How To,Symbian,Tips/Tricks

How to take the best photos with your Nokia N8

2 Apr , 2012  

Taking photos is not always a matter a point and snap, on cameras such as the 12MP snapper on the Nokia N8, it’s about a lot more. So, here are my findings after using a Nokia N8 for 4 months. I have to say that I snapped a pretty considerable amount of pictures because I have a 2 year old kid at home that gives me lots of reasons to snap photos every day. Plus, I’m a huge fan of landscapes and I try to snap them whenever I can.

Steady hands

First thing you absolutely have to do when you snap a photo is to hold you phone as steady as you can. A moving camera cannot take a crisp clear shot. In good light conditions, more light hits the camera sensor and you have a better chance to take a clear picture. But still, I recommend you find yourself a nice steady position if you want to shoot a landscape or a static object. One thing I noticed a lot of people do is press the snapper button and immediately move the phone or camera. DON’T DO THAT! More often than not, the phone or camera you shoot pictures with is not done taking the photo, because not all cameras of phones have an accurate synchronization between the snapper sound and the actual time shutter opens. That causes a lot a motion blur in images, especially in low light. You have to take extra care in the case of the Nokia N8 because, whenever you press the snapper button the camera first finds focus and then takes the picture. Once you see the “Processing” message on the display you’re safe to move your camera. Here’s a comparison between two consecutive shots, one steady and one moving.

Focusing

With fixed focus or full focus cameras like the EDoF one on the Nokia C7, focus is not an issue. A steady hand and a press on the snapper takes an instant photo. Because of the auto-focus mechanism of the Nokia N8, the camera first focuses and then snaps the picture. You have to be sure the focus is on the object you intend to photograph and not somewhere else. The camera button on the Nokia N8 has two stages. First stage is the focus, achieved by a light press on the button. If the camera is not focused on the object you were trying to snap, or if the preview on the display is not clear you should release the button and try again. The second stage is the actual shot, which takes the picture and processes it. Remember that at the second stage, the N8’s camera is already focused and pressing the button further will snap whatever you see on your display, so if your photo is out of focus, that’s not good. Sounds like a big deal right? Well, you can always use the on screen shutter button and the camera will go in auto mode, focus and take the photo. Choosing your focusing mode is very important too. You’ll notice that if you try to take a photo of an object at very close range, the camera will try to focus on objects behind that one, leaving your target blurred. When shooting objects at close range (10cm-60cm) you should use the Close Up camera mode, also known as Macro mode. When set to this mode, the N8 knows it’s going to take a photo at very close range and will try to focus on the closest object in range.

Auto mode on close range focuses behind the object even if the object is “in the face” of the camera
Close up mode focuses on the closest object

Light conditions and Camera mode

The light conditions are the most important thing when you try to take a clear shot. If it’s too dark, the photos will look noisy. If there is too much light, photos will suffer from the solar glare. So let’s see what we can do to fix that.

In bright sunny days, and when you shoot pictures with the sun behind you, you will have no trouble shooting amazing photos with the N8. But if you try to shoot one against the sun, the photo will suffer from the solar glare and it will look like you shot it trough fog. That’s because sunlight goes directly to the sensor and the light that reflects from the object you’re trying to snap is not as powerful as the direct sunlight. If you can, you should place yourself with the sun behind you and snap the photo, but if you can’t do that, you can try to shield the lens of your phone with your hand. Place your hand above the camera module and try to not let the entire sunlight get trough. You have to carefully watch your display so that your hand doesn’t get in the picture accidentally. Here’s a comparison of two pictures taken from the about same position, the first without shielding the lens, and the second with the lens shielded.

Without shielding, with glare
With shielding, without glare

So, in too much light, you can shield it away, but what do you do in low light conditions? Well, fortunately you have the N8’s Xenon flash to help you there. In most situations with low light, you can just point and snap and you’ll get a decent picture, but when the light is way too low, or even in darkness you hit a pretty big problem: Focusing. Since the N8 has little to no light the camera does not know on what object to focus on, so the pictures may get blurry. The Xenon flash will help when the picture is taken, but in order to help the N8 focus, you should get closer to the object you’re trying to snap. The N8 has a little red LED light that is used as an assist light for focusing. Getting closer to the object will light it with the assist light enough so the camera can focus on it. The rest is taken care of by the Xenon flash.

The next question is how do we shoot landscapes in low light? How do we shoot a sunset or the city lights? That’s a whole different ballgame. If shooting close by objects in low light is helped by the Xenon flash, on landscapes the flash has no effect, or even worse, ruin the picture. That happens on all cameras, not just the N8, because any flashlight has a maximum range that it can properly light, and when shooting a landscape, that range not enough. You can see in the picture below that the flash actually destroys a landscape picture at night, while the no flash picture has much more visible details and punch than the flash one.

With flash, auto mode
Without flash, auto mode

As you can see both photos are noisy, because I’ve used the auto mode for both.

In order to get a decent landscape shot at night you have to work with the ISO mode. The lower the ISO mode is set, the more time the camera shutter remains open and allows light to go in. So first of all you need to switch the camera mode to night mode. Then you have to disable the flash. Next go to the settings and select the lowest ISO mode available. Find yourself a steady position and shoot. A lower ISO mode will remove most noise from your photo and make it look like a magazine cover photo. You still have to be careful not to move the camera when you shooting your landscape. For low ISO it is crucial to keep the camera absolutely still while taking the photo, otherwise, all you’ll get is motion blur. Here is a landscape shot of my city lights I took one night. Click on the picture to see the full resolution(hint: check out the details).

Hope these tips help you take the photos you’ve always dreamed of.

Java senior developer, Nokia enthusiast, amateur blogger at TechMobility and NokiaTips. My Motto is: Your rise, you fall, you’re down then you rise again. What don’t kill ya makes ya more strong

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  • Pete

    Thanks Cristian good tips. One question on the low light shot with flash you see round spots that only appear with flash. Do you know what causes this? In my opinion it can not be dust on the camera lens.