It’s 2020 and you don’t need a dedicated camera to take beautiful photos anymore. Phone cameras are increasingly powerful, and with a little time and effort, you’ll be able to take full advantage of them. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started.
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These are all just jumping off points, so if you have more tips, drop them in the comments below!
Clean The Lens
A really simple one, but also easy to forget. Lint and dirt can easily collect on the lens; blocking the light and creating blurry pictures. Give it a gentle wipe with a cloth every now and then.
However tempted you may be, don’t do it. A digital zoom and not the same as an optical zoom. The further you zoom, the more your image gets cropped and the quality diminishes drastically.
If your subject is too far away, walk closer. Or if you really need to zoom in, crop it during editing instead. It still won’t be as good a quality as getting closer, but you’ll have more control.
First up, don’t use the flash. Unless you really know what you’re doing. If you’re shooting in poor lighting, you’re most likely going to get a unnatural, grainy shot with the flash on.
Regular camera phone flashes in general can only shoot directly ahead. You can’t angle them to bounce off of a bright surface to help light a shot. There are exceptions of course, like when you’re dealing with shadows, but generally you’re going to want to avoid.
Always keep an eye out for good light sources. Experiment with angles, sunshine, shade, times of day and even city lights to see what works. And as always, don’t position the sun behind your subjects unless you’re going for a particular effect.
For landscapes, look for dynamic lighting and contrast. Sunrises and sunsets are perfect for this.
The Rule Of Thirds
Want to frame up your shot correctly? The rule of thirds can help. Imagine your shot is split into nine rectangular segments, with the most important aspects or objects running along the lines or being close to the intersections where the lines meet.
With most modern camera phones, you don’t even have to imagine; apps will have the function built-in.
Another tip on framing – think about placement. Your subject doesn’t need to be front and centre. Try having it on the left or right side of the frame instead for something different.
Keep It Steady
A steady hand is important so you don’t end up with blurry photos – especially when you’re dealing with low or tricky lighting.
If you’re serious about mobile photography, a tripod may be a good investment. If you don’t have one handy, try a stable surface that you can lean your device on, such as a bench, bookcase or table.
And if you want to be in the photo – don’t forget about timer functions.
Don’t just opt for a straight-on shot. Photos from different, even weird, angles can have a huge impact. Not only can they look more interesting, they can create faux depth and height.
Start with some slight tilts and then try looking up. You’d be amazing and what can be highlighted and the different perspective you can capture when a subject has the sky as a backdrop.
As a tip for landscapes, shooting at eye level won’t necessarily get you the best effect. Try getting a little lower and have a look at the difference.
Shoot In RAW
Not all camera phones will have this option, but it’s fun to try. Particularly if you plan on doing a lot of editing.
When you shoot in RAW you get an unprocessed, uncompressed photo. This means there’s more tone, colour and detail; allowing more control when it comes to editing. The downside is that it will be a much bigger file than an ordinary JPEG. But if you have enough space on your phone, edit on a computer or create regular backups, this won’t be a problem.
When you start getting more serious about photography, you may find there are disadvantages to raw. For example, it can have more noise in phone photography, which will be particularly noticeable in low light situations.
If you do find this to be a problem, you can always switch back to JPEG. Some phones will even save both RAW and JPEG files of individual photos, which is handy.
Set The Focus
Think about what you want the focus of your shot to be. Take the time to set it up properly.
One tip is to ensure that two-thirds of a photo is negative space, so the subject stands out more. But it’s up to you to try different styles. You can get very cool portrait shots where the subject fills almost the entirety of the frame.
Your phone may have different ways of doing this, but with most you should be able to tap the screen so the lens focus and lighting are optimised. If it’s extra fancy, it may even have a wide aperture mode so you can get both a focused subject and a lovely blurred effect in the background.
You can also enhance the focus with editing later, either through the camera or a dedicated app. Try playing around with the saturation, contrast, shadows and brightness.
We can give you a bunch of rules to work by, but you still need to find the styles that you enjoy best. And the best way to do that is to mess around.
Take advantage of the different photo modes (such as food, portrait, selective focus, HDR, panorama, etc). Some phone cameras even have a pro mode, which is always worth exploring.
One of the best ways to do this is to take photos of one subject with different modes and light settings. You’ll quickly learn what you do and don’t like.
The same goes for editing – play around with the different tools to see what they do and how they effect each other. Before to long you’ll notice that you have some go-tos that work well for you.
This article has been updated since its original publication.