Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

How To: Make A Mediocre Picture Better

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Admit it.

You’re not a Professional Photographer.

That is to say, you don’t make your living with a camera. And, probably never have.

That’s okay. It’s not a problem. But by the same token, you probably wouldn’t know The Rule of Thirds, backlighting, high-key, or the difference between an ƒ-stop and ISO/ASA. And, that’s okay too.

But… if you want to make better pictures, you’ll want to learn to a few tips and tricks to improve the images you do make.

The smartphone’s ubiquity has made picture-taking commonplace. And the democratization of photography via the iPhone, and other smartphones, has been a veritable dream come true for George Eastman, Kodak’s late founder, who wanted to put a camera into everyone’s hands. And to give credit where credit is due, Steve Jobs, late founder of Apple Computer, is probably the man who was actually able to do that.

Seen below, we have a snapshot taken indoors of a beloved pet dog named Bug, who is lying on his back on the sofa in a very cute state of repose.

Original image – Bug, the dog

It’s a good image, but could be made better.

Here’s how.

Overall, the image seems well-lit, and in focus… for the most part.

Upon closer examination, the background is actually clearly in focus, while Bug the dog – which is the subject of the image – is slightly Out Of Focus (OOF).

As well, the background lighting is well-balanced, while the subject, Bug, the dog is darker overall than the background.

Fortunately, those are minor problems that can be fixed.

But first, let’s talk a little about the smartphone’s on-board camera so that we can understand what we’re dealing with, and how to correct it.

As “smart” as smartphones are supposed to be, they’re not smarter than you. What a relief, eh? And the algorithms (a set of instructions that tells the program if this certain thing happens, then do that certain thing, etc.), only do what they’re programmed to do. Ultimately, humans, who write the programs, are the ones who can best decide what a photograph ought to look like.

What’s happened in the case of this image of Bug, the dog, is that the sensors detected good light balance in the BACKGROUND and didn’t automagically realize that the subject of the photograph was in the FOREGROUND. Again, human beings can override the automatic sensors, but most folks don’t realize that, and therefore don’t know how to use manual overrides of certain smartphone camera settings.

I use an iPhone, and since most on-board smartphones’ cameras have followed suit with the operations of the iPhone’s camera, it ought to be easy enough to “translate” the steps in this lesson/primer to the Android type smartphones’ cameras.

With their new iOS 10.1 and the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple has introduced a new feature which they call “Portrait Mode.” Essentially, what that feature does, is blur the background. Apple wrote this about their photography software product: “Portrait mode applies a depth-of-field effect to make your foreground subject sharp while creating a beautifully blurred background.” And to be certain, the term “Depth of Field” refers to the character, or quality of focus along a range, and can either be shallow, or deep. In this instance, while Apple does not specifically mention it, they mean to refer to SHALLOW Depth of Field.

Take note, readers:
Portrait Mode is ONLY available with the iPhone 7 Plus, because it requires TWO on-board cameras. The iPhone 7 only has one.

iPhone 6 Camera Screen Shot

But… do NOT despair!

You CAN still take great pictures with your existing iPhone!

Here’s how:

By touching the screen on the area where you want the camera to focus.

When you do that, the camera does at least TWO things:

1.) It focuses SPECIFICALLY upon that area, and;

2.) It adjusts the light (exposure) for the specific area, and then, for the image overall in relationship to the area of focus.

I have earlier written about that in an entry dated Monday, March 16, 2015 which is entitled “#iPhoneography Tips & Tricks.”

Essentially, since that time, nothing has changed with Apple’s camera algorithm features – focusing, lighting, etc. Not even with the most recent iOS 10.1.

Look at the iPhone Camera Screen Shot to the LEFT, and the yellow square inside the red circle. The yellow square is the area of Focus and Exposure for the image, and appears once the screen is touched.

And by forcing the camera to focus upon the logo of the Plantronics brand Bluetooth headset (which is in the foreground), everything else (in the background) is made OOF (Out Of Focus).

The 🔆 icon represents exposure, or “lighting,” and is the adjustment “slider” to make the image darker, or lighter. Once the focus is made, by sliding the finger UP for light, or DOWN for dark, the image will be made either lighter, or darker, respectively.

Now… for the IMPROVED Bug, the dog image.

I have and use the Adobe Photoshop software program. While by no means am I an expert in its use, I have learned a few tips and tricks to make my work easier, to improve the presentation quality of the images I make, and to do the same for others. Photoshop is a wonderfully marvelous creative tool, and though it takes some time to learn to use, if you’re committed to learning the photography craft, you’ll definitely want to learn PS as it’s often called.

Improved image, Bug, the dog

Look at this IMPROVED image of Bug, the dog.

When compared side-by-side, there’s actually “no comparison” at all. This image is significantly better.


1.) The background is blurred, which draws the eye toward the subject (Bug, the dog).

2.) The background is darker, which brings attention to the subject (Bug, the dog).

Yes, I did use Photoshop to improve it… BUT!

The improvements I made to it using PS could have been done IN-CAMERA.

That is to say, they could have been done when the image was made.

This stuff is not rocket surgery, or brain science, and it only takes a few times using it to get the hang of it. And by using these easy techniques, your photos will show significant improvement, and in a very short period of time.

Here’s to your improved picture taking!

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