How to take better photos with your smartphone

Spring is finally upon us, and we’re coming out of our winter hibernations. With the nicer weather come more opportunities to take great photos outside!

But you say you don’t have a camera? Sure you do — it’s right in your pocket. In fact, last year over 90% of all photos were taken with smartphones, and it’s estimated that over 1.4 trillion photos will be taken in 2021. That’s why we think it’s important to get the most out of that little, yet powerful camera in your phone.

Whether you’re making memories at a socially-distanced date with friends and family, a hike in the woods, or a day in the park, here are some tips to get the most out of your phone’s camera.


Turn on the grid

First thing’s first: To make a good image, you need to create a good composition to ensure the elements in the frame are positioned in a pleasing way. 

To help you frame the photo properly, you may have heard of the “Rule of Thirds,” the concept of splitting the frame into a 3×3 grid or nine squares, like a tic-tac-toe grid, and positioning major elements in your photo inside these sections, or where the lines intersect.

Your phone can overlay this grid on your screen to help achieve a more interesting photo. Here’s how to turn on the grid for your Android or Apple device.


Try holding your phone horizontally

If you’re used to taking photos with your phone in an upright position, consider turning it on its side 90 degrees. You may see a big improvement in your images. 

That’s because “landscape” photos (wider than they are tall) are how all “old school” cameras shot photographs (unless you positioned them vertically, of course). Horizontal photos provide richer details in the background and can produce more interesting images. They also look better on your horizontal screens, like laptops and TVs.

Of course, vertical orientation is also a great option, but unless you’re taking photos or videos for a social media platform that prefers its media vertically, like Snapchat, TikTok or even Facebook, try mixing things up.


Adjust focus and exposure

Today’s smartphones are very good at setting the focus and exposure (in very simple terms, how your camera reads the light) on a subject in the foreground — but it’s not always perfect or not the subject you want to feature.

To change your phone camera’s focus, open your camera app and tap on the screen where you want the camera to focus.

To change the exposure and/or brightness before you take a photo, tap on the screen. For Apple devices, drag the sun icon up and down. For Android devices, you can likely change the exposure with the +/- icons.


Explore “portrait mode”

The so-called “portrait mode” of your smartphone camera is a feature that can create a more dramatic image by sharply focusing on your foreground subject and automatically blurring the background. This is a fun way to create portrait-style photos without needing to lug around a big DSLR and fancy lens. Note that you will need to be a certain distance away for portrait mode to work, and you should hold your camera relatively still as the phone may take a little longer to process the image.

All newer Apple devices have portrait mode, along with many Android models. Here’s how to use portrait mode for your Apple or Android device, if supported.


Try HDR mode

HDR mode, or High Dynamic Range mode, is a feature in all newer smartphone camera apps that helps bring out greater detail in the darker and lighter areas of your photos, and it generally balances the light and colors a little better. This feature also takes a little longer to process in your app, and there are definitely situations where you wouldn’t want to use this feature, such as for moving subjects or where dramatic contrast is your intention.

Here are some additional tips for using HDR mode, and here’s how you can use the feature on Apple or Android.


Avoid using your built-in zoom function

You may be tempted to use the built-in zoom feature of your camera app, which is usually triggered by pinching two fingers outward (zoom in) or together (zoom out).

We’re here to say: Don’t do it — unless you have a newer phone that includes a camera with “optical zoom.”

For most phones, your camera app will use a digital zooming feature, which is nothing more than cropping the edges of your image, enlarging your photo and the image pixels, while decreasing photo quality. A good option is taking the photo without the zoom feature at all, or even better if you can, moving closer to your subject.

If your smartphone has multiple camera lenses, it’s possible your phone may have a limited fixed optical zoom feature, which will take better zoomed-in photos. Check with your manufacturer if your phone has this option.


Turn off flash & use natural light, if you can

Light is one of the most important factors in photography — and natural light is almost always better than using your smartphone’s flash, which can result in less-than-perfect images.

When shooting images with natural light, pay attention to where the sun is in the sky if you’re outside. Try to ensure the sun is lighting your subject, not the camera on your phone. Indoors, try using window light or more overhead artificial light, and ensure your subject is standing closer to the light, not in the shadows. Many newer smartphones work exceptionally well in low light conditions, so try taking your photos without the flash, then again with the flash, to see which one you like better.


Edit your photos

Lastly, you can turn a good photo into a great photo with a little editing. The built in editing features in your Apple or Android photo apps do a pretty good job helping you crop and adjust exposure, brightness, shadows and highlights, color, saturation and a lot more. 

To take your photos to the next level, you might want to check out some photo editing apps for more advanced features and filters. A few good photo editing apps include PicsArt, Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed, Adobe Photoshop Camera and Pixlr.