Editing Mobile Phone photos

Even though i am a professional photographer, there are times where i don't have (or don't want to have) my camera with me - both when i'm in Malta and abroad. Like anyone else who has made their merry way into the 21st century, i do however have a mobile phone pretty much always in my pocket.

One of the main benefits a professional camera brings to a photoshoot, is the ability to work fast and in difficult conditions without losing quality. However, if you're prepared to sacrifice image quality a little bit, pushing your photos during editing will make a big difference in the impact.

This article is based on the Snapseed mobile application. This was built on an excellent software suite by a company called Nik (which was then taken over by Google). I use the android version which you can download here and there is also a version for iPhone here

Disclaimer: Is editing going to make my Oneplus 5 images look like they were taken with my Canon 5D mk4? No way! but it will add perceived detail and impact

Basic Corrections

The first step in our editing is to correct any mistakes that the camera may have made. Remember that the amount of light the phone captures and the colour which it sets to be "white" are guesses and it can get these wrong. (For example you might take a picture of a white plate in a room lit up in warm white light and get a yellow colour cast.)

1. White Balance (ie - is everything yellow-ish?) - The White balance tool has a selection tool that allows you to click on a spot on the photo and set it as white. If you're shooting food, this could be the table cloth or plate. Neutral greys work just as well (or better) than white too. Once you fix this you will see new colours appear in the photo

2. Exposure (ie is the photo too dark or too white?) - For these two questions we'll be using two different tools. Unfortunately, if the photo is too white, it is much harder to fix since the detail is lost and the colours may have become skewed. Your best bet is to use the Tune Image tool and reduce the brightness and highlights settings. Be careful because whites might become greys which are possibly uglier than the white you are trying to fix.

To add light we can either use the Tune Image tool and add brightness but i find that using the Curves tool and selecting "Brighten" from the palette produces a more pleasing effect. You can then adjust the curve to increase/decrease this - or you can just run the Curves tool multiple times (i find this produces the most natural result)

At this point out photo is well exposed and is showing the correct colours. Since these are things mobile phones often make mistakes in, we've already improved the image substantially

Case Study: Dinner

Food in particular needs correct colours and good lighting, additional detail and contrast are an added bonus (if you like that effect)

Food in particular needs correct colours and good lighting, additional detail and contrast are an added bonus (if you like that effect)


Adding Detail

1. The aptly named Details tool is an easy way to bring out the structure in the image. I personally like adding a lot of this since it adds sharpness and contrast across the board. You can then go into the layer mask (View Edits -> select the layer -> select the brush) and then brush away the areas where it might have added too much structure

2. Focus on your subject. This is much harder to do with a phone than with a professional slr since depth of field (blur/bokeh) is linked to the size of the camera sensor (which is tiny on a phone) so we can turn to software to help us out. Disclaimer: This can look fake if misused. This effect is very obvious and i tend to reduce the amount of blur that is set by default. I also adjust the shape of the circle to go around the object i want to keep in focus.

3. HDR. Yes, HDR Scape is a great editing tool for mobile phones - especially since the dynamic range of the sensor is much smaller than you get in a good camera. Disclaimer: This can look fake if misused. I use HDR typically for food shots and landscapes. Like lens blur i reduce the amount of filter strength that is set by default (be particularly careful for whites becoming "dusty" and reds becoming highlighted and over bright). From the palette i typically select the "Nature" or "People" setting

4. Tone the image. The Vintage tool is a great way to tone the colours in your image - again this is an effect that should be used sparingly and with caution. I tend to reduce/almost remove the default vignette setting and i reduce the overall effect by at least 50% - otherwise it will just take over all the colours of your photo. Remember that you want to add some spice, not overwhelm it

Case Study 3: Architecture in Valletta


5. Selective editing using the healing tool can help fix mistakes or dirt in the photo. Click on the affected areas will draw information for the surroundings to remove the offending debris. It's also very good when someone attacks the food before the photo was taken! :) In the next case study i had wanted a photo of the dish but absent-mindedly broke it with my fork. 



Questions? Anything Not Clear?

Just leave a comment below and i'll do my best to reach out and help you out or edit the article and explain better :)