Before the days of smartphones — if you can remember such a time — taking a great photo was a concentrated process. You’d have buy a fancy camera and editing software for your desktop computer, and invest some serious time and energy into learning how to utilize them.
But, thanks to our mobile phones and the editing apps that come with them, we can now take high-quality pictures and edit them without too many bells and whistles — all from the similar device that we use to make calls.
Brands are getting on, too — the kinds of visuals remain important to marketing. But make no mistake: Taking a great photo on your smartphone is not as simple as pointing and shooting. There are a lot of bad smartphone photos out there — I’m certain you’ve seen at least a few.
How to Take Professional Photos With Your Mobile Phone: 23 Tips & Tricks
1. Use gridlines to adjust your shot.
One of the most effortless and best ways to improve your mobile photos is to turn on the camera’s gridlines. That superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your cell phone’s camera that are based on the “rule of thirds” — a photographic composition principle that says a picture should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine sections in total.
According to this theory, if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photograph will be more adjusted, level, and permit viewers to interact with it more naturally.
To switch the grid on …
- iPhone: Go to “Settings,” choose “Photos & Camera,” and switch “Grid” on.
- Samsung Galaxy: Open the camera app, go to “Settings,” scroll down and switch the “grid lines” option to “on.”
2. Set your camera’s focus.
Today’s phone cameras automatically focus on the foreground of your frame, but not every photo you take on your phone has an obvious subject. To adjust where you want your need your camera lens to focus, open your camera app and tap the screen where you want to sharpen the view.
If you’re taking a photo of something in motion, for instance, it can be hard for your camera to follow this subject and refocus as needed. Tap the screen to address your phone camera’s focus just before snapping the photo to ensure the moving subject has as much focus as possible. A square or circular icon should then appear on your camera screen, shifting the focus of your shot to all of the content inside that icon.
3. Focus on one subject.
Many of the best photos include just one, interesting subject. So when clicking a photo of one, spend some extra time setting up the shot. Some expert photographers say that the subject shouldn’t fill the entire frame, and that two-thirds of the photo should be negative space — that helps the subject stand out even more.
But be sure you tap the screen of your cell phone to focus the camera on your subject — that will help to ensure that it’s focused and the lighting is optimized.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve clicked your picture, you can use filters and apps to make the subject even more vivid, or to crop it to frame the subject accurately. The brightness, contrast, and saturation of the photo can also be adjusted accordingly — all from your phone.
4. Embrace negative space.
“Negative space” basically refers to the areas around and between the subjects of an picture–and it can take a picture from “good” to “great.”
When you include a lot of empty space in a photo, your subject will stand out more and evoke a stronger reaction from your viewer. And what does negative space looks like? It’s frequently a large expanse of open sky, water, an empty field, or a large wall, as in the examples below.
5. Find different perspectives.
Taking photographs from a unique, unexpected angle can make them more memorable — it tends to create an illusion of depth or height with the subjects. It also makes the picture stand out, since most mobile photos are taken either straight -on or from a bird’s eye view.
Try taking a photo directly upward and playing with the sky as negative space, like in the first photo below. Or, you can try take a stab at taking it at a slight descending angle.
Pro Tip: If you take a picture and find the perspective is a little askew or tilted, use the SKRWT photo editing app to make the lines look clean and square.
6. Play with reflections.
There’s something so idyllic about seeing the sky reflected in a body of water. There’s a motivation why we love seeing that — our eyes are attracted to reflections. So search for opportunities to play with them in photos.
There are plenty of out-of-the-box places to find reflections — puddles, larger bodies of water, mirrors, sunglasses, drinking glasses, and metallic surfaces are only a few.
7. Use leading lines.
In some photos, there’s a line that draws the viewer’s eye toward a specific part of the frame. Those are called leading lines. They can be straight or circulinear — think staircases, building facades, train tracks, roads, or even a way through the woods.
Leading lines are great for creating a sense of depth in a picture, and can make your photo look deliberately designed — even if you just happened to come upon a really cool shape by accident.
8. Search for symmetry.
Symmetry can be defined as “a vague sense of harmonious and excellent proportion and balance.” And photos that contain symmetry can be incredibly pleasing to the eye — it’s also one of the simplest and most convincing approaches to compose a photo.
In photography, symmetry normally means creating a picture that can be divided into two equal parts that are mirror images of each other. That’s a quite different than reflections — symmetry can be found “in the wild,” as per the staircase images, or you can set up your images accordingly
And remember — use those gridlines from tip #1 to line everything up perfectly.
9. Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns.
Repetitive patterns are very pleasing to the eye — they appear whatever strong graphic elements are repeated again and again, like lines, geometric shapes, forms, and colors. These patterns can make a strong visual impact, and photographing something like a beautiful, tiled floor can be sufficient to create a striking pictures. Other times, it’s more fun to keep an eye out for where they show up naturally or unintentionally, like with the congruent fire escapes on the left.
10. Play around with color blocking.
Isn’t it cool when a whole photo is black and white, except for a single object? It turns out that yes, indeed, there are apps for that. One of our top picks is Touch Color — an app that automatically converts a picture to grayscale and lets you fill in the parts you need to colorize.
Color blocking can assist to highlight the elements of a photo that you need to stand out, similar to a plant or something different with a bold hue. It achieves a similar goal as negative space, in that it can help a single subject stand out — but with color blocking, the photo’s different elements remain intact for a cohesive image.
11. Avoid zooming in.
When you click a picture from a distance, it’s tempting to zoom in on something specific you’re attempting to capture. But it’s actually better not to zoom in — doing so can make the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.
Instead, try to get nearer to your subject — except it’s a wild animal, in which case we would advise keeping your distance — or snap the picture from a default distance, and crop it later on. That way, you won’t compromise quality, and it’s simpler to play around or optimize a larger image.
12. Capture small details.
You may have heard the phrase, “It’s the little things.” Sometimes, that also applies to photographs. Close-up pictures that capture small, intricate, and delicate details can make for really compelling visual content. Keep an eye out for textures and patterns like peeling paint, a gravel road, or a tile tabletop.
Pro Tip: Use the “sharpen” tool in your favorite photo editing app to (moderately) sharpen the details of your photograph. You might also download the Camera+ app and utilize its Clarity filter, which is what The Wall Street Journal‘s Kevin Sintumuang calls the app’s “secret sauce — it adds pro-camera freshness to almost any shot.”
13. Use natural light.
It’s hard to find a great smartphone photograph that was taken with a flash. Most of the time, they make a photograph look overexposed, negatively altering colors and making human subjects look washed out. Indeed, even the iPhone 7’s flash is rumored to have some flaws.
Take advantage of the sources of natural light you can discover, even after dark. This allows you a chance to play with shadows, like in the second image below, or make an outline with other ambient sources of light, similar to traffic and surrounding buildings.
Once you’ve taken the picture, play with the “Exposure” tool in your favorite photo editing app to see if you can make the image more splendid, without making it too grainy.
14. If you use flash, only do so during the day.
Sometimes, utilizing your camera’s flash can improve a photograph– but rarely does it do so at night. Because dark shots reveal a much sharper contrast against your phone’s flash, it can make any flash look look obtrusive and uneven.
In already well-lit spaces, however, a flash can assist to soften some dark shadows behind or beneath your primary subject.
When framing your next shot, look on the ground or against vertical surfaces for any dark shadows you should remove. If you see any, flip on the flash manually in your camera application. Setting your phone’s camera flash to “auto” won’t guarantee that your smartphone will notice the shadows you want to get rid of. Just remember to turn the flash off again when you’re done.
Check out the difference in the two mobile photographs of a metal figurine, below. You can see the desk shadow is considerably softer in the flash-based photo on the right. The flash even brings out more details in the body of the subject. Consider this difference next time you’re shooting product photography.
15. Consider purchasing a mobile tripod.
Although mobile devices make it easy to snap any photo on the go, there’s never been a simple method to guarantee the shot stays level and balanced when you shoot — especially if you want to be in the image and not just take a typical selfie with your extended arm.
Mobile tripods give you the opportunity to mount your phone for quick hands-free shots without lugging any heavy equipment with you. Most mobile tripods are scarcely bigger than your mobile device, and can bend to any angle.
16. Set your camera app’s exposure manually.
Another mobile camera feature you’ll need to set manually is your presentation. Tapping your screen when your phone’s camera is on doesn’t just refocus the lens on a new subject — it also automatically adjusts how much light the camera allows in. This, too, won’t always look just right. It’s best to adjust it by hand.
To change your mobile camera’s exposure by hand, open your camera application and tap the screen. When you see the lens refocus, you’ll see a little sun icon and a vertical scale. Slowly swipe your finger up and down this scale to modify the light level.
17. Create abstracts.
Abstract photos are meant to catch the essence of an object, or a series of them, without revealing the entire landscape as a whole. In other words, they serve the purpose of creating unique, amazing pictures from ordinary subjects.
This look can be accomplished by cropping an abstract portion of an otherwise normal photograph, or by taking close-up shots of objects that leave the viewer wondering — in admiration, of course — what the subject might be. And subjects with patterns or repetition are great candidates for abstract photography, like in the photograph of sliced figs below.
18. Take candids.
Posed photos can be great for the sake of memories — happy moments with friends, family, or the occasional run-in with a celebrity. But sometimes, candid shots of people doing things, or people with people, can be unquestionably more interesting.
That’s because candid photos are better able to effectively capture the emotion and essence of a moment. One of the most ideal ways to capture this kind of shot is to just take as many photos as possible. You’ll have more to choose from, and the best photos often happen when the “stars align,” so to speak, in a single moment — everyone’s eyes are open, one person is tilting their head just so, and you finally got a shot of your chronically closed-lip friend smiling with his teeth.
19. Be non-conventional.
Composition is a huge part of what makes a photo great, but so is the photograph’s subject. Some of the most delightful and remarkable photos come out of cool, unique ideas. Images are more powerful than text at evoking emotion from your viewers — that often means getting your photos to say something.
Try thinking outside of the box when it comes to what you’re clicking — your viewers could be pleasantly surprised by a cool or unexpected subject.
20. Make them laugh.
Speaking of evoking emotion, sometimes the most memorable photographs are the ones that make us giggle. If you can make your audience laugh, they’re probably to enjoy your photo.
21. Clean your phone’s lens.
A mobile camera might be more convenient to carry around than a full-fledged photojournalist’s camera, but it comes at the expense of protection.
Your phone is usually in your pocket or your bag when you’re out of the home. All the while, the device’s camera lens is collecting all kinds of dust and lint. Make certain to clean this lens with a soft handkerchief before taking a picture. You might not be able to tell just how dirty the lens was until you start editing your photo, and making sure the lens is crystal clear before taking a click can keep you from beginning from scratch.
22. Attach an external lens.
Want to get truly extravagant? External lenses are for you. There are really several out there that can be attached to the head of your phone’s native camera lens — from fish-eye to wide-angle lenses, these additional items can bring an entirely new quality and viewpoint to your photos.
As per Wirecutter, the best camera lenses for iPhone photography are made by Moment, a manufacturer of mobile lenses. Start there, or do some research to find the lens add-ons that fit your phone photography needs.
23. Don’t be afraid to edit.
Composing and taking your smartphone photograph is just the first step to making it visually compelling. Editing your photos is the next step — and a very critical one, at that. Filters can be a significant photographic tool, particularly when it comes to two goals: 1) Removing imperfections from a image, and 2) making food look even more delicious.
For the first, InStyle magazine compiled a fun list of “The Best Instagram Filters for Every Beauty Complaint” — and now, the iPhone photos app offers many similar filters. There are also apps like Pho.to, which can automatic do retouch facial photos without a lot of work. And when it comes to those photos of your daily meals? One of the latest apps available is Foodie, which comes with its own set of filters optimized for different types of food.
But there are many other great photo and video editing apps out there for mobile devices where you can go with.