Tips and gadgets for taking better smartphone photos

tech talk aprHow often are we without a camera these days when something happens we want to snap and remember?  On CTV Morning Live’s Tech Talk this week, I looked at several gadgets and ideas for taking better smartphone photos, since often that’s the only gadget we carry with us at all times to take a picture. Click here to watch the TV segment.

Now I will admit this up front; I’m not a photographer.  But I’ve had a unique opportunity to play with some cool gadgets and apps, and working in TV has taught me a thing or three about the visual image, so I want to share what I know.

Caseco's Shutter Bean.
Caseco’s Shutter Bean.

Shutter Bean by Caseco

Nobody likes the awkward ‘selfie shoulder’ in the photos that we take ourselves.  It makes what could be a headshot, an obvious selfie.  Yes, you could uses the selfie stick of course, but then it’s in the photo too.  A good alternative is the ShutterBean by Canadian company Caseco.  It’s a small thumb sized remote control device that you press to take the photo for you, meaning you can leave your phone on a surface (or better yet on a tripod; see the Joby Gorillapod below!) and snap away while looking like you have a photographer helping you. it connects to the phone via Bluetooth, so no additional app is required, and it comes with an extra coin battery.  Nice touch!

Joby GorillaPod Tripod

jobyThis is one of my favourite photography gadgets; I just need to get it modified for my smartphone!  The Gorillapod by Joby is a twisty, grippy device that can hold your camera or phone to a tree, fence, branch, rock, post.. almost anything! You can also straighten out the legs and set it on any surface to make it a regular tripod. It’s particularly handy when you want to take photos of great places with you in them.

LIGHTING

Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.
Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.

Lighting is so important when you’re trying to take better photos; it can make the difference between a photo you’ll frame and keep for years, and one that gathers digital dust on your hard drive.  My go-to tip is to try to get into some flattering sunlight for selfies, and angle your face to the light.  Also, hold the phone above your nose level, and look right into the lens, not the screen, the LENS! Holding the phone a bit higher gives a flattering angle to cheekbones and chins, and a strong gaze is memorable and catches the eye. The other option for getting better light it to get an external flash, that has light you can control, like these two below:

Nova Light Flash

novalight

A small credit card sized flash, the Nova is pretty portable.  You use Nova’s app to take the photo, which is them saved in the same place your other photos are.  the app, however, lets you control the colour and strength of light; do you want warm sunny-like light, or cooler indoor light?  A really bright flash or a soft gentle glow?  The Nova Light gives you a great array of options, requires next to no set-up or fiddling, and takes really nice photos.

Ztylus Ring Light & Case via Photojojo

iphone-ring-light-9b32_600.0000001420423397This light and case combo from Photojojo has been a cast and crew favourite on CTV Morning Live since I first previewed it earlier this year.  The genius contraption features a ring shaped light that slides out over the camera’s lens, giving soft, diffused light all the way around. The light device actually snaps into an available case, making it easy to carry on the go.  It also comes with a trio of other light filters you can snap in and change easily, giving you warm, cool or neutral light options. The Ring Light is actually perfect for selfies, since it provides the lighting you need, along with easily adjustable wheel controls that let you adjust the light from warm to cool, or soft to powerful.  Powered by three AAA batteries, that means you never have to be without juice.

LENS OPTIONS

The lenses on smartphones are getting better, but they still won’t do everything. Taking macro photos has always been difficult on a smartphone, and of course wide-angle shots are a no go, unless you want to use panorama mode.  Getting some external lenses can give you an array of new options for better photos. Most lens kits are available for iPhone and Android phones. You can find any number of 3-pack lens kits featuring a wide angle, a macro, and a fish eye lens.  Search “smartphone lens” on Amazon, or ebay.  I don’t recommend any one kit over another, but i will say you get what you pay for.

MicroPhone Lens Kit

microphone lens bug

A fun kit for those interested in science and nature, this kit from microphonelens.com allows you to take close up, microscopic photos of the natural world around you.  Different strength lenses allow you to get up close, and by adding slides and some light, you can really get some great images of things you’d never ordinarily see on a smartphone.

APP HELP

There are a couple of apps I can’t live without when it comes to taking better photos on my smartphone.

Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.
Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.

Hipstamatic

hipsta flowersThis free app (with in-app purchases at cost) allows you to treat your phone like a vintage camera, selecting retro lenses, film and even flash styles, all virtual, of course.  It takes fabulous photos, adding a variety of flattering effects like warmth and colour, to black and white, graininess, even fun frames and edges.  One of the features I love is the “shake to randomize” feature.  Often I’ll snap a few photos of something with the regular camera app on my iPhone 6, then load up Hipstamatic, and use shake to randomize to take another 3-4 photos.  Often, one of those random effects is the photographic gold I’m after. I also find Hipstamatic is a great way to jazz up an otherwise boring selfie or location.  Highly recommended.

ColourSplash

IMG_2801
It’s not my finest work, but you get the idea…

This app allows you to take any photo, make it black and white, then pull out one element to give a bold pop of colour to.   It costs $1.19, but I got it as a freebie as an app of the week.

Panorama 360

Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com
Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com

This is a vacation’s best friend.  To use 360, you hold the camera/phone up in front of you like a window, and scan it across all that you can see; a full 360 degrees around you.  The free app paints the photo into a full visual experience you can then view as if you were standing there again.

It also has a super-neat feature that allows you to paint your panorama into a tiny earth-globe; it’s a cool, fun effect.

360 globe madrid

What’s your must-have photography app?  Do you have a gadget that goes everywhere with you? Please share your picks in comments.

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