It was in 2007 when the first iPhone was announced. The next decade would see phone manufacturers compete with one another rigorously to create a better device. Every component of the smartphone, from the screen to the speaker, saw rapid development over this time. One of the only few aspects of smartphone design that seemed to lag behind was the camera. While manufacturers had managed to cram in a lot of megapixels into their phone sensors, they could only be used for taking casual photographs at family events.
But now, ten years later, we seem to have reached the point where smartphone cameras are being used to their full potential. The likes of the new iPhone 7, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the LG G6 are taking smartphone camera technology to a whole new level. It now makes sense to use your smartphone camera for taking photos because not only do you always have it with you, but it’s also easier to use in a pinch. (I can say this with confidence because I used my Nokia Lumia’s PureView camera for quite a long time to take some beautiful photos.)
However, while smartphone sensors have improved by leaps and bounds in terms of quality, they don’t quite have the reach for something like photographing birds. But as the saying goes; where there’s a will, there’s a way. Let’s take a look at how you can unleash your smartphone camera’s excellence to take some great photos of birds.
First Things First; Give Your Camera Some Reach
In order to photograph far-away birds, you need something that provides the necessary telephoto reach to your smartphone camera without affecting the image quality. For this purpose, the ideal solution is to invest in a spotting scope. This can be placed on top of a solid tripod, and the phone can then be attached to the scope using a specialized adapter. The whole system will ensure that you can easily spot birds and take photos of them using just your phone camera. However, this setup will not come cheap – at all.
This adapter by Snapzoom attaches your smartphone to a scope.
If you don’t want to spend so much money all at once, a dramatically cheaper setup would be to use a good set of binoculars coupled with a specialized adapter that attaches your phone camera to them. Mount this on top of a tripod, use a remote shutter to minimize camera shake when taking a photo, and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent bird photography setup.
Left: The same adapter can also be used to attach the phone to a pair of binoculars.
Right: Snapzoom also makes a handy tripod mount for your binoculars.
Next, Unleash Your Camera’s Prowess
Most smartphones in 2017, if not all, provide users with the ability to manually adjust their camera settings before taking photos. This includes control over the shutter speed, ISO, and focus. However, if your camera app doesn’t let you do much, you should install one that gives you access to these manual controls:
The shutter speed of a camera, as the name implies, is the speed with which the sensor opens and closes itself to capture a photo. A longer shutter speed will give your images more light, but will also lead to blurring in case of moving subjects. For bird photography, you need to make sure that you have a fast shutter speed to minimize any blurring.
A higher ISO will give your photos more light, but also more noise. Most smartphone cameras have the ISO adjustment set to automatic. It’s crucial to use an ISO level that plays well with your chosen shutter speed to give you a bright and sharp image without too much noise.
It can help to set your camera to take the photo a couple of seconds after you have pressed the shutter button. This will aid in avoiding any camera shake that can ruin your shot. At such long telephoto ranges, even the slightest motion can cause a great amount of blur in your photos.
File Size and Type:
Many new smartphones now allow the users to take pictures in RAW format. This is great, because a RAW file gives you control over multiple aspects of your image after you have taken the photo. This becomes very important because you’ll want to have control over the noise and exposure levels of your photos, especially if you take pictures in not-so-ideal lighting conditions. RAW files also have larger file sizes so you can always crop and recompose your photos a little better.
Spend Some Time with Post-Processing
If you take RAW images with your phone, I would suggest that you take the images into a desktop processing program, like Lightroom or Capture One. This can help you pull some truly great results from your phone sensor.
However, if your phone doesn’t support RAW images or you just prefer not to involve a computer into the process, using an app like Google’s excellent Snapseed or Adobe’s Lightroom on your smartphone can help you tweak the photos just enough to turn them into captivating visual masterpieces.
So you see, you don’t need to buy an expensive camera with an expensive lens to take photos of birds these days. Many people don’t realize how powerful the camera they have in their pockets all day can be. With a little bit of DIY work and some basic knowledge of your smartphone camera, you can take your phone photography to the next level without using up a lot of money.