How to take better smartphone photos in 10 easy steps

With modern smartphones, we are now all photographers. With just a few simple tips, you can produce some truly excellent quality photos straight from your phone. We can't all hire a photographer for special moments due to the cost, and very often the best photos are captured outside of these special moments anyway. This could be your pet doing something crazy, maybe your child's first steps - I bet you didn't think to hire a photographer, let alone foresee when this would happen, but I'm sure you have your phone in your pocket! With that said, it's time to whip it out now and put these very simple tips that everyone can do, to practice so that when one of these priceless moments crops up, you're ready to capture it!


smartphone camera


1. Focus, focus, focus!


This one is simple, but I see so many people out and about capturing snaps on their phones without doing this. My husband is one of them! Every camera, whether it's an expensive DSLR type, a small compact or simply your mobile phone camera, is programmed to focus on the nearest object to the lens. Simple. So unless you want it to focus on that, (or are even aware of what the closest object is), you need to just press the screen where you want it to focus. On most phone cameras you can also lock that focus in for taking multiple pictures by simply pressing and holding the screen for a couple of seconds. This could be a person or pets face (always focus on their face, eyes especially if you can - that might sound basic, but you'd be surprised how many people forget or don't realise that). It could also be the centre of a flower to capture the detail, or a tree in a landscape shot. In doing this, you'll ensure the main focal area is actually in focus and nice and sharp. Your phone camera will take care of the rest, but this is the first crucial step.



2. Exposure


I've already mentioned focus, but really exposure goes with it, at least on smartphones. So the second thing you need to do is increase or decrease the light balance. Smartphones have never been easier. You don't have to understand all the technical things around exposure as modern phones come with a simple slider to make the photo lighter or darker. So now you're focused on your cats face, simply move that slider up or down to adjust the light. Keep an eye on other parts of the photo, that the sky is not going too bright, or dark areas are not going too dark.



3. Capture Multiple shots


Most, if not all, smartphones are capable of capturing multiple shots (burst shots). Simply hold your finger down on the capture button! This tip especially helps if your subject is moving, but it also allows you to choose the best of those shots, and delete the rest. This is perfect for capturing your dog jumping about in a field, or a child running, so you won't miss that perfect expression on their face. Of course this means you'll quickly fill up your phone storage unless you delete all the burst you don't want. So don't forget to do that afterwards.



4. Framing your shot


No, I don't mean printing it out and buying an ornate picture frame. I mean compose the photo. Make sure your phone is straight to the horizon, and try to aim to get the horizon on one of thirds. So either on the bottom third, or top third of the picture. Whether you're holding it in portrait or in landscape mode, this rule still applies. This rule can be broken, but in most cases a photo will look more aesthetically pleasing if it's balanced on the rule of thirds. Photographers have been doing this for years, and before them, artists did it. So, to help you with this, most smartphones have a grid that can be used on the camera. On iOS, this can be found by going on to your phone settings, then camera, and then clicking on Grid. On Android phones, this can be found on Settings, App, Camera and then clicking on Grid Lines. You'll quickly discover how helpful that simple grid is, and what a difference using it makes to your photos to composing and framing your photos.




Smartphone camera perspective, taken from low downn

5. Perspective


We all tend to hold our phones at arm height, regardless of what we're snapping. But this isn't always the best position. Very often you can improve that same shot from either standing on a chair to get higher, or crouching down closer to the ground. For example, to capture a young child, crouch down so you're at eye level with the child. The same applies to pets. Otherwise we tend to snap a birds eye view of a cats back! Ok, that's an extreme example but we all do it at times. Get down on their level and you'll see a big difference! This rule can be broken too, and sometimes it's fun to do it. In general, people and animals are best captured while sticking to this rule, but for other objects, it can often make what would be a dull snapshot a lot more interesting and completely change the perspective of it. Likewise this requires bending or climbing on top of something to get higher. This works really well with buildings, and inanimate objects. Try getting down as low as you can to the ground, and simply aiming your phone upwards. Or vice versa, climb on to something (only if it's safe to do so, obviously) and snap from above looking down. This can seriously emphasise the size or height or something. Of course, there's every position in the middle too to explore. So, it's time to get busy taking a few snaps from different heights and angles.




natural light smartphone photography

6. Use outdoor and natural light where possible


Of course this one isn't always possible, but in general, the best photos will be taken in natural light. For example if taking a photo of a person in the corner of a room, the photo will be fairly dull and dark. You can adjust this on the exposure as I talked about above. But instead, try and get the person to stand or sit near a window. Obviously pick one where you can see the light is coming through it nicely, and lighting your subject up. This can be so flattering, and removes the need for increasing exposure - which often adds noise and grain and even removes some sharpness from your picture. Whereas natural light makes it so much easier. How many times have you taken photos inside with artificial lighting on, and it just has a horrid yellow glow to everything? So, where possible look for any natural light. It makes all the difference!



7. Ditch the digital zoom


Ok, this one isn't always possible. But once you zoom on your phone camera, you are adding a bit of grain and removing some sharpness. So, where possible walk forward a little so you are physically closer to whatever you're trying to snap. This is better than using the zoom. Also when you zoom, less light gets in to the camera lens, so using zoom is always a last restort. If you can achieve the same shot simply by moving closer, it will always come out better than if you'd zoomed in.



8. Experiment with the portrait mode on your phone camera


This one, I'm bad for not doing. For me, the reason is I tend to grab my big camera. I only use my phone if I'm out somewhere and didn't take my camera. So I rarely use it. However, it is such a good tool, that I'd be neglecting to share one of the most crucial tips with you if I didn't hit upon this one. Portrait mode on phone cameras works best if there's some decent natural light. But it pretty much does the rest for you. It softens harsh shadows on the persons face, and just gives a nice flattering image. It also helps prevent the person from being silhouetted out if there's a harsh light behind them - perhaps a very pretty sunset, but you still want to see the persons face. For me, of course, that usually means switching to my actual camera, so I tend to neglect this feature on my phone. So this is one to do as I say, rather than as I do, I'm afraid! I'm just being honest! But for easy snaps anyone can do, this is one of the biggest tips I could give.



9. Hold your phone still!


This probably sounds obvious, but how many people do you see out and about holding their phones at arms length, often stood in a kind of balanced position teetering about too? I bet you also do it. I know I do at times, despite knowing better! So, you have three options here. You could use a tripod - that's not something I personally do with my phone as I don't see the need to carry a bulky tripod when I'm only using my smartphone. But for those who don't have cameras this is a very good option. I can't reccommend any compact phone tripods as it's not something I use. If, like me, you don't have, or don't want to carry a tripod around with you, you can often cheat! That's right. Simply prop your phone up on a park bench, wall, picnic table.....whatever you can find around you. Let's call this method the poor mans tripod, as it works in exactly the same way. By eliminating all hand shake, you get a much sharper image. It also enables you to take photos in poorer light conditions. Another very obvious advantage is that you too can get into the shot! For this, you either use a remote shutter, but even that isn't really needed any more as you can simply tell Siri or Alexa to take a photo. If all else fails and you don't have a tripod and there is nowhere to place your phone (or it's too busy and you don't want to risk getting it snatched), simply hold your phone as close as you can to your body while still able to see the screen. Tuck your elbows in to your side. This makes such a big difference as your arms are steadied therefore your hands shake much less!




editing photos

10. Edit!


Last but not least, edit your pictures! I don't mean airbrush wrinkles away or photoshop them to death. I mean just a subtle edit. Lighten harsh shadows, darken bright windows so you can see through them.....subtlety is the key here. Less is definitely more. You can also enhance colours if they're a little flat, and of course maybe you took a perfect picture but you didn't notice the big rubbish bin in the background, the annoying photo bomber that appeared out of nowhere wearing a bright red t-shirt, or an object that looks like it's sticking out of your beloveds head (no pun intended, I swear!) - well, depending on the software you use, you can usually remove those unwanted items. I won't get in to mentioning which software to use as there are so many out there, both free and paid ones. Your phone has basic editing software built in, which is already quite good. You can't remove unwanted objects with that but you can enhance colours and lighten shadows etc. Just be careful if you use free software on the net, many of them will shrink your photo, which you don't want! You might not see any difference, but the difference is there should you want to print that photo out, or show it off on social media. You'll see it's all blurry. So make sure whatever software you use does not shrink the size (resolution) of your photo, basically rendering it useless, which many of these free programmes do in order to get you to subscribe and pay. I know there are free ones out there that don't do this, but in most cases the basic software built in to your phone camera is perfect.




smartphone camera framing on the thirds rule


I'd like to add a little disclaimer here, as I don't do paid portrait photography. Obviously you can get some great personal snaps from a simple phone camera. My intention is merely to give a few pointers on how to improve that. You'll never match what a pro can do at big events like weddings with high end specialist photography equipment and pro cameras. You also won't match the photos you can get from an actual camera yourself either. A mobile phone camera can never replace that, but the reality is we all carry phones in ours pockets/bags now. So this is for those spur of the moment times, as we truly are all photographers now. So next time you grab your phone for a family snapshot, have a go at some of these tips, or even give yourself a few minutes to go and experiment so that next time the opportunity arises for a beautiful surprise portrait shot, you're ready and have a couple of new skills to get a better snap!


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