Nowadays you don’t have to buy an expensive, bulky DSLR camera to take high-quality shots, or spend ages at your computer fiddling around with editing software. Smartphones are smarter than ever, and as they’ve improved, so have their cameras. If you’ve got a smartphone and want to improve your photography skills, here are 8 ways you can do this .
1. Keep your lens clean
It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t ensure their phone’s camera lens is totally clean before taking photos. The big advantage to shooting with your phone is that it’s usually always with you – but the drawback to this is that phones tend to spend a lot of time in hands, pockets or bags collecting dust, lint and fingerprints. If your lens has smudges on it, your photos can appear cloudy and out of focus, so always give it a clean before snapping.
Often, just gently wiping your lens on your jeans or some soft, smooth material will do the job, but be careful what you use to clean your lens – as courser materials can scratch it. If you like, you can buy a microfibre cloth to carry around with you and keep your lens clean. Amazon sell a good range of these (plus, they’re also great for cleaning laptops, TV screens and general dusting!)
2. Factor in framing
You can have the best camera phone in the world, but if you don’t think about the composition of your shots, your photos may not be as impactful as you’d like. Composition is basically just the way you frame a shot – and we wrote about this in more detail in our beginner’s guide to photography. The rule of thirds is the most popular and well known composition rule, and luckily, most camera phones are set up to help you compose images using this rule.
If you have an iOS phone , tap ‘Settings’, select ‘Camera’, and then tap ‘Grid’. This installs a rule of thirds grid over your camera, so you can compose your image more easily and keep your photo aligned with any vertical or horizontal lines in your shot. On Android phones, tap ‘Setting’, then ‘Apps’, then ‘Camera’, and finally select ‘Grid Lines’. You can then choose between a rule of thirds grid or a square overlay – which is perfect if you’re posting your photos to Instagram.
Once you have your grid set up, place the subject or object of your photo on one of the grid’s cross sections. This will help to draw the viewer’s eye to your image by giving the subject more prominence. A common rookie mistake when taking photos is to place the key object or subject in the centre of the photo – the assumption being that this will make it stand out, but it’s rarely as impactful as using the rule of thirds composition. To learn more about framing photos on your smartphone, have a watch of the video below.
3. Tap to focus
The beauty of smartphone photography is its simplicity – and one of the best examples of this is how you focus. With traditional photography, you often have to fiddle around with aperture and shutter speed to get your subject in focus, but with your phone, all you have to do is tap the screen. This ensures your subject is properly focused and the lighting is optimised.
Most smartphones automatically focus on the foreground of your frame, but if you want to focus on another aspect of your picture, simply open your camera and tap the area of the screen you want in focus. You’ll know it’s worked when a small square or circular icon appears on the area of the screen that’s now in sharp focus – although often you’ll know it’s worked just from looking at the clarity of your subject.
If you’re photographing a person against the sky, it’s a good idea to tap their face on your screen, as this stops your image from becoming dark (although, if you’re hoping to achieve an artistic look, tapping the sky will underexpose your subject and give you a dramatic silhouetted look).
Another perk of using smartphones is that they have small image sensors, which means you can get really close to your objects but still keep the whole frame in focus. This is hard to do with a DSLR, and makes smartphones perfect for taking close up photos. Have a watch of the video below to see just how easy focusing on your phone is.
4. Use negative space
When you’re setting up the composition of your photo, it’s often a good idea to try to embrace negative space. Negative space is just the empty space in your photo – the areas around or between your subject or key object. Many professional photographers suggest that around two-thirds of a photo should be negative space, as it makes your subject stand out more. Take a look at these great examples of using negative space to see just how powerful it can be.
Negative space can look like lots of things: a blank backdrop, a stretch of water, a wall, open sky, a large field. Once you start thinking about using negative space, it can help you become more creative when planning your composition. For example, it can lead you to start thinking about perspective, and begin taking photos from unusual angles. Most smartphone photos are taken from the front or above, so taking them from below, and using the sky as negative space, is one easy way to make your photos more memorable.
5. Look for light
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of traditional photography, and it’s no different on your smartphone (the word ‘photography’ actually comes from the Greek ‘drawing with light’). Smartphones have bright lenses, but they’re much smaller than those in a DSLR camera, which gives them a distinct disadvantage when you’re in a darker setting. While professional photographers use strobes and reflectors to manipulate lighting, when you’re using a smartphone you generally have little control over light sources.
To counteract this, it’s always advisable to take advantage of natural light whenever you can. A general rule of thumb for optimising lighting is to make sure that there’s a light source falling on your subject. If you’re inside, this can either be natural light from a window, or light from a bulb. Once you’ve found your light source, play around with angles and the different ways it falls your subject, as this can turn a good photo into a great one.
Even at night, you can find sources of ambient light like street lamps, buildings and traffic. Plus, using low-light sources gives you an opportunity to experiment with shadows, or take advantage of unique lighting situations to achieve more unusual images.
6. Avoid the flash (mostly)
Great phone pictures that were taken with a flash are few and far between, and the bright LED light from a smartphone’s flash can be quite unflattering. Many professional photographers suggest turning off your flash altogether, because often a phone’s default setting has it coming on when it’s not necessary, causing your photos to look harsh and unnatural. Even on the best smartphones, using flash in low light can produce strange looking glowing eyes and washed out skin. If you really need an extra light in your photos, you could use another phone’s flashlight to shine a beam onto your subject – or get creative with candlelight if you want a more artistic effect.
However, you might want to play around with your flash during the daytime. Using flash in well-lit environments can help reduce any dark shadows behind or underneath your subject or object, and can bring out more detail within the image. When you’re setting up a shot, keep an eye out for any shadows you don’t like. If you think the photo would be better without them, just turn your flash back on. On both Android and iOs devices, you can turn the flash on or off by launching the camera app, tapping the flash icon on the screen (it looks like a lightning bolt) and selecting ‘On’, ‘Auto’ or ‘Off’.
7. Don’t zoom in
It’s also a good idea to avoid using your phone’s digital zoom. As much as you might want to get a closer look at a rare bird at the bottom of your garden, or a beautiful building in the distance, zooming in is rarely a good idea. This is because a smartphone’s zoom function is quite different from that of a DSLR camera. On a proper camera, when you zoom in, the lens adjusts to ensure the picture remains sharp and in focus. On a camera phone, the zoom doesn’t do this – it just crops the image and resizes it, causing the photo to look grainy. Your subject might appear closer, but the cost is a major lack of focus and sharpness.
If you want to get closer to your subject, always try to physically move closer to it rather than using digital zoom. Of course, there might be instances when that’s not possible – if you’re on a safari, for example, it’s obviously not advisable to get closer to the lion you’re trying to photograph! But if that’s the case, it’s still better to take the photo from where you are and crop into it later. That way, you won’t reduce the quality of your image – plus, it’s easier to edit larger images too.
8. Experiment with editing apps
Editing your photos is an important part of digital photography. In the past, some people have seen editing photos rather like ‘cheating’, but even the best professional photographers edit their photos. You can see editing as a way to add further layers to the creative process, and to help you express yourself more clearly. For smartphone photography, taking the photo is only the first step – and because smartphones are essentially powerful handheld computers, the editing options available to you are extremely varied.
On most new smartphones you have built-in editing software, making it easy for you to remove blemishes, boost colour, enhance the brightness, or increase contrast or structure. If you’re new to photo editing, have a play around with your phone’s built-in features to see what a difference they can make. Food photos, in particular, benefit from being brightened and the colour enhanced.
If you’re serious about improving your phone photography, however, we’d recommend downloading a professional editing app – and luckily, three of the very best are free for both iOS and Android. Snapseed offers an extensive set of editing tools with a simple, user-friendly interface; Adobe Lightroom CC provides another wide-ranging suite of tools and is great at fixing specific issues relating to lighting or exposure; VSCO is a little more limited in its editing tools, but it’s efficient and easy to use if you’re new to editing. To see what a difference a few adjustments can make, have a watch of the photo editing tutorial below.
Smartphones have come a long way in recent years, but the beauty of using them for photography lies in their simplicity. With traditional photography, much of the focus is on the camera itself, and you’ll spend time adjusting settings like ISO, shutter speed and exposure. On a smartphone, however, the focus is always on the picture and what you want it to convey: the moment, your subject and the story.
Smartphone photos are now published in the pages of National Geographic, and more and more professional photographers are using smartphones for their work. Enjoy playing around with your phone’s camera and don’t worry if you don’t have the very latest model – because the biggest advantage to phone photography is having the ability to capture a moment anytime, anywhere.