Using Flash On Your Cell Phone

Even though I wrote a fun go-to book for anyone who is a serious animal photographer and even though it’s full of useful information for using an SLR camera, what you really want to use is your “take anywhere camera,” your cell phone.

Ok. I get it, I really do. Plus cell phone cameras are getting better and better. But you still need to understand the concepts that make for a great image because using a cell doesn’t allow you to skip the basics. We want results not frustration, so grab my book and study up!

Once you have the knowledge, you can apply all the techniques to your cell camera. Here’s what I mean. Take light. When you shoot animals outside, bright sun is not your friend. You can ‘work it’ by finding a spot in the shade, but it has to be total shade because a combination of sun and shade never works with a cell camera. You just don’t have the controls an SLR camera gives you to deal with that kind of lighting.

So find a good spot in the shade to make an image and turn on your flash. The default setting for your flash is AUTO, but you can fix that. Don’t let the cell camera make the decision to fire or not fire the flash! Open the camera app, tap the flash button in the upper left corner and set it to ON. To turn it off, just tap the button and set it to OFF. Easy peezy.

Backlighting is another time when you always need your flash. You don’t want to let the camera decide if it should fire or not. Here’s how the camera “thinks.” The camera reads all the light and decides it needs to shut down a bit to average out the light. That means you need to do some thinking and set the flash to fire. This will add enough light to properly illuminate the subject. (Quick review. Remember the last two blogs? Remember that the camera doesn’t know what the subject is…the computer in the cell phone is programmed to produce 18% middle gray.)

As always, it is easier to see the concept in a photograph.

With an SLR camera, it is easy to take a reading off the animal’s wool and open up the aperture one or two stops to get good detail in the animal’s face and wool. Since this isn’t possible with a cell, be sure to set the flash to ON so it will fire regardless of the amount of light the sensor is reading in the scene. (If you are an advanced user, you know that newer cells are capable of using apps that can adjust the settings, but this blog is for folks who want to keep it simple.)

Good shooting!


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