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Five keys to printing cell phone photographs

Editor’s Note: We welcome Mike Hagen to the Photofocus team. Mike Hagen is a professional photographer, author, and educator. He operates workshops around the world and is well known for his engaging style and humor. Learn more about Mike at visadventures.com

Every week I get questions from people about the image quality of cell phone cameras. In fact, just the other day, I was meeting with a gentleman over coffee and he wanted to know about the image quality differences between my Nikon D850 and my iPhone X.

It seems like a silly question to compare a DSLR camera to a tiny mobile phone camera, but the truth is that many of us use cell phones all day long. How many times do you find yourself walking down the street without your big camera so you take images with your mobile phone? For me, it happens multiple times per day.

For this article, I wanted to explore printing cell phone photographs. The question I asked myself was, “Is it possible to produce high-quality prints with my mobile phone?” The answer is yes, but with a few caveats. Here are five keys to printing great images from a cell phone (as a side note, all the images for this article, including the photos of me holding the prints, were taken with an iPhone X).

Bright light

One of the most important things you can do to produce fine quality prints from your cell phone it is to take images in bright light. Bright light reduces noise, reduces motion blur and saturates colors. If you’re taking a photo of a subject that you want to print, then take the image outside or move to an area in a room that has a big light source. Cell phone cameras don’t perform well in low-light, so keep it bright to get printable images.

Shoot in RAW

Taking your photos in RAW format allows you a lot of flexibility in post-processing, especially when recovering highlights or brightening shadows. Also, RAW allows you to change white balance after the fact. This is an important feature since I’ve found many mobile phones to be notoriously bad with their white balance during mixed-lighting situations.

Most current flagship cameras from Apple and Samsung allow you the option to shoot RAW. If your camera doesn’t allow RAW capture, then I suggest using a third-party app to take the images. I recommend Lightroom CC, Camera Plus or Moment.

Fill the frame with your subject

In general, resolution on cell phone cameras is relatively low when compared to DSLR cameras, so you want to make sure and fill the frame with your subject in order to produce nice prints. Bad things happen when you take a picture of people that are relatively small in the frame then try to crop the image for printing. If you crop tightly for the final print, then you will definitely see significant pixelization. My strong recommendation is to fill the frame with your subject.

Use professional post-processing apps

Download your images to your main computer and prepare them for print using professional post-processing software. I suggest using Lightroom CC, Photoshop or Capture One in order to produce the highest quality images for printing. You can also produce good results using in-phone apps such as Snapseed, VSCO and Lightroom CC, but I like working from my calibrated desktop monitor when I’m making prints.

Another thing to keep in mind is that cell phone cameras take pictures in aspect ratios that are different than standard print sizes. For example, my last android phone took photos in cinematic aspect ratio (16:9) which meant they were very long and skinny. My iPhone X takes photos that are very close to the 8×10 aspect ratio. When I print my iPhone X images, I have to make sure to crop them in my post-processing software so they fit the standard printing ratios such as 4×6, 5×7 and 8×10. Again, I find this easier to do with desktop post-processing software.

Turn off autocorrect when printing

Turn off the autocorrect features for your online printing service. After you’ve developed your photo, the last thing you want is the lab making changes in color and tonality. Depending on your online printing service, you might need to turn off both autocorrect and auto color controls. This assumes, of course, that you have calibrated your monitor and are confident that your colors are accurate on your computer screen.

In my case, I frequently use Costco.com and I’m able to produce really great prints. You can get the same results from other online printing companies such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Walgreens or your local pharmacy.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in printing cell phone pictures, so leave a comment below and let’s talk!

P.S. – One of the neat things about taking photos with your mobile phone is there are a lot of third-party plugins and filters to further modify your images. Don’t be afraid to use these apps to produce some fun prints that you can hang on your wall, turn into greeting cards or give to a friend as a token of friendship.

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