How to Take Better Photos on Your Smartphone
Smartphone cameras are now better than ever, but do you ever find yourself wondering why your photos look a bit lack-luster?
Looking at the iPhone Photography 2016 Winners, I find myself scratching my head wondering how they achieved such stunning results - my smartphone photos look okay, but nothing like this:
Photo: Xia Zhenkai - 1st Place 2016 iPhone Photography Awards winner, People
The first thing I should probably mention, is that if you're serious about photography - your smartphone will only take you so far. Although the specifications are getting better and better each year, you'll never be able to achieve the things you can on a digital camera.
However, there are some tips and tricks that can help you take your smartphone photography to the next level...
1. Think About Composition
You may think that ‘composition’ is only something that professional photographers have to worry about, but if you’re serious about upping your smartphone photography game, then it’s something you have to think about as well.
There are some general 'rules' that photographers tend to follow - however, remember that rules are made to broken, and you don't always have to follow them to create a great photo.
One of the most common 'rules' is the Rule of Thirds. This is where you imagine your photo as a grid, and position the subject where the lines intersect (in other words, not in the middle).
iPhone's actually have a grid option that you can turn on, to help you think more creatively about subject placement.
2. Learn Your Smartphone's Features
Do you know what your smartphone is capable of? The majority of you will have photography settings on your phone that you didn’t even realise you had.
For example, I only recently learnt how to use the focus lock on my iPhone (for anyone else who doesn’t know, you simply tap the screen where you want to focus and hold your finger until the AF/Lock tab appears).
Whenever you get a new phone, take some time to get to know your camera. Play around with functions, and check in the settings as well.
Knowing exactly how your camera works, will help you to take better photos.
3. Clean Your Lens
It’s been said that your phone is one of the dirtiest items you own.
Think about it, you interact with it everyday. And we all know our hands are carriers of bacteria, dirt and grime.
If you’re stuffing your phone into your bag or your pocket, leaving it on your desk (when was the last time THAT was cleaned?) and other various places, it’s probably COVERED in an array of nasty things.
Luckily, the majority of all this dirt and grime is harmless, so there’s no need to disinfect your phone. However, it’s definitely worth regularly cleaning your lens, to remove any dust or grime that may be there.
4. Avoid Zoom
Most smartphone cameras have a zoom function, but it’s often not very good. Smartphone cameras use digital zoom, which essentially crops and enlarges the image, instead of actually moving the lens closer to the subject.
The problem with digital zoom is that is causes a loss in image quality - that’s why zoomed smartphone pictures often appear grainy.
Instead, try to move closer to the thing you’re taking a picture of - as close as you can. You can always crop the photo afterwards if you need to.
5. Go on a Photography Course
I did, and I’d 100% recommend it. I did one aimed specifically at DSLR camera users, but I think the most important thing I learnt wasn’t the ‘techy’ stuff - but how to ‘see’ like a photographer.
Learning about all the different elements that make a good photograph, and comparing and discussing good (and bad) photographs, made me think about photography in a whole new way.
While I’m still getting to grips with the techy stuff (it takes practice) on my digital, I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my iPhone photos - and that’s because of what I learnt on my photography course.
There’s a whole host of photography courses available, so after some digging it should be easy to find one that suits you.
6. Learn to 'Read' Light
Ask any photographer what makes a good photograph, and the majority of them will tell you that it's all about the light;
Light is pervasive, and because of this you may not always be consciously aware of it - unless it's either blinding you or fading from view. Most of the rest of the time, light just is, so we don't pay much attention to it. For this reason you may spend a lot of time just snapping photos without really thinking about the quality of light.
- David Peterson, Understanding Light
Once you have an understanding of how light works, you can use those principles to manipulate light in order to improve your photography.
7. Use Photo Apps
There are a variety of smartphone apps that can enhance your photography.
Prisma (iOS/Android, Free)
Prisma became an instant hit in 2016 with its ability to transform photos into masterpieces in the style of famous artists. Plenty of celebrities have shared photos on social media using filters available on Prisma.
Enlight (iOS, £3.99)
Enlight has a range of photo editing features, but one of the most exciting has to be their double exposure function.
The 'Mixer' allows you to combine two photos into one, giving you control on blending to create beautifully unique images.
645 PRO Mk III (iOS, £2.99)
645 PRO is one of the oldest 'serious photography' apps and is still updated regularly. It features a DSLR-range of features, including shutter and ISO priority modes.
It can be a bit overwhelming to start with, but once you get the hang of it this app can really help you to up your smartphone photography game.
8. Experiment with External Lenses
There are a variety of external lenses and accessories available for all smartphones, and they can be really fun to experiment with.
After all, it's the lens that makes the photography. That's why lenses for professional digital cameras can cost thousands of pounds.
That's because the lens is a camera's eye; recording the light to create the final image. It can be complicated to explain, but you can read more about why lenses are so important here.
9. Shoot in Landscape
Because of the way smartphones are designed, we tend to hold them and interact with them vertically.
When it comes to photography, however, chances are you'll get a better picture if you shoot horizontally.
This gives you the ability to capture more in the image, as well as making it easier to follow the rules of composition I mentioned earlier.
Vertical images tend to squeeze the subject into a narrow frame with "dead space" above and beneath. A horizontal image gives a subject more "breathing space", making it look more professional.
The world of vertical photography, magazine covers, passport and school photos, and leather-bound albums, has come to an end. We look at everything horizontally: our computers, our phones, our TVs. Our eyes are side by side, not one on top of the other. It's time for a moratorium on vertical photos on the internet.
- Grayson Schaffer, Outside
10. Go on Photo Walks
Make time to go out with the sole aim of taking photos. This allows you to experiment and focus on your photography, without feeling rushed or distracted.
Once you’ve taken a photograph of something, think about how you could take a photo of the same subject, in a completely different way. This will force you to change your perspective, and make you a more creative photographer!
11. Use a Tripod
Nobody likes a blurry photograph (unless it was intentional!). Smartphone photography can be prone to blurring because they are hand-held.
If you’re shooting in low lighting, or trying out some long-exposure photography, you should really invest in a tripod to keep your phone as still as possible.
There are plenty of options available, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Just make sure it's sturdy enough to support your phone - you don't want it to fall over!
12. Avoid Flash
The flash on your smartphone is so small it will only illuminate objects/people a few meters away from you.
What’s more, the light is so concentrated and bright that it can often look too harsh in the photograph.
It’s best to use natural light if possible. Failing that, try to use softer external lighting as opposed to your camera’s flash.
Some of these tips will be easier to follow than others, but if you really want to make a difference to your photos you should definitely consider implementing some of them.
Did I miss something? Share your smartphone photography tips in the comments below.