Here are the 10 commandments for shooting excellent images with the Galaxy S5
As good as camera phones are, they are no replacement for a £500 camera. They have tiny image sensors, fixed, non-zoom lenses and most of the time and little to no manual control. But you don’t always want to walk around looking like a tourist in your hometown by lugging around a DSLR. And the Samsung Galaxy S5 has one of the best cameras we’ve seen in a phone to date.
Follow these 10 commandments of Galaxy S5 photography and you may well find that you never need a ‘proper’ camera again.
Use grid to compose your shots
The classic sign of a mobile phone photographer who doesn't have a clue what they’re doing is the badly composed shot. Wonky horizons can look arty if done right, but 99% of the time it looks like the photo has been taken by a five year-old.
It’s not switched on as standard, but the Galaxy S5 offers gridlines that act as a compositional aid for your shots. Tap the Settings cog in the camera app and scroll down to the bottom of the pop-up menu.
You’ll see a feature toggle called ‘grid lines’. Tap it and four lines will appear on the screen. These don't look pretty, but won’t show up in your photos and make it much easier to avoid dodgy-looking shots.
Use the rule of thirds
The grid lines also make it much easier to follow the number one rule of composition: the rule of thirds. It’s something you’ll learn in just about any basic class of photography.
The rule of thirds says you should split your field of view into three vertical and horizontal slots, and then fit your focal points – your subjects – where these lines intersect. Its basic aim is to stop photo numpties from shooting every single thing they point their camera at head-on. Think more creatively and you’ll get better, more interesting photos.
Of course, the rule of thirds is something you’re meant to break once you understand it. But learning it is one of the first important steps on the road to becoming a photographer. Not just some idiot who takes photos and burdens the internet with them.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 offers one mode that can make it look like you know what you’re doing even if you haven’t the first clue: HDR.
It has the single best HDR mode you’ll find in phones at present. What HDR does is to combine multiple exposures in a single photo to bring out details in shadow areas and to stop things like bright skies from overexposing – again bringing more detail out.
You’ll find the HDR ‘rich tone’ mode in the camera Settings menu, and we highly recommend you keep it as one of the quick-access presets to the left of your Galaxy S5’s camera app. Make sure to use it whenever there’s a bright light source in the shot, or just out of it.
For even quicker shooting use “tap to take pics” mode
As standard, taking photos with the Galaxy S5 is a two-step process. You tap on-screen to choose what you want to focus on, and then press the virtual shutter button to actually take a shot.
However, you can make the process a one-step job, by turning on the ‘tap to take pics’ mode.
We find that it’s useful when you’re in a situation where you have to shoot many different subjects in a short space of time. It takes a shot even if you don’t get a solid focus lock, though, so plan to take more shots than you need just to ensure you get sharp pictures.
Make sure picture stabilisation mode is on for low-light shooting
Most phones have a dedicated Night mode, but the Samsung Galaxy S5 confuses things a little bit by offering a ‘picture stabilisation’ mode instead. What this does is to create composites of several different exposures when the lights go down low, letting it significantly reduce noise levels without using a flash. It’s Samsung’s apology for not including optical image stabilisation in the Galaxy S5, which is probably the phone’s most unfortunate, most serious camera phone omission.
It’s remarkably effective, generally producing pretty detailed pictures given the Galaxy S5 actual camera cred which, like most phones, is kinda limited.
Hold the phone still for longer than it seems you should in low light
The number one rule for taking these kind of photos in low light with picture stabilisation, though, is that you have to try and stay still. For quite a long time.
We’re talking the best part of 10 seconds at times. Even if there’s a bit of movement in the subject – especially relevant if you’re shooting people – just keep on holding on.
The Galaxy S5’s low light stabilisation mode seems to be pretty clever, able to discount most motion data, including your own natural hand judder. It does require the patience of a minor saint, though, especially if you’ve had a wine or two.
Shooting too slow in low light? Turn off stabilisation
And, of course, sometimes the Galaxy S5’s stabilisation mode just isn't feasible. If you’re with a group of friends, you’re going to look pretty silly holding up your camera for a solid 15 seconds in a bar, as they variously gurn away or try so hard to keep smiles etched onto their faces.
If you don’t have the time to wait for the Galaxy S5’s tortoise-style low light mode, turn off stabilisation. You’ll find the picture stabilisation mode switcher towards the top of the phone’s camera settings menu.
Without stabilisation, your low-light photos will generally be a fair bit grainier, but you should still be able to get some good results. Well, at least Facebook-worthy results.
Don’t use the digital zoom, use your legs
A good rule for shooting with any phone camera bar something like the Lumia 1020 or Galaxy K Zoom is DO NOT USE THE ZOOM. All it really does is to crop into your image and use a sharpening/noise reduction algorithm to try and keep hold of as much detail as possible.
So here’s our Top Tip: don’t use the zoom, use your legs. It’s a good policy for all kinds of camera, not just phone ones. If your subject looks too small, get closer. If your angle is wrong? Get on your knees, or even try shooting up over your head. You don’t always have to shoot at head height, and realizing this, much like studying the rule of thirds, is an important step in learning about photo composition.
Yes, you may look a bit silly on your knees in front of the London Eye taking photos with your Galaxy S5. But at least you won’t look as silly as the guy down the road taking pictures with his iPad.
Turn the flash off (95% of the time)
In a similar vein, avoid using the Galaxy S5’s flash unless you really need to. For straight-on pictures of people at late-night parties with little-to-know light, a flash can be a great idea.
But for any other situation, the S5’s flash throws colours out, blows out scenes and causes ugly hard shadows that simply wouldn’t be there without the flash.
90% of the time I shoot with the flash off, and recommend you do too. The flash mode in the camera app’s settings has ‘on’, ‘off’ and ‘auto’ options. Stick to the middle one.