To begin with, I would like to give you an insight into the physical and technical background, which makes photography difficult in the dark. As already written in the introduction: Size is a problem. The light-sensitive area is about 15 to 30 mm 2 for most of the sensors installed in smartphones . For comparison: The full-format image sensors of our editorial DSLRs have an area of approximately 860 mm 2 – which is about 30-60 times.
While the small smartphone sensors can collect enough light in daylight, there are simply too few photons on the chip in the dark. There are now several ways how the mobile phones still take a bright picture – but they all have their advantages and disadvantages.
Whether one has ever been concerned with ISO values or not: This way, almost everyone has ever stumbled. In order to produce a bright image with a small sensor in low light, the light sensitivity of the image sensor can be simply screwed up. When photographing in the automatic mode, the camera app does it independently.
However, a higher ISO sensitivity of this kind also results in more readout errors which then manifest themselves in the form of image noise, loss of detail, and faded colors. In short, the photos are bright and mostly sharp, but they are usually not particularly attractive.
If your smartphone does not allow you to manually adjust the ISO sensitivity, there are several apps for that. Camera FV-5 Lite (Android) or Pro Camera (Apple), for example, offer numerous settings. Unlike the iPhone, the vast majority of Android smartphones or their camera apps offer numerous manual options.
In order to keep the sensitivity of the sensor low and hence the noise level, more light is required. Quite stupid, this can be added to the motif by additional light sources. Always available here is the integrated photo-LED of the smartphone. Many modern mobile phones even have several LEDs to adjust the light of the flash color to the ambient light. This generally prevents color tricks, and the images look consistent.
However, the integrated photo LEDs also have disadvantages. Due to the flashing from the camera’s view, all shadows are lost – and the motif often appears very two-dimensional and “flat-slit”. Therefore, the built-in flash should only be used in an emergency.
In most cases, however, there are other ways to provide more light. If you photograph something moving, then change the location. Go with a portrait about your model a few steps to the next street lamp – or in the bar simply into a less dark corner. Keep in mind, however, that the light does not come from the top as far as possible, because that makes for unsightly shadow shadows in the face.
If you can not add more light to the subject, then you have to give your smartphone more time. With a longer exposure time, the image sensor “looks” longer at the subject and collects more photons. In addition to a brighter photo, however, this has a further effect: Everything that moves is blurred. In the worst case, this results in a completely unsharp recording, but also transforms, for example, pasting cars into long light traces.
To rotate the exposure time up, you need the manual mode, often called “Pro mode” or similar. The option in question is called shutter speed, exposure time, or is simply abbreviated as “S”. In the automatic photographing most smartphones with a maximum of 1/10 second – longer exposure times can be held freehand barely quiet, and the shots would be blurred.
Preventive roads and cars or fireworks in the sky turn into beautiful light trails in two to eight seconds. To view a landscape illuminated by the moon, you may also want to have 30 seconds of exposure time, the maximum for many camera apps. If the images become too light at slow shutter speeds, make sure the ISO sensitivity is set to “Auto” or to a low setting. If it does not help, the subject is simply too light, and you need to adjust the exposure time down.
Of course, it is extremely important for long-term exposure that the smartphone does not move during recording. To do this, you can either pinch or lean somewhere, or use a tool to get us to the next point.
If you have fun with the night photography and regularly shoot in the dark, you might want to consider an aid: a tripod. Smartphones are lightweight and compact in comparison to older cameras, and the same is true for the tripods. A small Gorillapod for example is already for less than 15 euros to have. A suitable smartphone universal holder with tripod thread is also available for less than 10 euros. Both items fit comfortably into the jacket pocket and are ready for use within seconds.
There is a bonus point here for Sony: Most smartphones of the Japanese have a flat bottom – and stand for long-term exposure good on smooth surfaces.
There are quite means, even in bad light conditions with the smartphone shoot great photos. As a general rule in photography, I can only advise you here: Take the time to try out different things. Learn the settings of your camera app in detail. And shoots a lot of photos. Because you do not primarily prefer to read such articles, but to photograph yourself to a better photographer.