25 tips to take better pictures with your phone!
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Hello friend, it is a pleasure to have you back!
Today we are talking about a more inclusive topic: phone photography!
Why did I say inclusive? Well, almost everybody has a phone in their pockets, and it is an awesome, handy, and free tool that we can use everyday. Not everybody has a DSLR to practice, but we can all make the most of the little computer we carry everywhere. Most phones nowadays are advanced enough to allow a fair quality result in your pictures, and, even photographers do not always have their cameras around.
So, let's learn how to take better-looking pictures with our phones!
If you do not have time to read the whole post, don't sweat! I made a special infographic just for you, where I summarized almost everything we were going to talk about.
Even if you are reading the post, I would recommend saving this to your phone, so if you do not remember you can always go back to it!
Alright, let's learn!
Alright, let's dig in!
1. Learn what your phone's camera can do!
Sounds obvious, but how many of us can actually use their phones to their full potential?
If we know all the functions that are accessible to us on our phone's camera, then we have more options to make our ideas come to life!
Unfortunately, since every phone is a bit different, you will have to google yourself how to use your phone's camera with all its functions. For example, I learned that my IPhone 11 has some settings I did not know like deep fusion, night mode, and quick take.
2. Take a moment to study your environment
I know the feeling of being so excited to take a picture that you cannot even think clearly. However, I promise that not rushing this will be worth it.
Take a moment to study the environment around you before taking a picture. Think about the following questions:
Is there a better angle?
What is the best position for lighting?
Could I implement a different foreground?
Is there a way to frame this?
Are there any leading lines that could make my picture more interesting?
Is there a better place or can I remove something distracting before shooting?
If you do not know what some of these words mean, do not worry. We'll cover them. Just make sure to take a moment to look around before shooting!
3. Focus on your subject
Most photos have one interesting subject that catches the eye, which is the main emphasis of the picture. Your camera's phone usually has an automatic focus, but you should be able to tap where you want it to be (and in some cases, you have the possibility to lock it).
Unless you specifically decide to break the rule, the focus should be on your subject. If your subject is alive, like a person or an animal, try to make sure to have the focus on their eyes.
We love to feel a connection with a photograph's subject, and focusing on their eyes will make your pictures look much more professional.
4. Remove distractions
Going back to looking around, take a second before shooting to remove distractions from the back of your frame, or try moving your phone to cut them out. Yes, you are technically able to remove them while editing, but it's so much easier.
You do not want anything in your pictures that is unnecessary, out of context, and distracting. For example, a couple of feet on the right of where this picture was taken there was a garbage bin. I made sure to move in a place where you would not be able to see it.
It's really that easy, and I promise, it makes a world of a difference.
5. Capture multiple shots
The majority of smartphones allow you to take burst photos, meaning that you are able to take a lot of pictures in a really short amount of time.
In this way, you'll have hundreds of frames to pick from! Especially if you're including movement in your pictures, having a lot of different pictures of the same motion gives you more choices.
Again, for every phone is different. For my iPhone 11, this is how to use the burst feature.
6. Use your phone's grid
These little lines should be your best friends from now on.
Why? Well, they are very helpful to understand one of the compositional core rules: the Rule of Thirds. I will have a whole lesson about composition soon, but for now let's learn it in the simplest way possible.
The Rule of Thirds divides the frame into 9 rectangles, having 2 parallel lines diving the plane into three equal parts on both axis. Pretty much, the rule of thirds tells you that we tend to focus our eyes on the intersection between those lines. So, if you have an emphasis, setting it on those intersection points will make stand out even more. So, if you want your subject's eye to be the emphasis, set it on one of the intersections, like this:
If you have a whole subject, you'll want them to stand along one of the two vertical lines, like this:
I told you, it was not that hard!
If you have horizontal lines or subjects, like the horizon, it's a good rule of thumb to try and keep them on one of the two lines. Let me show you.
The horizon line is on the lower horizontal grid line, and the tree is on the third as well. Easy recipe for a stunning and simple photograph.
You can also use the grid lines to help you keep your pictures straight. In fact, many beginners realize a bit too late that their photo is incredibly tilted. Use the lines to help you keep your lines straight!
(Again, these are just general rules. You are not obligated to do it, and a picture is not wrong if it does not follow this rule. It's just a good reminder.)
If you have an iPhone, you'll just need to go into settings > camera > enable grid. This is a very common feature for most phones.
7. Try different perspectives
Spice up your photos, try something new!
We always see the world from our own point of view, so if someone shows us a completely new different perspective through a photograph we will be immediately more interested in it.
Squat down on the floor, or climb up a flight of stairs to completely change the scene. You can even only change the angle to change perspectives, like tilting your camera upwards. I did the exact same in this photo, which I took with my iPhone on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC.
Just look around and switch up your point of view, even if it does not sound any interesting... just try.
“Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.”
(Dead poets society, anyone?)
8. Embrace negative space
I understand that we said to focus on one subject, but it does not mean that it has to fill the entire frame!
As a good rule of thumb, while learning, try to keep your subject on 1/4 or 1/3 of the frame. You do not have to, but it usually creates a very balanced and harmonious result, especially if you keep your subject on the third.
What is negative space?
It's everything that we would not recognize as subject or that is part of the background. It's the space in between things. The sky is usually considered negative space, for example.
We often tend to disregard negative space, while it should be as important as the rest. In fact, it allows our subjects to breathe and it helps create balance in the picture. It also enhances contrast and brings our viewer's attention to the main subject.
Less is often more in photography.
9. Take advantage of available light
It may be pretty intuitive, but never underestimate the power of good lighting in photography.
Most of us do not have much lighting equipment at home or around with us, so we need to be able to recognize how to take advantage of natural light. Phones' flashes are often cheaply made, and they are not very flattering to the face. Try using a window, instead.
Positioning your subject next to a window, especially if it has a pattern like this one, will help your photos look much more interesting. If you have a semi-transparent curtain, you can even diffuse the light to create a softer look.
You can also try to put other objects in front of your window (or source of light) to create different colors and patterns.
If you're outside, you have way more options. First of all, you have to know that the light around sunset and sunrise is much softer and more flattering on the face.
During the middle of the day, unless it's cloudy, the sunlight will be much stronger and harsher.
Furthermore, the direction of the light relative to your subject will tremendously affect your pictures. Try not setting your subject's face right in front of the sun.
It will be very two-dimensional and have a raccoon effect because of the harsh shadows. Instead, try turning your subject or change camera position to create interesting shadows on the subject's face.
Or maybe, set yourself and your subject in a shadow zone, where the lighting will not be as harsh.
Or, if you're feeling brave, try having your subject's back face the sun. You'll either get an interesting silhouette, or, you might be able to catch some sun rays refracting on your lens.
There is no wrong method, but these are usually the most professional-looking ones. Try things out!
10. Use reflections and shadows
On the same topic, do not forget to look for interesting shadows around you. Shadows help shape the world and make it more three-dimensional looking, especially on a flat screen.
Another interesting effect is reflections, which can be found more easily than you think. Water and glass will both produce this beautiful effect, and most cities are full of them.
When handling reflections, look for contrast among all else. The picture below is a perfect example on how these two techniques produce mesmerizing results.
11. Pay attention to compositional rules
Sorry for all these technicalities, but I promise that they'll be useful.
Look at this beautiful picture. Why is it so successful?
Remember the rule of thirds from before? The man is exactly at the intersection between the thirds.
Furthermore, as a rule of thumb, it is more aesthetically pleasing to leave space in front of our subject if they are moving on the picture plane, rather than behind. We tend to look towards the direction where our subject is going, which also makes the picture more reactive.
There are more compositional rules other than the rule of thirds. We will talk about a couple of them separately, but let me mention a couple right here.
The rule of odds is one of the other main rules. We don't know why, but we are visually more attracted to odds, especially the number 3. A photo of 3 birds on a wire looks better than a photo with 2 or 4 birds. It's just how it is.
Another rule, always fixated with the number 3, is the golden triangle. It's made by dividing a picture with a diagonal, and then divide one of the subsequent triangles with a line that falls on the diagonal with a 90 degree angle. It sounds complicated, so just let me show you.
Also, just form triangles in general. Posing, in your environment, literally everywhere. People love triangles, for some reason. Just... find a triangle.
Another really important rule of composition is finding leading lines!
Our world is made up by lines, and they can help to direct our attention to our main subject. Diagonals, curvilinear, and organic lines can all help to make your picture more interesting and make a particular part of the photograph stand out.
Lastly, there is the Golden Ratio rule. This one is the hardest to find in nature, and probably the most complicated concept to grasp. It's a convoluted mix of rectangles/squares, that eventually forms a spiral that leads your eye to a focus point. Basically just look for natural or artificial spiraling patterns, and your picture will be geometrically pleasing. However, don't overcomplicate your life to find it, just know that this rule exists.
12. Steady yourself, or use a tripod!
Unfortunately, we all have at least slightly shaky hands (if you're me, very shaky).
Especially when it's dark outside, and the quality is already lower due to our phone's limitation, try to minimize motion blur and noise by using a tripod or a remote shutter. If you cannot purchase one, try to set your phone on a flat surface or keep your hands as steady as possible.
13. Do not use your camera's zoom
Our phones have great cameras, but they are still pretty limited. One of the main things that they lack is a good-quality zoom. Try to minimize a loss in quality by getting closer to your subject instead of using the zoom.
It will look much better.
14. Do not cut your subject's body parts out of the image!
This is another compositional rule, but we tend to do it so often that I decided to keep it as a separate rule.
Don't cut people's limbs out of the picture without a reason!
First of all, it's kind of mean. Then, it unbalances the picture, and it makes it look a bit incomplete, as if we're pushing the eyes out of the frame.
Yes, sometimes it is an artistic choice, but most people just do it because they're not paying attention to it.
What do you think, doesn't it look better if I keep her feet in the picture?
15. Direct your subject to pose better
Do not stay silent during your shoot! You are the one who is seeing the preview of the final result. Speak up!
Direct your model to pose better, turn their faces, place their hands somewhere, or move their weight from one leg to another.
The right pose can make a picture much more expressive and dynamic. Try to help the model mimic her environment or emotions with her body and facial expressions (if in doubt, make triangles!)
The wrong pose, especially the ones that everybody tends to do, makes a picture rather boring and forgettable.
16. Incorporate movement in your poses
Another thing that makes a pose interesting is movement!
We are attracted to movement because it creates a more dynamic and proactive photograph. It gives us a sense of something real, because in real life you will rarely find a subject completely still.
Play with your dress, fake walk, jump, play with your hair, dance, run, jump again, fake fall... the possibilities are endless. You can also try to create motion blur through a longer shutter speed, or use diagonal lines to create implied motion.
Incorporate movement and you'll have fun, spontaneous, and unique poses.
17. Edit your images on a mobile app
Yes, I know. Editing is scary. However, you don't have to start with photoshop!
There's billions of apps that let you edit the basics of your photos, starting from your own gallery. You can edit basic adjustments directly in your gallery.
Or, if you want your pictures to look more professional, download Lightroom mobile (this is not an ad, I swear, I just love it). It's not as overwhelming as normal Lightroom, but it has a lot of features. It also has a variety of ready to use presets, which are always helpful for a beginner.
Honestly, sometimes I even edit on there, especially when I want to do a fast retouch. If you get the paid version (it's like $5 per month), which is much cheaper than the laptop's subscription, you can use almost all the features that are present in the professional version.
Yes, you do need to take some time to figure it out, but look at the difference!
18. Crop your image for a more compelling composition
If you want to bring out details in your image, or if you think that some parts are too distracting, start cropping!
Try different compositions, and just experiment. Many people underestimate the power of good cropping. It can make a picture go from good to fantastic.
While you're at it, make sure to straighten your picture while you crop. Tilted lines are never pleasing.
Also... make sure to save it as a copy, so if you don't like it, you can always go back to the original picture.
19. Frame your image
Another compositional rule that deserves its own number: framing!
Framing can make the image much more compelling. It's used to bring attention on your subject by surrounding it with a shape that creates a different plane in the image.
Basically, you're finding something that highlights your subject by surrounding it.
Photographers do this all the time! Either with actual objects, natural patterns, buildings, or lighting, photographers love to use foreground like this!
20. Look for repetition
There is something about repetition that is so pleasing to the eye. Perhaps it's the symmetry, or maybe it just makes visual sense to our brain.
Whatever the reason is, humans love finding patterns. We love making sense of the world, so we always look for some sort of common feature.
So, finding existing, repetitive patterns is a recipe for success.
21. Use variety to make the image more intriguing
Yes, humans love repetition, but it can also become quite boring after a bit. If you can mix repetition with variety, like in this photo below, your viewer will spend more time bouncing their eyes around the frame.
Variety creates emphasis, especially among patterns. It creates contrast, and it catches the attention of the viewer. It can be a different shape, color, position, angle, or literally anything. We love balance, but we are ultimately attracted to what stands out.
If you mix these two techniques, your photo will be automatically more interesting.
22. Create balance
We keep talking about balance, and you might think that I'm getting repetitive. However, visual balance is the key of composition. While it's technically not wrong to have an unbalanced picture, it will be very unsettling for the viewer.
You can decide if you want to create a more symmetrical or an asymmetrical balance.
A symmetrical balance has the same elements on both sides of the axis. You can't go wrong, but it could be a bit boring, unless the elements you picked are particularly intriguing.
An asymmetrical balance is visually pleasing, and it balances elements with a heavier visual weight with different objects on the opposite side of the axis, and together they hold the same visual power.
So, for example, the photo above is asymmetrically balanced. Let's analyze why it's balanced. We have the main subject being the bowl in the middle. On the left lower side, we have a white cloth that has a great visual weight because of the contrast that it provokes, and a banana that complements the yellow in the rest of the plane. On the right side, we have many different petals, a couple of apple slices, and a chocolate bar. These many, varying elements together are as visually attractive as the cloth, which makes the picture particularly balanced. Furthermore, this photographer used a great variety of textures (going back to variety...), which makes the picture even more intriguing.
I hope it makes sense!
23. Clean your phone's lens!
Listen, I do this too, but please do not forget to clean your phone's camera every once in a while. I need to clean my glasses twice a day in order to see clear enough, so imagine how dirty your phone lens has to be if you have never cleaned it. You can use the lens cleaning wipes that they sell at your local supermarket, or, if you want to be fancy, you can buy a camera cleaning kit, which has less risk of scratching your lens.
It makes a hell of a difference.
24. Ditch your phone's camera app
Don't get me wrong, this is just my personal opinion, and it's completely optional. However, there are apps out there that give you the ability of using your phone as if it was in manual mode. It's honestly quite easy to learn (I wrote some blog posts about it), and it makes a huge difference.
You can control the aperture, exposure, shutter speed, and ISO of your phone!
It does look like I am promoting Lightroom mobile, but it is one of the few mobile apps I have tried. Since I have loved it since I first tried it, I do not have much experience with other apps, but I am sure that there are many other great options. Let me know if you have some to suggest!
However, if you download Lightroom, you can use the manual settings for your phone's camera. Furthermore, Lightroom has a fantastic HDR (high dynamic range), which is pretty much an automatic feature that makes your photos so much better. Some of the latest phones also have this feature in their cameras. To explain it easily, it takes three pictures at the same time in three different exposures and then merges them, so you'll have a shaper and more dynamic looking image. To summarize, it is a sick automatic feature that you should definitely try.
25. Take candid photos
Lastly, do not forget to step back sometimes and take pictures of authentic moments. Let people be, and just document their spontaneity and raw emotions.
We do not need to be constantly posing, and most times, a simple prompt goes a long way.
Posing is convenient, but real emotions are expressed when you do not tell people what to do.
Being a simple observer can lead you to even better pictures than remembering a thousand poses. Trust the process.
Aaaaand, we're done!
Let me know if it was helpful in the comments, and if you want me to dig deeper in any of these topics. Which ones of these did you not know?
Have a great week guys!