The pandemic ensured that 2020 became a year in which, one by one, all events had to be crossed out of our diaries. From birthday parties and weddings to family holidays and romantic weekends away – all of it had to go.

So, did that mean we stopped taking photos and now all have an Instagram feed that is frozen in February 2021? Not exactly. We all still took photos and shared them online – it’s just that the nature of them changed from exotic holiday snaps to those captured much closer to home.
We conducted a survey to find out exactly how important our smartphone cameras are and what photos we have been taking and sharing. In the year that we stayed indoors, we took more pictures, our pets stepped up and helped fill the social media content void and TikTok went mainstream.

The rise of the smartphone camera

The quality of the camera has become a very important consideration when choosing a phone. In fact, our survey even found that 1 in 5 people in the UK believe the quality of the camera is the most important aspect of a smartphone.

The cameras that come with our phones have become increasingly sophisticated – and as smartphones started to rise we all began to ditch the digital camera, with sales dropping by 108 million between 2010 and 2016 according to the Camera and Imaging Association.

With a camera now always in our hands, we are capturing more photos than ever before. InfoTrends estimated a hundred billion more photos were taken in 2017 than 2016, which took it to a total of 1.2 trillion.

We took and shared more photos of our pets

It’s not surprising that we have been taking more photos of our pets. For one, they are adorable no matter what they are doing. On top of that, more of us had them last year.

As people realised they were going to be at home for the foreseeable future many looked for a companion to keep them company. This ranged from cats and chickens to hamsters and guinea pigs. But, of course, it was dogs that were particularly popular.

TikTok grew significantly

We don’t just use our camera for taking photos, of course. Many of us also capture video with our devices. Not only has Instagram stories become the most popular feature on that site, but TikTok was one of the three apps to experience the most dramatic growth in the UK last year (alongside Zoom and Houseparty). It shot up from 5.4 million downloads in January to 12.9 million in April.

The lockdown transformed the number of people using TikTok and how they were using it. It was previously seen as an app primarily for Gen Z – and in 2019 only 3% of millennials had downloaded it. But, during 2020 this rose to almost one in five.

Of course, you don’t want to put all that effort in to learning and performing the latest viral dance routine and then film it on a camera that doesn’t do it justice. That’s why 35% of TikTok users believe that the quality of the camera is the most important aspect of a smartphone.

Tips and tricks from the influencers

In 2020 we had even more time on our hands to improve our photography skills and ensure we got the perfect snap for our social feeds.

Of those surveyed, 44% believe that their smartphone photography skills have improved over lockdown with nearly three quarters (74%) of TikTok users saying so. Almost a quarter (23%) are inspired by their smartphone to invest more time and money into photography. The people of Brighton were most inspired with 35% planning to invest more into their hobby compared to just 12% in Liverpool.

If you want to make the most of your smartphone camera, we’ve got some tips and tricks from the experts. We spoke to Amy Bell and Tom Kahler who, with a combined following of more than 320,000, know how to ensure a photo is Insta-worthy.

Amy, a fashion and travel blogger better known as The Little Magpie, says her top tip for getting a good quality photo on a phone is light. She explained, “without good light it can be tricky to get the shot that you’re after, so I always try to shoot on sunny days. I would also say don’t be afraid of getting snap happy! For every photo you see on my feed, there are about 100 others that didn’t make the cut.”

Tom, an outdoor adventure and automotive photographer, shares his tips for getting the most out of your smartphone camera. He said, “first step is to switch to RAW file type if this is an option. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G offers RAW and JPEG for images shot in Pro mode. RAW files save more information than visible in the image, which means when you come to edit the shot, there is more potential to correct dark shadows or bright highlights, allowing more creativity in the post. I also like to have the photo mode in Pro, which gives me complete control over all the settings, including focus. The camera functions brilliantly in auto; however, when you’re trying to bring a vision to life for those extra creative shots, it’s beneficial to have full control.”

Inspiration for Instagram images

Discussing getting each photo right for her Instagram feed, Amy continued, “backdrops are important; I’m always on the lookout for nice spots when I’m out. Moodboarding is a big part of it as well. Pinterest, magazines, my Instagram ‘saved’ folders, photography books, exhibitions – there are lots of great places to pull images that inspire you from. And play around with props – I’m always moving things around and swapping them in and out until I get an image I’m happy with.”

Of course, especially for a travel blogger, inspiration has been harder to come by this year. Amy said, “on some of the days where I was struggling, I found that a flick through some photography books or through Pinterest would help spark some inspiration. On other days I knew not to push it and would take a step back – I almost always come back from a period of rest feeling a real rush of creativity and a new excitement to get back to shooting.”

While Tom said, “a lot of my inspiration comes from other photographers I see on social media; however, I like to view their work on a larger screen and see their full portfolio and commercial work, not just their social posts.”

Smartphone camera vs professional camera

There are many benefits to taking photos on your smartphone over a camera, Amy said, “smartphones are fantastic for capturing in-the-moment images and videos, especially when you don’t have time to be playing around with settings.”

When comparing it to the DSLR, Tom said, “a DSLR is hard to replace due to the range of lenses and size of the sensor. However, for more personal shots or an amateur photographer, I feel the images you would get with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G would be arguably better than most budget DSLRs. If you’re a pro like me but don’t want to carry a big camera around all the time you still have the control and creativity to shoot something technical in low light.”

He continued, “I feel technology in phone cameras is advancing far quicker than DSLRs and Samsung phones seem to lead the way. For anyone wanting to get into photography, a phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G would be more than good enough for the first 2-3 years of learning the basics and getting more experimental with nighttime photography or learning the principles of camera settings. Not to mention it’s so much more convenient having the camera in your pocket almost all of the time.”

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G: camera features

Discussing her favourite features of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, Amy said, “the Still to 8k is such a brilliant feature. I’m sure we’ve all been there; you’re watching a video back and seeing parts that you wish you’d managed to capture in still form, so this has been fantastic for being able to do just that and pull usable shots from videos. In terms of other features, the zoom on the camera is the best I’ve used – even on a 10x zoom I was able to get a clear, crisp photo – and the white balance on the night mode function is excellent. Goodbye warm, fuzzy photos!”

Tom agreed, “I find the long exposure modes handheld are insane for capturing the lower light shots without adding any unwanted motion blur and the 8k sensor adds a lot of depth to the image, making it look more like a shot from a DSLR.”

Amy also described the Single Take feature as “helpful” and a “real time saver.” She explained, “it’s perfect for those moments when you’re unsure whether to use zoom, macro, wide-angle or video – it’ll collate all of the above simultaneously at the press of a button for you to then choose your favourite from.”

While Tom said he found it useful when shooting something that was moving. “It allows you to relax, knowing you can’t miss the shot.” He explains, “The amount of times I have missed the action when shooting car photos on both a phone or DSLR due to user error is frustrating, and it’s not always something you get to attempt twice. With the Single Take function, you can hit the shutter and allow it to take a series of 10 frames / second and pick the best one after or simply use it as a short video.. or both!”

Editing photos for social media

We don’t just need to capture the perfect photo, of course, we then start editing it to ensure it is just right. Amy explained that she uses VSCO but that with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G found that the photos didn’t need much editing, she said this is “a rarity – especially in low light where you normally have to play around with warmth and sharpness before you get an image you’re happy with.”

Tom said, “my normal editing process would involve importing into Adobe Lightroom then Retouching in Adobe Photoshop. This would still be the case for the majority of images I would post to social media or print; however, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G has the option to import or make your own filter which can be added to the camera as you shoot. This feature is amazing for social stories or memories that don’t need hours of editing; it takes the shot to the next level with minimum effort.”

The future of smartphone photography

So, are these platforms such as Instagram and TikTok changing the way we take photos. Amy believes so, “Instagram and other similar platforms open up not only a whole host of pages you can draw inspiration from. They also open up a world filled with endless tips and ‘hacks’ on everything from composition to how to pose for a photograph, making photography so much more accessible. Plus, now that smartphones on cameras have reached the level they’re at, it makes it a lot easier to get a really high quality, professional looking image. The photos we used to upload to Bebo would be quaking in their boots.”

What does the future of photography look like? Tom said, “100% the rate of development of camera technology in smartphones is mindblowing, and for the average person/amateur photographer, good quality smartphones will be superior to budget DSLRs. Within the next few years, I feel DSLRs would only be required by professional photographers working on high-end campaigns.”

Do you want to make sure your photos are Insta-worthy? Then check out the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and supercharge your social snaps.

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