11 Mobile Photography Terms To Know

Using the proper mobile photography terms makes you seem more professional. Anyone can pull their smartphone out of their pocket and snap a photo but very few can do so and then explain what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.

But, after familiarizing yourself with this list of 11 mobile photography terms that every smartphone photographer should know you’ll be one step closer to being able to do just that.

1. Depth of Field

depth of field iphone photography definition
Cult of Mac

Depth of field refers to which part of your image is in sharp focus and is controlled with aperture. Smartphones have a fixed aperture and as a result your depth of field can only be changed with software. In the case of my iPhone 11 Pro for example, I can adjust the aperture in Portrait Mode to get different results like you see in the example above.

From personal experience, it is better to adjust the aperture (signified by f values from f1.4 – f16) after the photo has been taken if possible. Sometimes the software makes this impossible, though, and you can only learn when you’re going to run into this problem by experimenting. In most cases, Portrait Mode adjustments can be made after the photo is taken and only when the software recognizes a human face.

2. Field of View

Field of view is how much of the scene is being captured in your shot and is best understood by thinking in terms of angles. Yes – that means dusting off that early high school geometry. To use my three cameras on my iPhone 11 Pro as an example:

  • the 13mm has a 120° Field of View (approximated) which means it captures a very wide landscape
  • the 26mm has an 80° Field of View (approximated) which means it captures a wide landscape
  • the 52mm has an 44.5° Field of View (approximated) which means it captures a tighter shot

There’s a direct relationship between field of view and focal length that’ll be understood better later on, but even mobile photographers with a single camera setup like an iPhone SE or Google Pixel 3a can achieve a myriad of different fields of view by utilizing a mounted lens like these from Moment or Sandmarc.

3. ISO

high iso vs low iso smartphones
Exposure Guide

In photography, ISO measures the sensitivity of your camera sensor to light. The ISO settings should increase in darker scenes, but a higher ISO results in a grainy image. The three-letter word originally stands for International Organization for Standardization. Unless your native camera app has a Pro mode of some kind your smartphone will automatically adjust for ISO.

By utilizing a third-party app like Moment Pro Camera or BeastCam one can gain control over their ISO. If you have a smartphone with Night Mode of some kind like my Google Pixel’s Astrophotography feature then the phone’s software will optimize the image to remove unwanted ISO. You will need to switch into the dedicated mode, though, and stabilize your phone for the best results.

4. Megapixel

When you buy a phone, the most common term you’ll hear about the camera is its megapixels. 

A megapixel is a million pixels, and any image captured by your mobile phone is formed of these pixels. So, the higher the megapixel count, the more the photo can be cropped without compromising image quality. Before you get all hung-ho about megapixels, though, you should note that smartphones with 100+ megapixel cameras require longer to process the images. Additionally, more megapixels means a larger file size which may force you to purchase an external storage solution.

5. Aperture

Your smartphone has a fixed aperture. Your smartphone’s manufacturer wants you to think that you have the power to adjust aperture using their software but in every instance that I’ve tested this feature is just a cheap gimmick.

Regardless of how many cameras your phone has, the aperture(s) range from f1.2 – f3 which means that the background in your photos will have a fairly strong blur. This blur is called bokeh and is intensified and sometimes adjusted using Portrait Mode.

6. Sensor

phone camera sensor comparison 2021
Digital Photography Review

The sensor in your smartphone’s camera is smaller than that of a traditional camera and is the biggest drawback in mobile photography. A smaller sensor makes shooting in low light more difficult though newer phones have introduced software to combat this shortfall.

You can do sensor specific research when choosing a smartphone to ensure that your device performs adequately regardless of the lighting scenario. What you should find, however, is that Androids tend to outperform iPhones when talking strictly sensor specs.

7. Exposure

Exposure has to do with how much light the camera’s sensor is being exposed to and is designated as an exposure value (EV).

Higher EVs are brighter, while lower ones are dark. A general rule of thumb is to underexpose your images (or shoot the slightly darker than you think you want) as more data is collected by the camera. When more data is collected you can do more photo editing to the image. In the same line of thinking, you should also capture RAW files instead of JPGs if at all possible.

8. Shutter Speed

control shutter speed on iphone
Design Pieces

Shutter speed refers to how long your camera’s shutter stays open and it’s measured in fractions of a second. If you’re capturing a fast-moving object, a high shutter speed is necessary, or else you’ll end up with a blurry photo.

Some photographers use slow speeds on purpose to make you think the object in the image is moving. If you use an Android – specifically a Google Pixel – then give this hack for light trails and motion blur a try.

9. White Balance

White balance is vital for consistency. In most editing software, you’ll find an adjustable slide for the white balance via temperature controls. If you want to take your work up a notch though, then consider setting and locking your white balance manually using a third-party app that provides manual camera control.

While many traditional photographers carry white balance cards, you can use a white index card to set your white balance provided it’s truly white and you fold it a few times to ensure that no light is getting through. It’s worth noting, though, that your phone’s native camera should do a pretty good job at discerning the correct white balance for you.

10. Focal Length

iphone 12 pro max focal length comparison
9 to 5 Mac

The camera’s focal length is the distance between the lens and the image it forms in the sensor. It’s measured in millimeters, and it controls how large the object you’re capturing will appear. Not only that, but the value of the focal length also determines the magnification abilities of the lens, along with the field of view.

Longer focal lengths will create zoomed-in effects, and they’ll cause objects far-away to appear clear and magnified. Smartphones mostly have focal lengths ranging from 10mm – 100mm depending on the device and its camera setup.

11. Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens means that the focal length is longer than the captured image’s diagonal size. In other words, it provides a narrower field of view, bringing distant objects closer and making them appear clearer. Most multi-camera setups come with a telephoto, or tele lens, which are usually engaged when you switch into Portrait Mode. A tele lens decreases the depth of field in your image which provides a more poignant and intimate shot by bringing the subject and background closer together while maintaining a nice bokeh blur.

Consider adding a tele lens to the tele lens on your phone for an even more severe effect.

Want More Mobile Photography Terms?

watcharlie via Unsplash

There is still a lot more to learn about mobile photography, but for now you’re at least off on the right track. If you want any mobile photography terms added to this list, then just comment which ones below and the post will be amended within a few days.

If you felt like this information was helpful and you’re looking for the next step then consider reading Mobile Photography 101 where we’ll talk more about photography and less about definitions.

11 thoughts on “11 Mobile Photography Terms To Know

  1. It really helpful for me , those small points lights and focus is literally helping me lot and also makes my images clear and what I want!!

    Thanks a lot for that !!

  2. very informatic but need to know about basic anaroid cameraie anaroid.to begain with.

    1. Rajiv – I don’t entirely understand your comment. Would you like a post dedicated to android cameras?

  3. Which are some of the best camera phones to get right now. Well, I’m on a tight budget under ₹50,000 or $600+.

    1. Saiful – thanks for the comment, my friend.

      For less than $600 I recommend the Google Pixel 4a with 5G. It has the same camera setup as the Pixel 5 for much less money and is popular enough to have third-party lens mounting options from Moment.

      Are you looking for a particular brand? That can also help to narrow the search. I’d love to help you find the right mobile for you!

  4. Excellent pice of advice for amatures
    Keep up the good work
    I also promote and give guidelines for day to day mobile photography out of my busy schedule as a Doctor
    iPhone user

  5. Thank you very much in making it in plain English and without using tech words….clear and crisp explanation!!

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