10 Simple Tricks to Boost Your Smartphone Photography

Dann Albright 01-03-2016

For the most part, taking great photos 5 Tips to Help You Take Really Unique Photographs Taking a photo is easy - it's making it stand out that's hard. Every great photo has something special about it, and that's what makes you stop and take notice. Read More with your smartphone requires the same thing as taking great photos with any camera—an eye for creating a scene, good lighting, and an understanding of photographic depth Fed Up With Flat Photos? Add a Sense of Depth with These 6 Tips Photos sometimes lack a sense of depth, and instead feel a bit "flat". Here are six tips to improve your shots and make photos feel more alive. Read More . But there are a few tips that are especially useful when you’re taking shots with your phone. These ten tips will help take your phone pictures from “blah” to “fantastic” in no time!


Take an Extra Second

When cell phone cameras first came out, they offered the chance to take pictures really fast, without getting out your camera or lining up a shot. And they weren’t good for much more than that because the quality of the pictures was all but guaranteed to be very low. But now that smartphone cameras can take pictures that are just as clear and crisp and a regular camera, there’s no excuse for hastily snapped, bad pictures.


So take an extra second—make sure your composition is good, include interesting subjects, see if you can improve the lighting or the angle, and figure out where your viewer is going to be looking. A lot of these are basic checks for good photography A Brief Guide To Critiquing Your Own Photos Understanding what works and what doesn’t work in your own photos is the perfect way to improve your photography skills. This guide shows you how and why you should be critiquing your own shots. Read More , but many people aren’t used to applying them to smartphone pictures. It only takes a few seconds to drastically improve your photos.

Use Principles of Composition

A lot of the things that come intuitively when you’re trying to compose a scene actually don’t make for great photographs. Putting the horizon in the middle of a scene, for example, creates a strangely unbalanced photo, where the viewer isn’t sure whether to look at the ground or the sky first. Learning a few basic rules of composition can make a huge difference in your photography.



Read about these five different rules of composition How to Compose a Photograph: 5 Essential Rules to Follow If you want to get really good at photography, there are some vital rules around image composition that you should consider. Here are five of the most important. Read More , and try to apply them in your next smartphone photo. If you only take away one thing from that article, let it be the rule of thirds: place important items in your photos about a third of the way in from one of the sides (top, bottom, left, or right) of your picture. It will drastically improve your pictures immediately. Also, remember that cropping can improve your composition; if you have a photo that has poor composition, a simple crop can turn it into a masterpiece.

Get Close

One of the biggest problems with smartphones is that they don’t provide any optical zoom, which means that anytime you zoom with them, you’re going to get a lot of distortion and noise in your photo. You can crop later, but the less cropping and editing you need to do, the better your photo is going to look. This means you’re going to need to get close to your subject.


Getting close to an object applies to just about anything—you can zero in on your subject in a landscape, fill the frame with your friend’s face, or just get close to something that you think looks cool. A great way to practice this is to find small things and take a picture from where you would normally take it, and then to take a few steps closer. You’ll see the difference in quality right away. (Or you can get a zoom lens for your smartphone Super Zoom & Lens Tips for Your Smartphone While our smartphones are equipped with better cameras than ever before, we're still stuck with the same digital zoom technology that's been around for years. That's because there's no fixing digital zoom - it's permanently... Read More ; that’ll do the trick, too.)


Ditch the Flash

The light that comes from a camera flash, even from your phone, can be really harsh—it creates weird highlights and shadows, affects the colors of your subject, and can mess up your photo with reflections. Unless the flash is the only way that you’re going to be able to capture anything at all, I’d recommend turning it off.


Instead, try to find a good place where you can take advantage of natural light, or at least something softer than your flash. It’ll lead to more even lighting and get you a better photo overall. You can also use a small diffuser for your phone’s flash if you can rig one up 5 Essential Digital Photography Accessories You Can Make Yourself Read More .

Use a Different Camera App

The standard camera app that came with your phone is fine, and it won’t let you down. But if you want to get great shots with your phone, you’re going to want to upgrade to a better one. Third-party apps Tested: Can The Right Camera App Make Your Phone's Camera Work Better? Did you ever stop to think that the right camera app may improve your phone's innate abilities? Is that even possible? Read More generally offer more settings, like allowing you to set the focus and the exposure of your photo separately, take burst shots, use different flash options, and more.



There are lots of different third-party camera apps Take Beautiful Photos, Fast: The Quickest iPhone Camera Apps The iPhone's camera app has certainly come a long way over the years, but there are several third-party camera apps that are faster to use when you're in a hurry. Read More out there, but some of the biggest names are Camera+, Manual, ProCamera, Camera ZOOM FX, and Camera 360. You’ll probably need to pay a couple bucks to get one of these apps, but the improvement in your photos will be absolutely worth it (I’ve been using ProCamera for a while now on my iPhone 6, and I highly recommend it).

Learn the Settings in Your Camera App

One of the biggest benefits of a third-party camera app is that it will allow you to tweak the settings to better fit the scene you’re photographing. Adjusting aperture, shutter speed Basics: Aperture and Shutter Speeds for Beginning Photographers Read More , and ISO will let you get exactly the picture you want, whether you’re looking for a shallow depth of field, motion blur, tack-sharp clarity, or just an all-around good photo.



Some of the camera apps out there are fairly complicated, so it might pay off to watch a tutorial on YouTube or at least read the instructions on the app developer’s website. And if you’re not sure which settings you should be changing, try messing around with an online camera simulator 3 Online Camera Simulators For Photography Beginners Learning the basics of photography makes sense because it helps not only in photography but also in understanding the type of camera one eventually buys. Read More that will help you learn what the different settings do.

Use HDR—in Moderation

High dynamic range (HDR) is a polarizing topic — on one hand, it helps you get a balanced exposure in a photo that contains a lot of highlights and shadows. On the other, it can be overused It's Time We Had a Word About Overdone HDR Photography... [Opinion] HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and in photographic terms generally produces an image where the entire scene is balanced, and evenly exposed. Recently I’ve not been seeing much of this on the web. I’m... Read More and create photos that look a little . . . off. And there are better methods Get Perfect Landscape Photos Using Exposure Blending Uneven landscape photos getting you down? Get a balanced exposure without resorting to HDR using exposure blending — here's how. Read More for dealing with difficult-to-expose scenes. If you don’t go overboard with it, though, it can be really useful (in the photo below, for example, there was no detail whatsoever in the window; it was totally blown out by the sun until the HDR balanced it).


Because your phone will take multiple pictures at different exposures and blend them together, you can usually fall back on picking out one of the photos if the HDR blend goes badly, too. In general, I recommend leaving HDR on Auto. You can turn it off if you want to practice getting good exposures 7 Skill-Building Photography Exercises That Really Work Anyone can take a photograph, but taking a great photograph? Difficult. These photography exercises actually work. Read More (which is probably a good idea), or you could use an app entirely dedicated to the creation of HDR photos, but I think it’s best to let your camera app decide.

Go Light on the Filters

Instagram popularized the idea of photo filters, but there are tons of apps out there that will let you apply a specific combination of effects The 5 Best Desktop Apps to Add Instagram Filters to Your Photos Here are several ways to add Instagram filters (or Instagram-like filters) to your photos using a PC or Mac. Read More to get a new look for your photo. But you don’t need to filter every photograph. It can be overwhelming (and a bit trite) to see an Instagram or Facebook feed full of “Earlybird” or “Mayfair” filtered photos.


Instead, take a moment to think when you’re lining up your photo—what sort of look would best fit the mood you’re trying to set? You might be able to use a film grain filter to make a portrait look old-fashioned, for example, or a highly saturated filter to get the most out of a fall leaves photo. And don’t be afraid to let your photos speak for themselves — the hashtag #nofilter can be pretty irritating, but if you took a good picture, show it off!

Learn to Edit

The idea of learning to edit photos can be daunting—there are entire online courses on photo editing that you can take. But learning to make quick, small adjustments through an app on your phone 6 Best Photo Editors for Android Edit photos quickly and easily on your Android phone or tablet with these apps. Read More is actually pretty easy, and it’s a lot of fun. You’ll get photos that look better than standard Instagram-filtered ones, and you won’t risk the “hey, I used a filter on this” look.


VSCO is a great way to edit photos for free, and Snapseed is another good mobile option. Download one and start playing around. I found that slightly increasing the saturation and warmth of my photos makes a big difference. Explore saturation, contrast, fill light, tint, grain, and other tweaks to see which improve your photos the most.

Keep Your Lens Clean

Because your phone is going in and out of your pocket or purse all day (along with who knows what else), there’s the potential for getting the lens really dirty. It could be from a food wrapper in your backpack, the makeup in your purse, a leaky pen in your pocket, or just the natural oils on your skin. Wipe off your lens on a regular basis!


I’m speaking from experience when I say that just a tiny bit of sunscreen will give you really blurry photos, and not in an artsy way. If you really want to up your smartphone photography game, carry a lens cloth with you and use it on a regular basis, not just when you clean the screen How to Safely Clean Your Tablet or Mobile Phone Touchscreen Grime and dirt can impact touchscreen performance. Here's how stop that by cleaning your mobile phone or tablet touchscreen. Read More .

Your Best Smartphone Photography Tips

These ten tips should make a big difference in your smartphone photography, but there are a lot of great ways to take better pictures from your phone. Which pieces of advice have you found most useful? How do you make sure your phone pictures stand out? Share in the comments below!

Image credits: Dirima via, Rick Harris via flickr.

Related topics: Photography, Smartphone Photography.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Ethan
    August 9, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    VSCO Cam can take photos or import from the camera roll, as well as short videos or animated GIFs (known in the app as DSCO; iOS only). The user of VSCO Cam at productscrack can edit their photos through various preset filters, or through the “toolkit” function that allows finer adjustments of fade, clarity, skin tone, tint, sharpness, saturation, contrast, temperature, exposure and other properties.

  2. Tech Man
    March 17, 2018 at 3:42 am

    Is that picture of the dog being edited in VSCO or Snapseed?

  3. Wayne
    April 5, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Great basics. My tendency is to shoot too fast. You've summarized it nicely.Easy to remember when I take that next photo.

    • Dann Albright
      April 7, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      That's a really tough one to get over, especially because that's the advantage of using a phone camera in the first place! You want to get a quick shot, often of something that's happening fast, so you whip out your phone and snap away. But if you have the time, even an extra 10 seconds can make a huge different. I hope you find that tip pays off!

  4. VickiO
    April 5, 2016 at 5:27 am

    Thanks so much, Dann! Great article and information. I love my iPhone 6 camera, and use Snapseed on my iPad to tweak some of my photos. I will play with contrast and saturation and see what I come up with. Love your photos in the article, too!

    • Dann Albright
      April 7, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      I'm really glad you like the article! And the photos, too; I really love some of the ones I posted. Snapseed is great on the iPad; I haven't used it in a while, but I think it's one of the best mobile editors. Can't wait to see what you come up with! I love the pictures you post on Facebook.

  5. Charlie
    March 8, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    As a digital camera user for many years I recently moved up to an iPhone. Besides the many helpful recommendations listed in this article, needless to say there is a definite learning curve involved in transitioning to a smartphone/camera, the most important I feel is reinforced by the old maxim that the best camera is the one you have with you.

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:24 am

      Yes, there is definitely a learning curve, especially coming from a digital camera. But a lot of the apps make it pretty easy to learn the controls you need, which is nice.

      And there's certainly no arguing that the best camera is the one you have with you. That's one of the things I love most about smartphone photography—there are very few situations in which you don't have a camera to capture the scene!

  6. Anonymous
    March 7, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    I am using now the app A Better Camera in its free version and it seems to me quite nice and with a lot of possibilities. May be you should try it and provide your impressions about. Thanks for your info.

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:23 am

      I've never heard of A Better Camera—I'll have to check it out! What do you like about it?

      • Anonymous
        March 9, 2016 at 7:26 am

        I am just an amateur in photo shooting. Since I installed it in my phone is the one I use mainly due to the control possibilities it provides from my point of view. They have two options: free and paid. They have several options for shooting and one of the most interesting for me it is the nightly shoot. Could be uncomfortable in the beginning but using it I got very nice pictures in low light conditions when normal cameras are not giving good result.

        My phone is a local phone, Aquaris E5 FHD, with a 13mpx camera and my pictures have improved since I used it.

        • Dann Albright
          March 11, 2016 at 2:59 am

          Interesting! Night shooting is definitely a nice feature. It's not easy, and any help you can get is good. Sounds like a good app!

        • Anonymous
          March 11, 2016 at 6:49 pm

          Do you plan to analyze it or compare it to others in line with your article? Could be good to have your opinion looking at your whole experience. Thanks a lot.

        • Dann Albright
          March 12, 2016 at 12:19 am

          Not in this particular article, but I'm very interested in smartphone photography as an area, so it could definitely show up in another roundup soon!

  7. Johng
    March 2, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Good list. I would have mentioned for parents, stop taking pics of your kids from above! I cringe every time. A note about camera apps, even with all the fancy controls, they don't always have the same hardware access and they don't always produce a better photo than stock. Even the big names developers.

    • Dann Albright
      March 9, 2016 at 3:22 am

      Ah yes, taking pictures from above . . . not so great. Really good tip! Interesting point about hardware access, too. I wonder if there's an easy way to see which apps have different hardware access levels. That could be a really useful piece of information.

      Thanks for reading!