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Take Great Photos with Your iPad

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We're seeing more people take photos using their iPads because it's their most handy camera, but can you really get a good shot? Of course! Photo expert Jeff Carlson shares techniques for snapping sharper photos, handling exposure, and capturing HDR images.

At first, I was surprised to see people using their iPads as cameras. The iPad 2 shipped with front and rear cameras that were barely passable for video conferencing in terms of their image quality. Apple greatly improved the cameras in the third- and fourth-generation iPad and the iPad mini—not quite up to the standards of a stand-alone camera, but certainly good enough that many iPad owners are taking advantage of the idea that the best camera is the one that's with you.

Nevertheless, can you really get good photos by holding up a comparatively giant slab of glass and aluminum? Of course, you can, with a few tips and some help from third-party apps.

The iPad's built-in Camera app handles the basics, even if it doesn't support features found on the iPhone such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Panorama shooting modes (though apps fill that gap, as we'll see shortly). However, decent optics and smart built-in software goes a long way.

As you're lining up a shot, tap once anywhere in the scene to set the focus and exposure point. The app will try its best to figure these out, but it's always good to be able to override them.

Do you have trouble with camera shake? Wielding an iPad, even an iPad mini, as a camera can be awkward (but the large preview makes it worthwhile), leading to blurred shots. Here's the secret to getting sharper shots without using a tripod: Instead of tapping the shutter button when it's time to grab the photo, compose the picture and then touch and hold the button (see Figure 1). It doesn't trigger until you release the button, so simply lift your finger to get a shakeless shot.

For more control, dozens of third-party apps are vying for your attention at the App Store. I like Camera+ for iPad ($1.99), mostly because I can set separate focus and exposure points (see Figure 2). Camera+ and other apps also provide features found in regular cameras, such as a self-timer, a burst mode for capturing photos quickly (although at a lower resolution than normal), and even an image stabilizer. You'll also find a bevy of filters and editing controls to adjust the look of the photo after you capture it.

To create HDR images, TrueHDR ($1.99) offers a nice mix of auto, semi-auto, and manual capture modes, as well as sliders for adjusting the look of the final image. And although the Panorama mode in the iPhone is pretty slick, a good alternative for the iPad is AutoStitch ($2.99), which has interactive overlays to help you accurately line up the tiles of your panorama (see Figure 4).

Although I admit I still prefer to shoot with a conventional camera, I'm no longer wary of using an iPad or iPad mini to capture an image if nothing else is available. I'm not the only one—I now regularly see people shooting with their iPads.

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