Smartphones have become the most popular cameras in the world, with millions of people shooting, editing and sharing their photos on and from their devices. As billions of photos are shared online, many people don’t realize that they can also make good quality prints from their mobile phone photos. Read on for six tips on how to get the most out of your camera phone pictures, and though I'll focus on the iPhone, most tips apply to all smartphone images.
1. Shoot and edit at the highest app resolution
Check whether the app you’re using, when both editing and sharing, is preset to use a high resolution. While the iPhone’s in-built camera app and most of the popular camera replacement apps, including Camera+, Camera Awesome and ProCamera, shoot in full resolution, a number of editing apps downsize your photo when saving.
I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from seasoned mobile photographers who have edited and saved over their favourite photos, only to find out they’d been downsized during the edit and could no longer be printed. For example, Cross Process, a popular retro filter app, is pre-set to downsize images from eight to two megapixels when you save. Many app makers do this to speed up photo processing.
My advice is to go into the settings menu of whichever photo app you are using and check that you have full resolution turned on. My favorite editing apps, Snapseed and Filterstorm, both save at full resolution. Filterstorm even lets you control the amount of JPEG compression of the final saved file, letting you extract maximum photo detail.
The Life in Lofi blog also has an excellent tool which shows you the maximum output size of over 450 of the most popular iPhone photo apps.
2. Less is more: edit with care
When editing your photographs try to keep your adjustments to a minimum, the more edits that are applied, the more damage will be done to the original image.
When I was making prints for an exhibition last year, I noticed that the photos with filters applied suffered from added noise and in some cases, pixelation. The worst damage was caused by the Camera+ Clarity filter, which introduced heavy noise into brightened shadow areas. Photos with Cross Process filters applied also had visible image deterioration (noise and smudged colours).
The image above had the Camera+ Clarity filter applied. Even on this digital image, there is visible haloing around the subjects hat in the top-left corner and on the building in the top right. Remember, the Clarity filter is an all or nothing edit (you can’t control the intensity). If it looks like the image is starting to break down on screen, it’s going to look worse in print.
The photos that had very minor processing held up the best when printed. Less really is more when editing your photos for print.
3. Optimize your photos for print
One of the most important edits you can do when preparing for print is to sharpen your photographs, adding contrast and clarity to the final image. I do all my sharpening on the iPhone, with two main apps, Snapseed and Photo fx.
Snapseed is an excellent editing app, which provides a 100 percent zoom preview of the image while applying image edits. I apply light sharpening to my images (between +8 and +15). Any more than that and you can start to see haloing and jagged edges. You can see the Snapseed sharpening tool and 100 percent preview in action below.
Another great app for sharpening is Photo fx. The app has been around for a long time (2009), but still offers one of the best sharpening algorithms, with amount, radius and threshold adjustment sliders. Unfortunately, unlike Snapseed, the app does not have full screen preview, so you have to view the edited image in the Camera Roll after saving.
4. Know your iPhone camera resolution
With each new iPhone, camera resolution has increased. Follow the comparison chart below (originally published by Life in Lofi) for iPhone sensor sizes and corresponding optimum print sizes.
5. Use AirPrint to send photos to your printer wirelessly
The iPhone AirPrint technology lets you print your photos wirelessly to a number of compatible printers. If you’re going to be printing a lot of your iPhone photographs at home, it may be useful to consider a printer with AirPrint capabilities.
One of the drawbacks of AirPrint is its limited settings controls for print adjustments. A number of third party apps are filling this gap by providing more advanced print options, including print preview. The most well-known of these are Print Agent Pro and Print and Share Pro. Printer manufacturers are also releasing dedicated printing apps. The Canon Easy-PhotoPrint and Hewlett Packard ePrint apps both give you fine grain controls over your print size and paper type options.
6. Use a paper stock that complements your photos
When preparing prints for my exhibition, I tested a number of different papers to see which worked best, including inkjet prints on satin, gloss and photo rag papers. For me, the slight sheen of the satin paper suited both my colour and black and white images. I’ve also heard that iPhone photographers who use app-stacking effects often prefer textured paper or canvas as it adds to the effect of the final print.
When printing at home, try and experiment with different paper types until you find one that suits your style.
Bonus tip: Use interpolation for extra-large printing
So how big can you print an iPhone photograph? My fellow Mobile Photo Group member Oliver Lang couldn’t resist this challenge. Taking one of his favorite images to an expert printer, they upscaled the image to maximize resolution. The final print is a huge 5.5 ft x 4 ft. Oliver says that the print looks better than he could have imagined and that he is planning on including similar large format work in his future exhibitions, final print below.
Misho Baranovic, @mishobaranovic, has worked as a photographer for many years and is prominent in the emerging practice of mobile photography. His street photography has been exhibited internationally and in 2011 he held his first solo exhibition, New Melbourne, in Melbourne, Australia. He is a founding member of the Mobile Photo Group, and the author of iPhone Photography.