Photo Tip Friday: Understanding the Focal Point of a Cell Phone Camera

by Mary Denman    @MaryDenman

Daffodils taken with iPhone 6 by Mary Denman

Today we're going to learn more about your cell phone camera and how to take better shots with it. 

You can use many of the same principles of photography with a cell phone camera, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR camera. Things like framing, lighting, composition. 

But there are a couple of differences that you need to understand to best use your cell phone camera. So let's learn about how a cell phone camera reads light and focuses and how to put that to good use. 

Cell phones focus similarly and differently to a DSLR (digital single lens reflex). 

For a DSLR, when you press the button half way down to take the photo, you will see red lights in your view finder or on the screen that tells you two things. 1) What you're focusing on. 
2) How your camera is reading the light of your composition. 

A cell phone works the same way as far as the focal point being the place your cell records the lighting conditions. 

But there is one difference which makes adjusting this so much easier on a cell phone camera. 

All you have to do is TOUCH THE SCREEN and CHOOSE your focal point. 

Let's look at how this affects your photos. 
COLLAGE 1: Taken with iPhone 6 by Mary Denman

COLLAGE 1: I was sitting under our oak tree and loved the look of the spring greens against the blue sky. So how could these two shots, taken seconds apart, look so dramatically different? 

Because of where I focused. In the first picture, I purposefully touched the darkest part of the screen which then caused the lens to stay open longer and let more light in. The end result? The camera let in more light to brighten the darkest part, but that washed out the sky.  

In the second shot, I touched the sun which made it read more light. Then, the camera took a faster shot which let us see the color of sky that I saw.  

TIP 1: Pay attention to where your camera is reading the light. Choose your focal point carefully to get the effect you want.

TIP 2: If your subject is a uniform distance away from you (like the branches in collage 1, approximately 30ft./10m away), then the part of the picture in focus won't change by where you choose the focal point and read the light. It will stay uniformly in focus.

Which brings us to collages 2 and 3 to demonstrate focal points that do change what part of your picture is clear and in focus. 

COLLAGE 2: Taken with iPhone 6 by Mary Denman

COLLAGE 2: In this collage, on the left photo, you can see the grid from my camera and where I chose to focus. 

The second picture shows you that the pink azaleas in the foreground of the shot are clear, while the lavender azaleas in the background are out of focus. 

COLLAGE 3: Taken with iPhone 6 by Mary Denman

COLLAGE 3: In this collage, you can see the grid and where I touched my cell to chose the focal point. 

Because I chose to focus on the lavender azaleas in the background, the pink azaleas in the foreground are blurred. 

So what can we learn from this?

TIP 3: When your picture has objects in the foreground and background, carefully choose the point you want in focus. Pick what's most interesting. 

So remember that where you focus is where you read the light of the photo as well. 

For BLOGGERS: As you practice photography, you'll feel more comfortable using your own images for your blog. This is great for a couple of reasons. 

1) Your own photography can help your with the creative side of your blog. Think content! Either your photos can inspire or illustrate your posts. Both are valuable. 

2) Your photography can help you avoid copyright infringements. This is real and can be a huge deal. Just because you see an image on the internet does not make it free! Many an innocent blogger has used images found online and then found themselves in hot water with attorneys and lawsuits. Sad, but true! By using your own pictures, you can avoid this all together. 

As always, the best way to get better is to PRACTICE. If you practice every night at dinner, with low lights especially, you'll become a better food photographer very quickly. 

TWEETABLE: Understanding the Focal Point of a Cell Phone Camera (click and tweet)


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  1. Hi Mary
    Thank you so much for this, I love how you over write the photos with your explanations, it really helps. This week I was trying to take some photos of flowers in a stained glass church window on my Iphone4, I was trying to change the focal point to the flowers, none of the photos were a success, perhaps with backlighting this was too big an ask of my old camera? I am looking forward to upgrading my camera on my return and between this and your tips I look forward to great improvements.
    As always Mary, thank you so much for being so generous with your tips!
    Wren x

    1. You're so welcome Wren! I Hope you get an iPhone 6. I enjoy mine! I jumped from a 4 to 6 as well. There's a huge difference. Would you get a 6 or 6 plus if you go that route?

  2. It's amazing how different the color of the sky is in the first set of pictures. I wouldn't have guessed that focal point would make such a difference. I love the intensity of the blue sky in the second one.

    1. That's why I'm teaching this! It's so simple once you understand it. :) But it makes such a big difference!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I am working on my photography skills with our old Nikon D60, but at the end of the day, we have mostly our phones with us.
    I am going to pin your tips for myself, but wouldn't you like to join my Tip Tuesday link party? I am sure my readers would love to learn from you too. Thanks in advance.

    1. I'll be happy to join Debbie! I'll sign up for your emails. I'd love to share the tips!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Great, practical advice! I love using my own photos in my blog writing. It makes the post even more personal, I think, and the photos often give me extra inspiration. Thanks! I'm going to sign up to be a regular reader. :-)

    1. Welcome Susan! I'm glad the tips help. You have some really nice shots on your blog!

      Have a great weekend!

  6. Hi Mary! I use my iPhone for most of my photos and never knew this trick! Now I will practice using this tecnique and see how it goes. Thanks so much for linking up with my NO RULES Weekend Blog Party...I appreciate it :)

    1. You're welcome Paula! I forget to use my cell since I carry my Canon around so much. A reader asked about cell phone tips and I realize now that there are a lot of people who just use cells. I'll try and incorporate more into my tips!

      Have a great weekend!

  7. Thanks for the tips! Pinning :)
    I hope you will share your advice with our Link Up - Idea box:


  8. Thanks for the tips Mary, because I do use my phone for pics, this will help me.
    Thanks for stopping by to share on Oh My Heartsie Girls Friday Features!
    Have a great weekend, Karren

  9. Hi Mary, great post. I love using my phone photos as they can go straight to my Google account and they are larger images too. I just need to get the light right :)

    Thanks for joining us at the weekend blog hop..

  10. I saw your link at the Lou Lou Girls link party. I just HAD to stop by to see what you had to say . . . because just moments before I was struggling to take a picture with my iPhone 5s. I knew about changing the focal point on my phone and this was a good reminder for me. Many times, I just point and shoot...

    My main struggle is with lighting when I'm taking pictures in my house -- especially in the evening. My lights have a warm tone to them so my pictures turn out yellow. And, if I'm taking a picture on the island in my kitchen, the lights glare off the countertop. Sigh.

    I'm in the process of setting up a little space in my home as a photo studio. The next thing I need to get is a light or two... Maybe for Mother's Day???

    Thanks for sharing,