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If you’ve ever had a DSLR pointed at you, you’ll know it’s quite an intimidating thing. Very few people act naturally with such a monster camera shoved in their faces!  But as the quality and manual controls on smartphone cameras have improved we can rely more than ever on our pocket sized devices.

So, now we’ve got the hardware at our fingertips, how do we get the best out of it?  Here’s a few tips about exposure, using the Nokia 808 PureView, which might help improve your smartphone portraits.

Exposing yourself

All digital cameras make light readings and in their automatic modes opt to give you the best overall shot. In most circumstances this is completely fine; after all, these devices have had millions spent on them to give us the best results. 

But sometimes, the ‘best overall’ photograph is not the most visually interesting and learning some very small tweaks can make big differences to your pictures.

In the ‘Creative Mode’ on the 808 PureView (or in photo setting on Nokia Lumias) you can manually adjust the exposure, deliberately under exposing or over exposing the photograph.

0 Nokia over expose

The more you experiment with the exposure, the more you will be able to anticipate the situations where you need to manually over-ride the cameras settings.

Here’s two photographs showing the cameras ‘correct’ exposure and then one deliberately ‘under’ exposed. Learning how to use the exposure controls can open up all sorts of image making possibilities.

00 expsoure comparison

The beauty of bracketing

A good way to learn about under and over exposing, using the Nokia 808 PureView is to ‘Bracket the Exposure’. This means that the camera will automatically take three or five exposures that span the ‘correct’ exposure with increments in either direction. This works best with static subjects since you’ll be taking three/five photos of exactly the same thing and to get the best results the subject should be quite still (such as landscapes or a still life). But as a teaching tool it has great value. 

Portrait bracketing

Here’s three shots that have been ‘bracketed’; one over, one ‘correct’ and one under. It’s easy to see how by manually playing with the exposure, you can quickly change the ‘mood’ or ‘feel’ of an image.

To flash or not to flash

 The automatic setting on your smartphone will very often fire off the flash. Once again, as a fill-in flash this is mostly acceptable, but it might not always give the picture you’re after.

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Here’s an example of a backlit subject – a typical instance of when your smartphone will automatically fire the flash. However, if you manually turn off the flash, the camera will under expose the person because there is still so much light reaching its sensor from behind the subject. This is a classic ‘error’ and one, which results in numerous silhouette portraits! However, by deliberately over exposing the shot, you can get more detail back into the subject despite still having the light from behind. (You will lose or ‘burn out’ some of the detail in the background though).

Rules are there to be broken

Although one has to use terms such as ‘correct’ and ‘error’, we shouldn’t forget that there is no right or wrong type of picture. A quick glance back over the past 100 years of photography will show all types of image making have some sort of value. What is important though is to learn how and why the camera does certain things and how you can override them when you need to. This will enable you to take the type of photograph you want at that moment and not merely to accept what the camera tells you.