Samsung has been overtaken by Huawei and Google’s Pixel cameras in recent years but its Galaxy phones still offer a huge amount to anyone into smartphone photography.
The cameras on Samsung’s phones offer a lot more flexibility than say the iPhone, making them much more appealing to those who know a thing or two about photography. You’ve got a variety of modes and the ability to take control of key settings, for starters.
The tips in this piece apply to the latest 2020 models, such as the just-launched Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series, as well as the existing Samsung Galaxy S20 series. Some of them will also apply to older models, too.
It’s also worth saying that you won’t need to install any special apps to take advantage of any of this advice. All of the tricks can be used with the native Samsung camera app, so you can get started right out of the box.
Engage Pro Mode
All recent Samsung phones do a fantastic job of taking great pictures in the standard automatic mode. But for those that have outgrown auto, heading to Pro mode gives you scope to show your photographic nous.
With it, you can control ISO, shutter speed, white balance and more. You can even get creative by altering saturation, contrast and so on – think of it a bit like creating your own filters. Some Samsung models, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 also have the ability to choose between two different apertures, depending on how much light is in the scene. This option has been removed from newer models like the Galaxy S20 and the Note 20.
While in Pro mode, you can also switch on raw format recording. Those who are used to shooting with “proper” cameras will be familiar with the format – it gives you scope to adjust certain things in editing programs such as Photoshop and can come in handy if you can’t quite get your exposures spot on at the scene.
Pro tip: To find Pro mode, you might have to head to the ‘More’ tab from the main screen of the camera app.
Capture the best frame
As with many smartphones, you can elect to record a short video with each photo you take. With Samsung models that’s called ‘Motion Photo’ and needs to be activated by tapping an icon on the main camera screen. It looks like a square with a “play” (triangle) icon inside it. This feature is great for capturing a little bit of motion with your shot to bring your images to life, but it can also be used to freeze the best moment.
If you’ve got a bounding dog or toddler who won’t sit still, you can extract the best frame from a motion picture without worrying too much about capturing the perfect moment at the time you take the shot. Let them play, let them wriggle, and worry about getting the right frame later. It’s also helpful for portraits and group shots where you’ve almost always got a blinker threatening to spoil an otherwise great photograph.
Experiment with resolutions and aspect ratios
Your Samsung will have a default resolution and aspect it will record at – usually 12 megapixels and 4:3. But, especially the newer models such as the Galaxy S20 Ultra, have huge resolutions just begging to be played with.
If you tap on the aspect ratio icon within the main camera app (it looks like a square with 3:4 written inside it), you’ll be given a range of different options to choose from. If you’re using the S20 Ultra or the Note 20 Ultra, the one that will leap out at you is the 3:4 108MP resolution option. You probably don’t want to use this for every day shots of your dinner or your neighbour’s dog, but if you want to capture something super detailed then it’s worth giving it a go.
Beyond that, it’s also worth experimenting with different aspect ratios to give your photos a creative edge. We’re all familiar with the 1:1 ratio thanks to Instagram, but the more cinematic 16:9 option is great for landscapes and wide-angle scenes, allowing you to experiment with unusual compositions.
You can also select ‘Full’ to fill the screen of your phone – it’s worth trying this out, especially if you mainly look at your photos on your phone, it’ll really make the most of the larger screen sizes of models like the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
Activate Single Take
This is a feature which is easy to miss, or ignore. Swipe to the left (on the S20 series, S10 series, Note 20 series, Note 10 series) from the main camera screen and you’ll be taken to ‘Single Take’ mode.
With this, the camera will take a number of different shots and videos all at once, later recommending the best shot for you. It’s a neat option when you want to concentrate on the moment in front of you rather than worry too much about composition and so on. Try moving the phone around the scene while capturing a ‘Single Take’ to give you plenty of variety to choose from, too.
Use the S Pen for a remote release
The S Pen on the Note series models can be used for all sorts of wild gestures but one of the truly useful functions is remote release.
That gives you scope to capture fantastic portraits and group shots without having to awkwardly stretch out your arm to fit everyone in – or use a dreaded selfie stick. It works via Bluetooth and can be used up to 10 metres away from your phone – you’ll also need a small tripod or something stable to rest your phone on.
Once you’ve got yourself – and your friends – into position, give the button on the S pen a tap and it’ll take a picture. You can double tap the button to switch between using the rear camera and the selfie camera. We’d recommend using the higher-quality rear camera for the best shots.
Experiment with Live Focus
If you want to create shallow depth of field portraits, then the best thing to do is head to the Live Focus mode. You might have to head to the ‘More’ section in the standard camera app to find the option, depending on how you have the app set up.
Once there, you can use it in its default setup, but it’s also worth spending some time getting to know its various options a little better. For example, switching to the wide-angle option (represented by an icon that looks like two trees) allows you to capture better environmental type shots, showing more of your subject’s background. It’s great for people, but also other subjects, such as pets.
Beyond that, you might also want to experiment with the different bokeh options. Bokeh is the name given to the out of focus area, and can be a standard or generic ‘blur’, but you can also choose different options, including ‘big circle’, ‘spin’, and ‘zoom’. Some are a little on the gimmicky side, but they’re also pretty fun.
Try out Samsung’s Intelligent features
At their best, smartphones include lots of features that take the guesswork out of photography. When it comes to Samsung phones, you’ll find them equipped with ‘Intelligent Features’ that can come in really handy.
Tap the cog icon in the top left hand corner of the native camera app, and you should see the Intelligent Features options right at the top of the screen. Make sure ‘Scene optimiser’ is switched on to make sure the best settings are automatically applied to your shots, while ‘Shot suggestions’ is particularly helpful when trying to line up landscape shots – nothing says amateur like a wonky horizon. With this feature turned on, a level will be shown on screen to help get things as straight as possible.
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