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Tips To Take Better Photos With Your Phone

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

I love my Nikon Z7 and it takes incredible photos - you can't compare the image quality of photos taken on a phone with those taken on a DSLR or mirrorless camera. That said, I take loads of with my iPhone! Why? Because it is always with me.

If you take a lot of photos with your phone, here are some quick tips to help you improve your pics.

Travel images on the iPhone

1. Clean your lens!

This is the most underrated photography tip of all time! I once took a photo for some people on their own phone and when they saw the image they asked “wow, what filter did you use?”………the only thing I had done was clean their lens on my t-shirt. The best thing to use is lens cleaner, alcohol wipes or teh cleaning solution for your glasses. At a pinch a clean damp cloth or just the inside of your tee shirt will do the job. By cleaning away all that built up grime, your will get MUCH clearer photos and less light refraction!

2. Use your grid:

Most phones come with inbuilt grids that you can turn on to help line up straight lines in your photos. This is especially helpful if you’re taking pictures of buildings or anything that has straight lines in it. By making sure your composition is square, it will create a more pleasing image and save you from having to adjust and crop later.

In an iPhone, you can turn on your grid by going to the camera option in the settings menu.

3. Use a light source:

Your phone's flash is your enemy! It makes people look terrible and really doesn’t create nice photos. If you are taking a photo at night or even in low light conditions, use the torch from another phone as an external light source. This way you can direct the light to avoid shadows and that overpowering shock look created by a flash. If you want to dampen the light, put a tissue over the torch and it will soften the light.

This technique of using a torch from another phone is especially useful if you want to take photos of food in a dim restaurant.

I recently purchased the Good LEDM32 which clips onto your smartphone and allows you to adjust the strength and colour of artificial light. Great inexpensive piece of equipment if you use your phone a lot!

4. Look at your frame:

An advantage of phone cameras is that you can easily see what the end result will look like live on your screen. So take the time to look at your frame and composition. You can start incorporating some of the “guidelines of photography” - like the rule of thirds, leading lines and symmetry of patterns. Using the live view, try different positions until you find one that creates the most appealing composition. Try from up high, get down low to the ground, bring elements into the foreground or background, move to find the best natural light. The more you play around looking for creative angles and compositions the more you will find unique ways of photographing things that everyone else has taken the same way.

5. Take lots, keep a few:

One of the great advantages of digital cameras and especially phone cameras, is there is almost no restriction to taking lots and lots of photos. Especially where your subject might be moving or changing composition, just take loads of images and delete the ones you don’t want later. If there is lots of movement use the burst option to really increase your frame rate.

I often take a whole series of photos, favorite the ones I want to keep and immediately delete all the rest!

6. Use manual settings:

Some phones now come with inbuilt software that will allow you to manually adjust exposure factors such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO. If you’re using an iPhone you can download applications such as “Slow Shutter” which allow you to control these settings from within the app.

These setting can create unique images like long exposures, motion blur and low light photography. It should be noted that when using longer shutter speeds, you will need to keep your phone really still - best is to use a tripod and a timer. I recommend one of the gorilla grip style tripods with an adaptor that holds your phone.

Very quickly:

  • aperture controls the amount of light a lens lets in. Wide apertures (low f values) lets in more light and create a shallow focal depth which means the subject will be in focus and things behind it will blur. Small apertures (high f values) let less light in and create a long focal depth, which means more of the frame will be in focus.

  • Shutter speed controls how long the lens is open to allow light in. A fast shutter speed opens and closes quickly, allowing less light in a captures any movement. A longer shutter speed allows less light in and will create a blur where there is movement. Really long shutter speeds will create long exposures, as seen when water becomes flat, glassy and reflective.

  • ISO describes the sensitivity to light. A low ISO means low sensitivity and the image will be less exposed. A high ISO increases sensitivity resulting in a more exposed image.

These 3 factors forms the fundamentals of creating an exposure in photography.

There are various modes in several phones such as nightmare (which uses a reduced shutter speed and high ISO) and portrait mode (which creates a similar affect to a wide aperture).

It is also important to make sure you focus your image on the intended subject. Your phones autofocus will predict what it thinks you are wanting to focus on, however you can simply tap the screen to select another point in the frame.

You will notice a small option on the right when you tap the screen which also allows you to adjust the exposure (making the image lighter or darker). This works in a similar way to exposure compensation on a camera where you are asking the camera to adjust from what it thinks is the ideal exposure!

Even if you are taking photos just on your smartphone, having a good understanding of photography will allow your to create much better images! Drop me a message if your interested in some online tutorials on photography basics.

7. Use editing applications:

There is an almost never ending list of applications for editing photos on your smart phone. The best app will be the one you get familiar with using to edit your photos the way you like them.

Personally, I like using Adobe Lightroom, as it is the same program I use to edit my high-resolution images on the laptop. I find the available adjustments suit the way I like to edit, which is for the most part to recreate the way the photo looked to my eye.

If you want to get more creative, you can look at applications like Snapseed, Quickshot, Enlight, Afterlight and FaceTune. Some people get super creative and hyper-edit their images “for the gram”. I think it comes down to personal preference whether you like the subtle tweaks or the total manipulation of the image – whatever suits your style!

If you like landscape, lifestyle and street photography, I would definitely recommend downloading the Lightroom app and experimenting with that as your go-to for photo editing.

Editing phone images in Adobe Lightroom mobile app

Limitations of Smartphones:

One of the keys to photography is understanding your equipment……even when it’s a smartphone. A big part of that is acknowledging the limitations – there is a reason pro photographers spend a lot of money on cameras and lenses; they take better photos. The benefit of a smartphone camera is the convenience – you carry them around almost everywhere and they are simple to use. That small size means that performance of the camera is limited, due to the restricted size of the sensor. DSLR/mirrorless cameras have high end sensors, complicated auto-focusing, superior resolution and are much better in low light conditions. There is also much more flexibility to create effects with cameras.

Phones will take great quality photos where you have good light, a simple subject and you're only looking to use the image on places like social media.

Check out my article on phones Vs cameras for more

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