Android iPhone and iPad

5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By

Tim Brookes 02-08-2013

When it comes to smartphone photography, we try to cover a bit of everything here at MakeUseOf. From seriously high-end accessories 6 Gorgeous, High-End Smartphone Accessories Your Phone Secretly Dreams Of So you own a smartphone, what's next? For most of us, the answer is "nothing". Smartphones are expensive as it is, and together with the case and screen protector we usually end up getting (we... Read More , zoom and lens tips 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  to techniques for reducing those blurry photos 5 Ways to Avoid Blur with a Smartphone Camera I think it's safe to assume most people take their smartphone cameras for granted, despite the leaps and bounds made in pocketable picture-taking technology. Unfortunately a lot of the time our smartphones produce overly blurry... Read More ; we’ve even covered the basics of shooting in 3D Create 3D Images With An Android Smartphone: It's Easier Than You Think Android phones are increasingly shipping with powerful cameras with at least 8MP for their backside camera. Additionally, there are some phones such as the HTC Evo 3D which come with two cameras in the back,... Read More .


Sometimes though, among the sea of apps and accessories, social networks and hashtags, the essence photography can get lost. Sometimes even photographers lose their way, and it might not have anything to do with technique or equipment. Here are some nuggets of wisdom I’ve practiced long enough that I feel it’s time to start the preaching.

You’d better read this before you next launch Instagram.

Shake The Stigma

There are no mobile cameras, only cameras, of varying abilities and price ranges. To shun the technology in your pocket because it can’t outperform the thousands of dollars worth of glass and sensors in your bag is to rob yourself of opportunity. To shun the attempts of others for simply having a go is much worse. Why then, does there seem to be a stigma involved with smartphone photography?

5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By stigma

Could it be the reaction that many “real” photographers have to articles like this (or this over at CNET) – as if the very notion of someone taking a picture they are proud of with a phone is itself a very shameful act? Wake up – a good photograph is a good photograph, whether you took it on an iPhone 5 or a Dycam Model One 5 Things You Didn't Know About The First Digital Cameras The digital camera has taken more than 35 years of technological advancement to reach its current stage of development. The journey from original concept to the all-singing devices we have access to today has been... Read More . Let me rephrase that: throwing money at a hobby will not improve your abilities.


Don’t be afraid to share your best smartphone shots alongside DSLR exposures or 35mm scans, rather than relegating your smartphone shots to the likes of Instagram and Facebook. Then again…

Share Less

Having an always-connected mobile device that stores all your most personal information and provides a constant window on the world is a sure-fire way to develop an oversharing complex. Before long you’ll be Tweeting trips to the fridge and Instagramming every snack. Resist.


This might be where the smartphoneography stigma initially developed – smartphone photography has the potential to be very “disposable”. You can literally take a picture of anything you want, whenever you want, without worry of using an exposure on your film roll safe in the knowledge you can “delete it or Tweet it!” straight away. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.


Even if you’re a hobbyist photographer, who never dreams of making a cent out of your work, it’s best to limit your output for maximum effect. This might mean only posting a few Instagram photos a day. It might mean adding one, carefully chosen image to your photoblog each day. It is the antithesis of posting every semi-pleasing shot that graces your Camera Roll.

Apps & Filters Won’t Replace Talent

Apps are great – we love apps at MakeUseOf. Apps enable us to take photos on our phones, edit them, apply a myriad of different styles and effects and then post them online . Unfortunately, there is a lot of over-processed, app-hindered photography out there; a result of many people embracing the “filter = instant art” philosophy. Whoa there, Nelly.

Filters catapulted Instagram to fame with their initial iPhone app. People were buying iPhones for Instagram, and the culture of iPhoneography that developed alongside Apple’s painfully-hip walking advertisements. Filters, it would seem, are the key to monetizing photography, at least in a mobile-centric consumer market. Unfortunately, filters do not fix bad photographs.

5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By theboat


Composition says more about your photograph in the way you approach your subject – even if you take two steps to the left to get a better look at your scene, you’ve still technically composed and improved your shot. Lighting sets the mood, and can completely make or break an exposure; but risks can and do pay off.

Your very choice to press the shutter while your camera is pointed in that direction, at that exact time says more about you as a photographer than the “one of twenty” filters you chose to dress up the image afterwards. It’s not that filters are the scourge of photography – it’s that too many people think of the filter they want to apply before even pressing the shutter.

Similarly, the practice of applying 15 different filters via a daisy-chain of apps should be approached with extreme caution.

Beware Gear Acquisition Syndrome

As anyone who has ever dabbled in a photography habit (or addiction, your call) may tell you; many photographers come dangerously close to living in a box eating cold beans for dinner. This is due to something known as “gear acquisition syndrome” which causes many to spend all of their money on tripods, lenses, speedlights, spare batteries and memory cards (to name but a few). The smartphoneographer can also fall ill to this syndrome, though it’s admittedly a less expensive way to go.


5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By filters

While dedicated smartphone lenses, tripod adapters, steadying mechanisms, light filters and accessories in general are a lot of fun – they will not make you a better photographer. There is no substitute for learning how to use your favourite app to the fullest extent. Wide-angle lenses look cool, but point it at your dinner and it’s still a boring shot of your dinner, except with a reduced perceived focal length. Food for thought.

Quality & Popularity Are Two Different Things

Looking around at Instagram, Hipstamatic and even platforms like Flickr, quality is judged purely based on popularity. Anyone who has taken a look at the state of popular music or Saturday night TV should know that popularity is not indicative of quality. Instead, popularity has become somewhat of a lowest common denominator. You can’t gauge subjective merits with a number, so we have thumbs-up buttons instead.

5 Nuggets of Smartphone Photography Wisdom To Live By i5lens

Unfortunately, likes are not indicative of quality. A good honest comment is worth its character count in Likes, particularly if it’s more than “amzin pic wot filters u use?” or one of those group “awards” on Flickr. While tagging your photo with every conceivable related tag might make you an effective marketer, there’s a fine line between tagging for categorisation and tagging for likes.

Likes are a great way of massaging your ego, and they’re certainly not a bad thing. At the same time, good photographs don’t need Likes to be quantifiably awesome; they can just be awesome too.


You might not agree with some of this advice – after all, what’s talent without application? Why take great photos if you don’t market them? And just how long is a piece of string? The answers to these questions can be found in your photography, and what it is you want to say or achieve. Just don’t be held back by the perceptions of what the camera in your pocket should be used for, regardless of what any self-proclaimed photographer tells you.

Related topics: Instagram, 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. Austin H
    August 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I feel like I mention it a lot in the comments I make here on MUO, but I am totally crazy about mobile photography, especially iPhoneography. I could list a ton of reasons why I love it and what has made me crazy about it, but I'll refrain and simply stick to what I think is the biggest highlight.

    I've always been into photography in general, took a few classes, and even have a couple friends who make their livings as professional photographers. But I always stayed away from even picking it up as a hobby because of the expense. DSLRs and 35mm, while affordable now, are still quite expensive to begin with. Add on lenses, bags, flashes, software or film, and the myriad of other photography paraphernalia and you could easily spend thousand and thousands of dollars. And that aspect never appealed much to me.

    Then along came smart phones with great camera's attached to them. And while the majority of users simply take snapshots of lunch and grainy selfies at a bar, there is still this huge explosion of talented photgraphers posting things only from their camera phone. Photos shot and edited right there on their iPhone, Android, etc. That is amazing to me, and after I finally gave up the dumb phone and grabbed an iPhone, I totally understood.

    Yeah, a ton of mobile photographs suck or are too reliant on filters and what not, but there is talent out there, even out there.

    Anyways, thanks for the nuggets of wisdom Tim!

  2. Kcalpesh A
    August 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Every photographer has a complaint about people praising them but, with a question added at the end of their statement.... which camera do you use? I've stopped answering this question. Not that I'm a great photographer but I pursue photography as a hobby and own a Canon SX50 HS. But my interest in photography sparked when I got my first mobile phone with a Camera Nokia 6280 which I felt during those days was one of the best for capturing pictures and videos. So I read more about photography and got to know about the basic rules about light, timing, composition. That helped a lot. I too believe, its more to do with skills and talent. The device comes secondary. Nice article :-)

  3. Saikat B
    August 2, 2013 at 8:35 am

    My nugget: If you are in doubt, shoot in black and white. It takes away the noise, focuses your eyes on the elements that matter, and introduces you to something you see daily in a different perspective.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 3, 2013 at 2:18 am

      Well iPhone owners will be delighted to know that iOS 7 comes with filters built into the camera app, my favourite is the "mono" mid-range black and white which allows you to do exactly this! And my, you're right.

      There are actually 3 B&W settings, one being fairly washed out, the other being high contrast with the middle one being perfect.

      I actually took this photo with the filter without any additional work in Instagram:

      Nice tip Saikat :)

      • Saikat Basu
        August 3, 2013 at 6:13 am

        Nice! They allow you to shoot inside subways? In India it isn't allowed. You should also check out Nancy's iphoneography. In one word -- super.