10 Tips To Making Better Smartphone Photos

Smartphone photos are taking over the world. Literally. What camera does Flickr state to be the most popular used to take photos on there? Yes, an iPhone. Even I, who owns a DSRL camera and various lenses, opt to take 90% of my photos with my phone (a Samsung S7). That being said, there are some truly shocking photos being taken and I’d like to offer 10 tips to making better photos with your smartphone.

You’ll notice in the title of this post I chose to say making rather than taking better smartphone photos. This is not a typo. Anyone with a camera in their hand can take a photo, but it takes a little more than that to make a photo. I choose to make photos, and so should you.

1) Understand Your Camera App

Is this an obvious statement? I think not. I remember getting my Galaxy S7 and diving straight in. But, there were settings and functions in there that I didn’t know about until I stumbled upon them. Like what? Well, burst mode (more on that later) would be one that when I came across it I was like “oh, that’s cool, wish I’d know about that last week”.

Take some time to play with the camera at home. Get into the settings and really have a good old tinker. Go online and Google your particular phone and camera to see if there are any tips and trips posts out there (there will be).

2) Light, light and more light

First a bit of a techy ramble…

One thing that a smartphone camera cannot match up to a dedicated camera is the physical size of the photosensor. If a smartphone is listed as having a 12MP camera (such as my Samsung S7) what that means is that the photosensor has 12 million photosites. These photosite (or pixels) are light sensitive, so when the light hits them a small electrical charge is produced. The brighter the light, the more photons are collected, and a higher electrical charge is generated. The simple fact that the size of the photosensor in a smartphone will be physically much smaller than in a point and shoot or DSLR camera means that those pixels are also much smaller. So a 12MP smartphone will actually be far less light sensitive than a 12MP DSLR.

So, what that technical jargon boils down to is that you will get better photos with the more light in the scene you are photographing. And the best light of all is natural light. 

3) The Golden Hour

Light again! The golden hour is a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky. Get outdoors during this light and make some truly fabulous photos.

golden hour
Sunset over Farndale and Blakey Ridge
4) A Steady Hand

Movement during the capture of a photo is still a real issue. Any movement while the shutter is open to capture the light hitting the photosensor (see above) will appear at blurring in the resulting shot. The best way to combat this is the keep you hand as steady as possible. But there are some things you can do to help with this.

  • Find something to rest the smartphone on. Indoors this could be a table or outdoors it could be a gatepost. My smartphone can take photos with voice activation so I can set in down on a stable platform and command it to take a photo and that means no movement.
  • Keep still. Easier said than done. There are a few things you can do to help. Set your feet at should width and stand firm. Keep your arms firmly into your sides while you hold the smartphone with both hands as you take the shot.
  • Get a mini-tripod or Gorillapod to help. There are so many out there – just Google it. I have the Gorillapod and use it with a smartphone attachment that came with a selfie-stick.

Gorilla pod smartphone

5) Use the Physical Shutter Button

Related to keeping your phone camera steady; trying to hold your phone steady then tapping a button in the middle of the screen isn’t always easy, and it can make your handset to wobble just at that vital moment when you’re making the shot.

Use either of the physical volume buttons to snap your picture instead (the works on iPhones, Nexus devices, and most other Android phones too). It’s not always going to be the best option but it’s a useful alternative and feels more like you would use a dedicated point-and-shoot camera.

physical shutter button

6) The Rule of Thirds

An old photography trick that’s been around for years is the rule of thirds. You can still apply it to smartphones just as well as dedicated cameras. With the rule of thirds, you imagine an image is split into nine equal blocks that form a three-by-three grid. Aim to get the most interesting parts of your image, such as trees or a face, near the corners of these segments, where the imaginary gridlines intersect. When composing a portrait it can greatly improve a photo if the eyes of the subject at close to the point the lines meet.

Smartphones make this really easy and you don’t have to imagine the lines. Get into the settings of your camera app and switch on the grid lines option.

photography rule of thirds
One of my favourite shots I’ve taken of cheetahs at Chester zoo showing an example of applying the rules of thirds
7) Go HDR

HDR is an acronym for high dynamic range. Switching this option on in your cmaera will be straightforward and will improve the photos that you take. Essentially what the camera is doing is taking 3 (maybe more) photos when you press the shutter button. The software merges these photos to produce the best range of colours and light in the shot. 

hdr

8) Utilise Burst mode

Burst mode is fantastic for action shots. Kids jumping or dogs running are great examples. Fire burst mode that can take dozens of photos within a second or two and then pick out the best frame from the photos taken. I was so happy when I found out my Galaxy S7 could do this!

burst mode
This is the best frame from a burst of 13 shots of Duke
9) All About the Angle

Don’t limit yourself to taking all your photos from eye level. Mix it up by holding the camera high or getting down low. In the photo below I held the camera close to the ground to capture the scene from an angle where the brooding clouds would look awesome against the lush green grass and the buttercups.

camera angle
A carpet of buttercups taken from almost at ground level
10) Post Process Like a Pro

Just because you are using a smartphone doesn’t mean you can’t edit your photos and enhance them. There are so many apps out there for this that this post cannot mention all of them. I predominantly use two; Lightroom CC and Snapseed. Both are free, although Lightroom has a paid option. They have plenty of presets but also give you amazing creative control over your photos.

Below is s shot I took recently of the sun creeping through the trees. The first photo is the raw photo from the camera, the second was edited in Lightroom CC on my phone in less than a minute.

Before editing
After editing in Lightroom CC

 

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