Most smartphones or point-and-shoots don't offer manual control, so you have to rely on the camera's sensors to determine the best combination of aperture, shutter speed and focus. These sensors aren't the smartest things in the world, though, and if your picture doesn't turn out how you'd like — or if you're just going for something a little more artistic — it's possible to get the photo to turn out exactly as you want by "fooling" the camera. Here's how.
Your camera should lock in exposure and focus settings when you press the shutter button down halfway, which means you can point your camera at a second "pseudo-subject", lock in the settings, then point it at your regular subject. With the right conditions, you can use the pseudo-subject to lock in the settings you want.
Using "Manual" Exposure To Fix Washed-Out Photos
Here's an example of an underexposed picture that I took. Here, as the background is all black, which reflects little light, the multi-pattern exposure metering causes the shutter speed to slow down and receive more light, but the shell gets white-washed as a result. So instead, I point my camera to a florescent lamp, increasing the shutter speed, so the details of the little shell register sharply, giving me an underexposed photograph. The result in this case is a little dim, but the details have come out brilliantly. If I wanted a happier medium between the two, I could use a slightly less bright pseudo-subject, like, a white sheet pf paper with some text on it, under the lamp. You can experiment with pseudo-subjects of varying brightness-es to vary the degree to which the photograph is underexposed.
Cool Effects You Can Create
This trick can also just be used for artistic purposes, too, not just correction. Here are a few cool things you can do with your new "manual" adjustments:
Overexposed "Glow" Effects
Say you want to overexpose a photo for effect. Point your camera towards to a dark subject, or cover the lens of the camera with your hand to reduce the shutter speed, lock the exposure settings, then point your camera to the actual subject and capture. Again, in the absence of the option to lock the exposure, you'd have to quick in switching between the subjects.
Focusing, while overexposing in this manner, might be an issue, as its hard for the camera to focus in the dark, if it doesn't find anything to focus on. So it's preferable to point the camera to a darker pseudo-subject, than obstructing the light entering the camera. The level of overexposure can be controlled pointing the camera to darker pseudo-subjects (or holding your hand closer or further away from the lens.) See the example above. Editors note: The example is just a quick one we took as a test, so you can see what it looks like — but with the right artistic eye, you could use it to get something cool like this, in theory.
Bokeh is another cool effect you can make by tricking your camera. A bokeh effect comes about from extremely shallow depth of field. Bokehs are usually taken with cameras that allow the photographer to set the focus manually, so setting a really short focal distance gives a very shallow depth of field.
Point-and-shoot cameras do not have the functionality of manual focusing, but most do have a macro mode. The macro mode automatically sets the shortest focal distance the camera's hardware permits, so capturing a macro is merely a matter of setting the camera in macro mode and shooting away. Additionally, zooming in a bit adds further blur to to the picture, giving it a more psychedelic feel. Although not quite necessary (or even explicable), I've found that first locking the camera's exposure and focus settings gives better macros. This can be used to change the exposure of bokeh photos, too: overexposing makes the blobs of light a bit blurrier, but also reduces contrast. Underexposing, on the other hand, enhances the contrast between the blobs of light and the background and increases the sharpness of the photograph. The photo on the right is one I took of fairy lights.
Psychedelic "Warp" Effects
This is a trick specific to smartphones, but it's so cool that we thought it was worth including. Because the iPhone (and other phones) use a slow CMOS sensor, you can twist your phone as its taking a picture to get a cool psychedelic photo like the one to the right. Just press down the shutter, twist the camera slightly, and you'll get the desired effect.
Things To Watch Out For
There are a couple of things you need to care about, though. You need to make sure that the pseudo-subject and the actual subject are at the same distance from your camera, as when when the camera locks down on the exposure settings, it also locks the focus, so if your pseudo-subject is half a metre for your camera, it's going to focus on whatever is half a metre away when you move to your real subject. Also, try to take care that focus point of the subject lies in the focus zone (of the pseudo-subject) — those little green brackets. If you're photographing far-off subjects, it'd be a smart idea to landscape mode, so the focus is set to infinity, so that you don't have focus mismatch issues between the pseudo and actual subjects.
If your camera (or phone) doesn't lock on exposure settings, you'll just have to be really quick in moving your camera from your pseudo-subject to the actual subject, not giving it enough time to adapt to the the new light conditions. It's helpful, in this case, if you use a portable source of light to blind your camera, as you can keep the two subjects close together.
I learned the overexposure trick in a talk on photography at my uni, where a speaker and a friend of mine said that great pictures can be taken even with a smartphone camera, with a reasonable degree of control over the quality of the photograph. If there's one thing I learned from the talk, it's that a photographer is truly limited only by his creativity and not the camera he uses. Obviously the photos in this piece aren't the best examples, but with a bit of experimentation and a bit of creativity, you can make some really cool stuff, even without an expensive DSLR. If you've created anything like this before — or like it so much that you go and try it out — share some of your creations with us in the comments below.