Sunday, September 25, 2016

Capturing Disney by Cell Phone

It's All About Composition and Light

Most of the pictures I take at Disney are with my Sony A6000 mirrorless camera with several different lenses.

This Spring I took a short trip to Walt Disney World and I didn't wanted to pack all my gear so I decided to see what I could do with my cell phone.  By the way, the cell phone I used was a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.  According to the specifications, the camera is a 13MP, 31mm (35mm equivalent) and f/2.2 maximum aperture.

The most important thing I realized on this trip was that all the photography basics still apply.  The two thing I had to consider differently using my cell phone camera was the relative small focal length which gives it a relatively wide field of view and even though the specs say f/2.2, I knew from experience that this camera did not do so well in low light situations despite the f/2.2 aperture speed. 


To me, composition is one of the basics and it plays a very big part in making a great picture.  If pictures are a little grainy, or even just a tad soft, the composition is what most people will see (unless they are what photographers call pixel peepers, which most casual photographers are probably not.)  Don't forget my tips on perspective when composing your pictures.

Given that many cell phone have a wide field of view, you may have to get much closer to get the composition you want.  I won't go into any specific tips on composition, there are plenty of great articles out there.


If your cell phone is like mine, it can take amazing pictures when there is a lot of light.  Cell phone pictures with good lighting can be clear, bright, and vibrant.  Lighting is also one of the basics in good photography.  When I walk around, I try to observe what the light is doing, how it bounces around, how it reflects off the scene around me.  Cell phones don't have great dynamic range so scenes with both bright areas and dark areas together in the same picture can be very challenging for a cell phone (or any camera) to resolve.  Remember in the old days when you were told to take a picture with the sun at your back.  If you're looking for bright, vibrant and clear pictures, then that's good advice.

You may want to get creative with silhouettes and other lighting techniques where you are shooting into the sun.  That's okay too, just learn the capabilities of your cell phone camera and experiment with lighting.  You may notice in the picture below how grainy it is since there was not much light, but it's still a nice sunset.

Even though Mickey was moving along in the parade, because there was lots of light, my cell phone could increase the shutter speed to be able to capture a nice clear picture.

You can see that the picture below is very grainy due to the low light, but also notice how the monorail is a bit fuzzy since the camera had to slow the shutter down just to get a relatively decent exposure.

So when shooting with your cell phone, good lighting is your friend.

Golden Hour

Golden hour is that time just about an hour or so before sunset.  The light from golden hour makes everything take on a nice warm, soft and magical feeling and it adds an extra dimension to your pictures that you really can't get with filters.  

Here are two pictures with about the same composition.  The top one was taken during Golden Hour, and the bottom one was taken some time in the early afternoon.  You decide for yourself which one you like better.

So when shooting with your cell phone, work on the composition, and observe what the light is doing around you.