STEP #1 – LEARN THE CAMERA SETTINGS FOR MOBILE PHONE LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
It should come as no surprise that a device designed to capture light struggles in situations in which there is no light. A standard camera on default settings will consistently produce terrible pictures if the light is bad. They will come out grainy because not enough light hits the sensor, so swathes of the image were interpolated (in a digital camera, anyway). Here are some good rules of thumb for your settings in low-light photography:
ISO – It’s basically how sensitive your sensor is to the light. You want to dial up the ISO when it’s dark. It’ll come at the cost of some visual noise being introduced to the photo, but if you shoot in RAW (and you should), you can remove some of it in post-processing.
Shutter Speed – How fast the shutter opens and then closes for a picture and how much light gets in. If you’re doing a long-exposure, the shutter will be open for a long time. In most low light shots, you want the speed to be as low as possible without motion or vibration affecting it. For handheld shots, the rate should be at 1/60 or above – otherwise, the shaking of your hand will affect the picture.
Aperture – This is the diameter of the lens opening. It also affects how much light gets in. Lower number equal more light, so f/2 will have a lighter picture than f/8. Choose the lowest setting possible that still keeps your subject in focus.
STEP #2 – AQUIRE THE NECESSARY GEAR FOR SMARTPHONE LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
No piece of gear is actually a prerequisite for low light – only camera settings are. That being said, there are a couple of pieces of equipment that will allow you to take your low light photos to the next level.
The first is a phone tripod. It’s absolutely necessary any time you are attempting a long exposure-type shot. Any movement while the shutter is open will ruin the shot by introducing blur. Plus, since most photographers are shooting solo, you might need your hands free to do light painting or something similar. Here are our recommendations on phone tripods.
As long as we are trying to avoid excessive vibrations, you’ll probably want a wireless shutter remote too. These connect to your phone via Bluetooth to snap pictures without actually tapping the screen. It’s necessary since the very act of taking a picture requires touch, which inherently creates vibrations (and it’s worse on phones). These remotes are often bundled together with tripods, so you can potentially save a few bucks. Here’s a guide on wireless shutter remotes.
STEP #3 – PRACTICE THE TECHNIQUES FOR GREAT LOW LIGHT SHOTS
Some of the most fascinating and beautiful pictures are taken in low light settings. Here are a few popular ones:
Long exposure is a classic photography technique with many diverse applications. It’s also challenging to perform in bright light, so it’s almost always reserved for low-light situations. At its core, long exposure is pretty simple. It offsets the main disadvantage of low light, namely not having enough light, by keeping the shutter open for prolonged periods – thus taking in more light. You can make some cool effects by manipulating the light or the length of the exposure. Some things that are very faint or nearly invisible can become bright and evident through a long exposure. Here’s our guide to taking long exposure shots on cellphones.
Light painting is a subcategory of long exposure, but it’s responsible for some of the most creative pictures you’ll ever see. In a dark or nearly dark place, you set the camera on a tripod and take a really long exposure. Then, using a light source such as another phone or a flashlight, you can draw or paint either objects in the scene or by pointing the light directly at the camera. There are practically unlimited ways to utilize light painting, and no two pictures are ever alike. Here’s our guide on how to get started light painting.
People that have never been to a genuinely wild place have never seen the Milky Way with their naked eyes. It’s an incredible sight, and one well-worth traveling for. Even if you live near civilization, you can take a picture of the stars using just your phone and a tripod. Like the other low-light tricks, you simply need to take a (very) long exposure. The light from those stars billions of miles away compounds in your sensor until it appears much brighter than you’ve ever seen it. Take a long enough exposure, and you can even see the stars move (called star trails) as the Earth rotates!
STEP #4 – MASTER EDITING LOW LIGHT PHOTOS
Editing low light photos is no different than editing any other photo. The only thing out of the ordinary is that you’ll probably spend most of your time adjusting exposure and contrast. Bonus Tip: You can get some pretty cool effects by manipulating the shadows in an already-dark shot! We recommend Snapseed for editing, but here’s a whole list of other editing apps to try. There is also the argument over whether you should do your editing on your smartphone or your PC, but we’ll let you make the final call on that one…
Quality is what you expect in the Samsung Galaxy, and the S20 doesn’t disappoint. We choice the S20+ here because of its price-point fit, but any of the options are high-quality phones at a good cost. Samsung claims that the S20 will change the world of photography. So, do we believe them?