By G. Bruce Smith

Like many people, I’m amazed by the quality of photos that can be taken on cell phones. Apple has even capitalized on its iPhone photography capability by running huge billboard ads with striking images (presumably taken by ordinary citizens) and the simple but arresting caption: Taken on an iPhone.

An iPhone 6 owner myself, I, too, have been pleased with some of the pictures I snap on my mobile device. I don’t bother with a camera any more; the iPhone is just fine, thank you very much.

Class at Olvera Street

However, I’m not completely satisfied with my photography skills, and so I signed up for the “Tourist for a Day: Cellphone Photography” class taught by Brian Leng. It was a rare rainy day in July, so Brian canceled the class (it’s rescheduled for Sept. 19). But because some of us did not get the cancellation email, we showed up and he gave us some tips and set us loose to shoot around Olvera Street and other locales around Union Station in downtown L.A.

Even before we met up with Brian, he told us to download the BeFunky app on our phones, a terrific photo editor/image manipulator application that is great fun to play around with. Aside from all kinds of editing functions (cropping, fill light, softening, exposure, etc.), the app allows you to do touch ups, create effects, add text, create collages and more.

Pico House Manipulated in BeFunky 1

Image manipulated in BeFunky looks more like a drawing than a photo

Here are some takeaways from the introductory lesson Brian gave us at the iconic Philippe the Original restaurant across from Union Station, famous for its French Dip sandwiches:

• Buy a portable back-up charger, particularly if you plan to spend a whole day taking photos. They’re available online and at many retail outlets, including Costco.

• Each phone is different, so experiment, try different things. Take an image with flash and without – and compare the results. Cameras will always expose for the lightest part of the picture, so be aware of shooting into objects or people that are backlit.

• Holding your phone steadily is important, so if your camera has voice command, use it. Or you can use a timer, or put your elbows down on a surface, or even steady yourself against a wall. Any of these methods can create clearer, better images.

Brian Leng Students 1

Brian did not give us direct advice on which phone is best for images, but as much of an Apple loyalist I am – and as impressive as Apple’s iPhone images on billboards are – I’ve been struck by the quality of photos taken on Androids. Honestly, I think they are better than iPhone shots. And Brian showed me his Samsung, whose camera comes with a whole bunch of controls not found on my iPhone 6 – including Voice Command, Exposure, ISO, White Balance and Metering Modes.

Mind you, I’m not ready to switch to an Android, but for those of you contemplating purchasing a new phone, it’s something you might consider. I’d highly recommend taking the class in September, not only to sharpen your photographic skills, but also to discover – or rediscover – some wonderful downtown sites.

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