Category Archives: Editing Photographs

More Editing Of Cell Phone Images

We’re back with another editing tutorial of a cell phone image.  Before we look at the original and edited image, I want to take a moment to discuss the cell phone camera.  What’s not important is the specific phone that you have…iPhone or Android, if it’s less than 3 or 4 years old, it’s a fine cell phone camera.  I’ve taken great shots with too many different devices to believe that one is significantly better than the other.

What is important, is that you understand the advantages as well as the limitations of your phone.  It’s greatest advantage of all is that it’s the camera that is always with you.  It’s greatest disadvantages are the smallness of the lens and its lack of any lens hood (providing protection from glare…even glare from a white cloudy sky or the reflection of a brightly colored nearby building).  The glare issue (giving your image an overall washed out look) can be cured by simply using your free hand to create a shield, or shading, over the top of your phone.

As far as the smallness of the lens is concerned, this can create distortion or perspective issues, particularly when taking more of a close-up shot.  What that means is if you are photographing a child sitting in a chair, and that child’s feet are pointing straight out towards the camera (making them closer to the lens than is their face, it’s going to make their feet look noticeably larger than they really are.  One solution is to have the child sit with legs crossed (criss-cross-applesauce).  Now the knees are closer to the lens than is the body/face, but not as significantly different as with the feet sticking straight out.

What I chose to do, to completely remove any distortion/perspective issues, was to have this child get up on her knees, turned sideways, so that everything from her head to her toes are all on a flat plane to me and my cell phone camera lens.  To further perfect this flat plane, I got down on my knees to take the shot so that the camera/phone could be held in a perfectly vertical position when the shot was taken (on the same level as the subject).  If I had been standing up when I took this, being taller than the sitting girl, I would have had to tilt the phone (and its lens) downwards, creating a distortion/perspective problem.

Here’s the before image, meaning just as it was shot by the phones camera.  It’s not bad at all, but a minute of editing can make a not bad shot turn into something truly beautiful.


And the after image, cropped and edited on my phone using Snapseed (a free app for Android and iPhone).  WOW…what a change!  This now looks like something you could print and hang on the wall.


This edit would normally take about 1 to 2 minutes to complete.  The tutorial video below is a few minutes longer because I was explaining what I was doing.  I apologize for the vertical format of the video, but it’s the only way can figure out how to video record whats actually happening on my phone’s screen.

Editing Cell Phone Images Using Snapseed (a free app)

This is the first, with more to follow, video tutorials on editing cell phone images using a free app called Snapseed.  I’ll post the link to the video below, but first…here’s a before shot that I took on my cell phone of my dog jumping in the ocean (after a floating bumper) near sunset (meaning low light).  The quality of the image is not what I would call perfect, because it’s of a fast moving subject shot under low lighting conditions, but it’s a great example of how you can take a sub par cell phone image and make it much better.

The before shot…


And the after shot…


Here’s the link for the “How-To” video:

I’ll add more tutorials later describing some of the other editing features.


A Little On Lighting & More Cell Phone Camera Help

This is going to be a basic introduction to outdoor lighting, and about a few things we’ve covered but with different examples.  The subject is an adorable young girl, leaning against a brick wall, with outdoor lighting (flash turned off) -all shot with a cell phone camera.

First, let’s talk a little about natural lighting.  Outside, there are four ideal lighting situations:

1. Sunrise (including up to one hour after)

2. Sunset (including up to one hour before)

3. A heavily clouded day (like it’s going to rain)

4. In the shade (like under some trees or under a covered deck)

Sunrise and sunset are ideal lighting conditions because they produce a warm -toned light that usually doesn’t cause your subject to squint their eyes.  The biggest problem with them is that they are short in duration and one in particular (sunrise), is not a pleasant time to try and get your kids up and about.

A heavily clouded day is great because it produces even, soft lighting (soft means no harsh shadows under the eyes) and it’s usually available all day long.  When I say “heavily clouded,” I don’t mean a black clouded thunderstorm type of day, but rather one of those days where the entire sky is white to light gray.   One of the best things about this type of lighting is that no matter where you position your subject or your camera, the lighting is going to be great.  This happens to be the weather we had when I took the images for this post.

Shade can work well, but it can also be problematic.  Even though your subject is in the shade, if the direction they are looking (towards you and the camera) is in bright sunshine, you can still end up with squinting eyes and complaining children.

The worst lighting of all is direct sunlight (unless it’s sunrise/sunset).  It produces very harsh shadows, creates overexposed skin (faces full of reflected shine), and very unhappy kids, often times crying before you finally give up.

Although there is much to discuss about lighting, these are the basics of using natural light.  It’s good info that you can put to use today.  We’ll hit upon other areas as we address specific subjects in future post, and of coarse, I’ll provide much more in my book.

Here’s a shot I took on an overcast day at about 3 in the afternoon:


Now, before you start questioning my abilities, let me admit there are a number of things wrong with this image…that’s why we’re starting with it.  Overall, it’s not terrible and most Moms would be happy to have it in their scrapbook. (Remember…we’re supposed to print our images), but let’s look at what needs to be fixed to make it better.

1. It’s flat.  That means the image has little to no contrast, which translates to little to no life.  The reason is that even though the sun was not out, the white cloudy day you can see in the background produced lens glare on the camera.  Lens glare sucks the life out of any shot!  I needed to have produced some shading (like with my cupped hand) over the lens.

2. The perspective is terrible (my angle of view).  That’s because I shot this image while holding my phone up at the same level as my own face and I’m about a foot taller than she is.  This made her head appear slightly larger than it is, in relation to her body.  It also made her body seem unusually small.  Specifically, her legs and feet look small.  I know there are some girls out there who would love to have their legs and feet look smaller, but not at the sacrifice of a giant head (I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea).  Another perspective problem is the background.  Everything has a slant to it, especially the large window behind her.  All of this is easily corrected by bending your knees and getting the camera at about the same level as her body’s center (the stomach).  This puts the camera lens on a flat plane with the subject, neither tilted up nor down.  That’s always important, but critical for a very small lens camera, like we have on cell phones.

Here’s a better version of the same general shot:


Much better!  I cupped my hand over the phone, eliminating lens glare and increasing contrast.  Now we have some life in the picture!  By lowering my camera angle, everything is properly proportioned (see, she doesn’t have big feet; now they look normal), and all of my vertical lines around her are much more straight.  I also cropped the image a little to get her out of the center of the shot, as well as not taking up half the image with the brick wall.

But I’m not done yet…


This is the exact same shot we just reviewed, but I spent about 5 minutes editing it – on my phone.  The only time this image was on my computer was to upload it to the blog.  For this one, I used two different apps, Snapseed (free) and Photoshop Touch For The Phone (maybe $2 or $3).  About 95% of what I did was accomplished in Snapseed.  That included things like contrast and saturation adjustments, an overall warming tone, as well as something they call ambiance (I have no idea what this is, but it looks good).  In Photoshop Touch For The Phone, I added some selective blurring (to put your focus on the girl) and I got rid of the metal pipes on the wall behind her, as well as added a cloudy blue sky (from another photo I had).  The Snapseed edits took 2 or 3 minutes and the Photoshop edits took another 1 or 2.  Now we no longer have a cute snapshot, but a great portrait…all accomplished with your mobile phone camera!

These photo editing apps are not difficult to use, though they can be intimidating if you’ve never messed with them.  I can tell you that anyone is capable of doing what I did here.  While a step-by-step written set of directions would seem long and complicated, I’m going to create a few videos of me actually doing them on my phone for my book.

That’s it for now…go take some pictures, and don’t be bashful about asking me any specific questions you might have.

Cell Phone Camera Tips

We’re going to get to a few life changing (no kidding) tips in a minute, but first, let’s talk about cell phone cameras in a general sense.  I did not coin this phrase, but it’s soooo true…”The best camera is the one you have with you.”  Cell phone cameras have come a long way in a pretty short time.  As of this writing, I would say that every currently manufactured smart phone out there (iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry) does somewhere between an adequate to great job at creating images.  In case you’re wondering, mine is an Android Nexus, but they are all very capable and continue to get better with every new device.  Having said that, cell phone cameras do have their limitations.

The main limitation is related to the image sensor.  It’s what gathers the light and records the information to create and save your photograph.  Here is a place where size really matters.  For comparative sake, a full frame digital SLR (for the most part, a digital camera you can change the lens on) has a sensor about the size of your thumb – from that last joint to the end (trying not to get too technical with all that millimeter talk).  Your typical point and shoot camera (can’t change the lens, but the lens can usually zoom out, and you can easily carry it in your purse or jacket pocket) has a sensor about the size of one of your fingernails (if it were cut short).  Most cell phone sensors are about the size of half your pinky fingernail (again, cut short).  We could get lost at this point in discussions about the number and size of the pixels on these sensors, but let’s just leave it at this…a tiny image sensor, means much less information can be recorded, which means a lower quality photo.  Don’t fall into a pit of depression.  It’s lower quality when compared to a $1,000 + camera that you need to hire someone to lug it and it’s associated lenses around.  You may not be able to print a crisp, clear 30×40 inch canvas from your cell phone shot (I’m actually working on this now), but you can print all the 4×6’s, 5×7’s, 8×10’s, and probably even 16×20’s, that you want.

Another limitation is the tiny lens that a cell phone has.  Rather than go into size comparisons as I did with the sensors, just look at it…it’s tiny!  That basically means that it can’t open and close in varying degrees (in the photo world we call this “aperture”), letting in (controlling) different amounts of light for different shooting situations.

These limitations (sensor and lens size) create 2 particular areas of difficulty for cell phone cameras…capturing images in low light and capturing images in fast action.  Understanding the problem is the first step to fixing it.  I promise to discuss how you can best deal with these issues later, and will even include sample images, to show you the “before and after” effects, but for now, let’s get on to some life changing tips.

I take a lot of cell phone pictures, and I also look at a lot of other people’s images.  One of the most common things I see that turns an otherwise great shot into an awful one, is lens glare.  The lens on your cell phone sits flush with the back of the device, providing it with no lens shading at all.  This means that unless your phone/camera is either in the shade (in other words, you are in the shade), or the sun is both low in the sky, and at your back, you are probably going to have some glare on your lens.  This can even occur when photographing inside, from overhead lights.   The light (indoor or outdoor), does not have to be shining directly into your camera to cause this.  It’s going to happen to a greater or lesser degree anytime the lens is not actually in the shade.  So, you might ask, “What will this evil lens glare do?”  It will kill you!  Ok, not really…but it will cause your pictures to have that flat, boring, washed out look.  It’s one of the main reasons we are so often disappointed in our cell phone cameras, and it’s pretty easy to fix.  Either shoot from a position that puts you/your camera in the shade/shadows, or carefully create that shade/shadow by cupping your free hand over the top of your phone/camera.  I say carefully because if you don’t pay close attention, you’ll have a finger or two show up at the top of your picture.  The difference in how rich and sharp and fully saturated with colors your images will be is amazing!

Here’s an example of a cell phone shot I took at about 3 PM (that’s a guess) on a fairly overcast day (kind a whitish looking sky), with my phone facing the in general direction of the sun (though it was mostly overhead):


See how flat, colorless and boring this is (though the dog is adorable!)?

Here’s the next shot, a minute or so later, same camera/subject/time/weather/composition, but with my hand cupped over the top of my phone:

WOW!  That looks so much better!  There’s more contrast in the image, as well as more color, and greater sharpness/detail.  You could easily argue that one was from a bad cell phone camera and the other was from a great cell phone camera.  Don’t discount the value of this little trick!  Remember, either shoot from a position that puts you in the shade, or create your own shade using your hand or something like a hat.

Finally, here’s an image, a minute or so later, same camera/subject/time/weather/composition, but I edited this one, on my phone, in about 5 minutes, using some free phone software called Snapseed.  It’s available for both Android and iPhone:


WOW, WOW, WOW!  This looks like it was shot with an expensive digital SLR camera, but I only used my phone.  Don’t forget to notice that I’ve used the rule of thirds in composing these images (discussed here in the blog).  It’s no longer a picture – we’ve made a piece of art, and you can too!  I’ll talk about making quick but significant editing changes to your cell phone images later, and even more in my book, but for now, I’ve gotta go.