For the most part, taking great photos with your smartphone requires the same thing as taking great photos with any camera—an eye for creating a scene, good lighting, and an understanding of photographic depth. But there are a few tips that are especially useful when you’re taking shots with your phone. These ten tips will help take your phone pictures from “blah” to “fantastic” in no time!
1. Use Principles of Composition
A lot of the things that come intuitively when you’re trying to compose a scene actually don’t make for great photographs. Putting the horizon in the middle of a scene, for example, creates a strangely unbalanced photo, where the viewer isn’t sure whether to look at the ground or the sky first. Learning a few basic rules of composition can make a huge difference in your photography.
2. Take an Extra Second
When cell phone cameras first came out, they offered the chance to take pictures really fast, without getting out your camera or lining up a shot. And they weren’t good for much more than that because the quality of the pictures was all but guaranteed to be very low. But now that smartphone cameras can take pictures that are just as clear and crisp and a regular camera, there’s no excuse for hastily snapped, bad pictures.
3. Get Close
One of the biggest problems with smartphones is that they don’t provide any optical zoom, which means that anytime you zoom with them, you’re going to get a lot of distortion and noise in your photo. You can crop later, but the less cropping and editing you need to do, the better your photo is going to look. This means you’re going to need to get close to your subject.
4. Ditch the Flash
The light that comes from a camera flash, even from your phone, can be really harsh—it creates weird highlights and shadows, affects the colors of your subject, and can mess up your photo with reflections. Unless the flash is the only way that you’re going to be able to capture anything at all, I’d recommend turning it off.
5. Use a Different Camera App
The standard camera app that came with your phone is fine, and it won’t let you down. But if you want to get great shots with your phone, you’re going to want to upgrade to a better one. Third-party apps generally offer more settings, like allowing you to set the focus and the exposure of your photo separately, take burst shots, use different flash options, and more.
6. Learn the Settings in Your Camera App
One of the biggest benefits of a third-party camera app is that it will allow you to tweak the settings to better fit the scene you’re photographing. Adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO will let you get exactly the picture you want, whether you’re looking for a shallow depth of field, motion blur, tack-sharp clarity, or just an all-around good photo.
7. Use HDR—in Moderation
High dynamic range (HDR) is a polarizing topic — on one hand, it helps you get a balanced exposure in a photo that contains a lot of highlights and shadows. On the other, it can be overused and create photos that look a little . . . off. And there are better methods for dealing with difficult-to-expose scenes. If you don’t go overboard with it, though, it can be really useful (in the photo below, for example, there was no detail whatsoever in the window; it was totally blown out by the sun until the HDR balanced it).
8. Go Light on the Filters
Instagram popularized the idea of photo filters, but there are tons of apps out there that will let you apply a specific combination of effects to get a new look for your photo. But you don’t need to filter every photograph. It can be overwhelming (and a bit trite) to see an Instagram or Facebook feed full of “Earlybird” or “Mayfair” filtered photos.