There was a time when people pulled out a camera to take pictures of their family because it was a holiday or a school event or something special that needed to be captured on film. Back in these days Kodak was king and cameras captured pictures on film. Later video cameras came along to take over for movies shot on film, followed by images being captured and stored digitally. But still the person shooting used a camera that was made for taking still pictures or video. That's no longer the case because since there's a still/video camera in every cell phone, and cell phones are ubiquitous, who bothers with a stand-alone camera anymore?
The problem with cell phone cameras is that they're limited: manual control over how the picture or video is shot is often delegated to the operating system and not the user. Not to mention that if there's any zoom at all, it's probably digital which degrades the image being captured. But the worst part is that those using their phones as cameras are unaware that even inexpensive "point and shoot" cameras often provide for better quality and functionality. But since people aren't going to give up on the convenience of having a camera in their pocket all the time, we'll have to rely on technology to make up for these issues. So let's look at three ways in which we can improve the quality of the pictures being taken with our phones.
Improve The Lens
Today's phones aren't modular — you can't replace the older parts when a newer model comes out with a better lens or imaging sensor. But you CAN use Sony's Smartphone attachable lens-style camera to replace the phone's camera altogether. It's more than just a lens; it's filled with technology and attaches to a phone to use its screen as the viewfinder. But mostly it's high-end optics with a 10X optical zoom that can even be used separated from the camera, and which has the "smarts" to deal with what "it" sees (like low-light scenes) and automatically make adjustments with a sensor that employs 18 megapixels for extremely detailed images. And that includes HD video as well (1080p resolution, just like that HDTV you can watch it on). Best of all, what's being shot is saved to the lens, not just to the phone's memory so there's more storage options.
Improve the Lighting
Natural light is great but sometimes it needs a little help. And the LED flash on a phone is often too low-powered or harsh to be of any help. So we forget about that completely and instead go with a compact LED light that provides constant illumination and runs off a rechargeable battery. These type of lights are obviously cool to the touch (LEDs don't get hot like incandescent bulbs), last for thousands of hours of use and often come with filters to change the light's quality, depending on whether it's being used indoors or outdoors (this includes diffusing the light for a softer "fill" too). Some even had dimming capabilities to adjust just how much light is being put out. Most are made for use with DSLR's, those expensive digital versions of film-based cameras from Canon and Minolta and Nikon — but with a little thought and inventiveness on your part, all the advantage of bringing your own lighting with you can be done.
Improve the Finished Picture
Professional photographers place a lot of importance on the quality of the light they are shooting in because they know it affects what is being photographed. So they strive to control the light or modify it to fit their needs. But for those of us snapping away, such a luxury doesn't exist. But that doesn't mean that a picture shot under fluorescent light or in deep shadows has to be accepted "as is." After all, the whole advantage of digital imaging is that a picture file can be modified without losing the original or not being able to go back and undo what's been done. Two good examples are Smart Photo Editor and Portrait Professional (portraitprofessional.com) — Smart applies 1000's of photo effects from a built-in library and provides choices as to how to improve the area being affected (for example, the sky). Portrait Professional, meanwhile, takes images where the face predominates and "fixes" them — doing this automatically or under your control and with near real-time results. It can do things previously unheard of like smoothing or re-coloring hair, "relighting" the image, working on multiple faces simultaneously and correcting for bad lighting without damaging the appearance of skin texture. Doing this isn't cheating, because the final image should be what you saw, not what the harsh reality of the cell phone camera caught. It's up to you to control what the software does, so you will.