7 quick tips for taking better photos with your smartphone this summer

It’s summer and it’s hot outside! But if you’re like us, you’re braving the heat and venturing out with friends and family to make long-lasting memories — memories taken and stored on that smartphone camera in your pocket.

But do you ever feel like your pictures just aren’t as nice as the ones your friends post to social media? Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.

In this week’s tip, we’ll give you 7 quick tips to improve your photography chops and take better photos with your smartphone.

Turn on your photo grid

First, let’s talk about photo composition. 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.

Look at your screen. Are there elements in the background or foreground that aren’t necessary? Where is the subject of your photo positioned in the frame? Take a few steps forward or back (or zoom in or out) to line up the important elements with the grid, and you’ll end up having a more interesting and well-balanced image.

Pay attention to the way you’re holding your phone

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.

Alternatively, if you’re taking photos or videos for a specific social media platform, like TikTok or Instagram, you may want to create your images vertically.

Again, look at your screen and determine which orientation makes the most sense for your photo. Try it both ways, too — since you’re not shooting with film, you likely have all the storage space you need!

Clean your lenses

No matter how good your photography skills are, you’ll have a hard time taking great photos if your lenses are dirty or smudged.

Flip your phone over and take a look at the lens(es). Are they dirty? Give them a cleaning. Here’s a recent blog post on how to clean your phone the right way.

Turn on 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 balances the light and colors a little better. With HDR mode, your camera takes separate photos at different exposures in quick succession and blends them together to increase highlights and shadows — and the result is a nice photo.

Just note that since this mode takes a little longer to process in your app, there may be situations where you wouldn’t want to use this feature, such as for moving subjects or where dramatic contrast is your intention.

Here’s how you can use the feature on Apple or Android.

Choose your lenses wisely

If you have a newer smartphone with multiple lenses, like the iPhone 13 Pro or the Galaxy S22, you’re in luck! These newer phones have dedicated lenses for telephoto, wide and ultra-wide angles to give you higher quality images with different perspectives. 

Let’s say the subject of your photo is surrounded by a lot of distracting objects. By using your telephoto lens option, you can easily eliminate the noise in the background by zooming in. But what if you’re taking a picture of your friends at the Grand Canyon? You might want to choose a wide or ultra-wide lens to capture the stunning scene around you.

Try out “portrait mode”

The “portrait mode” feature on all newer smartphones allows you to sharply focus on your foreground subject while automatically blurring the background. This is a fun way to create portrait-style photos without having 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.

Avoid flash & use natural light

When it gets dark out, don’t be afraid to turn off your flash. That’s because most modern smartphone cameras have pretty incredible night mode features that can capture sharp and crisp images in low light settings — all without the need for a tripod. 

Newer iPhones (iPhone 11 and newer) should autodetect your lighting situation and activate night mode automatically. You’ll see a night mode icon at the top of the display when you’re about to take your photo. Make sure you hold your phone steady to avoid capturing a blurry photo.

On Android, the directions to enable night mode may vary from model to model. On a Galaxy, for example, open your camera app and swipe to and tap more, then tap night.