Mobile Mastery: Better bike pictures with your phone

Cell phones are incredibly powerful imaging devices these days, if you know how to use them. Steve Thomas exposes the magic of mastering the humble smartphone.

It never ceases to amaze me how much snobbery persists when it comes to cellphone photography. In all truth, the majority of people would struggle to tell the difference between a photo taken on the latest iPhone and one taken on a good mirrorless camera, and especially not when it comes to viewing them on the tiny screens. devices that now seem to rule our lives.

Yes, I am a professional photographer and have been filling the pages of this magazine and countless other magazines around the world for 30 years now, and I use “big” cameras for most of my professional work.

Smartphone imaging technology and performance have taken a leap forward in recent years, with many cycling enthusiasts ditching bulkier cameras in favor of the humble phone.

That said, I also use a cell phone camera almost every day, and the images I produce from it are more than enough to fill the same space in magazines, although there are some situations where a setup more serious is needed.

The great thing about a mobile device is a bit cliched – in that we have them with us all the time, they’re mostly in our pockets every time we go out. Naturally, that means we can capture every impromptu image we encounter on the road, whether from the roadside saddle.

This is not the case with larger camera systems; Unless you’re really serious, they’re just too complicated, and you could have snapped that kangaroo chasing your mate before you even had time to pull a dedicated camera out of the pouch.

App-based image editing has dramatically changed the images we see online and in print.

Add to that the amazing all-in-one processing and publishing power of a mobile device, and in a minute you can have that awesome race plan up and running online, which is hard to match with a bigger camera and computer.

However, there are caveats: it’s really not just a case of point and hook, or at least not if you want to get good results. Just like regular photography or anything else in life, you have to put in the time and effort to learn the skills and how to operate these devices.

The best camera

Right off the bat, my advice here is don’t worry about the camera – use what you have and work with it. Almost all late-model mobile devices have great cameras, and in most cases it’s actually the phone’s processing power that adds that extra ounce of magic.

Generally speaking, the newer the phone, the better the camera, the more lens options, and the more processing power it will have to create better images.

It is often said that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. This is especially true, more often than not, for cyclists… and especially for those who ride in exotic locations at dawn and dusk.

But, in the end, it’s still mostly up to the photographer, and even older models like the iPhone 4 still capture award-winning images compared to newer models.

There was a big leap forward in the capabilities of the iPhone 7, and things have improved since then in low-light situations (but no phone is going to get great low-light photos and, let’s face it , we mainly use them in daylight for cycling.

Personally, I use an iPhone 12 Mini because I like to keep things as small and pocketable as possible. The camera has 2 main cameras, which have been invaluable, and if you can afford a model with 2-3 cameras, great. Even so, I certainly wouldn’t pay a crazy price for it; I prefer to work with what I have. Less choice is simple.

I stuck with iPhones because I’ve been invested in the iOS system for a long time, although there are some great Android devices out there, some with better cameras for certain situations. But. at the end of the day they all come with small sensors (some slightly larger than others) and so the extra megapixels they tout are often crammed into that small sensor and really aren’t very relevant for most of us, and by the time you’ve paid for it, there will be a newer model anyway.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is a great but expensive camera phone (with 5 cameras and a huge megapixel count), as is the Google Pixel 6 Pro (with a 50-megapixel main camera), and the latest iPhone 13 is potentially the best of the lot, even with its modest 12-megapixel cameras.

It really is the whole package for you, and chasing the latest and greatest mobile phones is a sure way to melt your credit card, when taking the time to learn the skills and practice is free. .

Use it how you mean it

The first step to taking better photos with a phone is to think of it as a real camera and not just a phone. Slow down and catch your breath, clean your lens and hold the phone steady with both hands and take the shot like you would with a bigger camera.

The humble smartphone has the potential to produce some surprisingly high quality images, especially when stabilized.

Compose the image, then focus on touching the screen. Expose to retain highlight detail (i.e. usually sky and retaining detail). This is usually achieved by touching a gray area of ​​the screen until the exposure is more or less even, then holding it down to lock it in place.

On most phones, swiping left or right on the screen also changes the exposure (there are also manual control apps available). The HDR mode on newer phones is good at handling those contrasting light situations. If possible, try to avoid extreme lighting, such as large white skies and heavily shaded areas.

Lighting is very important, so try to keep the sun behind you or better yet 3/4 facing the subject. Of course, morning and evening light are best for any photography, so use that if you can.

Avoid using the digital zoom option – it just crops the scene and reduces the resolution of the image (with the exception of a few new high-end phones).

Many phones now come with multiple cameras and focal lengths, which are definitely worth the extra cost. Their wide-angle cameras are great for big landscapes with a rider, and also for shooting POVs from the saddle.

“…It’s also always worth turning your phone right side up, as vertical images have a very different feel…”

Steve Thomas

When capturing images, don’t take just one shot; try a few compositions and different exposures, just like you should with a regular camera


Mobile composition should be approached the same as with any other camera, although you should keep in mind that you won’t have aperture controls for depth of field to blur the backs. -plans.

Good composition (and good light) is what really separates a great image from a snapshot, and thinking about the scene and taking the time to find the best composition is key.

There’s the old photographic “rule of thirds” which is more or less based on dividing your images into thirds. When it comes to a cycling image, that usually means not having the dead center of the cyclist and trying to split your screen so that you have something along the lines of having the cyclist in 1/3 of the screen, preferably keeping the sky and the ground in equal proportions.

Through a mix of skills, camera modes and image enhancement apps, amazingly high quality images are possible.

It’s always good to try to show the pilot entering or exiting a scene with “leading lines” rather than directly in front or from behind. If you can show a trail or road leading to a scene and the cyclist entering or exiting it, that’s ideal. It draws you into the picture and makes you feel like you are there.

It’s also always worth straightening your phone, as vertical images have a very different feel. Vertical is also more favorable for scenes where you want a closer rider image. This format is also more popular on Instagram (although Instagram does crop the image a bit, so leave a little more room).

For action shots, always use burst mode, and remember that you don’t always need to see the whole cyclist or bike in the picture – a very close action shot can add a lot of drama and mystery to an image.

Capture the action

Recent phone models mostly have superb autofocus and tracking, making them pretty good for action shots. Even then, you should still try to tap and lock pre-focus before shooting, then pan with the subject (if it’s moving across your scene rather than towards or away from you ). When panning, keep the motion smooth, and before you take the shot, make sure you see what’s on either side of your frame to avoid obstructions.

You’ll be amazed at what’s possible with the right skills and a little extra input.

Images throughout this feature show off the incredible and expansive photography possibilities of the humble smartphone.

Manual photography apps

There are plenty of dedicated camera apps available, and these will allow you to take more manual control over your photography to nail exposures more accurately.

These apps usually also allow RAW/DNG capture (not processed by the phone), which leaves more room for post-processing – to be honest, I don’t find much more leeway compared to a standard JPEG , so personally, I always take this format on a mobile phone.

My shooting app is Filmic Firstlight (Free for basic features / $12.99 for
the pro version for iOS and Android), but it’s mostly for filters.

Post-processing applications

Any serious photographer will post-process their photos. Snapseed is a free app for iOS and Android and is also perhaps the best and easiest to use.

Play and learn the functions. This will make a huge difference to your final photos, just make sure you don’t go OTT with the processing.

There are several other apps that do the same job such as Lightroom Mobile, Photoshop Express, but Snapseed is free and easy to use which is hard to beat.

#Mobile #Mastery #bike #pictures #phone

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