How to take pictures in manual mode with an Android smartphone

To take quality pictures with your smartphone you need to use the manual mode: here's how to juggle light levels and exposure

Most of us to take a picture with our smartphone just open the camera, point at an object or a landscape and press the button. In practice, we don't make the most of the possibilities of our device, but we blindly trust the default settings.

The more "intrepid" among the users will have tried a few times to take photos with the HDR mode on or playing with the brightness directly from the screen. To get really good quality shots, however, we'll have to think about switching to the "Professional" mode, often also called Manual Mode. In practice, we will set all the settings before taking the picture. Most of the latest generation smartphones have these modes. And even better will be in case our mobile device also has a RAW photo mode.

Light Level

Brightness is one of the aspects that most of all can make the difference between a good photo and a superior one. To measure light levels we need to control ISO sensitivity and shutter. There are three ways the camera measures light levels: matrix, center, or point. Basically, the matrix measurement allows light adjustment from multiple points. The center, as you might guess, takes into greater consideration the object or landscape placed in the middle of the camera, while the point will focus on a specific location. We can play with these adjustments especially indoors when the brightness is not uniform throughout the room.

ISO speed and shutter

The speed and aperture of the shutter will allow you to find the best brightness of a photo. The ISO scale is logarithmic, which means that ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100, ISO 400 is twice as sensitive as ISO 200, and so on. Similar discussion for the shutter. The darker the scene being shot, the longer it will take the shutter to capture all the light present. The shutter can also be used to give a silky effect to moving water or to turn traffic lights into bright lines.

White Balance

The color of an object is determined in part by the lighting conditions. An object may, for this reason, appear white when viewed in very bright sunlight, or it will have a different hue when lit by a candle. To avoid these changes to the natural color of the object we can change the white balance. When it is set to Auto, the camera measures the overall color temperature and applies the corresponding balance. When setting a manual white balance, however, you can choose the color compensation from a set of default settings: Cloudy, Sunny, Fluorescent light and Incandescent light.

Exposure Compensation

A phone's camera automatically calculates exposure, adjusts ISO speed and shutter speed, but all of this can be changed using EV settings. An EV value of +1 doubles the exposure time, while a value of -1 halves the exposure time. Taking multiple photos with different exposures is the basis of HDR photography. Using a tripod, you can take the same photo several times with different EV settings and then stitch them together. Some applications also have a mode called "EV Bracketing" that will automatically take several shots with different levels of exposure compensation.