How to take better photos on a smartphone, according to a professional photographer
My favorite camera is the one I have with me. And these days, like most of you, it’s my smartphone. After lugging heavy gear for three decades as a professional photographer, this is the only camera I carry. This is the ultimate point and shot, and while it can’t do everything, it does most things well with remarkable image quality.
Taking better photos with your mobile device means following the same tips no matter which camera you’re using. Remember, the camera is only a tool, it’s how you use the tool that is important.
Most great photographs have at least two of the three key elements: great light, solid composition, and what we in photojournalism call “catching the moment”. Whether it’s a portrait, landscape or still life, keep them in mind when taking photos, at home or on the road.
Beautiful light often means photographing very early or late in the day. Get up before dawn and photograph for the first two hours of the day, then return to your hotel or Airbnb and have breakfast with your partner, who might like to sleep. It is not just the sunrise that you are looking for, but the warm, soft morning light. The same is true in the evening, when the last hour or two of the day offers the possibility of finding warm, inviting light.
Good composition is essential for taking convincing photos. On your iPhone, go to “Settings” and under “Camera” make sure “Grid” is turned on so that your screen is divided into several small squares. This will help you compose your photo and possibly follow the “rule of thirds,” which briefly states that placing the subject of your photo to the left or right of the frame can result in a more attractive image.
Using the grid will also help you keep horizons straight and buildings and other vertical and horizontal lines in proper perspective, if that’s your thing. (Remember: rules are meant to be broken.)
Capture “the moment”
A great moment can be a welcoming smile from a local, a friend’s reaction to a hug, or rays of light shining from the sky. To capture that special moment, take lots and lots of photos. Later mark the ones you like as favorites and delete the rest. If you regularly delete these extra disposable photos, you will save a lot of storage space on your phone.
I am often asked which iPhone I have when people see a photo they like. Rarely do I have the latest, highest performing version, and I usually buy a new phone every three years. Now that I shoot exclusively with my iPhone, I might swap every two years, but let’s be clear: the tool you use to take photos doesn’t determine the quality of your images. Your eye is what makes great photos, and you can become a better photographer with practice, studying the photos you love and following simple guidelines like the ones mentioned above.
But the easiest of all the suggestions? Regularly clean your phone lens. When I notice my photos are not sharp, it’s usually because the lenses on my iPhone (I have three with the 11 Pro) are dirty or stained. Using a cotton t-shirt, towel or other soft cloth will quickly remove the film and give sharper photos.
One last element. All photographs can be improved with a bit of post-production. Use any editing tool to enhance the look of your photos. I use Snapseed, which is available for free in the App Store for iPhone and Android. In most cases, I spend less than 30 seconds on my favorite photos doing things like brightening or darkening the image, increasing contrast and saturation, cropping and sharpening. With Snapseed, changes are made by choosing an action and then dragging to achieve the effect you desire. For those who love filters, there is a wide variety to choose from, although I rarely use them. There are many tutorials online that will teach you how to use the program, but it is very intuitive and you might be surprised at how easy it is to figure it out on your own.