Capturing good photographs has never been easier than it is now, thanks to the phones with powerful built-in cameras most of us carry around in our pockets every day. But having the ability to take pictures is only one part of the equation—understanding how to take good photos with your phone is the other.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get started upping your phone photography game in no time with just a little planning ahead and some helpful tips and tricks.
1. Explore the app
Possibly the most important step you can take towards capturing better photos with your phone is to actually spend time learning the camera app. It sounds so simple, but when it’s so easy to just open it up, point, shoot, and get something decent enough, the average user isn’t bothering to dig into the settings.
You can also check out third-party camera apps besides the one that comes with your phone—but learning the basics first will help you understand what to look for, or what you want, in another app.
2. Keep your lens and screen clean
This is something we often take for granted with phone cameras, but having a clean lens can obviously make or break your photo. If you plan on using your phone camera for photography regularly, keeping a microfiber cloth on hand and giving it a quick swipe over the lens before you take pictures can make a big difference.
Keeping your screen clean isn’t quite as imperative, but having a clean screen makes it easier for you to spot issues with your lens, as well as any other imperfections in your photo as you are setting it up.
3. Prioritize good lighting
If your photo isn’t well-lit, it’s not going to be a good photo. That doesn’t mean it has to be bright, even lighting across your subject—how you utilize light depends on what you want to capture and what emotions you want to evoke with the final product.
The outdoors often provides lots of natural light, though it’s important to avoid allowing a bright sun to blow out the highlights. If you’re inside, you may be able to take advantage of light sources that naturally make sense, such as the warm glow of a lamp or sun streaming through a window. This is also true of taking pictures at night outside—a street lamp or lit-up storefront will likely give you a much better result than just pointing a light or turning on the built-in flash. (Please don’t turn on your built-in flash unless you have to. Just don’t.)
If your phone photography will revolve more around planned photoshoots or selfies, you may want to consider investing in an actual lighting setup.
4. Pay attention to composition
There are all sorts of theories and schools of thought when it comes to how to arrange, or compose, a photo, but employing the rule of thirds will almost always up the quality of your photo. And modern smartphones often make this easier by including the option to turn on a 3×3 grid so you can quite literally visualize how to position the most interesting parts of your frame where these lines intersect.
5. Utilize manual focus and exposure
Smartphone cameras adjust focus and exposure automatically, which is great for most people, but if you want your photos to look more professional, learning how to adjust them manually will give you far more control over the final product.
6. Avoid (or adjust for) movement
Ending up with unintentionally blurry photos is a drag, as it’s not something that can just be easily fixed in editing. If your subject is continually moving, taking a lot of photos in quick succession will increase your odds of getting one that doesn’t turn out blurry. Some phones even do this for you—newer iPhone models allow you to capture Bursts of photos more rapidly than you could repeatedly click the button to take pictures yourself.
If you have a hard time holding the camera steady yourself, you can always prop your elbows up on something to help hold the shot. You can also look into tripods made specifically for phones. These can be particularly helpful at night or in other low-lighting conditions, as the frame needs to stay still for longer in order to capture the picture without blur, so stability is key.
7. Don’t use digital zoom
The convenience can be tempting, but the quality degrades far too quickly. Find a way to move closer to your subject, or make your shot work at the distance you have.
8. Turn on HDR
Your phone probably has an HDR (High Dynamic Range) setting that can be helpful if you don’t want to dive too deep into manual settings, or if you don’t have the time while setting up a particular shot. HDR will theoretically improve the contrast and color of your photos, although it tends to work best in situations with high-contrast lighting where you want to preserve the details, and doesn’t work very well when your subject is a person.
9. Consider additional lenses
The rise of phone photography means multiple companies have started making lenses specifically to lay on top of your existing phone lens and give you more control over your photos. This opens up a whole new world of options, but just like having a powerful camera in your phone isn’t a magic fix, neither are lenses. But putting the time into understanding how and why to use them can make them a powerful addition to your phone photography arsenal.
10. Edit your photos
Where and how you edit your photos will depend on what you plan to do with them. In some cases, transferring them to your computer and taking advantage of a bigger screen to do touchups and color balancing is the right move. If you’re just planning on posting to Instagram and don’t want to get that serious, you can just edit on your phone.
Your phone’s photo app likely has basic built-in editing capabilities already. For example, on an iPhone, you can crop, rotate, and alter the exposure, contrast, and tint, among other options. These features can come in handy if there’s something slightly off about your picture, or if you want to push it towards something more artistic.
To that end, there are also plenty of third-party apps you can download for manual editing or to take advantage of filters and presets. Adobe has mobile versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, but you can also check out options like Afterlight, Polarr, and VSCO.
How do I take good selfies with my phone?
Most of the guidelines above can be applied to taking photos of yourself with your phone, and making sure you have good lighting is of particular importance for selfies.
Here are a few other tricks that will help you snap the perfect pic of yourself:
- Use the rear-facing camera—it’s most likely higher quality than the one on the front
- Opt for a background that makes whatever you’re wearing pop
- Consider grabbing a selfie stick, or setting your phone up with a timer so you aren’t holding it too close to your face
- For a flattering angle, try keeping the bottom of your phone level with your eyes, with your chin tilted down and eyes looking up at the camera
- Don’t overdo it with editing! Some subtle touchups are one thing, but it’s easy to go too far, and the results never look natural