Did you know that you can capture beautiful images using only your smartphone?
It’s true. And while smartphone photography may seem difficult, it’s actually quite easy – once you know a few techniques.
That’s where this article comes in handy; I’m going to share with you some simple tips so that you can achieve impressive, beautiful and memorable cell phone photos in no time. I’m also including plenty of sample smartphone images so you can see exactly what your little camera is capable of.
1. Clean your lens
This trick is extremely basic, but you will be surprised by dirt and grime accumulating on your smartphone lens.
When I pick up my phone, I often find a lot of smudges and dirt from my kids, pockets, environment, etc.
So do yourself a favor and get into the habit of quickly wiping your phone’s lens before you start a photo shoot. It will make your photos much sharper!
2. Tap screen to set focus
Typically, when you point your smartphone at a subject, the camera guesses what you want to shoot. For example, if it recognizes faces, it will focus on faces; if it recognizes a person, it will focus on the person.
This autofocus method can work well, especially if you’re shooting a bright scene with an obvious main subject. But when the scene is more complex – you’re photographing a bird surrounded by trees, for example – your smartphone may misfocus and the shot will be blurry.
So what are you doing?
Instead of letting your smartphone’s algorithms determine your focus point, just tap your subject, then – voila! – you will get a net result.
3. Don’t use flash
Your smartphone camera has a flash…
… but it really is, really suck! Sorry – there’s just no way to sugarcoat it: your phone’s camera flash isn’t flattering for photos, whether you’re taking daytime photos, late nights, landscapes, flowers or portraits.
So whenever you shoot, keep that flash on stopped. Instead, use natural light for great results. For example, shoot in the early morning or late evening for beautiful golden lighting, or work on cloudy days for soft, evenly lit images.
4. Manually adjust image brightness
Did you know that you can manually adjust image brightness (i.e. image exposure)?
It’s true, and you can use this feature to control the level of detail that will appear in the final photo.
Details depend on your specific smartphone model, but try tapping on the screen and then look for some kind of exposure symbol (like a sun). Swipe up (or drag the corresponding slider) to brighten the exposure, and swipe down (or drag the corresponding slider) to darken it.
Note that the overall goal is to retain as much detail as possible in the final image. However, you can also deliberately lighten or darken an image for creative effect, like this:
5. Compose your photos creatively
Composition refers to the arrangement of elements within the frame. If you want to capture great photos, you need to carefully position people and objects in pleasing ways.
A few quick tips:
- Avoid placing your subject right in the center of the frame
- Symmetry often looks good
- Try to include a natural frame around your subject, such as a window, door, or archway
If you want particularly beautiful compositions, I recommend using the Rule of Thirds, which encourages you to position key elements one-third of the way through the image. See how the chairs are positioned around the lower third of the frame:
Note that you don’t have have to use the rule of thirds – it’s not really a rule, just a guideline – but it helps to create well-balanced compositions and dynamic at the same time.
6. Odds rule
Another tip for good smartphone composition is the odds rule, which encourages you to group your subjects into odd-numbered collections.
(For some reason, odd collections tend to look good!)
So if you’re photographing a group of people, you’ll want to include three, five, or seven people in a group – not two or four. And if you’re photographing a group of forks, you’ll want to include three, five, seven, or nine. Make sense ?
As with the rule of thirds, the rule of odds is not really a rule. It’s a suggestion – but a good one, so I recommend you follow it as much as possible!
7. Straighten the horizon
A common beginner smartphone photography mistake is a crooked horizon. After all, it’s so easy to accidentally tilt your phone while shooting!
Unfortunately, crooked horizons are a major problem, and unless you know how to deal with them (whether in the field or in post-processing), you’ll be stuck with a bunch of bad photos.
Fortunately, dealing with twisted horizons isn’t difficult. Just take a moment to turn on your camera grid; this will display a set of lines on the screen, which you can then use to level your horizons on the ground.
You can also handle twisted horizons in post-processing. Most editing apps include some sort of straighten option, although you’ll lose pixels in the process, so it’s always best to get it right in the field!
8. Use guidelines
Leading lines are lines that lead the viewer into the frame and draw attention to the main subject.
And guidelines, when used correctly, are incredibly powerful.
When shooting with your smartphone, look for roads, buildings, or even furniture that can help direct the eye to the subject. Technically, a guideline can be just about anything, from outstretched arms and tree branches to road signs and buildings, so even if you don’t see any obvious lines, I encourage you to keep looking!
Once you find a leading line, adjust your position so that it points to the main subject. Your composition will instantly improve! Here I used the row of chairs to direct the viewer to the building in the background:
9. Shoot in natural light
Earlier in the article I mentioned the value of natural light, but it is so important that it deserves its own section.
You see, there is something so pure and to clean in natural light photography. It looks great, it produces great photos, and it’s always available.
I love the morning and evening light because of its golden hues and soft, flattering effect. The covered light is nice too. And even the high contrast light produced by harsh sunlight can look amazing (especially in black and white).
If you’re shooting in the shade or at night, you can still use natural light, but you’ll need to use a tripod to avoid image blur. (Fortunately, there are plenty of inexpensive, high-quality smartphone tripods to choose from!)
This next image, of a misty morning on Lake Michigan, shows the beauty of soft natural light:
10. Try not to zoom
Unless your camera offers a telephoto lens, don’t zoom.
You see, most zoom functions use digital zoom, which simply crops the image to enlarge the subject. In other words, it doesn’t get you closer to the point; instead it just removes the pixels.
Although digital zoom may seem convenient, it will only serve to magnify image imperfections and noise. You can get much better results walking towards your subject (or better yet, composing a more scenic, environmental type shot).
Smartphone Photography Tips: Final Words
Well, now you have it:
10 quick and easy tips to help you improve your smartphone photography.
Remember: with a little practice and perseverance, you can capture stunning images using just your smartphone!
Now your turn :
What kind of smartphone photos do you plan to take? Which of these tips will you use first? Share your opinion in the comments below!