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10 Tips to Help You Take Better Smartphone Photos

By on in Tutorials

2,252 words, estimated reading time 11 minutes.

The humble smartphone has transformed photography, bringing cameras to the masses and allows more and more people to record the world around them, capture and share amazing photos. In this post, we will look into a few handy tips that help improve your smartphone photography.

We all use our smartphone for photographing different things. Some use smartphone photography for recording holidays and vacations, others for Instagram selfies. There are many different types of photography so have a think about what you would like to focus on as this will help you develop and enhance your own style.

While smartphones are entirely different in terms of technology and operation, the rules of photography and composition all remain exactly the same.

How to Take Better Smartphone Photos
How to Take Better Smartphone Photos

Regardless of your smartphone manufacturer, all the cameras have the same basic functionality. The instructions here are for the standard Android camera application and also the Apple iPhone camera app. There are other camera apps on the market which may offer different settings or functionality so don't be afraid to try them as well.

Shooting Modes

First off, don’t rely on your phone’s default auto shooting modes. While the default automatic settings are getting better, they are nowhere near as advanced or sophisticated as a dedicated cameras settings. Often they will use software fixes to overcome hardware limitations. Luckily there are easy to use tips to control how your smartphone camera shoots. Here is a quick list of tips to get the most out of the shooting modes.

  1. Tap the screen where you want the focus to be. Smartphones can sometimes work out what you are trying to photograph but they can get confused in complex scenes so simply tap on your subject to tell the camera where to focus.
  2. If you can adjust the ISO setting, aim for as low as possible to reduce noise
  3. Never use digital zoom, only optical. As far as I am aware no smartphone has optical zoom so if in doubt avoid zooming in as you will lose a LOT of quality.
  4. Set your resolution high to get the best quality, at the expense of storage size. If you run low on storage, consider uploading photos to cloud services such as Google Drive and iCloud.
LG G4 Android Smartphone
LG G4 Android Smartphone

Another thing you will need is a camera app that allows you to control the focus and exposure. Some smartphones will allow you to do this out the box such as the LG G4 and iPhone 6. Any smartphone camera app with a full manual or pro mode will. If the default app doesn't have this option, try one of the many smartphone camera applications in the market stores.

How to Compose the Perfect Shot

Developing strong compositional skills will increase the impact of your photographs and draw the viewer into the picture. There are several compositional techniques, such as rule of thirds, leading lines and angle of view, that we can use to enhance our smartphone photography.

The primary rule of composition is the rule of thirds in which you place key elements of the scene along the lines or intersections of the thirds. This gives a more balanced photo and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

Rule of Thirds Example - Portrait Photography
Rule of Thirds Example - Portrait Photography

Most smartphone cameras have a composition overlay which will display the grid on the screen so you can perfectly line up the horizon and elements of the scene.

Lighting

There are only a handful of classic lighting patterns that flatter a person's face and each is flattering for different facial features. A lot of guys look good with either Rembrandt, split or loop lighting. Try them out in your photos, to see which works for you. Do not use your phone camera flash as it is too harsh closeup and ineffective at distance. Try either a lamp indoors or, for better results, a window or when outside the afternoon sun (direct or reflected off of something, for example, a large piece of paper or a white wall).

Motion & Depth

Motion and Depth are essential to expanding the creative potential of your photography. Controlling and manipulating motion and depth in your images will allow you to add drama and sophistication to your images. Whether you want to freeze an athlete in action or blur the flow of a waterfall, controlling motion will expand your capabilities and allow you to explore new subjects.

Control of motion requires control over the shutter speed - the longer the shutter is open the more motion is captured. The faster the shutter speed the more frozen action appears.

Scottish Highlands Waterfalls Loch Lochy
Waterfalls are very beautiful when shot at slower shutter speeds as the water seems to flow.

Selfies

Taking photographs of people is one of the things a smartphone excels at and we can use our smartphone for taking some really beautiful portraits. Instagram has been leading the way with selfies and there are many amazing photographers there creating unique and creative works. Just remember that a lot of work goes into making those seemingly effortless self-portraits that you see, and it is not something you can achieve with a simple Instagram filter or application. They require a lot of tricks, experimentation and patience. It is not uncommon to take 100's of shots to find one that is really good. Read these guidelines to find out some tips for improving your selfies and portraits.

  1. Do not force your smile. Simply enjoy taking pictures. If you pose for your photos like you are writing the post you will take a photo of a person in distress. Enjoy yourself, you are you and that is great! Take a photo of that person.
  2. Put your chin out as this will make you appear slimmer with a more pronounced jawline.
  3. Comb your hair, groom or shave your beard, put on ironed and clean clothes matching your style and complexion, etc.
  4. Putting a bit of powder on your face will prevent it from shining.

Creative Enhancement

Today there is nearly as much interest in editing and enhancing pictures as there is in taking photos. Mastering these skills will transform your images and give them an impressive edge. There are many smartphone apps offering image enhancements and filters. Here are a few of my personal favourites.

Instagram

Instagram is a photo app that is likely to appear on most modern smartphone users wish lists. The photo-sharing site got so popular that it soon got bought out by Facebook. One of the key features of Instagram is the vast array of filters which you can apply o your snaps.

Download iPhone   Download Android

Lightroom CC

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC for mobile and tablets is a free app that gives you a powerful, yet simple solution for capturing, editing and sharing your photos.

Download iPhone   Download Android

Dramatic Black & White

Everyone knows it doesn't get better than classic Black & White - it's the artistic soul of photography. Referencing one of our favourite Ansel Adams quotes: "Great Black & White photos aren't taken - they're made". Using Dramatic Black & White you can make your own black and white photographs, ones where light and contrast, grit and form come together to tell a story; ones where stone and sky, water and light transcend the material world and ascend to the Photographers’ Gallery.

Download iPhone   Download Android

Snapseed

Snapseed is a complete and professional photo editor developed by Google. Snapseed can edit pictures using swiping gestures to select different effects and enhancements. Alternatively, you can opt for an automatic adjustment of colour and contrast. Snapseed can save editing history and redirect to any of the actions before. It can also create and save filter combinations by using the default filters and editing features.

Download iPhone   Download Android

TouchRetouch

Remove unwanted blemishes and objects from your photos with TouchRetouch. TouchRetouch is the app with all the tools you need to efficiently remove unwanted content from your iPhone photos.

Download iPhone   Download Android

Of course, you can copy the photo to a PC or Mac and use more powerful tools for an even better result.

Social Media

Social Media is a great place to share your smartphone photography with others.

One of the first social networks for photographers is Flickr. It is one of the biggest and best-known photo sharing apps, being used around the globe. Each account comes with a terabyte of storage, it is popular amongst intensive photographers as a way of storing photos to the cloud, as well as providing a level of photo manipulation that includes several different filters.

While Facebook allows you to share photos with your friends and family, Instagram (also by Facebook) is made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone with the world. The app also allows you to manage your Instagram account, viewing photos from those that you follow, and make comments.

Pinterest is another social media platform for sharing images and it acts as an online pinboard. Pinterest users interact with each other through liking, commenting, and repinning each other’s stuff. That’s what makes it such a hot social network.​

Additional Equipment

As with traditional cameras, there are many different accessories and equipment you can use to make smartphone photography easier or to enhance your photos. Here are a few gadgets you can get to help improve your smartphone photography.

Smartphone Clip On Lenses
Smartphone Clip On Lenses

Lenses

To get more out of your phone camera, try attachable lenses. They give you special effects like macro or fish-eye shots, and all you have to do is snap one on top of your camera lens. Attachable lenses are inexpensive, universal and can be clipped on to the camera with a spring clip. You can also purchase special cases which allow lenses to be screwed into the case for additional robustness and optimal alignment.

Smartphone Tripods
Smartphone Tripods

Tripods

Smartphone tripods, like regular tripods, allow you to capture really steady shots in low light conditions or long exposure photography. They often feature a universal spring loaded grip to hold the camera in position, as well as a ball joint to allow you to position the camera and compose the perfect shot.

Smartphone Selfie Sticks
Smartphone Selfie Sticks

Selfies Sticks

Selfie sticks are used to move the camera further away from you, allowing a much better composition from the camera when you take a picture of yourself. You simply slide your smartphone into a grip or mount it on the end of the selfie stick, connect it via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack. From there you can extend the selfie stick rod and then use the camera button built into the stick's handle to capture photos and videos.

They can also be used to get a better angle when it may be difficult to move into that position. For example, a selfie stick held high, or low down can allow you to photograph different perspectives. I've even used a selfie stick to reach out a window and inspect my gutters!

Panorama & Burst Modes

Like any automated camera mode, the panorama feature has limitations that can skew perspectives and leave photos looking strange, but with these tips, you can create some amazing panoramas with your smartphone.

Panorama over Reykjavik from Perlan
Panorama over Reykjavik from Perlan

After pressing the shutter button, you slowly move the camera in a semi-circle, following the instructions on the screen. You'll need to stay in one spot so try keeping your feet planted and swivelling at the hips to capture the entire view. Make sure to move very slow as well, to increase the odds of getting a sharp shot.

Motion doesn't work in a panorama, any movement between the images that are stitched together will blur or distort. This is why you see a lot of landscape panoramas, but not much with other subjects.

Cleanliness

When you store your smartphone in your pocket or bags, your lenses are bound to get some dust and dirt on them. Give your smartphone camera lens a wipe every now to clear any grime or fingerprint stains. You might be surprised with what a simple act of cleaning can do to your pictures, especially when you are photographing strong lights where they can streak across the photo.

Also, keep your screen clean to improve the accuracy of focus tapping and triggering the shutter. Dirt and dust can interfere with the operation of camera functions so be sure to keep your phone clean.

Videos

Bonus Tip! When shooting video, never shoot in portrait mode. While the videos may show ok on mobile devices that's all they will show correctly on. Try and share them on YouTube, desktops or laptops or casting to a TV or burning to DVD they will look very tall and extremely narrow. Instead always shoot in landscape mode to make the most of the screen area - they will look just as good on smartphones and also all the devices listed above.

Here is one I shot in portrait as an example. As you can see the aspect is incorrect and you cannot see the full detail on a landscape aspect screen.

Have you any thoughts or additional tips for smartphone photography? Share them in the comments below!

Last updated on: Friday 22nd June 2018

 

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