How to take advantage of the manual mode of mobile phones to avoid burned or very dark photos

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In this world of images, the most important thing is the final result, how the photograph turns out. What difference does the machine you have used? What does it matter if you used a mobile, a mirrorless or a SLR? If you are good, everything is secondary. The same goes for the exposure mode. Manual or Automatic? On mobile phones, Manual mode is limited by a number of circumstances. Does that mean it’s worse? Let’s see it below.


Several memes circulate through the networks that say that photographers are distinguished between those who know or do not know how to work in Handbook. The intention is to disqualify those who work in Automatic. I myself have had veteran students drop my classes for recommending Diaphragm Priority over Manual.

Is a mystified way of working, because you will never know, when you see a photograph, how it was taken. Because basically it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to take advantage of what you have in your hands and achieve the best possible result.

Meme Manual Mode

The memes about Manual mode

Have the false belief that in Manual you have more control than with Aperture Priority, when you still have to pay attention to everything. More than semi-automatic modes, I prefer to turn the language around and call them semi-manual, to end the controversy.

And it’s the opposite of the way Automaticbut it really is impossible (I promise) to know which one you used after taking the shot.

Manual exposure mode on mobile phones

Manual mode requires more time to achieve the same resultsmore than anything because you have to be aware of three parameters, the three corners of the exposure triangle:

  1. shutter time
  2. Diaphragm
  3. Sensitivity

This is not the time to explain exposure trianglebut a good summary is that if we want to keep the same result -as far as light is concerned-, if we change one parameter, we have to change, in proportion, one of the other two.

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The most serious problem that we find in mobile photography to work in Manual is that we lack one of those pillars. Only some models allow it. And they are as old as the nokia n86the Motorola ZN5 or the Samsung S9.

Mobile Manual Mode

iPhone 13

In mobiles we have the fixed and luminous diaphragm so that the greatest possible amount of light passes through a tiny sensor. And that means that we only have two parameters to achieve our dream photograph.

How do we expose in Manual with a mobile phone?

With a camera, those of us who are interested, have more or less learned it. But how to do it with a mobile? In a certain way we are more limited. However, we have the support of the computational photography to achieve, through software, what we cannot do manually.

With this example, which I have been using for a long time, we can see what happens when we fire on Handbookboth mobile and mirrorless (with full steps to speed up the calculation):

  • We want to take a picture at 12 noon on a beautiful winter day in full sun. There are no clouds or anything that covers the star king.
  • Both in the camera and in the mobile we set the ISO to 100. There is a lot of light, it is more than enough.
  • If we follow the famous f16 rule (photographers do not measure light by eye, we know this rule), the shutter time will be 1/100 (the inverse of the sensitivity).
  • The perfect exposure will be 1/100 at f16 with ISO 100. Something totally impossible for our mobile.
  • With a camera we close the diaphragm and solved. But this diaphragm does not exist in smartphones. So we have to change one of the other two parameters. So we have an exposure of 100 ISO f2 1/100… The photograph is burnt.
Mobile Manual Mode

There is no difference… the power of computational photography

  • First we have to see if we can lower the ISO… We see that it can be set to ISO 25, two steps less sensitive. So we have an exposure of 25 ISO f2 1/125. It still doesn’t work for us.
  • The last trick we have is to try the Exposure compensation (+/-), which modifies the shutter time… To go from f2 to f16 we have 6 steps of compensation (f16-f11-f8-f5,6-f4-f2,8-f2)… And that gives us ISO 25 1/2000 f2.
  • The problem is that our mobile camera only leaves us 3 steps of compensation (hopefully). Then it is impossible to get, by the usual means, a correct exposure.

If we limit ourselves to classic photography, mobile photography in Handbook It is little short of impossible, just as it happened with the cameras that they gave us at communions in the eighties.

For this reason, Manual mode on mobile phones needs technological advances to overcome these technical problems. Thanks to digital calculations, which have nothing to do with the physics of light, we can simulate Manual mode on mobile phones in all kinds of situations.

How to compare a mobile with a camera in Manual Mode

It is impossible to compare a mobile phone and a camera on equal terms. They have the same purpose, but arrive by different paths. Many more external parameters are involved in a mobile than those involved in a simple camera.

Mobile Manual Mode

If you look there are problems in mobile photography in Manual mode

Mobile photography has been neglected by many photographers for various reasons. In my case it has been difficult for me to enter due to its sharpness problems with high ISOS and due to the lack of ergonomicsas well as the lack of an optical or electronic viewfinder.

Mobile Manual Mode

It all depends on the size at which you look… Mobile or Manual camera?

With the pro models, from the last couple of years, I’m already starting to get over the high ISO noise issue. With the other problems I have no choice but to adapt or die. But many photographers refuse to enter simply because they lack a ‘real’ Manual exposure mode.

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Requires learning another way of working. The usual rules don’t work because they can’t apply them. In the end the result is the same. But with cell phones we no longer have all the control. Is this good or bad? As I said at the beginning, the important thing is the final image. What does everything else matter?

In this world of images, the most important thing is the final result, how the photograph turns out. What difference…

In this world of images, the most important thing is the final result, how the photograph turns out. What difference…

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