Gadgets & Tech
Taking photos on our phones is quick, simple and can be instantly shared with others. The fact that cameras on mobile phones are now of a pretty decent standard we have more opportunity to capture moments as they happen without needing to carry around a “proper” camera – and we can keep and even print those shots. I love taking photos on my phone, it’s so convenient; I can snap away to my heart’s content in all situations, be creative whenever the mood takes me, and have stills to help remind me of nice things.
There are a number of simple tips and tricks that can help us to make the most of our phone cameras. I use an iPhone and so these things may well be specific to that, but you’ll find the functionality is useful across any and probably all decent phones out at the moment. And of course the art of taking a nice photograph is the same regardless of which device you are using. I thought I’d share my best practice ideas with you (and some of my photos too) – I hope you find them useful.
Clean the Lens
First things first. Before you attempt to take any photograph on your phone, turn your phone over and give the lens a wipe. Phones get finger prints all over them, and one across your lens will turn the best photo into a blurry mess – it’s like looking through a car window with rain spots and handprints all over it. Use your t-shirt (or a nice lens cloth) to give it a quick clean and you’re ready to go.
Generally speaking phones have a centred focus point. On an iPhone you can choose exactly where to focus by tapping the screen where you want that focus point to be. This is great for landscapes with people in – you can have the people on the left of the shot in focus by simply tapping on them. It’s also good for shots of people and pets; the most pleasing shots will have the eye in focus, so tap on the eye when taking the picture to get the best focus point.
One thing I see a lot is people talking photos while walking along or moving about, or with one hand waving about all over the place. I don’t know about you but if I did that my photos would be totally blurry – and I suspect theirs are too! Stand still, hold your phone with both hands, lean against something if you need to, breath in, hold your breath for a second, take the shot.
Keep it Straight
Remember that the lens on your phone is in one corner – it’s not in the middle. So look at the screen and make sure you have it straight! You can turn on the grid to help with this and also your general composition.
Please (please please) don’t pinch to zoom. Phone cameras are only equipped with digital zoom. All this does is increase the pixel size so you end up with a shot that is blocky and very difficult to get in focus. If you want a close up shot the best thing is to move! Simply get closer to your subject. Alternatively, if moving closer is impossible, take it as you are and crop later.
All About Light
The most important element in any photograph is the light. Your flash won’t help you get a nice bright shot, it will only fill a very small area in the centre of your frame (and give any people in the shot red eyes and ghostly white faces). What you need is light all around – the more light, the easier it is to get things in focus. Natural light beats artificial light any day of the week – the bulb in your living room light fitting just won’t do the same job as the big yellow thing in the sky outside (even on a cloudy day), so get outside whenever you can. You can’t generally alter ISO settings on your camera phone, so make the most of the light around you; keep it behind or above you and on your subject, and watch out for your own shadow. Also be mindful of lens flare which I find more prevalent when using my phone to take shots. You can use light to your creative advantage too, of course – silhouettes can be pleasing to look at, but if you take a shot of your best friend and they’re all dark and shaded the shot is useless. Night time shots taken on iPhones can look fabulous, but the shutter will stay open for longer so make sure you keep still – experiment with focussing on light areas and dark areas of your shot to get different effects.
Taking the Shot
A useful thing to know is that an iPhone does not take your photo until you take your finger off the shutter button. So you can get yourself set up and sorted, stick your finger on the button, and gently release it to take your shot when you are ready. I’m sure you all know that the + button on the side of your iPhone also works as a shutter button for when you have the camera in the landscape orientation – but did you now that the + button on your headphones also works? This is absolutely brilliant if you are prone to camera shake, and a really great tip if you are trying to use your phone to take a shot over other people’s heads or at a funny angle. If you’re in a rush to open your camera app also remember that you can swipe up on the camera icon on the locked screen which overrides the need to put in your unlock code, getting you access to your camera (and only your camera) nice and quickly.
Oh, and if you want to edit your photographs – crop them, tune them, alter the colours, add filters – then I recommend Snapseed as the most useful app out at the moment. I always take my photographs using the phone’s own camera function (not from within other apps), as this gives you the largest file size possible, and it’s always good to keep the original. Then I open my shot in Snapseed and play about as I want to. I like to use a square format and so I will use Snapseed to crop, and dependent on the shot and what I’m going to use it for I’ll also change the brightness, contrast, saturation, focus point, add tilt shift, and whatever else I think is appropriate. Snapseed can help turn a mediocre shot into a really great one. But it can also turn a really great shot into an awful one, so don’t go too overboard!
Practice Makes Perfect
Of course the best thing about having a camera phone is that you can take loads (and loads) of photographs and decide which is the best later. Snap away to your heart’s content and learn as you practice. Photography on a smartphone is fun, you can get some fabulous shots worthy of the wall as well as some silly shots to share on facebook. It’s quick, easy and very convenient. So keep it in hand and document your life. You’ll be thankful in a few year’s time when you want to walk down memory lane.
I like to share my photographs on instagram – it’s a lovely way to share and view squared up phone snaps. I’m Splodz over there – give me a follow and let me know your instagram name below.
Oh… And to help us all improve, please add your own phone photography hints and tips in the comments box below. Cheers!
I was recently invited to review my choice of case from Ideal Cases, an online company who specialise in customisable cases for your phones, tablets and other gadgets.
There are a wide range of cases to choose from on Ideal Case. Naturally I went for a case for my iPad 2, and I chose the leather/canvas folio style case which offers full protection front and back, a flip front and an integral stand.
There are so many options. To start with you simply choose whether to personalise or not. Naturally I wanted something bespoke; and when prompted I chose the freestyle design option, giving me the most freedom to create whatever I wanted.
I didn’t want a photograph, or clipart, or a drawing; I just wanted it bright green and to say “Splodz Blogz Life is all about the journey” just like the header for my blog. I started by choosing the background colour. I chose a nice and punchy green which would be bright and colourful against the black spine and back of the case (you can only customise the front). Then I used the text tool to add my chosen words, and took to deciding which font to use. I just couldn’t get that right. There are quite a number of fonts to choose from, but most are fancy – scripts, blocks, that sort of thing. In the “basic” category there are about ten to pick from, but none worked quite as I wanted. What I wanted, what I had envisaged, was Calibri, the font I used for my header image on here. So I changed tack and deleted the text layer from my case and instead uploaded an image. I uploaded a large 2000 pixel square image – I knew this should be plenty big enough for about half the height of the case. It was difficult to tell as you can’t zoom in on your design to check, and you don’t get a proof, so it was a bit of a risk.
Once I was happy with my very simple design I ordered it. The following morning I received an email from Ideal Case who informed me that there had been a problem with their system and my design had not saved properly – the thumbnail used in the checkout phase had but not the full design. They offered to create the design for me if I sent them over the image but I decided it was ok, it didn’t take me long and wouldn’t take me many minutes to re-do my design. Actually it gave me opportunity to rethink my design and tweak it slightly, I didn’t mind. I changed the background colour of both my case and my image so they matched, which I thought would work better. But I was worried that the colours wouldn’t match completely when they printed – having worked in print I understand that colours on screen and colours of different files can differ; and if they differed, even a little bit, the case would look odd and it would annoy me. So when I submitted my design I emailed Si at Ideal Cases (replied to his email about the original problem with my order) and asked him very nicely to check that the colours matched when it was produced.
What followed was a day of incredibly helpful emails getting the colour right and also helping to sharpen up the edges of my text (I think the design software on the Ideal Cases website must compress images massively when you upload them as I know my image was totally sharp and high resolution). Si was so helpful, I simply cannot fault the customer service – we discussed the colour, they tweaked it so it was exactly what I had in mind, adding some yellow to it as they understood how it would appear when printed onto canvas. They turned around my case so it went out that very evening and I received it the next morning.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the case was the colour. Absolutely perfect, exactly what I had imagined. The text in the corner was clear and just the right place. Brilliant. Do you like it? Not very fancy, I know, I could have been much more imaginative no doubt, but I like it. And I’ve been receiving some lovely comments from people who’ve seen it too.
The case itself completely surrounds the iPad. It is a book style case with a big flap that opens to reveal the screen, and also incorporates a three-angle stand (plus flat!) so you can use the iPad at the most comfortable angle. You can still get to all the buttons and connectors perfectly, including the camera. The front is a canvas, the spine is suede, and the back is faux leather – the stitching is neat and well done, and the materials appear good quality. I think the green I chose looks fabulous against the black of the rest of the case (thanks again Si), and the design works well.
The flap of the case does have a magnet in it to lock and unlock your screen as you close/open it, however this doesn’t always line up perfectly and so doesn’t always engage (I know this isn’t a problem solely with this case – LincsGeek finds this with his Targus case). It could probably also do with an elasticated strap or similar to keep the case closed, as it does have a tendency to open it if you’re not holding it right. Oh and the printing only goes to the edge of the canvas – this means there is a small white border around the outside of the case where the canvas wraps around – it would be nice if that wasn’t there, but it’s no big deal for me. Apart from those little niggles this is a really nicely made case that I’m very happy to use.
Of course with this new case I can’t use either my Smart Cover or my Golla slip case, both of which I love. I think it’s going to depend on what I’m doing and where I am going with my iPad as to which case I take with me. It’s nice to have the choice!
I would absolutely recommend Ideal Cases. The design process was very easy, the following customer service was faultless, and the product is good quality and looks great.
It’s nice to be able to offer you a discount on a product I really like. I’ve been given a 40% off voucher to share with you – put splodz40 in when purchasing from Ideal Cases and you’ll save a good sum on your chosen case. Let me know if you get one!
I’ll let you know how I’ve got on with my ditch the plastic challenge in a few days, but first I wanted to give the SIGG bottle I was given a proper review post.
This is the SIGG Active Top 0.75l Performance Purple bottle. It is a 750ml metal bottle with a plastic lid and straw that twists to open/close. To get liquid flowing up the straw simply sucking isn’t enough, you have to give the top a little bite where the ridges are marked, which means this is ideal for using wherever you might tip the bottle – so walking, cycling, running, in the car, in your work bag – anywhere where you’ll be on the move. This little video explains…
The bottle looks fab and it’s so useful. I’ve used it very nearly every day – at work when sat at my desk, when I have meetings all over and don’t get back to my desk in between, at home on the exercise bike, when doing my exercise DVD, when at band rehearsals, when on long journeys in the car. I fill it with water from the tap, squash, juice, lemonade. Since I’ve had it I’ve drunk even more water than before, not that I ever need persuading to have a drink, but because it is there, because it is accessible, I have drunk extra.
I am totally sold on metal bottles. The problem with plastic ones is two fold. The first is that they scratch, dent, and get misshapen fairly easily. Ok so metal bottles can be scratched and dented too but after four weeks of constant use my SIGG bottle is as good as new. The second is that they get stained with both colour and flavour – that is, if you fill one with blackcurrant squash and leave it for a day you end up with a slightly purpled bottle that tastes a little of blackcurrant forever. You don’t have that problem with metal bottles, they are much more easily cleaned.
The lid on this bottle is genius. I did wonder at first – it’s really only a straw after all – but I really like it. It’s great if you’re clumsy like me and are liable to knock over your bottle; even in the open position the was barely any leakage in my bag when it fell over and got jiggled around, and it doesn’t spill when you’re walking and drinking at the same time. And I much prefer this straw like action to the traditional sports tops – this gives you a really good flow of water, you can drink in satisfying mouthfuls, where as I have always found traditional sports tops leave me wanting more and quite often getting a mouthful of air rather than water.
This is actually a massive bottle. It’s biggest downside is that when full it’s very heavy. But I get through the 750ml quickly so it’s not heavy for long! I think, I know, if I was to buy a second one – and I am tempted – I would buy either the 0.5l or the 0.6l version, and refill it more often. I think for carrying around, something a bit smaller would be more appropriate.
I took my bottle when we went to visit our God Daughter earlier I’m February. She “found” it in my bag and as a result of the conversation that followed her mum, my friend Bec, ordered one. Hows that for recommendation?! She said:
Having seen Splodz’s SIGG bottle and then looked at them online I decided despite the cost I needed to get one. I would be the first to admit I usually drink nowhere near enough liquid during the day and so I figured if I spent out on a bottle I would feel like I had to use it!
I have been using my Active Top bottle 600ml for over a week now and on day one noted that I drank nearly four pints across the day (in addition to my coffee intake!), and by my reckoning that’s at least three pints more than usual. I have to say I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my energy levels which I’ve very much welcomed.
The design itself is fab; the “notches” in the lid for Close, Air, Open, Clean makes it, in my opinion, perfectly designed, and with its “bite to open” seal even when I don’t remember to click to close it is yet to leak or spill.
I thought it would be safe from my 19 month old (I’m used to sharing all my drinks), but even just a week in she is already beginning to get some drink out of it. Once she has got the hang of it I will be investing in a bottle for her too.
It could be said that this is just a sports bottle and a very expensive one at that, but I have to say I’m thoroughly impressed with it and it definitely helps me drink throughout the day. It’s fit for all purposes in my opinion.
As you can see the SIGG Active Top bottle is a hit. I think it’s one of those things you need to see or try to get a feel for the quality, the great design, and the incredibly useful top.
I really like my SIGG Active Top Performance Purple bottle, it’s well used and has become part of my routine when leaving the house. There’s a massive range of styles, colours and sizes, and I keep having a look on the website considering a second one. I think I at least need to get one for LincsGeek so he’s got a decent one too. They are not cheap, though, but considering the money saved on disposable bottles and the health gained thanks to drinking loads more I’d say it’s money well spent.
I’ve seen these little Bluetooth speakers around for a while now. They come in all sorts of designs, all claiming to give you a great sound. The idea is that the speakers in your phone or MP3 player are pretty rubbish – they are, the speaker is definitely not an iPhone’s strong point – so you use one of these speakers instead to give you superior sound. I’ve never thought about buying one. At home we have a nice sound system in the lounge and a decent dock in the kitchen. And I’ve never really thought of using a speaker when I’m in a hotel room.
This is the BassBoomz. Made by the same people who make the Bass Buds I recently reviewed, the marketing material says it has explosive sound quality thanks to the “bass expansion system”. It is compatible with phones, MP3 players, tablets and laptops and can be connected to your devices using either Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack output – so that’s pretty much anything then. It looks great, has a nice brushed finish in a really good bright blue.
I was pleased when the speaker arrived and I picked it up – it’s much heavier than I thought. I’m not an expert in speaker technology but I do know that heavy is good; weight often correlates to sound quality. It was really simple to pair with my phone and I had music playing very quickly.
Small speakers are very rarely good speakers. Sat on the granite kitchen worktop the sound was disappointingly tinny. It had no depth. I remember seeing similar speakers at The Gadget Show Live and spotting that they had them sat on specially made stands – and of course we know why! I moved it to the dining table, where there was some improvement. We wandered around the house putting it on different surfaces – each would make the sound change, dramatically in some cases. The best sound came when I put it on the window ledge, where the sound resonated and gave me some deeper tones to the music, but it’s still not “bassy”.
Having said that I should say that the sound is clear whereever the speaker is sat. It’s depth that it lacks, not clarity. It is just brilliant for playing podcasts – the spoken word is crisp making it very easy to listen to.
We were on our way down to Essex to see friends when we realised one thing this speaker is just perfect for. We use the TomTom app on our iPhones for our satnav and have always struggled a bit with the volume – the phone just isn’t loud enough. This speaker is just what we’ve been looking for – it’s loud enough, clear, sits on the space between the two front seats without sliding about thanks to the weight and non-slip feet, and can be charged from the cigarette lighter too. Isn’t it good when you find a solution to a problem?
And then we found another use. How many times have I complained on twitter that hotel rooms don’t have power sockets by the bed? I reckon I say it every single time I go away! But with the speaker I can have my phone plugged in wherever is convenient, and have the speaker on so I can still hear my music. And if you can find a decent resonating surface you get a pretty decent sound too. It seems I do need a little portable speaker after all.
This is a great little speaker. In everything but the name. Bassy it is not. I don’t think it could ever be bassy. Something this small is never going to satisfy my liking for deep bass or dramatic rumbles in film scores or songs. But it is a useful thing and I have had so much use out of it since it arrives I now don’t know what I’d do without one.
I’ve been given a discount to share with you. It’s good for £30 off so the BassBoomz will cost £49.95 instead of the current retail price of £79.95 when bought directly from their website. The code to use is BBZ304621- it’ll work til the end of the month.
Docks are designed to allow you to sync and charge your phone while it is sat upright on your desk or bedside table. This one (showing off my very dusty iPhone!) is from Mobile Fun.
The dock is good for charging and syncing your phone with your computer, as well as plugging into the mains to charge quicker. It comes with a fairly short lighting to USB cable (also black – it’s long enough to go from the floor to my desk) which is useful, but not the USB mains adapter. The dock is small and actually looks great in glossy black – it has a non-slip base and has a good weight to it.
I’m impressed with how sturdy my phone is when sat in the dock. I worry about things like this being unstable or a bit precarious, and as a result breaking either the lightning connector or connection inside my phone. But this is very solid and my phone clips on very positively and doesn’t wobble around at all. Good.
I’ve now got this sat on my desk at work – my phone can charge and I can see the screen, there’s also no chance it’ll get accidentally swiped off my desk or lost under a pile of papers (not that I ever have massive piles of papers on my desk – if I can’t see the table there’s a good chance I’m stressed!). I can’t decide whether it’s most useful there or at the computer at home, I might need to buy another one. Thankfully they are a lower price than the official Apple ones at £21.95.
You can get a range of iPhone 5 docks from Mobile Fun.
I’ve been meaning to blog about the two iPad games I’m completely addicted to for a while – ever since I started playing them in September last year. Unfortunately every time I’ve thought “I must write that blog post” I’ve ended up playing the games rather than opening iA writer. Oops.
I downloaded both games while on holiday at the end of September last year. I wanted something to help me relax for a couple of weeks, what I ended up with was two obsessions. I found The Simpsons Tapped Out first – it was in the App Store’s top ten games list when I was browsing. Then I was introduced to The Tribez by my sister-in-law, who was already addicted. I thought I’d quickly introduce them to you.
The Simpsons Tapped Out
This game starts just after Homer has caused a meltdown at the Springfield Nucleur Power Plant that wiped out the cartoon town. The aim of this game is to rebuild Springfield, one building and one character at a time. The app is free to download and playable on pretty much all iOS devices (a friend checked and it’s not available on Android, sorry), although I only use it on my iPad – it’s one of those games you want a bigger screen for, I think. You can buy donuts (in-app-purchase) to speed up game play, but I’ve never spent a penny on this, I just wait.
To play the game – to rebuild Springfield – you need two things; money to build buildings and make Springfield look pretty, and XP to move through the levels. You are given tasks to complete such as “build the orange house”, which cost money and time to complete. In many cases building something means you get a new character – Dr Hibbert comes with his surgery, for example.
To earn money you make your characters do things. You can send Homer can shop at the Kwik-E-Mart for an hour, make Lisa do next week’s homework for 24 hours, or get Marge to walk Maggie. The longer a task takes the more money it is worth – and as the buildings and other items go up and up in value as you move through the levels, you get used to setting things going once a day in order to get the most money possible!
To make things more interesting, the game changes with the seasons to give you extra opportunities to collect elements from The Simpsons episodes. At Christmas everything was covered in snow and you collected chocolate coins in order to decorate the houses with Christmas lights. At the moment the game is Valentines themed, so I’m collecting hearts in order to build a flower shop and some rose bushes. Normally these extra things are gained from visiting other Springfields created by your friends… if you play then make sure you add me and we can help each other out – I’m Splodz (unsurprisingly). (For info, this game requires a data connection to play.)
The description on the App Store says “The Tribez is not just a game. It is an adventure.”. Like The Simpsons Tapped Out, it is all about building something – in this case a community of ancient people who see you as their chief.
You start small, by building a simple hut. Each time you build a house of some sort you get an additional worker. You need workers to build things, but the workers come with lots of needed – they want food, bathhouses, community buildings, and for their Island to look amazing. You also need raw materials to build things – wood and stone to start with, but gradually improving as your buildings become more impressive. Your workers have to first build the mills and quarrys, then have to work in them to fill the warehouse with enough materials to build the next thing. Oh and everything costs money, which you collect through taxes on the workers houses and by giving them opportunities to go to the theatre, eat at the canteen, visit the bathhouse or ride a dinosaur.
The workers are cute and do everything you ask them with a simple “okay” or “yo”. Watch out for the Murlods though – they scare the workers and set fire to your buildings – deal with them quickly!
This is another free-to-download game with the possibility to make in-app purchases to speed up the game play. Again, I have not spent a penny on this game, I just wait for things to happen in real time; at the start you’re looking at a minute or two per task, but later on things can take 12 or 24 hours.
If you are new to The Tribez then just wait until you have more than one island… you end up with several separate but interlinked communities who rely on you to keep them safe and free from boredom. So addictive, especially because you can play this one offline. I am so very addicted!
Both these games are ideal for anyone who likes games that are constantly changing that build up over time, in which you build something over time. Let me know if you’re addicted too.