Can smartphones take a picture with a bright background that includes the foreground and both be in focus?

My biggest issue with smartphones is taking a picture where the background is bright and the foreground is not so bright. I choose to focus on the foreground and the background appears washed out. I chose the background and the foreground is dark. Same issue with distance. I want everything to look good!

7 Answers

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  • John P
    Lv 7
    6 months ago

    That problem occurs with any camera, even the most expensive DSLR, if the brightness levels are greatly different. You can make some improvement in software or apps in your computer - always work on a copy file! Better is to even up the brightness levels when shooting. Use flash to brighten the nearby subject. Or use reflectors to shift light towards the subject.

    Note that you are not asking about "focus", but about brightness levels.

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  • Frank
    Lv 7
    6 months ago

    First off, your question initially states that you want both foreground and background in focus, and then changes to both being properly exposed. Which is it?

    As for focus, you need to control the aperture in order to get both foreground and background in focus. If a smartphone offers such control, then that's the phone you need to get. However since smartphones use very wide lenses which produce a lot of depth of field by default. This is why you can't blur out backgrounds with smartphones without running the image through some app.

    The part of your update regarding shadow/highlights has to do with the dynamic range of the camera and what file format the images are saved. Dynamic range is the camera's ability to retain details in the shadow and highlights. Dynamic range is in great part due to the size of the pixels. The larger the pixel, the greater the dynamic range. Think of a pixel as a bucket and light as water. If the bucket is very large, then when you place it outside during a rainstorm, the larger bucket will collect more water droplets than a smaller one simply due to it's larger size. Also, a larger bucket can hold more water before the water overflows than a smaller one. So it is with pixels. A larger pixel will collect more light when recording shadows thus providing more detail and less noise. A larger pixel will also be able to collect more light in bright areas before the storage capacity of said pixel becomes full than a small one. With small pixels used in smartphones (about 1.5 nano-meter) they simply cannot collect enough light in the shadow areas as large pixels. And in the highlight areas, the small pixels will usually have their signal capacity reached well before the end of the exposure resulting in clipping in those areas.

    With this in mind, you also have to quantify the brightness difference between foreground and background. All smartphones can handle some difference, obviously, but at some point the contrast will be too great. This is especially true if shooting JPEGs instead of RAW. RAW images allow the user to greatly open up the shadow areas and to a much lesser degree bring down the highlights. The thing here is that when you open up a RAW file it's not processed and it's just a best guess representation by the app you're using. With a RAW file, you can lower the brightness of the highlights and open up the shadows to even things out. How much? Well, that will depend upon the bit depth of the file. JPEGs are by default 8-bit files which means that they have 256 tones (2^8 = 256) from pure black to pure white. RAW files can be as much as 32-bit files, but in the real world they are typically 12 to 14-bit files with 4,096 and 16,384 tones respectively. You see, each additional bit actually doubles the number of tones.

    The digital cameras used in smartphones have much greater dynamic range than film. So how did film photographers get around having blown-out backgrounds? Simple. They used fill flash. Fill flash is the process of using a flash to put more light onto your darker subject to bring their brightness value higher to match that of the background. It's a process used by photographers for a hundred years.

    Ever see a pro shoot someone outside with their flash on? This is why they're doing it. Not only to get rid of harsh shadows to add a catch light in the eyes of the subject.

    Fill flash is probably the best and easiest way to solve your problem if your camera can't shoot RAW or the files don't offer enough exposure control. Use the built-in LED light to throw more light onto your subject whereby you increase the subject's luminosity closer to that of the background. Using an external light source will be even more effective.

    Take a look at your smartphone's flash icon which is in the shape of lightning bolt. Touching it will change it through a few options: auto, off, or always on. It's the always on mode that you want to set your phone to so that the camera always uses a flash regardless of the light level. The only caveat to keep in mind is that the LED in your smartphone is a weak light source, and with all flashes (LED or traditional) they all have a limited working range. So in order for the weak LED to be effective, you will need to be within about 5-10 feet. How far will depend upon the strength of the flash. This is where using an external light can really solve your problem. External flashes are far more powerful than the tiny single LED "flash" in smartphones.

    You can buy an external flash for your smartphone here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=external...

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  • 6 months ago

    First, you are trying to make a telephone do the job of an actual camera. The problem you are having is called dynamic range. Our eyes can see extremes of brightness that a camera cannot, especially not something like a cell phone camera. Even with a proper camera, you have to understand and know what you are doing in order to have a bright background properly exposed AND have a darker foreground properly exposed. In the simplest terms, you read the exposure value for the bright background and set the camera manually to those parameters. You then use a strong flash to fill in the dark foreground.

    As for having all areas in focus, that again is a matter of having a real camera that allows you to adjust aperture values to obtain the depth of field you want.

    Frankly, using a phone to take photos really forces you to be nothing more than a snapshot taker, not a photographer.

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  • 6 months ago

    It is hard to capture the sounds, smells, feeling, and warmth of what you see in a photograph, the trick is to learn how to tell the story with your camera. I have faith in you, you can do it.

    But with a fully adjustable camera you can use depth of field, composition, leading and trailing lines to make the image that you want. On the other hand your camera-phone is always with you. If you enjoy taking pictures then: winner winner chicken dinner.

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  • 6 months ago

    In the world of "real" cameras, this is where you use fill flash. Turn the little blinky LED so-called flash on your phone to "always on". Although the flash isn't powerful enough to actually do a fill flash, it may help a little or a lot depending on the actual scene.

    Other wise you are looking at an HDR shot, which will be at least 2 images merged so that both parts are visible. Some phones have this built in (mine does, but it looks like crap to me) while other will require the use of an app to do the same thing.

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  • qrk
    Lv 7
    6 months ago

    One of the basic isms I preach is don't have a bright background behind your subject, especially when the subject is darker than the background! No camera will render that scene well unless you purposely want a blown out background or a silhouette.

    The way around this is HDR (high-dynamic range) techniques where you take a number shots at different exposures. The images are combined in special software and can render a reasonable scene. One of the problems with HDR rendering is there are many ways to make the image look ugly (art to some).

    If your phone is smart enough, perhaps it can do HDR (perhaps an clever app) or you can control the exposure to take a series of bracketed shots.

    Another issue with phone cameras, the lenses aren't that good and will suffer from flaring from the bright background which causes loss of contrast.

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  • 6 months ago

    Some smartphones are much better than others. You can probably get better advice by stating what phone you have.

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