How to take great pictures with your Nexus 6

Nexus 6 Google Camera
Nexus 6 Google Camera

A few simple tips to get better shots from your Nexus 6's camera

Let's face it — Nexus devices aren't exactly renowned for their imaging prowess. Even with new additions like optical image stabilization (OIS) and HDR+ mode, the cameras of the Nexus 6 (and the Nexus 5 before it) are best described as finicky. It's possible to get great photos from the Nexus 6's 13-megapixel shooter with a little patience, but there are a few simple directions you can follow to maximize the number of high-quality shots, and reduce the likelihood of coming out with a dud.

On the whole, these come down to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the Nexus 6's camera setup, and adjusting your shooting accordingly. Join us after the break for a quick primer on using the Nexus 6's camera.

Nexus 6 HDR+

HDR+ is your friend

Like the Nexus 5, the Nexus 6's rear camera performs best when used in its unique HDR+ — as in high dynamic range (plus) — mode, which uses data from multiple exposures to build an evenly-exposed and sharpened image with reduced noise. Most of the time, HDR+ mode is what you'll want to use to get the best possible images from the Nexus 6's rear camera.

The main tradeoff for HDR+ is speed, so if you're shooting kids, pets or anything else that's likely to be moving around, auto mode is still your best bet. It's also worth bearing in mind that HDR+ takes a heavier toll on your battery than regular shooting mode, because of the extra number-crunching involved.

That said, HDR+ is our mode of choice for the majority of Nexus 6 pictures we take.

Tap-to-focus (and set exposure) is also your friend

In addition to tap-to-focus, the Google Camera app on the Nexus sets exposure based on the focal point you select. You'll want to do this for most shots, especially in darker scenes, or scenes with less than perfect lighting.

And even though HDR+ combines images at different exposure levels, you can still set a base exposure level by tapping somewhere on the screen when shooting HDR+ images. If the preview seems too dark, try tapping on a darker area to bump up the exposure level a little.

As you'll see in the shots below, the difference can be quite striking. The first image was taken with HDR+ using the standard auto-exposure, the second after tapping on the dark trees to set the exposure level.

Enable the hidden manual exposure mode

The Google Camera app on the Nexus 6 has a manual exposure setting, but it's hidden by default. To enable it, press the menu bar by swiping inwards from the right edge, then press the cog icon. Under "Advanced" you'll find "Manual exposure" — enable it and you'll get an exposure (+/-) control next to the other shooting options when you press the menu button (three dots ...)

Use this to set your base exposure level from -2 to +2 when shooting in normal mode. (You won't get a manual exposure option when using HDR+ mode, but you can still tap to set a base exposure level.)

Manual exposure

Shoot panoramas and photospheres in portrait orientation

This one's pretty simple. To capture a taller view in panoramic images, hold your Nexus 6 in portrait (vertical) orientation as you pan across. Because of the orientation of the sensor, you'll capture a more complete view of the scene when doing this.

The same goes for photosphere images — we've found it's easier to avoid unsightly blank areas in 360-degree photos by shooting photospheres in portrait orientation.

Quick settings

Crank up the screen brightness for more accurate previews

Part of the problem when shooting dark scenes on the Nexus 6 is the phone's display, which has a tendency to lose details in darker tones when the screen brightness is set to a low level. Some other phones counteract this problem by automatically boosting screen to maximum brightness when the camera is active. The Nexus 6 doesn't do this, but it's easy to crank up the brightness manually while in the camera app.

Swipe down from the top of the screen to display the status bar, then swipe down from that to view the notification shade. Finally, swipe down a third time to show the quick settings panel, from which you can increase the screen's brightness level.

Just remember to turn it back down when you're done to save your Nexus 6's battery power.

Nexus 6 ring flash

Be smart when using that ring flash

As with most smartphone cameras, you'll want to use the Nexus 6's flash sparingly. If your subject's too close it'll appear washed out. Too far away and the two flash LEDs won't be much use. In our experience the ideal distance is between 10 and 25 feet from your subject.

That said, we've found that it's better to rely on HDR+ mode in the dark, with exposure set through tap-to-focus.

Nexus 6 flash photo

Explore the Settings menu to increase quality and change aspect ratios

It's worth checking out the other options in the camera settings menu, hidden away under the cog icon in the camera modes menu. From here you can change aspect ratios and shoot cropped-in 16:9 photos if you want, or up the video resolution from 1080p to 4K Ultra HD.

If you want more detailed panoramic images, you can also change the panorama resolution from the default "medium" to "high."


Tweak your photos and bring out the shadows with Snapseed

Finally, even if you capture a less than perfect looking image, Google's Snapseed app can be used to tweak and enhance your photos. When it comes to the Nexus 6, night shots often benefit from boosting shadow brightness a little. Go to "tune image" to find this option.

There are also automatic enhancement options that can add life to dull-looking photos, and it's worth experimenting with the full suite of Snapseed tools to figure out what works best.

Nexus 6 owners, how have you been getting on with the phone's camera? Any tips of your own? Shout out in the comments!

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

  • Lol... Easy You can't without messing around quite a bit. Stock has never made it easy unlike cameras from LG, Sony and Samsung. Heck even pre-ultradisaster HTC was pretty easy to take a good picture. Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • Used my Nexus 6 in HDR+ mode all weekend to take pictures of my youngest boy using a drill press and bandsaw to make his cuts for the Pinewood Derby Batmobile and they came out flawlessly amazing.
  • You need to post pics of the Batmobile asap. I'm sure the thing looks badass!
  • I wonder why framing grids didn't come into this, it is one of the most basic tips to take better shots. But glad that they mentioned HDR+ is where Nexus photography is at, it's arguably the most advanced HDR processing ever(but could be a bit faster). If anyone is interested, here are my samples: Posted via the Android Central App
  • Those pics you posted are great were they all taken using her?
  • Quite a few places in Pakistan. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'd say it's exactly the same software as is running the Nexus 5 camera.
  • I would recommend Camera FV-5 or the new "manual camera" app who support the new camera api and allow to take pictures in the raw dng format. It's a shame that Googles own camera app doesn't make use of it.
  • I agree on Manual Camera for my Nexus 6. The white balance and finer exposure controls make for better pictures. Here's a comparison, top pic is Google Camera with HDR...the color is flatter. I could not increase exposure because +1 was too bright. Manual Camera is on the bottom, color is more accurate (in an office with florescent light) and I was able to adjust exposure much better.
  • I didn't know you could take great photos with the nexus 6. Its a decent camera just like the nexus 5 was a decent camera. Posted via Nexus 6
  • Do you own one? If not, you're just talking out of your ass because my Nexus 6 takes great pictures and so do many other's.
  • I googled why my camera was so damned slow and learned that the volume rocker becomes a shutter button... that's a useful tip, if you ask me.
  • That's awesome, I had no idea!
  • I was really hoping for a lot more with the 6. Have the Nexus 5 and my only real complaint is the horrible camera. It's more than fine if you're taking still-life pictures, but the lag and blurriness when there is just the slightest bit of motion make it worthless to me. I have a toddler and can never get a good picture no matter what lighting there is, especially since there is no burst mode which there should be. I got the Nexus 6 hearing the camera was better and for the big screen, but honestly, I feel like I'm using the same phone, only slightly bigger, heavier and no magnetic wireless charging. I think I'm returning it because it doesn't solve the camera problem and the screen size doesn't justify $700 for what feels like the same phone basically. Posted via Android Central App
  • Maybe camera isn't much better, but its definitely got wireless charging. I charge on a Choetech Stadium Qi charger every night. Hate to say it, but to capture true action photography, nothing beats a mirrorless or DSLR. Phone sensors are toys.
  • Bit still better than carrying two devices, especially with a decent camera Posted by my soon to be retired Note 3
  • It has Qi charging yes, but not the magnetic holders that lock it in place like the Nexus 5. I use a Nexus charger with my Nexus 5 in the car on a cd slot mount with Bluetooth. Nothing beats that setup for me since I'm in and out of my car all day for work. Looks great and locks the phone in portrait or landscape position no matter how many bumps I hit. Posted via Android Central App
  • Hi, I bought a Nexus 6 on Jan 1st and there were no major issues (except some people tell me that I am out of reach when they call). Last week my back camera stopped working. I had to give it to the Motorola service centre and they fixed. They said some component was replaced. Right now I can't see the flash symbol. It seems the camera enables the flash automatically when the light goes low. The flash symbol has disappeared. Appreciate if anyone could help. Thanks.
  • Just looked on my Nexus 6... in Camera mode, enabling HDR+ disables both Flash and Front Camera options.
  • HDR+ mofde not only disables the flash option, but it is so darkly greyed out that I also totally missed it. Bad UI. And finding other options is very frustrating, hidden behind magic swipes, odd placement of the gear icon, etc. And I can't find "advanced" settings at all.