Blackberry Review / Tips : Make better photographs with your phone

I spent most of last week at the High End in Munich covering some of the most incredible audio gear on the planet. Hundreds of companies and thousands of products to test and photograph for this site meant that on the last day of the show I had ran out of batteries for my Sony A7 and RX100's and still had about 30 booths to go.  All I had left was my Sony Action Cam and Blackberry Passport.  It was time to get creative.  I fired up the Action Cam and using the Passport as a viewfinder through the WIFI app and was able to grab some really cool and unique shots. Then I went on a barrage of shooting with the Passport.  It was somewhat awkward "Yes, Im a member of the show press....Yes this is a Blackberry....Yes this photo will probably be on the site." 

The thing is though, while Blackberry have gathered a reputation over the past few years of being 1 step behind competitors, in the camera department the Passport's camera is the first that I would say is good.  Actually, judging by some of these shots taken at the show this year, its pretty damm good.  It saved my ass.

(To read part 1 of the Blackberry Passport review click here.  For part 2 of the Passport review covering the audio features click here.)

Note:  Those interested in seeing more shots from Passport can follow my personal Instagram: or for info my weekly BB articles hit up

A lot of these tips are applicable to any smartphone camera but there are some tips that will be specific to Blackberry Passport users however all photos in this article are taken with the Blackberry Passports camera and edited either via the Snapseed Android App or on the computer using Adobe Lightroom.

1.  Do not shoot photos for your square screen

The Blackberry Passport as I am pretty sure you know by now has a square screen.  The issue with that is that Blackberry has adjusted the Camera's resolution to shoot square photos.  Now I like the square photo look but I would rather start with a regular 4:3 format photo, getting as many Megapixels in and crop having the option to crop down.  To do this just go into the camera settings and change the Ratio setting from 1:1 to 4:3... there you go you now have a 13 megapixel camera...magic. 

2.  You can use hard buttons for the camera shutter

Blackberry have given us 3 very good options to release the camera shutter with hardware buttons.  To do so just open up your camera app and hit either the volume up or down buttons or the space bar.  This is handy in that you can have a full view of the screen when composing a shot. 

3.  For really amazing shots you should ditch the Blackberry camera software.

The Blackberry camera app is not that bad at all when it comes to just grabbing a quick shot and the HDR function is also good in a pinch but if you want to do stuff thats on a level closer to a manual camera then you want to install something like FV-5 Camera app.  It gives you a host of exposure and shutter settings you can play with to tune the image of your shot.  

4.  Don't neglect post processing

Its the world we live in.  Nowadays for a shot to really stand out you probably want to do a touch of post processing I advise almost everyone who can afford it to get Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is extremely powerful and for most of my DSLR work I rarely find myself in Photoshop anymore.  If you are not wanting to go into Lightroom though there is another, less powerful but more portable option that I love using on the Passport.  The app is called Snapseed and can be grabbed for free from the Play store.  Snapspeed is incredibly intuitive and super effective for editing photos on the go just check out this video I made on how you can turn drab shots into something a bit more special.

Before edit in snapseed

after edit in snapseed

after edit in snapseed

Blackberry Passport photo before editing in Snapseed.

The same Blackberry Passport photo after editing in Snapseed

5. On computer Panorama's

My favourite view in the world - My families house overlooking the 18th of Carnoustie Golf Course, Scotland.  8 image stitch panorama with polarising filter edited in Lightroom with photos from the Blackberry passport.

For the most part you want to forget the panorama function in camera.  Occasionally you can pull off a good one with the BB software but for truly great results jump into Adobe's Lightroom and use its photo merge to panorama function.  Now taking the shots that will make up a Panorama is a bit more effort but it is definitely worth it.  Say we are shooting a building. You want to take the photos in a sequence of rows and columns I usually go from left to right.  Make sure you always overlap your shots by 1/3 meaning that whatever was visible in the last 3rd of the first picture is then visible in the 1st 3rd of the second photo. Then its into Lightroom where you will create the stitch using the photo merge panorama function.

6. Long Exposure Tricks

Blackberry Pasport Camera tricks

One of the cool tricks that android has allowed us to do is long exposure by way of controlling the shutter speed.  Using the FV-5 camera app you can set your shutter to a range of presets time or even a speed to get the right sort of effect.  So what can you do with a long exposure shot?  Well 2 of my favourites have to be light trails or light painting;  when you see trails of car head and tail lights streaking across a photo.  Or what about the milky water effect that captures that dream like shot of flowing water?.  Either way for this technique you are going to have to rig a tripod of some sort to keep the camera steady whilst it gathers all that light.  

7. How about some camera filters?

Want that milky water look in mid day?  Want to see the sky pop with billowing clouds that add drama to your shot?  Then its time to add some filters.  No not Instagram style filters I am talking real photography filters.  There is no reason at all you can use these on your Blackberry camera and with a little modification you can easily carry them in your wallet so you have them on you all the time. For epic sky's you want to go with a CPL or circular polarising filter.  As you rotate this filter you will get a stronger polarising effect.  For milky water shots you want to use a variable ND filter it works in the same way as the CPL in that as you rotate it blocks more light....allowing you to use a longer shutter speed.

*note* I use this polarising filter by Sunpack its cheap but works great in adding to the drama in the sky. (link).  I remove the outer screw housing so I am just left with the glass then pop it in the wallet so its always on me.

8. Cheap ND filter on steroids.... welders glass

Welding glass is dirt cheap and can be picked up from most hardware stores for about 5 dollars. use some double sided tape to set the glass over the camera and mount on a tripod.  Amazing for extreme long exposures and some very cool shots.

9. When in low light plan for black and white photos

With the Blackberry passport camera having a fixed aperture there are only 2 real options in low light.  You can bump up the shutter speed as mentioned above, or you can push up the ISO number.  For moving subjects you are going to have to go with a higher ISO as a longer shutter speed will cause motion blur.  However when shooting in a high ISO there is a tendency for some noise (grain effect and image degradation) that makes colour photos unpalatable.  The solution to this and really save the shot is to convert the image to black and white and boot the images clarity.  Its not perfect but can do wonders for saving an otherwise ugly photograph.

10. Clean that filthy paw printed lens....

Ok, bit harsh but seriously how often do you bother to clean the lens on your Blackberry's camera?  Probably never, maybe sometimes right?  Well photographers are anal about the gear they use and keeping it spot free.  The same treatment of your smartphone camera lens will also serve you well as with such a small sensor you are already suffering from a lesser image quality.  When trying to take a great shot make sure you arent contributing to imae degradation on something that is usually fixed by a quick wipe.

11. Don't move!

There are 2 types of motion blur that can happen when taking a picture.  The first is caused by the movement of the subject.  This can give a cool and sometimes desirable effect of conveying motion.  The other is movement from camera shake and should be avoided.  Camera shake has the undesirable effect of making everything in the shot look blurry.  To alleviate shake use a wide base stance, hold the phone in 2 hands and as close to your body as possible.  You can of course use a faster shutter speed to eliminate camera shake but in certain light situations this might not be advisable.  The way to minimize camera shake even further use a tripod  (as mentioned above) and a 2 second timer on the shutter. 

By staying still while shooting at a low shutter speed you can capture the feeling of movement in the subject but the scene remains sharp and in focus.

12. Long press from lock screen

Another Blackberry Passport trick is to launch the camera from the lockscreen without having to enter your password.  From the lockscreen you should be able to long press the camera symbol on the bottom right to quick launch straight into the camera.  Its the fastest way I know to get those in the moment shots and is also available on other BB10 devices as well.

13.  Burst mode for capturing the action

Heres one that those with kids will love.  It would seem that whenever you are trying to catch that perfect shot the child will look away, be out of focus, blink or a whole host of other issues. So why not just set it on burst mode, let the camera grab multiple shots of the subject and you can choose the best one later.   Of course this works well for any moving subject like animals or when taking action shots of sports.... its better to fire a lot of shots and get one you can use rather than one that you throw away instantly.

14. Sneak peak tap and drag photo preview

In the blackberry camera app after you take a photo you see in the bottom left there is a small thumbnail of the image you just shot.  If you want a quick look at that photo without going into the gallery app then simply tap on the icon and drag it to the centre of the frame.  

15. Bounce your camera flash

How to take better phots with my phones camera

As a rule you should never bother to use your smartphone cameras flash directly.  Its a virtual guarentee on how to mess up a photo and with the Blackberry Passport its no different. However, there is still a way to get some use out of the phones flashlight.  That trick is to use a business card in front of the flash (inserted between the led and camera at roughly 45 degrees) to bounce the light off a nearby wall or ceiling.  When you do this you will notice that, whilst still not ideal, the result is a softer more pleasing light.  Essentially you are turning the room into a giant softbox.