Camera phone tips

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The best camera in the world is the one that’s in your hand when you need to take a photo. While few of us take our digital cameras everywhere we go, many of us do carry around cell phones with built-in cameras. True, you’re probably not going to make high-quality 8-by-10-inch prints from your phone’s snapshots. But these devices can do amazing things—if you know how to make the most of them.

Improve your technique

One of the reasons people shy away from using camera phones to take photos is that they often produce lousy pictures. You can improve your odds of getting a good shot by following these pointers:

Get Closer The camera phone is not designed for shooting landscapes. Move up close when you’re composing your shots. Your images will have much more impact.

Pay Attention to Lighting Most camera phones perform best in moderately bright environments, such as overcast days. Getting attractive shots in low-light situations involves a bit more work.

If you’re lucky enough to have a flash on your camera phone, keep in mind that its light will only reach about five feet—so get up close and personal. If your phone doesn’t have a flash, you can still take pictures indoors. Check your menu for a Night Mode or similar setting, which increases the sensitivity of your image sensor so you can grab indoor candids. You’ll get more image noise (multicolored specks), but that’s a minor trade-off for a shot of Uncle Bob wearing a punch bowl. Just be sure to turn off this mode when you go back outside—if you don’t, all of your pictures will look orange, as though you took them on Mars.

Your camera phone’s self-timer is also a great tool for getting sharp pictures in less-than-perfect lighting conditions. Rest the camera on a steady surface, compose the image, activate the self-timer, and press the shutter button. The camera counts for about ten seconds and then shoots. The steadier the camera, the sharper the shot will be.

Make Text Legible Many camera phones offer an Effects menu with options for sepia or black-and-white images. These modes also have practi-cal applications. For example, you may want to use the Negative mode when shooting pictures of black text on a white background. The result—white writing on a black background—is sometimes easier to read.

Customize File Names Instead of always assign-ing cryptic file names such as IMG_5402.jpg, some cameras give you the option to specify some-thing more informative, such as Mexico Vac 001. Just remember to change the setting once you return home, or your friends might wonder why a shot of the Empire State Building is called Mexico Vac 443.

Move pictures to your Mac

Most pictures taken with a camera phone never leave the device’s memory chip. However, if your phone supports Bluetooth—a short-range wireless technology—you can quickly transfer its pictures to a Mac. The problem is that many instruction manuals do a terrible job of explaining just how this connection works. Here’s the scoop.

What You’ll Need To transfer pictures from a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to your Mac, you need Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later, a Bluetooth-enabled Mac, and a Bluetooth-enabled camera phone.

Apple’s latest iMacs, Mac minis, and laptop lineup include Bluetooth transmitters. If your Mac doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth support, you can buy the $35 D-Link DBT-120 Wireless USB Bluetooth Adapter, which plugs into the Mac’s USB port.

All of the major cell-phone makers, including Motorola, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson, offer Bluetooth handsets. If your phone doesn’t support Bluetooth, most service providers will let you upgrade to a newer phone for a small fee. You can see a sampling of Bluetooth-equipped cell phones.

Make the Connection Once you’re equipped, the first step is to pair the phone with your Mac. This clever security step ensures that interlopers can’t send you their photos without your permission.

To create this union, open your Mac’s Bluetooth preferences (located in the Hardware section of System Preferences), click on the Devices tab, and then click on Set Up New Device.

On your cell phone, locate the image you want to download, and send it. If you’ve paired your phone with other Bluetooth devices, you’ll have to choose your Mac from the resulting list.

Once you’ve sent the picture, a message will appear on your Mac, asking you to accept the picture. Click on the Accept button to download it. In most cases, the Mac stores these downloads in your user’s Documents folder.

Now that you’ve safely copied the image to your Mac, you can add it to iPhoto, publish it to a Web site, attach it to an e-mail, and more.

Upload photos to your phone

Bluetooth isn’t just a one-way street. You can also send images from your Mac to your phone—turning it into a portable photo album.

Two-Way Street Open the Bluetooth preference pane, click on the Settings tab, and select the Show Bluetooth Status In The Menu Bar option. This adds a Bluetooth icon to your OS X menu bar at the top of the screen. If you click on this icon, you’ll get a pull-down menu with additional transfer options. Select Send File from this menu. In the resulting dialog box, navigate to the image you want to transfer, and then click on Send.

In the next dialog box, select your cell phone from the list of available devices, and then click on Send again (see screenshot). The transfer process will begin. Switch to your cell phone and authorize it to receive the file.

Think Small Most cell phones can’t handle large files, so be sure to keep them small. I usually crop my images to 160 by 120 pixels. To do this in iPhoto, go to File: Export, select the Scale Images To No Larger Than option, and enter

in the text field. iPhoto will automatically fill in the other number for you. If you get an error message when transferring the file to your phone, the picture dimensions may be too big or the file size may be more than your phone can handle. Trim the image a bit more and try again.

Enhance pictures in iPhoto

Camera phone pictures often lack contrast, saturation, and sharpness. To put some life into your shots, import them into iPhoto and use the Enhance button in Edit mode. For even more editing control, click on the Adjust button and, in the Levels section, bring the two endpoints to the edge of the histogram. You’ll probably see more image noise but also much improved contrast and saturation. Finish the job by applying some sharpening, if needed.


Camera phones spend much of their life in pockets, at the bottom of purses, and in other lint-laden locations. As a result, their lenses can get downright disgusting. To keep your photo subjects recognizable, consider giving the lens a good cleaning on a weekly basis. You can use a dry cotton swab for the job. However, I prefer LensPen’s CellKlear pen ($9).

[ Derrick Story is a professional photographer, an author, and a teacher. For more photography tips, check out his weekly podcast. ]

To send a selected photo to your camera phone, choose it from the list of available Bluetooth devices and click on Send.
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