7 killer tricks for your Pixel phone’s camera


Got a Pixel? Then you’ve got one of the best damn cameras in all the Android land. But hold the phone: Your kickass camera can do even more than you realize.

Sure, it takes incredible pictures — but that’s just scratching the surface of the Pixel camera advantage. Google’s homemade phones have thoughtfully created photo-related software with all sorts of scrumptious smarts baked in. And that means they’re overflowing with useful tricks and tucked-away options that are all too easy to overlook.

In honor of my new Pixel Academy e-course — a totally free seven-day email adventure that helps you uncover tons of next-level Pixel treasures — I wanted to share some of my favorite hidden Pixel camera possibilities with you, my favorite Android Police pals. Check ’em out, try ’em out, and then come sign up for the course to find even more super-practical Pixel powers.

Trick #1: On-demand intelligence

This first tasty trick might be my all-time favorite — and it’s the Pixel camera’s inconspicuous integration of the excellent Google Lens service. Lens, if you aren’t familiar, is an incredibly helpful app that lets you identify plants and animals (for all those times you spot a suspicious-looking speckled aardvark out in the wild) and also turn printed words from the real world into action-ready text on your phone.

That latter part is the most useful, if you ask me, as it empowers you to hold your phone up to any sort of physical surface — a paper, a whiteboard, a sign, a tattoo you find uponst your arse with no recollection of where it came from, and so on — and then, in a split second, search for any text on it, translate the text into another language, or copy the text onto your clipboard and paste it anywhere your curiously inked undercarriage desires.

Oh, and it can also scan QR codes, if you ever need to deal with one of those.

As a proud Pixel owner, accessing Lens is especially easy for you: Just open up your phone’s camera, get whatever it is you want into the frame, and then press and hold your finger down onto that area of the viewfinder for a second or so. You’ll see an animated circle show up around your fingie, with all sorts of purdy colors…

And then — bam:

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Activating Lens in the Pixel Camera app (left); selecting text from the real world (right)

Lens will analyze whatever’s there and present you with some appropriate actions. In this case, as you can see, it picked out all the text on the page and offered to select it for copying, to let me listen to it — because who doesn’t want to hear a lengthy pickle recipe read aloud? — or to translate it, in case I were looking to pickle en français (as one does).

If I swipe up on that same panel, meanwhile, I’ll see a list of similar images. In some cases, you’d instead get regular search results with more info about what you’re seeing.

Pretty handy, right? And that’s only item #1.

Trick #2: Find the alternate shutter buttons

You know that thing when you’re trying to take a picture with a single hand and then you end up doing that awkward finger-yoga routine where you try to stretch your thumb over to the shutter button while still maintaining your framing and not dropping your phone?

Yeah — we’ve all been there. And guess what? There’s a better way.

The next time you find yourself needing to snap a photo when the on-screen shutter button is out of reach, stop acting like a damn contortionist and instead just tap either of the physical volume buttons on the side of your device. They’ll both act as alternate shutter buttons and cause a photo to be taken anytime your Camera app is open. It’s a valuable possibility to keep in mind — and one that might just save you from an embarrassing hand injury.

(If you’d rather have those buttons act as zoom controls, by the way, you can customize ’em for that purpose, too. Just tap the downward-facing arrow at the top of the camera interface and then tap the gear-shaped settings icon in the panel that pops up. Tap “Gestures” and then “Volume key action” to find and adjust the setting.)

Trick #3: Enhance yo’ face

If you’re the selfie-taking sort, take note: Your Pixel has some helpful tools for making your face look at least a little bit better. (Let’s be honest: In certain cases — not yours, of course — there’s only so much that can be done.)

The next time you’re staring at your shiny melon on your screen, tap that downward-facing arrow at the top of the camera interface — and golly gee willikers, wouldya look at what we have here?

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The hidden camera command menu (left); the screen all lit up from “Selfie Illumination” (right)

There, right in front of that greasy ol’ mug of yours, is a pair of options called “Selfie Illumination” and “Face Retouching” (and don’t worry: It’s retouching, not just touching, so it’s okay to use even during pandemic times). Go ahead and try ’em out. I’ll wait.

So, what’d ya think? No matter how pixel-perfect your pores may be, the “Selfie Illumination” option is bound to help light you up and make your muzzle pop. (It basically just brightens your screen to give a little extra light to your plus-sized noggin.) The “Face Retouching” option is more aggressive and actually smooths out all the theoretical imperfections on your obviously already-perfect epidermis to make you look younger, fresher, and at least 78% less moose-like.

Hey, some days, every little bit helps.

Trick #4: Zoom the boom

Here’s a neat one you’d never know existed: When you zoom into a specific part of the screen whilst recording a video on your cellular telephone apparatus, the tiny Pixel genie inside your phone will actually boost the audio in that area and cut down any background noise around it. It’s a perfect way to make sure to pick up every last sound of your significant other clipping their nails, for instance, even while a herd of elephants tramples past.

This feature should be active and already engaged, so you shouldn’t have to do anything other than zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom to effectively turn your phone into a boom (boom) microphone. If you want to confirm that it’s working, you can mosey your way back into your camera’s settings and look for the aptly named “Audio zoom” toggle toward the bottom of the screen.

Trick #5: Crop like a pro

When you’re editing a photo — whether it’s a mildly erotic portrait of seven nude goats, an artistically framed image of your seventh toe, or whatever it is you photograph — don’t forget that your Pixel phone has a whole host of helpful editing tools just waiting to be used.

One of ’em is an intelligent cropping system that makes it super-simple to make any photo look just the way you want. But you first have to know where to find it and how to embrace the full set of powers it gives you.

So try this: Snap a photo of whatever you please (including one of those aforementioned suggestions, if you’re so inclined), then tap the circular preview of the image in the lower-right corner of the camera interface. Tap the “Edit” command at the bottom of the screen that comes up, then slide over on the row that says “Suggestions” until the word “Crop” is front and center.

Got it? Good. Now, from there, you could just use the lines on the screen to move the borders of your image around and adjust it accordingly. But more often than not, that’s not gonna be the best way to do it.

Instead, start by first tapping the Dimensions icon — the somewhat-ambiguous-looking symbol directly to the left of the “Auto” button (kind of a rectangle with two partial-arrows in its upper-left and lower-right corners). Then, select “Original” from the menu that comes up. That’ll let you crop your image while maintaining its original aspect ratio, which is what you’ll want in order to have the final result be in a standard size and properly suited for printing, sharing, or any other typical purpose.

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The standard image cropping tool (left); the dimensions selection interface (right)

Once that’s done, you can adjust away without having to worry about your image ending up in some awkward dimensions that won’t work for most average photo objectives.

Capisce? Capisce. Don’t go getting all crop-happy on me yet, though: We’ve still got some important tricks left to cover.

Trick #6: Scribble to your heart’s content

A picture may be worth a thousand words — but, well, an inspired scribble is worth at least a couple hundred. And your Pixel phone has a fantastic way to let you find your inner artist and mark up any image you take with almost anything imaginable.

Don’t take my word for it: Open up any photo, either from the Camera app itself or from within Google Photos, then tap the “Edit” command at the bottom of the screen. Scroll all the way across on the line that says “Suggestions” until it lands on “More.” And there, you should see an almost unnoticeable little option called “Markup.”

Tap that — and, ta-da: You can now use a built-in pen and highlighter tool along with any color you like to mark up your image in any way you see fit. You can even add text on top of it, too — for purely professional purposes, of course. Like this:

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Finding the “Markup” command (left); making your mark (right)

Look, technically, that was for my job. Gimme a break, all right?

Trick #7: Save some space

Well, holy hell: We’ve made it to our final trick. But don’t weep uncontrollably yet, ’cause it’s a good one.

It’s a way you can instruct your Pixel to use its artificial brain to dial back photo and video quality in order to intelligently maximize whatever local space you’ve got. If you find yourself perpetually running short on storage, it’s just the option you need.

To check it out, tap that downward-facing arrow at the top of the camera interface one last time, hit the gear-shaped settings icon, and select “Device storage” — then activate the toggles next to both “Storage Saver” and “Turn off when storage is available.”

The first of those options will apply a medium resolution setting to both photos and videos and bring in a bunch of other space-saving tactics to make sure your stuff doesn’t take up any more room than what’s needed. The second will activate those systems only when your available storage is actually low and such measures are genuinely required. Between that and Photos’ own backup-and-erase system, you should never have to stress out over a storage shortage because of your phone’s camera again — no matter what sorts of weird moose faces you might be photographing.

Remember: There’s lots more where this came from. Come join my completely free Pixel Academy e-course for seven full days of delightful Pixel knowledge — starting with even more camera and image magic and moving from that to out-of-the-way options for eliminating common phone annoyances, next-level tweaks for adding advanced smarts into your smartphone’s screen, and oodles of other practical time-savers.

Can’t wait to see ya there.

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