people like to set-up their camera to automatically upload the pictures they just took to their SkyDrive account in the cloud - even more so now that we're able to upload full-resolution pictures from our phones. So how do you set your phone up to do this? Here's how:

Go to your Photo's Hub and tap the '...' at the bottom of the screen. A menu will appear, tap on the settings menu.
Near the bottom of the photos + camera settings you'll see 'Auto Upload' and SkyDrive. Tap on the word 'SkyDrive' and the following menu will appear:

From here you can pick your settings to automatically pictures to your SkyDrive account. If you want to upload your pictures at full-resolution, choose 'Best quality (needs WiFi)' but as is suggested, your phone will only upload pictures when it's connected to an active WiFi network. Good quality will downsize your photos a little, but you can use either a WiFi or Data connection for this - but be warned, this could cost you depending on your data plan.

Keep reading to find out some tips about how to approach the shot, and lots more!


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Part 2 - Taking the Shot

Stand Still

Hold your phone with TWO hands. One to hold the phone steady and one to push the button. If that's not enough rest your elbows on your chest. Stabilise yourself against a wall or steady your phone on a sturdy surface. If you want to take low light shots get a tripod. Hold your phone like its price tag demands!
Stop walking. Stand still. Concentrate.

Clean the Lens
It's the most obvious thing to do but it's often the thing we think of last. Our phones are always in our hands and fingerprints get everywhere. Before you take that picture use your sleeve or a handkerchief or whatever and make sure there's no dust/dirt/fingerprints on the lens.

Your subject and light
If you're trying to take a picture of something that's moving, try to get it to stop moving. If you can't, bear with me - we can deal with that. Light will go a long way to making your pictures sharper. Taking a picture with more light will improve the quality and combat shutter lag. Light is critical, even at night. If you want to take a landscape picture, try to take it when the sun is lower in the sky, either earlier in the day or towards sunset. Overhead sun will flatten the lighting in your picture and you'll lose a lot of the detail in your landscape. If you want to take a portrait shot avoid overhead sun too, take these shots on cloudy days or where there's open shade. Finding good light is sometimes more critical than finding something interesting to take a picture of in the first place.

Dare to get closer
Windows Phones can zoom into a picture by using your fingers on the screen to 'zoom in' just like you'd do to enlarge text in a webpage. But should you? The camera sensors on phones are often quite small especially when compared to their bigger DSLR brothers. Digitally zooming into a picture is artificial and will degrade the quality of the image you take. Don't do it.

If you want a good quality picture, try to physically move your camera closer to the subject you're trying to photograph. You'll be able to zoom into the picture and crop the full-size image if you want to and it won't be pixelated as it would if you pinch-zoomed in.

Save space
You have permission to take as many pictures as you like from as many different angles as you can think of but once you're done review them. Pick the best one or two you think really captures the moment. You don't really need 50 pictures of the meal your kid just ate. Keep the one or two pictures that make that moment shine and delete the rest.

Composition is king

Rule of thirds
Most camera apps will have a grid you can turn on or off that split the screen into a series of boxes. My Nokia Windows Phone 8 by default doesn't have this at the time of writing but I'm confident it will be added.

You can imagine these lines as you compose your picture or you can purchase a camera app like ProShot which has this feature. So what is it? How can I use it? It's a great toll for helping you to improve your composition - try to place interesting elements of your scene where the lines intersect. You can also use this tool to make sure your horizon line is level -- try to place your horizon along either the top or the bottom third of the image instead of slap bang in the middle of the image.

Some other things to consider:

  • Use curves and converging lines
  • Use positive and negative space
  • Make use of complimentary colours, colour patterns and shapes to add compositional interest.
  • Watch your backgrounds - a background that distracts from your subject is going to ruin your shot.
  • Experiment with framing your shot - use objects in the foreground to frame the main subject to give a sense of depth to your shots - windows, mirrors and doors are great for this.

Think about angles
It helps to have an idea in your mind of what you want to achieve - how you want your photo to look even before you start. Do you want to focus on the mixture of shadow and light? Do you want to try to communicate a sense of mood? Are you just interested in taking a picture of your dessert?

You don't always have to take a picture from head height, you know? Try to play around with shallow angles, taking pictures from a lower perspective nearer to the ground. Alternatively, try taking a cityscape from the second or even third floor windows instead of street level. Remember you can move around your subject, you don't have to stay rooted to that one spot.

Keep reading to get a bit more technical. We take a look at how Scenes, White Balance, Exposure, ISO and more work and how they affect your pictures!
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Part 3 - Getting Technical

If you want to really get into camera photography, and photography in general, at some point you're going to have to knuckle-down and learn exactly what the more technical aspects of the settings menu do exactly and why you need to consider them before you take a picture.

These are different automatic pre-sets that have been programmed into your camera by clever people for when you want to take a picture quickly.
Auto (default) - Let your phone's camera decide the details of which scene setting is the most appropriate for the shot you're taking.
Close-up - This mode will let you focus on objects very close to the lens. Also known as macro photography.
Night - Using slower shutter speeds than normal, this mode is tailored to take pictures of landscapes at night. Tripod recommended.
Night Portrait - This mode is tailored to take pictures of someone at night, using slower shutter speeds to let more light in and using the flash. Tripod recommended.
Sports - This is more tailored to take pictures of a fast-moving subject and it's best to use this mode when you've got lots of light.
Backlight - This mode will eliminate dark shadows when light is coming from behind a subject or if your subject is in the shade. The flash will most likely fire to 'fill in' the shadows.

Personally I only really ever use the Auto or Macro modes from day to day. Don't be afraid to play around with these modes to really get a good idea of exactly when you should use them but for most pictures Auto is fine.

This is different to exposure. Basically, the higher the ISO 'number' (e.g. 100, 200, 400, 800 and soon to be up to 3200), the more sensitive to light the sensor becomes. What does this actually mean? The higher the ISO number, the more data from each individual pixel-site on the sensor 'counts'. The higher the ISO number, the longer the camera leaves the shutter open to let more light in - we're taking maybe 1/10s rather than 1/100s. The longer your shutter is open, the more blur you will get in your picture from moving subjects.

So how do I apply this to my pictures? If you have a phone that's camera is more suited to lower light conditions like the Lumia 920 for example, you can set a night-time shot with a higher ISO setting (like 800). The camera will receive more light and the shutter won't have to be open for so long.

The problem here is that the higher the ISO, the more noise you will get in pictures you take.

The following examples are taken from an article used in their explanation, captured by Siraj Hassan Mohideen on a Pureview 808 phone.


We can see how dark it was when Siraj took the pictures. When we take pictures of a dark scene we want to be able to take a picture of what we're seeing. If we change the ISO to 400 we get the following results:

The camera has adjusted the exposure for the higher ISO and let more light in overall. We can see a range of shadows and highlights here throughout. Siraj used the Pureview 808 to take these pictures and here's what happened when we took the picture at an ISO of 1600:

The scene looks a lot lighter but we can tell that it's washed out. The phone has let in too much light and we notice especially in the darker areas like the foreground there's a strange 'spotty' effect where there was a single toned colour before.

This is the effect of digital noise. Noise is random variation of brightness or colour information in images. What we should be seeing in a smooth gradient of colour from one tone to the other. What we get instead is a tone of colour that has 'specks' of lighter or darker areas. The lower the ISO the less noise you'll get on a picture, usually but at a trade-off of getting a darker image because the phone is letting less light into the sensor.
The aim is to try to get as accurate a representation of your scene, and having a picture with lot's of noise in will distract the viewer from the main subject and can even ruin the mood you're going for.

There are a few situations you will come across where you should consider pushing the ISO up to higher settings:
Indoor Sports Events - If you're inside a sports gymnasium and your subject is moving quickly but the lighting inside isn't great, push your ISO up.
Birthday Parties - Candles and a dark room can create a fantastic mood in a shot. Consider a higher ISO here and you won't have to ruin the moment with a bright flash.
Concerts - A dark environment, often with sporadic lighting. These are often places where flashes aren't allowed. Push the ISO up to compensate in this setting.
Art Galleries, Churches etc. - often an art gallery will prohibit flash photography (if it will let you take pictures at all) and dim indoor environments either call for longer exposures on a tripod or for you to push the ISO up if you don't have a tripod handy.

It's possible to use post-processing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop to remove noise, but if you're after the best, most optimised photo with the least amount of noise or camera shake a good rule is to leave ISO settings alone and let the phone handle it. You only really need to touch ISO when you want something different, a specific effect or to get a really creative shot. In which case, now you know all about ISO go mad! Play around with these settings and find the right balance yourself.

Exposure Value
Your camera tried to see everything in black and white. Whatever dominates your picture when you press the shutter button down halfway your camera does all sorts of calculations to try to figure out how to get your main subject to be grey (not too black or too white in terms of exposure). Having said this there are times when your camera doesn't do this properly. A correct exposure means the picture is pleasing to the eye - software can't 'calculate' this.
On our phones we have the following values to try to make sense of:

2 1 2/3 1 1/3 1 2/3 1/3 0 (default) -1/3 -2/3 -1 -1 1/3 -1 2/3 2
0 means that the camera will make its exposure and figure it all out by itself with no help from you. If you select a minus value you're telling the camera you don't think it's doing it properly and you want it to make the picture darker. Similarly if you select a positive value you're saying you think the picture is too dark and you want to make the picture lighter.
In the example above the camera saw all the light in the picture, especially on the walls, and exposed the picture with that in mind. However this meant that you can't properly see what's at the end of the hallway. Adjusting the exposure by -1 fixed this problem. Don't be afraid to experiment with the different stops and see how it affects your pictures. Before you know it you'll be automatically adjusting the exposure on your pictures and coming out with fantastic pictures.

If you want to know more about exposure and light values and how your camera makes its decisions based on a scene click here to read more.

White Balance
This is a very easy part of your settings to ignore because it's hard to really know exactly how it affects your pictures at first. White balance is all about trying to get the colours in your pictures to be as accurate as possible. Your environment can change the colours of photos in a way that you never notice with your own eyes.

Phones tend to be quite good about handling all this automatically so we don't normally have to worry about it, but sometimes you'll want to alter the balance yourself to make sure the shot is accurate. Below is a rundown of the default White Balance options on a Windows Phone:
Auto (default) - Your camera will handle this automagically - you don't have to change anything.
Cloudy - If you're in a cloudy environment the phone can make things a little bit bluer than they really are so this mode warms things up a bit.
Daylight - This will try to 'purify' the white balance by making it just a touch cooler. Great for sunny days.
- The camera will try to make your photo seem a little bit warmer, as fluorescent lights make whites cooler.
Incandescent - Here the camera will try to make your photo seem a little cooler, as incandescent lights/bulbs make whites seem a little more yellow than they really are.

If you decide to play around with these settings, part of the screen will still show a live-view of your scene on your phone. Try to get a whiter element of your scene in the live-view and you will be able to see exactly how these settings change your image.

Aspect Ratio
This is as simple as whether you want your picture to be square or rectangular. If you're going to be setting your picture as a wallpaper or printing it off you'll tend to want to keep this on 16:9 (widescreen), which is the default setting.

If you intend to crop or post-process the image you take anyway using the 4:3 option might be the best option for you. This mode uses slightly more of the camera's sensor to take the picture, so you might notice slightly more detail captured.

When it comes to flash there are basically two types. LED and Xenon.

Most camera's on phones today have LED flash lights, which generally aren't as bright as Xenon flash lights and they are slower to work than a Xenon flash is. The bonus to having an LED flash light is that you can often get an app that will let you use your phone as a flashlight, lighting up the flash light so you can see at night. LED flashes get the job done quite well generally but because they are slower to work they don't do as good a job as Xenon flashes when freezing motion so the camera has to use slower shutter speeds so there's a higher chance of blurring.

Xenon flashes work differently to LED flashes. Xenon flashes work a lot quicker and require a capacitor to store electrical charge to discharge electrical current into a small tube filled with Xenon gas, creating a flash. The quicker flash means the phone can use a quicker shutter speed resulting in less blur. Xenon's on a phone are less common because they're more expensive than LED's and they take a second to recharge the capacitor after every exposure, meaning they can't be used as makeshift flashlights.

Focus Assist Light
This is tailored to low-light photography when you don't want to use the flash. When this is turned on the camera will use the flash to light up the scene when you half-press the shutter button down so that it can adjust focus properly. Now that the camera knows where to focus the image properly, it can take a low-light image with the flash off that's sharp!

Keep reading to find out how you can make a good image great with post-processing and how dedicated camera apps and lenses can literally transform your photographic experience on Windows Phone.
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Part 4 - After the Shot and More!

Once you're happy you've taken the best picture you can with your phone it's time to get the original file onto a PC and fire up some post-processing software. Using something like GIMP will allow you a great deal of control over your image, correcting any noise, exposure, contrast or saturation issues you may have. Other alternative software: Digital Post-Processing - and Warning: 10 Deadly Post Processing Sins.

Always save your images at the highest possible resolution and make copies before you apply any changes or filters.

Try some dedicated Camera Apps
Some may say that the default photo app on Windows Phone is... minimalistic and lacks some features. It's fine if you want to take photos on 'auto' or make some basic alterations to your images but if you really know what you're doing -- or even if you don't but want to play around more -- here's a couple of apps you simply must try out. Be warned though, you'll have to pay for them!

CameraPro -
CameraPro gives you fast access to some of the most important features for anyone looking to experiment with their camera. Focal distance, white balance, exposure and other features as well as an intuitive interface really help to make this app an asset for an aspiring photographer. It costs ?1.99 but doesn't offer the ability to try it out before you buy it.
ProShot -
One of the most, if not the most highly rated dedicated camera apps available for Windows Phone period. It boasts Auto, Program, Manual and Custom modes as well as the ability to adjust Shutter Speed, ISO, White Balance, Exposure, Focus, Flash and even features Histograms and Grid lines (for the rule of thirds mentioned above) as well as many more features. ProShot is a defining dedicated app allowing you to truly get the best from your phones camera. The app is updated regularly with improvements and bug fixes / features. The price tag of ?1.49 is more than reasonable and you can even take a peak around the apps settings if you choose to try before you buy.
Nokia Cam Pro - A professional camera app developed by Nokia very much in competition with the other two above. Featuring manual focus, shutter speed, ISO and exposure functionality to mention just a few features this app has under it's belt, it also boasts an intuitive UI to showcase these features.

Coming soon to a Windows Phone near you.

Try different lenses
If you only want to quickly add a filter to your image or do some more basic adjustments to your images on your phone before you upload it to <insert social network here> then have a look through some of the following apps you can download onto your Windows Phone.

I'll start by looking through Nokia's offerings first as most of these apps are available on Nokia's Lumia phones only, with the exception of HERE City Lens. If you don't have a Nokia phone you can scroll on down.

Cinemagraph -
With Cinemagraph you can take a picture over a few seconds and select which elements you want to re-animate afterwards to create a moving gif. Want to relive your friends smile or capture a sporting moment in a way that a still image just can't fully capture? This is the app to try. You can edit the length of the animation, the speed and you can even add filter effects too. Once you're happy you can share your creation on your social network of choice, email, IM or via NFC. Available to Nokia users only.
Panorama -
This Nokia app will allow you to create your own panoramas quickly and easily. Hold out your phone, pan the camera slowly and the app will do the rest.
Creative Studio - Creative Studio | Windows Phone Apps+Games Store (United Kingdom)
Nokia provides its Lumia users with a quick and easy photo editor. You'll be able to quickly add focur blur, filters, adjust colour balance or remove red eye. You can even share your pictures to Facebook or Twitter through the app itself.
#2InstawithLove -
This is Nokia's temporary answer to the Instagram outcry on the Windows Phone platform. You can take photos and apply the usual Instagram-esque filters to the pictures of your food. When you upload your picture to the social network of your choice the app will automatically add the tag #2InstaWithLove as a way of showing Instagram how much demand there is for an official client on our platform.
HERE City Lens -
This lens will let you find the best shops, restaurants and points of interest on the viewfinder all you have to do is hold your phone like you're trying to take a picture. As you move the camera, new places will appear and you will be able to see different reviews or get directions as well as saving a place for later. Perfect if you're in a strange place and you don't know where to find the best food. I believe that anyone, not just Nokia users, can use this app.
Smart Shoot -
This lens is suited for taking group shots. It takes several pictures over the course of a few seconds and lets you pick and choose the best faces/expressions for your shot. You can also pick your favourite five pictures and remove any people or objects you don't want in the frame to make sure you get the picture you want.
Smart Cam (replacing Smart Shoot) - Coming soon!

From here on you should be able to download and use the following lenses no matter what phone you have.

Translator - Translator | Windows Phone Apps+Games Store (United Kingdom)
This is a service using Bing from Microsoft. This lens will use the phones camera, voice or keyboard to enter the text you want to translate. Bing will then automatically translate the words on-screen for you. Perfect if you're on holiday and its completely free.

Blink -
Created by Microsoft Research Labs, this lens will let you take a burst of images in quick succession in order to capture a quick moment. You can pick and choose which picture is your perfect shot quickly and easily. It's free too!
Photosynth -
This app lets you take immersive panoramas of the places and people around you. The app lets you take multiple pictures of a location or object and automatically 'stitches' the photos together to create an interactive panorama that lets you 'relive' that favourite place on holiday. You can even share your panoramas on Facebook, Bing or Twitter. A fun app that lets you experience the world around you in a new way. The best thing is its free, so there's no reason not to give it a whirl!
Camera 360 -
This lens will let you apply filters and live effects both after you've taken a picture and also on the display 'live' as you take the picture. The app uses shooting themes to offer selected effects over the top of your image. You can literally frame your photos and can even crop and rotate your images before you share them with your friends.


Instagraph -
Branded as "the first ever WP8 unofficial Instagram sharing app" you can take pictures, apply filters provided by the Aviary editor and share those pictures with your friends directly to Instagram. At just ?0.79 it's a bargain for its feature set and if you just can't live without Instagram on your phone, this is an app to consider.
Itsdagram - Instance | Windows Phone Apps+Games Store (United Kingdom)
Arguably the first WP8 fully featured Instagram app on the market. You can register, upload, comment, like, follow and find your facebook friends from within the app. Simply double-tap an image and you've liked it. Easily switch between timeline and grid views and it even has a free trial and the filters can be updated daily. It's priced at ?1.29 or $1.49 so if you need Instagram on your phone, you should look at Itsdagram.
Hipstamatic - Coming soon!

Hopefully this guide has helped you to consider some new techniques and enabled you to understand a little more about the camera on your phone and how to get the best from it. It's not going to be a quick or easy process and will require lots and lots of practice before you start taking jaw-dropping pictures. But if you remain committed and try out some of the things mentioned in this guide your results should improve as you practice.

If you feel I've missed anything out from this guide don't hesitate to mention it below and I'll consider adding it to the guide.

Example Pictures:

It would be a bit weird to read through a guide and not see any example pictures the author has taken, right? The following pictures were taken with a Nokia Lumia 920 and then edited lightly in Photoshop. As I mention above, there's no shame to be had in editing pictures as long as you're not adding elements to the picture or editing it so much to take away from the picture. Editing should emphasise aspects of the original picture and could be as simple as cropping a scene to focus the eye.

You can also find a "Pictures / Video taken with X Device" thread at the top of each device's forum. They are well worth looking over for some outstanding pictures.

Disclaimer: I'm not saying I'm an excellent photographer: far from it. The following photos are just an example of some of the kinds of results a humble mobile phone can get if you take some time and effort over the subjects you choose to photograph, and how you present them.

Blue Glow Exhibition.jpg





River Bend.jpg

The Mill.jpgo


take better pictures with your phone : my best tips, tricks, and apps | grumbles and grunts
How to take better travel photos with a smartphone
Top 10 Mobile Photography Tips – PictureCorrect
What is Exposure Compensation and when do I use it?
Getting creative with ISO adjustment on the Nokia 808 and Lumia 920
Flickr: Siraj Hassan Mohideen's Photostream
Moving Beyond the Rule of Thirds | Bryan Larson Multimedia
ISO Settings in Digital Photography
Digital Post-Processing -
Warning: 10 Deadly Post Processing Sins
Focal Length and F-Stop Explanation
WHAT IS... Aperture? - Photoxels - Digital Photography
Photography 101: Fixed Aperture Explained | Beyond Megapixels
The Easy Guide To Aperture (f Stop)
Introduction to Aperture in Digital Photography
Nokia Lumia 920 Photo guide: How to make the most of your camera | Windows Phone Central
AnandTech | The Digital Sensor: A Guide to Understanding Digital Cameras



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Wafiy Tahir

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Mar 26, 2013
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Added in a new section on Instagram apps and looked over some of the app text.

Do you know any apps to make the picture to be square so it's just nice to be uploaded to Instagram? Not cropping, but to add white background on the picture so the whole picture will be square? You know what I mean if you use Instagram! :D


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Sep 30, 2012
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Added in a new section in the first post detailing aperture, F-Stops and focusing, trying to show exactly why our phone cameras are great at some things and not at others.
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Cheewii Poon

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Apr 14, 2013
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Wow, thanks for this post! It's really helpful and I can't thank you enough for taking the time to write this long and informative (can it be considered one?) article for us. :)


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Sep 30, 2012
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I did some general spell checking etc, and added in the note about viewing photo's in the OP. I'm glad you're getting something out of it. Let me know if I need to add anything else!

Edit: Updated the OP to include information about camera sensors and SkyDrive Auto upload.
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Jun 2, 2013
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How significant is the difference in quality between 8 Mpix and 5 Mpix photos? 8 Mpix files are huge, and my upload speed is horrible (skydrive sync), can you tell the difference on a regular computer screen?


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Sep 30, 2012
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How significant is the difference in quality between 8 Mpix and 5 Mpix photos? 8 Mpix files are huge, and my upload speed is horrible (skydrive sync), can you tell the difference on a regular computer screen?

I'd say the difference is in fine details. It's probably something similar to the difference between 720p and 1080p in television or movies. At a bit of a distance it's not a big deal, but if you're more interested in fine detail it's going to be worth taking pictures at a higher resolution. Remember, pictures taken in 4:3 aspect ratio also feature the most detail possible, as you have more detail per pixel here.

Updated the guide to reflect the Lumia 1020's camera details.

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