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Adjust Your Smartphone Camera for Better Photos

As smartphone cameras become more sophisticated, we are starting to see an array of camera options and photo settings that would rival some of the more complex DSLRs. But as these various options multiply, aren’t they taking away one of the main advantages of the smartphone camera, which is its simplicity? And do we really need all those options if all we are doing is using the smartphone as a point-and-shoot?

Well, the good news and bad news is that smartphones are getting smarter. And with that improved engineering comes the possibility of camera settings and adjustments that were unimaginable just a couple of years ago. So the short answer is yes, it is worth knowing a little bit about the various options that come with your smartphone camera. Just a few tweaks here and there can dramatically improve picture quality and make using the camera much more enjoyable.

Here are four of the most underused smartphone camera settings and a brief explanation of what they can do:

Image size

Most smartphones will now give you a range of image sizes or “resolutions” from 320 x 240 to 2560 x 1920. Generally, the bigger the image, the more pixels, and the better the quality of the photo. However, big photos mean big files. If you are e-mailing or texting a picture, you may want to reduce the image size to save on both time and your data allowance. But if you are shooting to fill a picture frame or edit on a PC, then the bigger the better. There’s nothing worse than taking a bunch of great pictures only to find out that they are too small for good-size prints.


The ISO option on a smartphone allows you to adjust the camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number, the more light you are allowing into the shot. One of the biggest restrictions smartphones have as cameras is the size of the image sensor. Therefore, while it’s possible to have ISO options of 1600 or more on DSLRs, a smartphone camera is usually restricted to a maximum ISO count of around 400.

If you are shooting outside in bright sunlight, an ISO count of 100 should be more than adequate. The darker the conditions, the higher you should go. Of course, you can always use the flash but that can sometimes result in uneven light and unwanted reflections. If in doubt, most smartphone cameras have an auto ISO setting which will make the adjustment for you.

White balance

As the term suggests, white balance refers to the balance between colors and is again affected by how light enters the camera. Many smartphone cameras quickly adjust to light over time, so if you wait a few seconds you may avoid that orange/browny tint that can ruin a good photo. If the colors continue to be tinted, then you can adjust the white balance manually. Usually it will give you a number of options like “sunny,” “fluorescent,” or “cloudy.” Adjust the setting to match the conditions and you should get a much better color balance.

Scene mode

A much neglected option, scene mode takes into account the type of picture you are taking and makes the necessary adjustments to maximize quality. For example, portrait mode will scan faces for best quality and minimize distractions in the background; landscape mode will tell the camera to focus on distant objects and is excellent for taking pictures of city skylines, mountains or panoramic views; sports mode will adjust the shutter speed to freeze the action in the frame without blurring; and macro mode is perfect for taking close-ups of small objects like insects and flowers.

Spending a few minutes to adjust these settings for the conditions and the type of picture you are about to take can make a huge difference in the quality of your photos!

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