How To_ Twelve Tips for Taking Better Photos on Your Nokia N8 or 808 PureVie

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  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

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    How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureViewPublished by Steve Litchfield at 8:25 UTC, July 12th 2012

    It's all very well having a high end autofocus camera in your Symbian-powered Nokia N8 or 808 PureView -but having a great camera doesn't necessarily mean that you'll automatically take great photos. My last'photo tips' piece on All About Symbian was three years ago, making it high time I updated my thoughts ontaking better shots for 2012.

    NB. Although written with the Nokia N8 and 808 PureView in mind, much of what follows applies almostequally to every smartphone camera (some tips even apply for EDoF units!) - although there are differencesin camera/sensor quality, they're minor compared to the difference you can make in taking care over eachshot and applying a few basic principles. In addition, you'll also gain a sense of knowing what will and whatwon't 'work'.

    1. Light

    Sunlight is best, of course, so if you're on a day trip out with the family and the weather is somewhatchangeable, take full advantage of the moments when the sun's 'out' to grab some snaps of the kids andyour location - because trying to do the same an hour later when clouds have obscured the sun will result inphotos which are an order of magnitude less pleasing. Sun = Light = Colours. Remember that.

    When the sun's not out, there are still wide variations in light levels. Low light means potentially 'noisy'photos. And focussing won't be as quick or as accurate. Shooting snaps indoors (average light level ten moremore times lower than outdoors, even if your eyes don't realise it because they're so good and so fast atauto-adjusting) will often produce disappointing results, but you may be able to help by hitting the Settings'gearwheel' (or appropriate icon on the 808) and forcing (Xenon) flash on. This is called 'fill-in' flash and for

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  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    subjects a metre or two away in indistinct indoor lighting, can make a big difference, even if your eyes tellyou that there should be enough light for a photo. Fill-in flash is most commonly used when the subject isbetween you and the main natural light source, e.g. a window. In this case, the N8 or 808's flash unit willlight their faces and fronts and reduce any 'silhouette' effect.

    But, in general, seek out good light and you won't go far wrong.

    2. Dirt

    Whether you own an N8 or 808, there's one common factor which can ruin every photo and video you take -fingerprints and other dirt or dust on the camera glass (it's actually scratch-resistant plastic on the N8,interestingly). A brief wipe on a tissue is all that's usually needed - try not to use a coarser, non-absorbentsection of t-shirt, as this can often smear any finger grease rather than remove it.

    The main effect of dust, dirt or grease is to produce extra blur in the photo - in extreme cases, it can evenstop focussing working properly - either way, you'll want a clean camera glass before you shoot. Any dust orfinger grease on the glass, in the same way as small scratches, also plays havoc with any direct lightsources, whether it's the sun or stage lights or even a bright lamp. The result is unsightly 'flare' on yourphotos, streaks of smeared light. If you've cleaned the glass and you're still getting flare then the cure is toagain know where the strongest light sources are and try to avoid them shining on the camera glass of yourdevice directly (see the tip below). If the light is off to one side and you've no option but to take the shotfrom your current position, then use one of your hands to shield the camera glass from direct sunlight inparticular.

    3. Direction

    Tip number three is also about light, but I didn't want to duplicate the headings(!) You see, in addition to

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    seeking out light, you also have to bear in mind its direction, as hinted at above. I know it's a 'clich', butmost of the time you want it behind you and lighting up your subjects - leave arty silhouette and sun glareeffects to the pros with their SLRs.

    Having said that, bear in mind that if the sun's low in the sky and it's directly behind you, all your subjects(if they're human, at least) will be squinting rather unflatteringly, which won't make for a very naturalphotograph. Better to have the sun behind you at 45 degrees to the angle of shot, giving your subjects aneasier time of it and giving some natural contrast to their faces.

    Indoors, your main source of light will be windows - as mentioned above, it's easy to suggest that yoursubject stand near one, but make sure you're as close to the window as they are, so that you're shooting thelight falling on the subject rather than in effective silhouette around them.

    As you move around, whether in the park with your kids or at an event, try to retain this natural awarenessof where the main source of light is - even if it's just the brightest part of a cloudy sky - your photos willthank you.

    4. Bokeh/Depth of field

    The concept of depth of field is an odd one, but it's important to understand. In theory, it shouldn't exist,since the N8 or 808 camera focusses on a particular distance and that's the bit of the photo that shouldappear sharp, everything else in front of that subject and behind it should be progressively blurry. However,even on excellent cameras , the scale of sensor pixels and optics mean that there's a bit of leeway in what'sharp' means in practice - take a photo in good light of a subject at 2 metres and there's a good chancethat, although not perfectly sharp, most of the background will also be 'acceptably' clear. And this turns outto be what 'depth of field' refers to - the range of distances, given the current focus point and lightconditions, over which subjects appear 'acceptably' sharp.

    How much you seek to avoid or embrace 'depth of field' effects depends on what you want. EDoF phonecameras famously use hardware and software tricks to achieve massive depth of field, eliminating any needto focus. But with the N8 and 808 PureView you will hopefully revel in the chance to take perfectly-focussed,crystal clear shots of people and things, with a slight artistic blur to the extreme foreground and background.Take this concept to its maximum and, for very close subjects (flowers are a favourite, as shown here), youcan blur out the background almost entirely - this is the famous 'bokeh' effect.

    On the N8 (in 'Close-up' mode), macro photographs can be taken down to about 10cm (depending on light).The 808 PureView's wide angle lens and optics mean that 'Close up' mode's minimum is more like 12cm, buta great tip is to then use the PureView zoom facility to get some fabulously 'close' shots. I know, the idea ofusing 'zoom' to photograph something that's less than a foot away is bizarre, but it works brilliantly andenables very easy 'bokeh' effects.

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    5. Ready

    The whole point of camera phone photography, as opposed to using a standalone unit, is that you're readyto snap away anytime, anywhere. Grabbing the unexpected, the fortuitous, the once in a lifetime moments.Which means that speed is of the essence.

    On the Nokia 808 PureView, did you know that, even when keylocked/off you can press and hold the shutterbutton to wake the phone and launch the Camera application, ready for action? In practice, this means youcan be pressing and holding this button even as you remove the phone from your pocket - in theory, youcan take a photo less than two seconds after realising that there's a snap to be taken.

    N8 owners will have the extra step of turning off the keylock, but at least this can be done 'blind' whileremoving the phone from its resting place.

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    6. Subject

    There isn't room here for a magic way to become an experienced photographer, of course, but a fewpointers might help. Every photograph will have a subject - it's why you want to take that particular snap inthe first place, whether it's a coastline or flower or person or pet. The secret is to present the subject in aninteresting way. If every photograph just has the subject at its centre, with no context or other surroundingsthen your images will come across as dull and uninteresting to others.

    Think about context then and consider shooting from different angles or heights. If shooting a landscapescene, try getting low down, to include a border of nearby ground at the bottom of the frame - or find anearby tree or foliage or other feature to add interest at the edge of the frame. If shooting people, don't aimto get their whole bodies in (unless you're snapping Miss UK or similar!), don't be afraid to get close up (oruse the 808's PureView zoom, of which more later) - after all, it'll usually be faces you're interested in, notarms, legs and torsos. If shooting a flower, get down near its height, make sure your own shadow's notblocking the available light, be aware of what's in the background and make sure it's sufficiently neutral. Andso on!

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    7. Quantity

    Back in the 'old days', we had rolls of film with 12 or 24 exposures and that was our lot - every snap had tocount. With digital photography on your smartphone and with truly (relatively) vast amounts of storageavailable for your JPG photos, there's nothing stopping you going mad and taking more photos than youthink you need. For example, you've been invited along to a garden party - it's easy enough to snap eachguest 'that you haven't seen for ages' once and reckon that'll do. Back home, later, you'll find that half theshots might have eyes closed, weird expressions or are even motion-blurred. So - take two or three of eachscene or subject, just in case - you can then keep the one that came out the best and everyone will beamazed that you nailed every single shot you show them!

    8. Smooth and stabilised

    Famously - anyone remember Engadget's appalling first look at the N8's camera? - using a phone camerawith a proper mechanical shutter button take a modicum of skill and experience. On a standalone camera,the device is heavy enough that the extra resistance of the spring in the shutter button is trivial - on acamera phone, experience is needed to brace the phone with your left hand and right thumb, while the rightindex finger collects focus and then presses down smoothly and gently, without jarring the device andcausing the ultimate beginner's mistake - motion blur.

    In the same way as not snatching at the shutter button on your N8 or 808, you should do everything youcan to keep the device still relative to the environment . After all, the sensors of the N8 and 808 are largeand shutter speeds often quite fast, but you'll often be using the devices in challenging light conditions(dusk, indoors, events) and in such cases shutter speeds need to be longer, which means you need to keepthe phone as still as possible.

    Taking a tripod with you everywhere is usually over the top(!), but stopping yourself wobbling around while

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

    taking a photo isn't always trivial - especially if you're in the middle of a field or on the beach and if it's coldor windy. Stand with your legs apart, braced against any breeze, and hold the N8/808 in two hands. Myfavourite tip is to use a wall or lamppost nearby, pressing your body to it or, even better, resting the bodyof the camera phone on it or on one side of it.

    9. Move and Zoom

    Despite the fact that you might own the 808 PureView, if you're shooting a scene and only really want thecentral part of it, move closer to the subject if you can so that it fills the natural frame. That's always thepurest form of 'zooming'! Having got as close as you can within practical limits (e.g. seating, people,barriers, sensitivity to the subject), you can then use the lossless 3x (or so) zoom on the 808 PureView toget even closer without losing quality (if the light's good enough). See also my relevant Nokia 808 reviewpart.

    10. Get Creative

    Yes, Nokia put in a mode called 'Creative' in the 808's Camera interface (read all about it here), but most ofthe same options are also in the N8's Camera interface, on the '...' (more) panel. 90% of the time, youreally shouldn't need to change any of the parameters here, but it's comforting to know that as you becomemore expert, more ambitious and more aware of light, the N8 and 808 Camera applications are there tohelp.

    In particular, the ones you should head for are:

    exposure - letting you, for example, snap something in detail even though it has a bright sky behind it,by increasing the exposure by a couple of 'stops', blowing out the sky exposure but perfectly exposingyour main subject. 'ISO' - simulating the effect of using 'fast' film (back in the 1970s) - effectively, this deliberatelyshortens the shutter time, allowing you to freeze low light subjects in situations where Xenon flashwon't help (for example, at a concert, where the subject is in the medium distance), at the expense ofhigher-than-normal sensor noise. This technique is particularly effective on the 808 because thePureView oversampling will reduce this noise. Unless you then zoom in as well.... Trade offs, tradeoffs....!

  • How to: Twelve Tips for taking better photos on your Nokia N8 or 808 PureView[7/6/2012 7:13:02 PM]

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    11. Fingers

    Watch out for stray fingers curling round the back of your camera phone and partially covering the lens orflash - it's easy to do and soooo annoying when you get back home and sort through your photos.

    12. Natural

    It's all ver...