How to take better photos with your phone

Updated: Oct 12, 2018

I love my camera. A lot. I carry it with me almost everywhere and it has become an extension of me to some degree. In fact, this summer I was camping with my family and after a little drive into town to get firewood, we were just getting back to the campsite and as I started to get out of the car I naturally grabbed my camera bag. My husband says ‘do you really need your camera right now?’ I looked up and I noticed I could barely see three feet in front of me it was so dark. There was no way I was going to be able to take candids of my kids in this light with my DSLR. The point is, sometimes taking your fancy camera with you isn’t possible. Or maybe you don’t have a fancy camera and just want to be able to improve the photos you take with your phone’s camera. Either way, I got you.

Follow the ‘rule of thirds’

The overall composition of your photos can instantly improve if you follow what is called the ‘rule of thirds’. This means that if you were to draw a 3x3 grid over any given photo, those with the best composition usually have their subject or focal point in the cross-section of one of the grid’s four intersections (or cross-hairs). Luckily enough, your phone automatically comes with a grid that you can turn on and off in your camera settings so you don’t have to picture an imaginary grid every time you are about to take a photo. Just go to your camera settings to turn the grid on or off.

Avoid using your flash, natural light is best

Turning the flash on your phone is the equivalent of ordering a nice glass of wine and then throwing loads of ice cubes in it. Way to ruin a good thing, right? It creates a very harsh artificial light, dark shadows, and unnatural looking skin tones. Natural light is best but even in low light today’s smartphone cameras are pretty good so have fun with seeing what you can accomplish without using your flash. Get creative with your composition and then you can always bump up the exposure (the light) when you edit your photo later on. Better yet, go outside or take that photo by the light of a window. Just don’t turn on that flash function, whatever you do.

I loved the lines and the repeating fixtures in this old hotel. Low light but turned out alright.

Get high (or low)

Sometimes just changing your perspective can significantly improve your photos and really help them stand out.

Sit or lay down on the floor or (safely) step on a chair. Look at everyday things from a new angle and get inspired. The results can be magical.

Don’t zoom, get up close

Recently my husband and I were on a whale watching tour. I had my DSLR and my husband was using my phone to take some pictures as well (thank you, husband). He assured me he got some great photos and I was excited to check them out afterwards. The only problem is, I was so wrapped up with taking my own photos, I forgot to tell him not to zoom and when I looked at the photos he took, he was right they were great shots but they were so pixelated and grainy I couldn’t use any of them. (Not your fault, Hubs. I appreciate you!)

Unless you are whale watching (or in another situation that prevents you from getting up close), do your best to get closer to your subject instead of using zoom. Sometimes even just getting up close and filling the frame with a subject can do wonders for changing your perspective and sparking creativity.

Include negative space

Another technique to try is to frame your subject with negative space. Negative space is the area around the subject of your photo and when you leave a lot of empty space in a photo, it really forces the viewer to focus on your subject and can really make an image more powerful and artistic.

Third picture in a row of my daughter in this blog post. I swear I photograph other people too.

Photograph what catches your eye

Is it a small detail? How about a pattern? Whatever catches your eye in a situation, focus on that and photograph it. Start by taking a wider shot in order to include more of your subject and background in the photo and then take another shot but really focus in on your favourite detail. Have a look later when you edit and see what you like best.

Edit Your Photos

You don’t have to have expensive editing software to take your phone photos from good to great. Thankfully, there are plenty of free editing apps out there that can be used right on your mobile phone (Lightroom is a great one) and if you aren’t using filters, I would highly encourage it. There is no shame in using a filter to help improve the overall esthetic of your photo if you are too intimidated to get too deep into editing apps or if you just don’t have the time. One word of caution about filters: There are some pretty crazy ones out there. My advice to you is stick to the ones that enhance the beauty of the original photo, and stay away from filters that detract or distract your viewer from the photo. You want people to be drawn in by the subject and the composition of your photo, not the filter itself.

Before editing

After some quick editing (using Instagram's editing tools)

So there you have it, just a few quick tips to help improve the quality of your phone photos. That’s it! Try them for yourself and see what you can capture. Happy creating :)

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