Who needs to carry a camera when a smartphone or tablet is at hand? The Google Android operating system packs so much functionality that it can often stand in for both a camera and a PC. Once you've learned how to harness your device's photo capabilities, capturing and sharing memorable moments is a snap.

Taking and managing photos: The Android camera

Most Google Android tablets and Google Android phones have a dedicated hardware button to start up the built-in camera.

Alternatively, you can open it via the Camera app icon in the device's app launcher. (If you like, you can place this icon on your home screen as a shortcut.)

When you open the Android camera, you'll see a large viewfinder plus a few on-screen buttons. If you rotate your device horizontally, the uppermost button will be an icon for opening its gallery of stored photos. The next button down is a switch that toggles between the still photo and video recording modes. Finally, the round button at the bottom is the shutter – the button you touch to snap a picture or to begin recording video.

In still photo mode, you can tap anywhere on the image in the viewfinder to zoom in or out. Tapping once will bring up the zoom controls, so you can zoom in small increments. Double-tapping (tapping your finger twice in quick succession, much as you'd double-click with a mouse) lets you quickly zoom all the way in or all the way out.

You can reach the camera's advanced options by hitting the Menu key and selecting options, or by touching the lined area to the far left of the screen. A slide-out menu will present you with options for photo size, photo quality, and whether to store location information with the image.

Beginning with Android 2.0, the settings panel includes other advanced camera options: built-in flash support, customisable scene modes (action mode, night mode, and so on), white balance, colour effects and macro focus mode. Phones running Android 2.0 or higher also have an integrated digital zoom capability for magnifying an image to as much as four times its original size, although, unlike a zoom lens, this doesn't capture any extra detail.

Taking and managing photos: Viewing and sharing

You can use the Camera app to access images stored on your phone: just tap the small thumbnail image at the top left of the camera screen (the thumbnail always displays the most recent photo you've captured). When you load your images in this way, you'll first see your most recent photo displayed at full-screen size. Tapping your finger on the picture will enable you to zoom in or out; tapping your finger on the left or right side of the viewing area will let you move sequentially through the other stored images.

Buttons on the right  of the screen provide quick ways to delete the image; to share it via Bluetooth, email, text message, Picasa, or any social networking app installed on your phone; and to set the image as your main system wallpaper or as an icon for someone in your contacts list. By hitting your device's Menu key, you'll gain options for rotating or cropping the image as well as for viewing detailed information about the file.

Another possibility is to view images directly from Android's Gallery app, accessible from the app launcher (and, again, available as a shortcut that you can place on your home screen). On loading the Gallery, you'll be able to browse your photos and videos in folders organised according to how and when you obtained them. Once you've opened a folder, you can tap any image to view it at full-screen size. You can then tap the enlarged photo to zoom in or to access other image management options.

The Gallery app allows you to play a slideshow of your photos, too. From inside a folder, tap the Menu key and select Slideshow to begin. To customise the slideshow, hit the Menu key and select Settings. There you'll find options for how long each image will remain on screen, what kind of transition will happen between images, and of course in what order the images will appear.

The Settings menu also contains options for altering the size and order of thumbnails displayed in the Gallery app.

Taking and managing photos: Editing Images

There's no default Google app for image editing in Android, but in the Android Market you'll find plenty of options for manipulating your pictures. Among the most advanced utilities is Adobe's free Photoshop Express app. As you'd expect, it's a far cry from the full desktop version of Photoshop, but the app makes it easy to perform essential operations such as cropping and colour correction and blurring of your images.

Another useful option is the PicSay Photo Editor. This free app includes tools for colour-correcting images and for adding visual effects, graphics, and word balloons. PicSay Pro (£2.63) adds a bevy of additional photo-editing features, including painting tools, functions to cut out and paste parts of photos (such as transferring heads to new bodies) by multitouch, and cartoon speech bubbles.

If you like widgets, you'll be pleased at the number of photo-related programs that can bring images on to your desktop. Android has a built-in photo gallery widget that lets you place a single 2x2 inch photo on your home screen. The slightly more robust Androidlet Photo Widget (62p from the Android Market) lets you add live, cycling image galleries to your home screen in 1x1in, 2x2in and 3x3in sizes. You can customise how frequently the images rotate and what kind of frame surrounds them, and you can even set the widget to display images from Flickr, Picasa or other online photo storage services.

Taking and managing photos: Other ways to get images

Besides using photos that you've snapped yourself, you can download images from the internet or transfer them to your Android phone or tablet from your computer. Any image you save to your device, regardless of exactly where you store it, will always be shown in the Gallery application.

To grab an image from the web, just press and hold your finger on it while in your device's web browser. A menu will pop up with the option to save the image.

To transfer an image from your computer, you can simply drag and drop it from your PC while your phone is connected to a USB port. Plug in the cable, then touch the notification area at the top of your device's screen. Tap USB connected in the notification area, then tap Mount to make your phone or tablet's memory appear as a storage device on your desktop (whether in Windows, Mac OS X or Linux). Photos you've taken on your device can be transferred to your computer in the same way.

See also: 6 ways to take better photos on a Google Android device

See also: 6 tips to help you organise photos on an Android device