Mobile Photography in Low Light

Mobile phones are the fastest growing snap photography devices as they are often the only gadget people carry at all times. The rise of smartphones also means one can snap and share photos and videos instantly to social networks and online image banks. But, while mobile technology has improved significantly—the new Sony Ericsson xperia arc for instance boasts one of the first mobile implementations of Sony’s Exmor R back-illuminated cmos sensor—your average camera phone will still sweat buckets when tasked to shoot in low light.

However, just because it is acknowledged that a camera phone isn’t a DSLR doesn’t mean you should live with blurry photos. Here are some simple tips to taking memorable photos with your phone in low light situations…or at the very least, get usable and identifiable shots.

Stability Is Key

Mobile phones are small gadgets designed for one-handed use, but when taking photos, this single-handed approach is the main reason for blurry images. Like all digital photography, the steadier the camera the clearer the shot. The easiest way to achieve this is to always use both hands. Grip your phone firmly, but not tensely. As they are very light devices, even pressing the shutter (or touchscreen) can cause movement so if you need further stability, brace yourself or your arms against something solid. Nearby walls, lampposts and park benches all qualify.

If you need to properly frame a shot (as opposed to a spur-of-the-moment photo), carry around a prop such as desktop phone holders, which make excellent tripod stand-ins for your phone. They’re small, lightweight, and are already made for holding phones.

Another culprit of blurry images is shutter lag. This is the time between pressing the shutter and the camera actually taking the shot. Shutter lag can sometimes take as long as a few seconds on camera phones, so try to keep as still as possible until you physically see the camera ready to take the next picture.

Get The Right Exposure

While it is easy to whip out your phone for any photo opportunity, camera phones aren’t designed to handle difficult compositions. Ideally the entire scene should be in focus and lighting is in abundance. If you have to shoot in low light, avoid reflective sources or bright hot spots that will most likely throw the camera’s metering algorithms into a tantrum.

Turn Off The Flash

Camera phones usually come with LED flashes that are powerful and bright. While proper use of a fill flash can help brighten up under-exposed areas, the white burst light from an LED can result in unnaturally lit images. LED flash can also be harsh, messing up white balance settings or blowing out brighter objects.

Advanced camera phones like the Xperia arc that comes with Exmor R for mobile and an f/2.4 lens are able to handle low light shooting even without flash. So, next time you’re taking a photo, try disabling the flash a together. You’ll be surprised at the level of detail and color saturation you can get in a photo that would otherwise nave been killed by a flash.

Don’t Rush The White Balance

Camera phone sensors aren’t the fastest of the bunch and while the modern ones do a decent job detecting white balance in most situations, you should always give the sensor a few seconds to acclimatize and soak up the lighting of different scenes. This is doubly true for low light photography. Never switch to a different scene and immediately start snapping, you’d be amazed how different the exact same location can look with nothing changed except the time given for white balance compensation.

Take As Many Pictures As You Can

As with all digital cameras, photography on your camera phone is quirk and costs nothing. However, images previewed on your phone’s screen may look different than on a desktop monitor or TV, so take multiple shots, try different angles and perspectives, and choose various composition and exposure settings. You’ll never know which ones are the teal keepers.

Some phones come with screens that are optimized for mobile viewing. The Sony Ericsson Xperia arc for example sports a Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine so you can be sure that pictures and videos always look their best on your phone or when viewed on a HDTV via HDMI out.