• Rich Engelbrecht

Getting more out of your cell phone camera

Updated: Jul 6, 2019


I have been using my iPhone 7 plus to take more pictures lately. It is convenient, it’s always with me, and is capable of taking some remarkable images. However, much like a standard camera, you can take your pictures using the default settings, or you can dig a bit and get to know the controls and capabilities of app and step up your game substantially.

Please note that all images associated with this article were taken with an iPhone 7+

The built in camera app for both iPhone and Android is designed to work easily and quickly. They are somewhat limited with their controls to keep that user experience relatively easy. They do have methods to get to the underlying controls, so that you can, for example:

  • Shoot panoramic, square [Instagram], portiat [blurry background], standard photos, video, slow motion video, & time-laps video.

  • When shooting photos, you can choose your focus by tapping the screen where your subject is located.

  • You can turn the flash on, off or automatic

  • Zoom in on subjects with finger gestures

  • Shoot HDR [High Dynamic Range]

  • It works to balance the shadows and highlights of a photo so that neither are being favored or ignored. Basically, HDR on iPhone is done by combining three different exposures into a single shot.

  • Use Live mode, that creates a mini-video, showing 1.5 seconds before and after the still image.

  • Set up a time delay before an image is taken

  • Apply basic filters to the image as it is being taken.


One of the, in my opinion, major downfalls of stock cell phone cameras is that it stores the final image as a file type known as JPG or JPEG. This is all well and good as this is the type of file that virtually all web sites use, and is the final goal of any type of output you may want.

However, this file type is not what the camera itself is taking when you take that picture. The image is captured by the sensor in the camera; the sensor records the light levels and colors in each of millions of cells on the sensor known as pixels. This information is then processed. The processing applies filters to the image and then compresses it [throws away much of the original information recorded] and outputs [saves] the altered image and throws away the original image.

If you had access to that original image you then have the opportunity to make edits using all the data including the part that the camera app just threw away.

All this means that there is an app for that. In fact lots of apps. You can get replacement camera apps, as well as image editing apps, and even apps that combine the two; all of which work on your phone or in conjunction with apps on your computer. Some are just fun and some will enable you to produce stunning high quality images suitable for publication.

So what are a few of these apps? As I mentioned, there are a whole lot of them. I am going to recommend a few that I have played with and like.

Snapseed [free] - All-purpose photo editor for image enhancements and corrections:

  • Exposure, color and sharpening adjustments

  • Crop, rotate, straighten, correct perspective

  • Selective adjustments, brushes, healing tool

  • Vignette, filters, HDR, black and white

  • Frames and text

  • JPEG and RAW editing

VSCO [free] - Elegant filter presets and a great selection of image adjustment tools:

  • Beautiful and subtle one-tap presets

  • Adjustable filter strength

  • Large range of presets available to download

  • Image adjustment tools for exposure, color and other enhancements

  • Integrated camera and photo sharing platform

Enlight [$3.99] - All-in-one photo editor with creative and artistic tools:

  • Selective control over exposure, color and details

  • Built-in masking option within every tool for seamless blending of effects

  • Crop, rotate, straighten, correct perspective

  • Filters, two-tone gradients, light leaks, vignettes

  • Black and white, painterly and sketch effects

  • Clone tool for removing unwanted defects

  • Double-exposure, tilt-shift, photo montages

  • Drawing tools, text, borders and frames

  • Intelligent photo correction

Manual Camera [$2.99] - takes advantage of direct camera controls introduced in the Camera2 API, providing users with near total manual control over their camera settings when taking shots. Enables you to manually configure settings such as the shutter speed, focus distance and exposure compensation, allowing you to set up your shot just the way you want it.


And just for fun:

Fun Photo Camera

· Select a photo from the gallery or take photos using the phone's camera.

· Wide range of styles and different templates for any picture.

· Scale, zoom and move your gallery picture for a perfect fit within the template.

· Crop the picture to have a better fit.

· Add stickers and custom text.

· Apply amazing image effects to your pictures: boost, brightness, color, contrast, emboss, engrave, flea, gaussian, gamma, grayscale, sharpen, sepia, hue, invert, saturation and many others.

· Navigate through your image gallery.

· HD quality templates with vivid colors.

· Share your creations via WhatsApp, Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Twitter, Instagram, Skype and other social networks.

A couple others that look interesting but I have no experience with:

· Morfo 3D Face Booth 3D photo camera for you to take and create 3D face photo with any ordinary photo. For example, you can edit a photo of yours, a friend, your pet, celebrity etc. and make a 3D face

· Funny Camera enables you to change the hairstyles, hats, ears, noses, eyes, mouths, beards and more. Photo rotation, enlargement etc. are supported, too.