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Improve your Phonetography Skills

Improve your Phonetography Skills

Do you want to know how to get the most out of your camera and create great images? Jacques Marais is an adventure photographer, and has been since he managed to sneak off with his mother’s Box Brownie camera in a fit of pre-teen creativity.

Despite a brief sojourn to study engineering, he has been captivated by the process of capturing and creating imagery, and has worked as a freelance photojournalist since. His preferred fields are adventure travel and extreme sport, and he currently has the privilege of being one of Sony’s imaging ambassadors in South Africa. You can follow Jacques on @jacqmaraisphoto on Twitter and Instagram.

When out playing with his family, however, Jacques gets pretty tired of lugging around a 12kg camera bag, and goes completely minimalist. He maintains that a modern-day cellphone can be a great imaging tool and – although it will never replace a real camera – can be used to capture some amazing instants that would otherwise have been lost forever. Here are a few tips from Jacques to help you raise the level of your ‘phonetography’, enhance these images through the on-phone editing software, and share them across the multitude of social media platforms out there.

1. Mobile Moment

These days, most smartphones pack image-processing power easily rivalling that of digital cameras dating back less than a decade. Megapixel counts of up to 40mp are not unheard of, while a fabulous array of lenses and imaging attachments can turn your phone into a truly professional capture device. My current phone is an Xperia Z – I love it because it is both waterproof and shock-proof and utterly suits my lifestyle – and at the press of a button I can capture a moment somewhere in the back of beyond that is good enough to be published in a magazine. To prove my point, see the attached photo I took while on a recent mountain bike ride through Lesotho.


2. Magic Touch

For a cellphone, that is not a bad shot, even if I have to say so myself. The on-phone software packaged with the Xperia Z is so good you can’t help yourself enhancing the image even further. Zoom in or crop the photograph, add a frame of your choice, set the contrast, saturation, exposure or a full gamut of other parameters, or apply a selection of pre-set filters to create a specific mood. Compare the previous pic to the final enhanced version on the right.

Test Shoot with the new SONY Xperia Z, in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, RSA as well as Lesotho

3. Party Starter

What happens in Vegas very rarely stays in Vegas these days, and a main reason for this is the improved low-light capturing capabilities of smartphones. Let’s face it – around the braai or at a party – chances are you won’t have a camera handy to capture a quick candid moment, but your phone is always there.

Test Shoot with the new SONY Xperia Z, in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, RSA as well as Lesotho

4. Long and Short of It

A stitched panoramic image allows you to capture a full 360 degrees of your surroundings, purely by keeping the shutter button on the phone down and panning in a big circle. The phone software automatically takes multiple images as you pan, and then seamlessly ‘stitches’ a composite image together.

Test Shoot with the new SONY Xperia Z, in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, RSA as well as Lesotho

5. Sharing is Caring

IMG_20130522_180651The days of sitting together and paging through a photo album are soon to be a distant memory. Not only are most nuclear families scattered around the globe, but, whether you like it or not, to a large extent electronic devices will be replacing paper as a first choice option to access information and imagery within the next generation. So face up to Facebook (you do NOT have to be friends with everyone out there!) as it allows you to easily share moments of magic with family members who cannot quickly pop over for a cup of tea.

And if you want to share imagery on a quick and easy visual forum, nothing beats the funkiness of Instagram. The enforced square format makes you think very differently about your composition, while a limited range of visual filters and frames allows you to enhance your photos in an…er, instant.

The Landscape Mode offers a deep field of focus – meaning you get both the foreground and background in focus – as in this image taken near Semonkong Lodge in the Lesotho Highlands.

On a mobile phone, shooting into the sun can create flaring and other interesting effects. Also experiment with your angles.
Capture sport or action by selecting the Burst Mode when shooting high-speed motion.
Your subjects are less intimidated by a mobile phone than a camera, so get in close and personal.
Expanses of colour render well on smaller sensors, as with these windmills in Loeriesfontein against the blue sky.


  • The imaging sensors on most smartphones are pretty small, so avoid shooting in extremely low light if you can.
  • As there may be quite a bit of shutter lag, it makes sense to use the Burst Mode. This takes 10-12 images in a split second, and you can then select the best one.
  • Programme modes allow you to select Action, Portraits, Landscape, Macro or other specific shooting modes, and generally make for better quality than shooting on full auto.
  • Like anything in life, the more you play with your phone camera, the better you will be at using it.
  • When you upgrade, check the size of the sensor in your phone before making a final choice – Sony, Samsung and iPhone are leaders in the phonetography field, but only the former has the benefit of a waterproof and shock-proof unit as well.

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