15 Tips for Shooting Great Photos Using your Smartphone Camera

Posted by Kathleen Prince on April 20, 2016

Mobile photography, smartphone photography, iPhoneography.  Taking great pictures with the camera on your phone has become a thing now.   From fabulous Instagram photos to works of art that hang in galleries, smartphone cameras have come a long way.  So, how do you maximize the quality of the photos taken with your smartphone?

1.   Toss the Stock Camera App

Smartphone photography apps

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To gain better control over the photos your camera phone takes, ditch the stock camera app in lieu of one helps you control the focus and exposure.   Many apps offer a manual or pro mode which provide features like burst mode shooting, and exposure lock.    Find an app that allows you to control basic things like contrast, white balance, color saturation and brightness.

To get you started, check out this list of apps for the iPhone, or this similar list for Android.


2.   Learn to Use Your Camera Software

Now that you have a camera app, take some time to learn how to use it.  Press buttons, try various settings, see what happens.  Don’t be afraid to tinker around.  Switch between camera and video modes, turn the flash on and off.  Take a panorama or play with scene modes.  Soon you’ll know your way around the camera like it is second nature.


3.   Highest Quality Setting

Whenever possible, choose the highest quality setting available, to prevent the loss of details and/or a muddy photograph.    Some phones have the option to choose between resolution and quality settings to save space.  There is plenty of space on cell phones for photographs these days – so use it!


4.   The Rule of Thirds

Rule of thirds


Sure it’s “just” a camera phone, not a high end DSLR.  However, that doesn’t mean the rules about photo composition go out the door.  Remember to compose your image by imagining a tic-tac-toe grid across the image.  Strong lines such as the horizon should be placed on those grid lines, with other items of interest at the intersections.  Most smartphones come with an option to display this grid.

Try placing your subjects along the grid lines or at the points where the lines intersect.  This works especially well with your horizon lines, so that your horizon doesn’t cut through the middle of your photograph.



5.   Light Your Subject Well

Lighting makes all the difference in a photograph

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Good photos require good lighting.  So what is that, exactly?   Good light gives a scene shape, a sense of depth and makes things look interesting.   Overcast skies and indoor artificial light results in flat lighting – lighting where there are few shadows and everything looks evenly lit.

Look for light with some kind of direction and color.    Ask any professional photographer and they will tell you that some of the best light to be had is during sunrise or sunset.   Sunrise usually has a cooler color set, whereas sunset brings with a very warm light.  Window light is great because it usually has direction and is softer and a little diffuse.

Outdoor lighting can be tricky.   If it is a bright sunny day, here are a couple of tips:   1) move your subject so that the sun is hitting them from the side.  That way they aren’t looking directly into the sun and squinting.   2) Move your subject into the shade.  You might need to experiment with using a flash if the subject turns out too dark.

If shooting inside, turn on lights if possible to add extra light to your shot.  Be aware however that artificial light can impact the color cast in the shot.


6.   Crop, Don’t Zoom

Smartphone cameras, like point-and-shoot cameras often come with digital zoom.  Play around with the digital zoom feature on your camera.  You might find that the quality of your image starts to degrade the second you start to zoom in.    Why?  Because the camera extrapolates what is already there and then “guesses” what the image should look like when zoomed in.

Smartphones today often have cameras with 12 to 16 megapixels of resolution or more.  The Microsoft Lumia 1030 has a 50 mexapixel camera!  What all these megapixels mean is that you can take a photo, crop it aggressively and still have a clean, crisp photo with plenty of resolution.


7.   Work the Scene

Taking good photos requires a bit of thought.  Otherwise, you’re just taking snapshots and hoping to get lucky and grab a great photo.  So don’t just stand there – get out and move!  Compose and take a shot, then move and try again.  Stand closer or further away.  Try a different angle – shooting low, or find a high spot and look down.

Don’t be afraid to take many photos, you can always delete them later.  Many phones have a burst mode feature.  If yours does, try it out.


8.   Get Up  Close and Personal


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Smartphone cameras have the ability to take close up shots, without having the depth of field loss experienced by DSLR cameras, providing a  great opportunity to capture small objects in great detail.





9.   Say Goodbye to the Flash

 Unlike point and shoot and DSLR cameras, a smart phone flash is basically a bright LED.   The smart phone flash is very close to the lens, creating those “horrible demon eyes”, so use the flash judiciously.


10.    Steady is Key

The great thing about camera phones, is that they go where you are.  This means that a good portion of the photos you take will be indoors, and probably in low light.  In low light scenarios, the camera phone slows the shutter speed in order to ensure sufficient light for your image.    The longer the shutter is open, the more movement the camera captures – thus any wiggle of the camera will be quite obvious!

The answer?  Ideally a tripod, but not many of us carry a camera tripod around.  So, use the next best thing – you!   Hold the camera phone with both hands and brace your arms against your body when you shoot – thus creating an on-the-go tripod.


11.    Put Away Those In-Camera Filters

Photo applications like Instagram come with predefined filters that are fun to use.  However, they can be overdone.     Also, if a photo is taken through one of those filters, that’s the way it will look –  you can’t recapture the original view.    This is especially true with black and white photos.   If you take a shot in color, you can always change it to black and white with a photo editor.  However, you can’t turn a black and white photo into a color one.

So, take your photos without a filter, and then edit them with image-editing software and you’ll find that you can make reasonable adjustments to create a beautiful photos.   Photoshop Express, Snapseed or iPhoto  are all examples of image editing apps for smart phones.


12.    Keep Your Lens Clean

Phones spend a lot of time in pockets and bags, and are used in all types of conditions, being exposed to all types of dirt and grime… and fingerprints!   From time to time, use a soft cloth and clean your camera lens.


13.    Make Prints

© Kathleen Prince

© Kathleen Prince

For some reason, those pictures taken with a camera phone tend to stay on the camera, or on the social media site they were uploaded to.   While those are great vehicles for sharing your photos, keeping the original photo (with it’s original quality and resolution) is paramount.   So – download those photos from your camera phone onto your computer, or store them on an external drive – but get them off of your phone and stored someplace.     Second, make prints!  Camera phones nowadays take amazing images.  Print some of them  – mount them on your wall, or have some fun and create a photo memory book.


14.    Practice, Practice, Practice

Remember those piano lessons?   If you only practiced once a week, you’d never learn how to play that piece by Chopin.   It is the same with photography.  If you only snap a shot once in a while, it will take a very long time before  you start creating wonderful photographs.

Try shooting a little everyday.  Join one of the 365 groups, where the goal is to take one photo a day and post it.  If you lack inspiration on a particular day, just shoot whatever is in front of you and try to make it look interesting.   The goal isn’t to have photos that you’d always keep – but to take photos that you learn from.


Here’s An Added Bonus Tip:

 15.    Anticipate Shutter Lag

Camera phones might not respond as quickly as your DSLR, so learn your camera phone’s shutter release timing.   That way you won’t miss a shot because you fired just a bit too late!


Additional Resources:

The Camera Phone Book

PopPhoto.com 10 Tips For Making Your Smartphone Photos Look Like They Came From A Real Camera

12 Tips for Improving Camera Phone Photos

How to Take Better Photos With Your Smartphone


Information in this article included items from both Digital Photograph School’s Darren Rowse, and by  Techradar’s Marc Flores.


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