Using Light and Dark?

Using Light and Dark well will make the most of the technological advances made with smartphones.

Understanding how to set up your smartphone, no matter the make, is essential.

In this blog we are going to look at a few basics that will improve your own photography when you take your device from your pocket.

Most of the images that are taken using smartphones are used in less than ideal lighting conditions.

If you take a few steps now to learn about the tech in your hands, whilst keeping an eye on the lighting, you can easily avoid most of the common problems associated with smartphone photography.

Trees and Shade

Understanding how to use light and dark, or shade, will improve portrait photography.

Move your subject into shade and ask them to stand or sit under the shadow of a tree or building.

This will soften and diffuse the light around the face of your subject. This light will complement the features. (We will address long and short lighting in another blog.)

Photo by Gabriel Silverio –


Using Light and dark, or shade, will depend upon your own positioning as much as that of your subject.

If you are shooting outside then position yourself towards the shade, and, if possible within the shade as well.

Your camera on your smartphone may take into account the light that you are standing in, and the light on the subject, and use a compromise setting.

By standing in the same lighting conditions yourself, will reduce this level of compromise.

Photo by Scott Webb –

Window Light.

By placing your subject to one side of a window will provide diffused light.

You can also use the direction of the light, and the positioning of the face, to widen or narrow the features.

This is called long and short lighting. I will write a blog regarding this.  In the meantime my youTube channel explains this in a very short video. You can view this by clicking here.


A smartphone sets a shutter speed, ISO and aperture automatically.

There is a way to measure the light and dark more accurately when using a smartphone.

The issue with a smartphone is that light and dark use a wide dynamic range.

You need to tell your device where to measure, or meter, the light from.

You can manually override the automatic exposure of your smartphone by tapping on the screen where your subject is darkest.

This will tell the device where to meter the light from.

Using Light And Dark – In Reverse.

When you are shooting subjects that are brighter than their surrounding, tap your smartphone where there is a lighter area.

Brighter scenes will make a device overexpose the image.

This will produce what is known as clipping of the highlights.

The camera will read the bright areas as being completely white.

Lost Details.

You will be unable to restore detail of these clipped areas during the editing process.

By tapping the bright section, this will deliberately underexpose your photographs.


In brief, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.

If you switch your smartphone to HDR mode, this can help to stop the bright sky from clipping and the resulting  bleaching out on your image.

When using the HDR mode you will need to hold the camera still during exposure.

This is because HDR mode takes a series of photographs and then lines them up to create one image.

If you move your device, the images will not line up correctly, hence the blur.

I recommend that you use a tripod every time that you engage the HDR option.

Your subject also needs to be completely still. But, you can create some interesting effects with, for example, movement in an image.

Try this with a flower in the foreground with a gentle breeze moving the image.

Photo by Jakob Owens –

Portrait Mode.

All Smartphones, from their inception, have wide-angle lenses.

These lenses produce images that are going to be in focus from the foreground to the background.

This is great for landscapes and seascapes, but, it is not as good for portraits set against the background.

What is needed is a wide aperture which creates a shallow depth of field.

This makes the background out of focus, whilst keeping the foreground in focus.

Switch your smartphone to portrait mode to introduce this into your image.


Even though the background is going to be out of focus, busy and cluttered backgrounds, try as the smartphone might, sometimes it is unable to filter between the background and subject.

When and What.

Even though this setting is named “Portrait Mode,” this setting works very well on any subject.

For example, a flower arrangement, a product, or any other subject that will benefit from being isolated from its background.


More recent models of smartphone now offer the option of shooting in a RAW format.

In brief, a RAW file is a compressed lossless file format.

It requires software to view the file as it is not really an image file in itself.

These files save much more image data than a typical lossy JPEG.

In simple terms, more data equates to far more flexibility when editing.

This means that it is far easier to adjust exposure levels, check white balance and manipulate colours when editing your images.

Apple have labelled their files as HEIC which stands for High Efficiency Image File Format.

You will require software such as Photoshop to edit this type of file.  Interestingly, when I have tried this, they cannot be edited in Adobe Lightroom.

File Sizes.

However, when shooting in a RAW format, this comes at the cost of a bigger file.

This can be a problem if you are running out of space on your device.

Engaging the RAW shooting mode  will help you to create images with far better quality editing controls.

Preparing For Print.

As is well documented an image taken on a smartphone is of a low resolution.

This limits the printing capabilities of an image.

If you wish to enlarge your image it will start to pixelate.

However, there is help at hand.

Once you have edited your image, run it through the software called Gigapixel-AI by the software house Topaz.

Smartphone v DSLR.

Has the smartphone replaced the DSLR?  As I have said before, for the time being no, for many reasons.

But, as technology advances, there will come a day when the DSLR cameras of today will be matched by mobile devices.

However, that as the smartphone advances so will the tech of the pro DSLR improve and the technological gap will be maintained.

However, ultimately the quality of a photograph will be down to the skill of the person behind the lens, not the equipment being used.

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Lord Pennington-Bailey, Arwyn, of Hougun Manor.