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How to take the best photos with your Google Pixel 2

The Google Pixel 2 has a superb camera. There's no doubt about that. But we know that with all photography, it's not just the tools — it's how you use them that makes a huge difference. Even though you can open up your Pixel 2 with no knowledge of photography and take some great shots, you should strive to do more — and we have a handful of great tips to help you get the most out of this phone's camera.

Turn on location

Google Pixel 2 Google Photos search

Every time you take a photo with a modern smartphone, it's capable of having its GPS-based location tied to that photo — that is, if you turn on this setting. Keeping a location tied to a photo may not seem important right now, but think about years down the road when you want to remember even more about the photo that you took — knowing more than a date and time will be super valuable. It also lets services like Google Photos easily group and make your photos searchable by location.

To turn it on, hop into your camera settings and you'll see the toggle for "Save location" right at the top. You can always turn this feature back off later, and Google Photos will also remove location information from photos when you share them from the app.

Use Smartburst with moving subjects

Google's camera app has a typical burst function: press and hold the shutter button, and it'll take photos in quick succession until you release it. But behind the scenes, this isn't actually a regular burst shot — it's a "Smartburst." Basically what this means is that the camera app will take a whole bunch of photos in quick succession, as expected, but also pick out what it thinks are the best ones after processing. The camera takes roughly 10 shots per second to hopefully grab one that's just right.

Smartburst can do a better job than you can.

This is super useful when you or your subject (or both) are moving, where Smartburst will very often get photos you'd never get by guessing when to hit the shutter yourself. If you're in a situation like this, just press and hold that shutter and see what the results were later. You may not have another opportunity for that exact shot, so do it when you can.

When you go to review the burst shots, you'll see them grouped together with the "best" one highlighted. It's then easy to keep that photo and delete the rest.

Choose your grid lines

Google Pixel camera grid lines

You may think that having grid lines on your viewfinder will be distracting, but they can be super useful for helping you line up shots from the get-go. Tap the grid-like button on the side of the camera viewfinder, and you'll see four different options — no grid, 3 x 3, 4 x 4 and Golden Ratio — to choose from. Most people will be best off with the 3 x 3 grid.

Use these lines to easily center your subject, get a flat horizon on that next sunset shot, or fill out the frame evenly with various elements dispersed into the three sections. Don't let the initial distraction of the lines put you off — this is super helpful to have!

Use focus and exposure lock

Unlike most phones, the Pixel 2 doesn't have a "Pro" or "Manual" mode that lets you tweak settings for a custom shot. The closest thing it has is an option to change the exposure manually, as well as lock the focus and exposure when you change it.

You don't get a full manual mode, but this is pretty helpful

When you tap on the camera viewfinder, the phone will focus on that point and also set the exposure to what it thinks is right for the point. But you can override that by moving the exposure slider on the right side of the viewfinder after tapping — up to +2 or down to -2, as you see fit. As soon as you move the camera, though, it'll re-focus and re-expose the image — that is, unless you hit the little "lock" button at the top of the exposure slider. Once you lock it, the settings stay put no matter how you move the camera or subject.

Most of the time you'll want to just let the camera choose the exposure and even the focal point. But if you need a different part of the frame to be your subject or want to change the exposure for a unique look, you have the option.

Don't be tempted by the flash

Google Pixel 2

Lighting is everything in photography, so many amateur photogs will immediately think "more is better" and want to turn on their flash to get a "better" photo — but this is hardly ever the case. With the advanced HDR+ processing in the Pixel 2, chances are you can get a better photo by leaving the flash off and letting the camera do its magic.

Take control of the light — just don't do it with a flash.

In other cases, re-positioning the camera to direct the light in different ways will have a better effect on quality as well. It is true that many pro photographers use flashes in certain circumstances, but the inherent issues of having a very small, direct flash on a phone so close to the lens makes it far less useful than a professional camera flash.

The best way to look at it is this: the flash on your phone should be used as an absolute last resort. Try a few shots, reposition, find other light sources, exhaust your other options — and if you need to get more light, then you can turn on the flash.

Increase the panorama resolution

The Pixel 2 can take super-high-resolution panorama shots, but by default it actually isn't set to the highest possible resolution — presumably for size and processing time concerns. But you should be willing to deal with those things in order to get the best possible panoramas.

Go into the camera settings, scroll down to "Panorama resolution" and select "High" — now you'll take the best possible panoramas, even if it means dealing with a larger file and longer processing time in the end.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

20 Comments
  • There's no pro mode. Just point and shoot. Yes I'm salty.lol
  • Done! Thanks for the tip about panoramic pics. I have always used a grid for well balanced photos - can't do without it now.
  • Thanks for this!
  • I got the moment case and lenses as an early Xmas gift and they're also incredible at making an awesome camera feel borderline pro level.
  • How to take the best pictures with the Pixel 2: Put it in your pocket and use an iPhone X or a DSLR, preferably the latter.
  • Check out the article from Engadget posted yesterday. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.engadget.com/amp/2017/12/21/2017-smartp...
  • Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Engadget did the eating in that article, and they knew the recipes in advance. They knew which phone took which pictures. Blind tests ensure that there's no preconceived notions about which picture is best, and in 3 blind tests, the Pixel 2 came in last twice, and did not rank first in the third one. When people didn't know which phone took which picture, they didn't like the Pixel 2 results. You're such a Google fanboy you can't imagine that, since you're convinced that if it's a Google phone, everything about it must be best. That's called confirmation bias. Blind tests eliminate confirmation bias. And when you eliminate confirmation bias, the Pixel 2 is the loser.
  • My God. So anytime something positive is written about the Pixel 2 it's journalistic bias? You've alleged it both here on AC and now at Engadget. Let me ask you, what proof do you have to support your claims? And they knew which pictures to choose so they could predetermine the winner? Ok, so what happens when someone wants to take the same picture they took? Wouldn't that mean it would take a bad picture, and therefore isn't the better device? You come here and call other people biased? Really? That's rich. Do you not see the irony in your statement? No one here has ever said it's the best device for every situation, because that phone doesn't exist. You however jump on the Pixel whenever it's mentioned, and sometimes when it isn't. If what you alleged we're actually true, no one would own one. And yet people do, more than least year's model in fact. And you've made these assertions without spending any meaningful time with it. But everyone else it biased, right? I remember a line from a show a few years back that seems to apply to you. "If you run into an A-hole in the morning, you ran into an A-hole. If you run into A-holes all day, you're the A-hole."
  • The one way to be sure there's no bias involved in judging photo quality is to make sure nobody knows which phone took which photo. And when that happens, the Pixel 2 loses. That's a fact. Go home and cry now.
  • I don't think fact means what you think it means...
  • I am home, and I'm not going to cry over a phone. You claim to be an adult, but you don't sound like someone in grade school. And like I said the last time we spoke, the differences between flagship devices is so minimal, that even the worst is within spitting distance of the winner. In that event, you can focus on other areas of the phone when deciding what you want. So I don't have to put up with Samsung's, Apple's, or LG's BS in other areas just to have a phone with a decent camera. Regardless, it still doesn't change the fact you calling people biased is hypocritical. Whenever something positive is said about the Pixel be it the tech writers or the commenters, you have to attack it. It doesn't matter how insignificant the stated positive, you have to tell anyone that will listen that it's a horrible device. If it's a writer they're biased or on the take, if it's a commenter they're ignorant. And yet the ones who are stating the positives have actually used it, whereas you haven't, but speak as if you know all about it. Here's another saying that seems to apply to you, "Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt."
  • You can quite often tell which phone has taken which picture.
    Different phones have different traits.
    I've done a lot of these blind test/polls and although I've owned a Pixel I know sometimes in some situations other phones do better. But I bet you can identify the Note picture's too? And I bet like most you will vote for yours regardless of which is technically best. This may be because you like the Note picture's or it may be biased. But on a camera phone the most important thing to me is speed. And the Pixel is quick.
  • CBarker1967 - You nailed it. Even if you do prefer another one of the photos, you can often tell which is which by the traits. It used to be the iPhone's primary trait was "accuracy" which left them looking a bit washed out in comparison. The iPhone 8 Plus (which we have) brought about a change and found a nice balance between accuracy and vibrancy. I really like the 8 Plus photos. The iPhone 10 took things too far, and the photos are often so saturated that they look fake. If I do get an iPhone 10, it won't be for the camera. Speed is important to me too. My son is a professional photographer and we sometimes team up on photo shoots. For kicks, we'll often take shots of the same scene with our phones, but he often misses the shot completely because of the slower launch speed on the iPhone. Of course, I cheat because I can launch the camera pulling it out of my pocket, and squeeze off the shot (literally) one handed with the U11 ;) Question for you: Since the Pixel 2 has the Edge Sense feature from the U11, do they now allow you to launch the camera with it, or is it still locked down to Google Assistant?
  • Still locked down to Google Assistant. I do use it pretty often but it would be nice to have the option.
  • Only had the Pixel (1) Have the Oneplus 5t now. Pixel camera from 2016 is faster and in my opinion better than the 5t from 2017.
    Had the Samsung S7 before that and I would say this was somewhere between the two.
    But if someone preferred the colours of the S7 or even the detail of the 5t I could understand their choice. But nether are anywhere near as fast.
  • There's been a heap of tests with all different results. I say go with what you feel is the best and forget the rest and reviews.
  • LOL the internet disagrees with you. seriously by all accounts, even pro iOS agree that the Pixel 2s camera is the best.
  • Thanks for the tips. The Pixel 2 XL is still the best phone that I have owned.
  • 1+ Pixel xl 2 is just awsome!
  • You can also just take a pic and pay no attention to anything...the portrait mode especially is freakishly good...I have not taken an out of focus pic yet. I don't know what's best but I know what I like , and I like the P2 xl's camera.