Hacks To Make Your Smartphone Camera Photography Look Better
Have you ever struggled to take an amazing photograph with your smartphone?
Having a high-quality digital camera in the palm of your hand is now a standard feature on today’s smartphones. While you can still use an expensive, fancy DSLR camera that can produce professional-looking images, these types of cameras are very complicated for many beginner photographers to use.
Thanks to smartphones, anyone can take amazing pictures without having to understand a lot of technical Smartphone Camera Photography lingo. But, if you are a novice photographer that has a tough time capturing the perfect photograph with a smartphone, there are simple techniques you can do with your smartphone to turn your images from just okay to looking professional.
If you are looking to take your smartphone camera photography skills to the next level and be able to start taking professional quality images particularly with your smartphone camera this post is for you.
Keep in mind that nothing matches the picture quality of a top-off the line DSLR or Mirrorless camera in terms of professional-looking photographs, but with the latest Samsung, Apple, and Google smartphone devices, they are giving standalone cameras a run for their money.
10 Best Hacks To Make Your Smartphone Camera Photography Look Better
Know The Resolution Of A Smartphone Camera
While many novice smartphone photographers recognize the resolution of a smartphone camera is measured in megapixels, but some people are unaware that they can go into the camera phone settings to adjust the resolution by choosing a higher or lower megapixel setting.
The ability to choose the megapixel setting before taking a picture is important for how you will be using the picture later on. If you are capturing memories from a vacation, or a special event, and you plan on blowing up your images into large prints that you can hang on the wall then set the settings to the highest resolution.
Side Note: Some smartphones are now pushing 100+ MP cameras built-in, and while they help take high-quality images, the downside is that this resolution will fill the smartphone’s hard drive quickly.
If you are trying to save space on your smartphone, and just wanting to capture images for social media content, using a lower megapixel setting is perfect for those situations. For taking photographs that you will want to put into frames or displaying them in photo albums, I suggest using a minimum of 12MP resolution to maintain a quality image.
Deciding to shoot in high megapixels is very important when using your camera’s zoom feature which causes pixelation, consequently reducing the image quality in larger image sizes.
In a perfect world, when using your smartphone for taking photographs, try to avoid using your smartphone’s zoom as much as possible for crisp photos. Other shooting settings like panorama mode will also deliver photos at a lower megapixel quality than images shot in standard mode.
Another big thing to remember when you are ready to offload your images onto a computer for color correction and editing is to export your images as “Actual Size.” When images are resized and compressed, it results in a reduction in photo quality. This tends to happen when you share a photograph via email or text.
Keep Your Smartphone Camera Lenses Clean
While I know this isn’t a huge hack, but when was the last time you cleaned the lens of your smartphone camera?
With the latest Samsung and Apple smartphone devices, they have multiple lenses for many types of camera shots. The problem with multiple lenses is they can easily be smudged, scratched, and be coated in dust and debris. I have the iPhone 12 Pro Max which takes amazing pictures, and I’m not persistent about keeping my lenses clean and it stops me from capturing crystal clear photographs.
So, when I start to noticeably see cloudy images after I take a photograph and know the oils from my hands or the dust in my pocket is giving me an unwanted filter for my photos.
Most phone cases today don’t cover or protect the camera lens, as they would just get scratched over time and reduce the quality of the smartphone photos. There are tempered glass lens screen protectors available that can help avoid scratches. Or you can just keep a small lens cloth in your purse or wallet for times you need to clean your smartphone’s lens.
Smartphone Camera Photography Side Note: Never use harsh materials like paper towels to clean your lens, as these can leave thin scratches on the lens that can reduce image crispness in your smartphone camera photography over time.
Lighting & Color
If you want a professional-looking photograph, you need to understand that lighting and color are two of the most crucial elements of quality Smartphone Camera Photography. Even if you took a photo of something magnificent like the Egyptian Pyramids, if the lighting or color is poor, the subject will not stand out.
In most cases, you should be able to use your camera phone’s auto setting for things like ISO and exposure values, but there will be situations where you will need to go into the camera settings before taking a photo to get an even better picture.
Adjusting your camera’s ISO setting will enable you to shoot clearer photos in low-light conditions like sunsets or late-night stargazing pictures while adjusting the exposure value can turn an image that may be too bright or dark into the right exposure.
One thing I always have to remember when taking a photograph is the smartphone camera is not as good as the human eye, and can be fooled by certain elements in a photo that may be bright or dark, and then makes incorrect auto adjustments that will result in a poor photograph.
You may also need to adjust the white balance, which is essentially how warm or cool the colors in your photo look. Depending on the source of light you are shooting in, like a full midday sun, cloudy skies, or under fluorescent lights, you may need to choose the appropriate camera setting that will render the true color of subjects in your images.
Smartphone Camera Photography Side Note: Camera phones make it easy to select the right white balance setting as they are often labeled “sunny”, “cloudy”, “fluorescent light”, etc.
Another thing to remember in terms of lighting and color is to try to limit the use of auto flash, particularly at night. Flash used during the day (fill flash) can be good at times to brighten deep shadow areas, but using it at night can simply wash things out.
If the color or lighting isn’t working in normal color mode, fiddle around with filters like black & white or sepia which may produce a more professional look. If you think the color around the subject you are taking a picture of is kinda blah, adjusting the filters to black and white for a more dynamic picture.
Find Unique Angles
Since smartphone camera photography is so easy, many people tend to use their smartphones like they would a point-and-shoot camera. The problem with point and shoot cameras is it doesn’t push the creative side compared to a DSLR/Mirrorless camera would.
To push your creative side, if you are a beginner photographer, is to shoot your subject uniquely. The easiest way to do this is just to adjust your angle.
This can mean anything from getting low to the ground, shooting up or down on a subject, and if you are taking a photograph of a person to have them adjust their angle.
Just a simple angle adjustment can create the illusion of height or depth.
Always look for an interesting angle that normal eyes walking by a subject don’t often get can make your images much more creative and artistic.
That’s why many of us are fascinated by drone shot videos and photographs because we don’t get a bird’s eye view of stuff very often.
Another key character of great smartphone camera photography is composition. How you adjust your subject or subjects can make a photo look disorganized or well balanced and pleasant to the eye.
If you are unaware of the “rule of thirds”, where an image is divided into thirds evenly both vertically and horizontally, then you should get used to it for better composition.
While most amateur photographers tend to put their subject right in the middle of the frame, you should try to follow the “rule of thirds” for better composition. The “rule of thirds” is where you place your subject on or near what would be the intersecting grid lines of the photo. Just imagine your frame is divided into equal thirds both vertically and horizontally.
It doesn’t have to be confusing as most smartphones make following the “rule of thirds” easy. With most smartphones, there should be a camera setting you can turn on called “gridlines” or “grid” which will display a grid of lines when you are taking a photo that divides your viewfinder into thirds both vertically and horizontally.
Then all you have to do is position the key elements of what you are trying to photograph along the intersections of those grid lines, and this will improve the composition of your images and make them pleasing to look at.
Take Candid Portraits
Do you ever notice that when you take a photograph of someone when they are unaware of being photographed that they look more natural in the photo?
While taking snapshots of your friends and family smiling and posing is great for non-formal family events or for capturing travel moments while you are on a holiday, but the most captivating and professional-looking photos are obtained with candid shots.
The key to candid smartphone camera photography is to catch a real honest moment in time. It’s about seizing people’s real emotions and personalities which is challenging to portray with a posed photo.
The way to capture quality candid portraits is to take many photos because it usually takes impeccable timing and a bit of luck for everything to come together to capture the perfect moment.
You can also use this idea of candid photography when taking selfies as well. To do this, instead of taking selfies face-on, try glancing away from the camera to create a more natural candid feel.
Simplify Images by Removing Clutter
Regardless of whether or not you are taking a photograph of a family member, friend, or even a stop sign, it’s always best to look for settings or locations that won’t have distractions around your subject.
Removing clutter from your images implies that there isn’t a bunch of strangers in the background that could potentially ruin your shot by photobombing or even distracting things in your shots that don’t need to be there.
Cameras with interchangeable lenses like a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, allow you to have much greater control over depth of field. This is perfect to help you blur background and foreground objects to simplify images and bring greater focus to your subject. But with phone photography, you have to be more aware of choosing more suitable locations for your subjects.
For those using a smartphone to take products shots for content creation on Instagram, you may want to buy a Photo Studio Box where you can give your products a nice black or white background free of distracting clutter.
When it comes to people shots, look for a bare wall or lovely landscape as a backdrop. Getting closer to your subject with your smartphone will also help to blur backgrounds and simplify your images.
Avoid Using Zoom
Sure the latest Samsung S21 has 10x optical zoom which can be tempting to use for capturing close-up shots of wildlife or athletes on the field at sporting events, but the smartphone camera zoom still has room for improvement before they can compete with the quality of telephoto lenses that are paired with DSLR cameras.
Smartphone models are constantly boasting their zoom capabilities, but what they don’t tell you is smartphone zooms are digital zoom compared to the optical zoom of DSLR cameras.
Digital zoom and the magnification technology it uses is more like a cropping feature to make you think you are zooming in on your subject, but when using long digital zoom to take photos you are left with an image that is reduced in megapixels and therefore crispness.
Using digital zoom may allow you to get your subject to fill the frame of your viewfinder, but the resulting image will be very grainy and you will often be restricted to shooting in full daylight sun to get a decent-looking image.
Smartphone Camera Photography Pro tip: If you are using zoom with your smartphone camera stay within the limits of the optical zoom which will often be limited to 2x to 5x magnifications.
Some camera phones are now using hybrid-optic zoom which is better than your average digital zoom but still can’t compete with the quality of a telephoto lens paired with a DSLR.
Another option is buying an external telephoto attachment lens that can be clipped onto your smartphone. Many of these types of attachment lenses sold online are made of cheap plastic, compared to the pricier attachment lenses from Moment that are made of high-quality glass and produce high-grade results.
Camera on tripod
While there will be many situations with a smartphone camera that you won’t need to use a tripod, like selfies or quick shots on the go. But there will be times a smartphone tripod can come in really handy.
When you see most professional photographers taking photographs, they are carrying heavy DSLR/Mirrorless cameras along with large lenses, and need a big bulky tripod for stable zooming capabilities to avoid blurry images and take amazing photos.
Since I don’t recommend using the zoom feature with smartphone camera photography, you shouldn’t have to worry about carrying around a tripod.
But, smartphone tripods come in handy when you want to take self-portraits or pictures of landmarks to get the picture just right.
Tripods are very useful when shooting in low light situations or when shooting videos and want to avoid any handheld camera shake.
Many smartphone tripods available today are small and quite compact enough to pack in a backpack or even a back pocket.
Edit Your Photos
What I love about digital photographs is that you can edit them anytime your want. Very few professional-looking photos you see on social media are untouched. If you see a photograph on a website or social media feed, odds are they have been edited to some degree.
The thing I hate about photo editing is that some social media content you see today is edited to give a false depiction of reality like modeling or the fashion world.
When you edit your smartphone camera photography, you should be enhancing the photo or make them more resemble what you saw with your own eyes. This can be done via your smartphone camera’s editing capabilities or in post-production with an editing suite like Adobe Photoshop to easily create more professional photos.
You can add saturation, adjust contrast and lighting, crop your image to bring more focus on your subject, add filters, and just remove any distracting elements that may be in your shots.
A smartphone camera, no matter how good it is, can have a difficult time trying to capture exact true colors and lighting in many situations, so oftentimes your photos will require editing later to have them look professional.
Photography is all about creation, and there are many different styles of photos that will appeal to different people. What professional-looking photos all have in common though is that attention and planning went into every one of them.
If you understand these 10 hacks, your smartphone camera photography will start to look more professional in no time. Just keep in mind that you should try all of the hacks all at once, you should experiment with them one at a time to not overwhelm yourself.
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.