How to Take Better Photos With Your Phone Camera

“Don’t let anyone tell you that your mobile camera is not a real camera and that you shouldn’t waste your time capturing the wonderful things that happen around you with it,” says Alon Goldsmith, an award-winning photographer in Los Angeles who is known for using his iPhone as his camera of choice. “That convenient camera you carry around in your pocket is every inch a camera and you can do amazing things with it.” Check out the following tips for ways to improve your phone camera photography.

Clean off your camera lens

Having fingerprints, dirt or smudges on the lens of your phone camera may distort the image. Thus, photographers recommend giving your lens an occasional wipe. It is best to try to do this with a soft cloth, like the wipes that come with your glasses to help keep them clean. Wiping the camera on a rougher surface, like your jeans, t-shirt or jacket, may cause the lens to scratch over time.

Hold your phone steady

A shaky hand can make for a blurry photo or bad quality video. iPhone Photography School suggests turning your phone sideways, placing your index finger on top of the phone and pinky on the bottom. Then, place your other two fingers on the back of the phone to hold it for support. This allows you to press the button to take a picture with your thumb. You can also try holding your phone with two hands or resting your elbows on a table in front of you to steady yourself. Many phones also have a self-timer feature where you can prop up your phone and push a button, which will count down before taking a photo. You can also consider whether to purchase a phone grip or use a selfie stick.

Shoot horizontally

"The best tip that I'm constantly giving to people when they ask me how to take better photos with their phone is a simple one, turn your phone horizontally instead of vertically,” says professional real estate and architectural photographer Matthew Digati. “By simply turning your phone sideways, you can fit so much more into the frame. Especially for things like family photos, landscape photos, or photos while on vacation, being able to show more from left to right will make for a much better photo.”

Nail the background

“When setting up to take a photo consider the foreground (area in front of the subject) and the background (area behind the subject),” says Cheryl Ritzel, owner of photography education company FocusEd Camera. She says to try rotating your position to move left or right to get a pleasing and non-distracting background. “Check for any objects or distractions in the foreground that might draw attention away from the subject,” she says. This could include a person walking by in the background of the photo you are taking.

Get the lighting right

Your phone camera likely comes with a flash, but natural light usually leads to higher quality photos, says Ritzel. “The best natural light is bright, but indirect light,” she says.  Indoors this could be near a window, but not directly in a beam of sunlight. Outdoors this could be early morning or early evening, a sunny but overcast day, or a bright sunny day in the shade. “Indirect light is flattering on most subjects from people to flowers and won’t create harsh shadows,” Ritzel explains.

This, however, does not mean you should never use the flash. “In a well-lit situation, the flash can help as a fill-in for shadows under or behind the subject,” Ritzel says. “If you see shadows you want eliminate, turn your camera flash on for that shot, and then turn it off again.”

As a good rule of thumb, remember that phone cameras tend to do poorly in low light situations. “Newer phones have definitely addressed this but in general, more light equals better photos,” says Kari Bjorn, a wedding photographer in Arkansas. “If you are photographing indoors, turn on as many lights as possible and open your curtains.” And turn your flash on if you’re indoors in poor lighting or if taking a photo at night.

Play with your camera’s modes

Most phone cameras have different settings like “portrait” mode. “By selecting a mode, you are giving the smartphone a clue as to the subject and what to prioritize,” Ritzel says. For instance, if you select landscape mode, the software will typically turn off any blur effects and give you the best range of focus using the best camera lens from its available options to help you capture a wide vista. “If you select portrait mode, which can be good for pets, flowers, and any other singular subject that is not moving, then the camera will select a more flattering lens for people (not super wide angle) and the software may offer more blur behind the subject,” she explains. Have a fast-moving subject? Hold down the button when you take the photo and most phone cameras will take a burst of images so that “you have better chances of getting a good shot!” says Ritzel.

Don’t shoot photographs from above with children or animals

Taking a pic of your dog or grandchild? You may want to get down to their level. “Photographing pets and children from above distorts the perspective of your subject by making the upper half of their body look more prominent than the lower half and will get in the way of your perfect shot,” says Martin Sheerin, a New York City-based photographer and founder of Light Up My Photos. A child photographed from above, he notes, may lose the entire lower half of the body behind their head in the picture. In photographs of dogs, this tends to give them a big head with tiny feet. So, try taking a seat and snapping a picture of your grandchild as they are standing instead of hovering over them with your phone camera, so that you can photograph them at eye level.

Find a new angle

“We can’t help it; we’re driven to photograph the familiar,” says Goldsmith. He suggests trying to find a new way to think about your subject. “Get low, get high, shoot from the hip – it will make for something more unique that will help you stand out from the crowd,” he explains.

Edit your photos with apps

The Apple and Android stores offer different apps, which you can use to edit your photos. You can also put a filter on a photo to brighten it up before posting it on Facebook or Instagram. “Worried that editing your photos is cheating? It’s not,” says Ritzel. She notes that most photographers do this, amateur or professional, and explains that in the days of darkroom photography, photos were edited by dodging and burning as well as other techniques.

Practice makes perfect

“What is the best tip for someone who wants to improve their photography? Practice! Practice! Practice!” says Ritzel. Take photos daily and remember that even mundane subjects, like your breakfast, can be fun if you put some imagination into how you photograph it. “If you need ideas do a search online for ‘photography prompts’ and you will see lots of ideas,” she adds.

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