[TIPS] How to Take Great Smartphone Pictures

Category: Photography

The ubiquitous smartphone seems to have replaced dedicated cameras among all but professionals and photography hobbyists. And the Android operating system powers 88% of all smartphones. So here are some tips for taking great photos with an Android smartphone. (Actually most of them apply to iPhones and old-school DSLR cameras as well.) Read on...

Tips For Smartphone Photographers

A picture is worth 1,000 words, and that exchange rate seems to apply to social media companies, too. Text-based Twitter is struggling, while photo-centric Snapchat and Pinterest are soaring. Experts estimate we now upload 2 billion photos per day to the Internet. Photography is the currency of social media.

My first tip is a simple but important one. Keep the lens clean. Phones spend a lot of time in pockets and purses gathering dust and lint. Fingerprints easily cover camera lenses when phones are pulled out hastily. A dirty lens will result in cloudy photos. Use a microfiber cloth to gently clean the lens. A cotton swab moistened with water can remove stubborn specks.

Next, use the “rule of thirds,” a basic photography tip. The rule is based on the theory that images look more interesting when their subject straddles imaginary lines that divide the field of view into thirds, horizontally and vertically. These Google Image search results instantly convey the idea. The points at which the imaginary lines intersect are also important in photo composition because viewers’ eyes are naturally drawn to those points.

Smartphone photography tips

Lighting is the most important aspect of photography. The direction, color, and intensity of lighting can have dramatic effects on a photo. Most smartphone photos are taken under conditions that give the photographer little control over lighting. But you can move around to get the light at your back and on your subject. Try different angles to see how light and shadows affect the composition.

These next two tips were given to me by a professional photographer. He advised me to avoid using a smartphone’s flash. Due to the size constraints of phones, a built-in flash is always too close to the lens, resulting in overwhelming glare, washed-out patches of skin, and the infamous “red-eye” effect. Use natural light whenever possible. If necessary, consider a detached LED lamp with adjustable intensity.

And never use digital zoom. Optical zoom works by physically moving the lens closer to the subject. Digital zoom is a software trick that enlarges pixels, which makes the image look larger but blurrier. The best way to make objects look bigger is to get closer to them, unless the object is a lion or alligator.

Experimenting With Camera Settings

Every modern smartphone packs a pretty powerful digital camera these days. But the camera app that comes with your Android or iPhone does not provide all the features that photographers need. If you want to take the best photos during your next vacation, nature walk, concert, etc., and spruce them up later, check out some of these useful photography apps in my related article [SNAP] Awesome Apps for Photographers

Understand Camera Modes. Using Android’s default Camera app, you’ll notice that various modes are available. Most people just leave their Android camera in “auto” mode, letting it select the best setting for each shot as best it can. But choosing the right mode can yield a much more interesting photo.

Try browsing through your camera’s settings and experimenting with its various modes. Some phones will show a small arrow on the left side of the camera screen, which will reveal a variety of settings and options. Others have a gear icon to access settings. You can always delete shots you don’t like. Try different filters to add subtle or slapstick effects.

If you have trouble keeping the phone steady when clicking the button to snap a photo, turn on voice controls. This will allow you to get your subject in focus, and take a picture by saying "shoot."

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is an important mode. It is a form of image processing that balances lights and darks in images, and helps them look more like the way the human eye would see the photo’s object. HDR actually takes three photos very rapidly - light, medium, and dark - then mashes them together to yield an image that includes all the highs and lows of a scene. As you might imagine, HDR works best with still scenes like landscapes, while moving objects will appear blurry.

If available, panorama mode lets you pan across a wide scene and capture it one wide-angle photo. In most cases, you'll want to hold your phone horizontally when taking pictures or videos. Panorama mode is the exception. Holding the phone vertically will increase your depth and result in a better image. It's important to keep the phone level while sweeping across the scene. If your phone doesn't have panorama mode, check the Google Play store for an app to add that functionality.

Some high-end phones with the latest Android version provide advanced simulations of professional photography features, such as aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual, as well as ISO (sensitivity) and white balance. Most casual shutterbugs will find these settings overkill, but they can come in handy at times if you take the trouble to learn them.

If your Android camera has a RAW image option, you can save images in uncompressed (raw) format instead of JPG. RAW gives you better editing options and yields sharper photos.

Backup photos automatically. Oceans of tears have been shed over lost memories when phones and their SD cards are lost or damaged. Google Photos provides unlimited free cloud storage for photos and videos as long as they’re no bigger than 16 Mpixels (photos) or 1080p HD (videos). Larger files are either compressed or counted against your Google account’s cloud storage limit.

You don’t need a Google account to use Google Photos. By simply activating the Backup & Sync function on an Android or iOS-based smartphone or tablet, Google Photos automatically saves all photos and videos stored on all the devices a user owns, as well as any taken in the future.

Do you have some tips on taking great pictures with a smartphone? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[TIPS] How to Take Great Smartphone Pictures"

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
03 May 2019

I highly recommend the iPhone Photography School. And like Bob's tips, many apply to Android cameras as well as iPhones. No, I don't get any kickbacks, would that I did! They also give many free tips if you get on their mailing list (yes they will continue to try to sell you on the courses, but I learned a lot and they continuously update the courses so I still recommend them.) Bob mentioned some of these tips, but there are so many more:

Posted by:

Sarah L
03 May 2019

Those lines on the image are a useful guide, yet there is another main point of them. Do not put the subject of the photo in the center box formed by those lines, but somewhere else in the image space. Eyes go the center, so having the face or the bird or the flower off center gets people’s eyes to look around at the whole image.This is an unconscious process, so take advantage of the whole image for a good composition. If you make this process conscious, it is quickly obvious that this is a major factor distinguishing good photos, good paintings from bad ones.

Posted by:

Bob K.
04 May 2019

Bob: "The best way to make objects look bigger is to get closer to them, unless the object is a lion or alligator."


Not surprisingly, Lions and Alligators also look larger if you get closer.

Posted by:

Sandy Jewell
04 May 2019

I find though that I can't see the screen on the smart phone in bright sunlight. Any tips?

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