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How to improve those cell phone camera photos

Cell phone cameras. We all carry them but how often do we use them? And if we use them, then what do we do with the photos? Most of the time they stay hidden away in the phone, forgotten until one day we hit the delete button.

And if we do manage to figure out how to transfer the photos to a web site or a computer, we're often disappointed with the results. We're left with the impression that cell phone cameras are the digital equivalent of those 12-shot throwaways that used to be so popular. OK for a night out with the girls but not for the serious photographer.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. Led by smartphone technology, there have been some dramatic improvements in the quality of phone cameras, including more megapixels, better lenses, and higher storage capacity. In fact, phone cameras are one of the fastest growing segments of the digital camera market, winning market share from the low-end offerings of more traditional camera manufacturers.

Unfortunately, many of the pictures taken with cell phone cameras continue to be of poor quality. This could still be about inferior equipment but more often it's the result of lack of familiarity with the camera settings and poor photographic technique.

Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of your cell phone camera - and make you proud of the results:

1. Light your subject well

The number one reason for poor quality cell phone pictures is poor lighting. Despite the often-limited camera settings, we put extra strain on the equipment by shooting indoors or in poor light. Try to shoot your subject outdoors or turn up the lights if you have to stay indoors. If your cell phone camera has optional flash, always use it to boost the amount of light. You can always edit out red-eye later. (See below).

2. Get close to your subject

One of the most common mistakes with cell phone photos is that the subject ends up being a tiny unrecognizable object in the distance. Fill up your view finder to save having to zoom in on the subject when you edit later (which can dramatically decrease quality).

3. Keep still

As with all digital photography, the steadier your camera is when taking the shot, the clearer the image will be.  This is especially important in low-light situations where the camera may select longer shutter speeds to compensate for the lack of light. Lean against a solid object or steady the cell phone with two hands. Keep in mind that many cell phone cameras suffer from 'shutter lag', which means you have to hold the phone steady for a little longer before moving it away from the shot.

4. Use the camera settings

Most phones have a number of easy-to-use camera settings. Spend a few  minutes to find out what they are and use them when appropriate. Almost every cell phone with a camera will allow you to vary the resolution (go for the highest setting available), the shooting mode (single or multi-shot), the brightness settings, and allow you to zoom in or out. Experiment with the various settings to see what produces the best images. Cell phone cameras are particularly good for experimenting with new angles and perspectives – up high, down low, close up, etc. You can shoot and delete at zero cost until you know what works best for your particular phone.

5. Learn how to transfer to the web

The easiest way to get your photos out of your phone is to send them to your phone service provider's web site as soon as you have taken them. All the main carriers allow you to set up an album online and sync your phone so they can be sent to your album as soon as you take the shot. Some carriers will classify the transfer as a picture text and bill you accordingly; others will transfer for free. Once your picture is online, you can right-click and save it to your computer.

6. Use editing software

While you may be able to perform a certain amount of editing and add effects right there on your cell phone, editing pictures later on your computer will produce much better results. Free photo-editing software like Photoshop or Picasa can work wonders for your pics and can be a lot of fun to use. Other sites like Picnik will let you do the editing right there on the web without any downloads. Make sure you take your shots in color and high resolution to keep your options open on how best to deal with them later. Remember, you can always make a color picture black and white but you can't make a black and white picture color!

7. Don't automatically delete "mistakes"

Remember that on many phones the quality of the screen is significantly inferior to your computer. Many shots that you think are substandard will come alive on the bigger screen and photo-editing can make them even better.

8. Keep your lens clean

Phones spend a lot of time in bags and pockets and are dropped and generally misused. They get treated very differently than if they were a camera! Make sure the lens is clean and not scratched. Fingerprints are a common problem, especially if the phone doesn't have a lens cover. From time to time give the lens a wipe with a soft cloth.

9. Use your cell phone camera wisely!

We've all heard about those intrusive and embarrassing photos that end up on Facebook or worse. If you find that you are getting such good results from your cell phone camera that it becomes a constant companion, then use it wisely. Ask permission before you take pictures of strangers and think about the impact posting pictures online will have on the subjects. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

If you follow the above guidelines, you might find that your cell phone becomes your best friend all over again – and a worthy substitute at weddings and family gatherings when you forget to bring the Nikon!

Do you have tips for taking great cell phone pics? Share them with The Online Mom!

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