Ask LH: Can I Take Decent Photos With An iPhone 5?

Dear Lifehacker, I am a keen photographer but have no actual training. All my photos are taken on my iPhone 5, and I'm generally happy with them, outside of extreme close-ups. I often see competitions which have quite strict criteria for the quality of images submitted. Can phone cameras actually take decent photos? Is it possible to tell if they're any good on the device itself, or do you need them How can you tell the quality of a photo without a program like photoshop. And does editing the photo with filters reduce the quality? Thanks, Startup Snapper

Photo: Yutaka Tsutano

Dear SS,

What makes up the quality of an image? That's an argument that any number of photographers can have from now until the end of time without coming to any kind of consensus, because there are so many aesthetic variables involved. "Quality" is a highly subjective thing in one aspect — but it may not be the aspect you need to pay attention to because a given competition may have strict rules on submissions.

If you're talking strict technical specifications, however, you're more likely to fall foul of competition rules that work around sensor size than you are strict megapixel count. The iPhone 5's 8 megapixel count might sound competitive, but it's working on a significantly smaller sensor than even a semi-professional DSLR will muster. Again, it comes down to any rules specified by a given photography competition. The good news here is that phone photography is so ubiquitous that there are specific competitions that cater to mobile photography, and you may well find that a given competition has a category for it.

As to your other questions, smartphone screens have improved a great deal over the years, and the iPhone is generally regarded as being reasonably well-calibrated for a smartphone in terms of colour fidelity, but you're still going to need to assess it on a properly calibrated monitor for the best possible overview. What doesn't appear to be a problem on a tiny screen could easily blow up in your face on a 27" monitor.

As for filters, if you're applying them in-phone, then yes, by and large they do reduce the overall picture quality — and as many of them are heavily over-used, the general smart advice would be not to use them for competition purposes anyway.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    You can take decent photos with just about any camera. The quality of the photo is mostly determined by composition, lighting and what have you not. The quality of your glass, film, sensor or other hardware related aspects are secondary.

    An amateur with a "professional" level camera will still take amateur photos, albeit slightly better ones.

    A professional with an "amateur" camera will still take professional photos, albeit slightly worse ones.

    Look at the skill / experience of the artist, not the equipment. (For an example I remember seeing a series of photos by a professional photographer / artist taken exclusively on a phone camera (it may have even been an iPhone) which were still up to the level expected of him.

    I recommend taking indecent photos rather than decent ones. You may not win, but the judges will definitely remember you.

    Maybe it's just me, but the way this question is asked lets off a "I'm a photographer because I take photos of my food with Instagram" kinda vibe.

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