While the average smartphone camera is increasing in quality — both in terms of hardware and software — at a rapid rate, some of the biggest strides in improving your photos can be accomplished regardless of the camera you use. Smarpthones have turned everyone into photographers, but that doesn't mean we always follow some photography basics that can really kick up our photos to the next level. If you're ready to move from beginner to expert with your smartphone pictures, read along for a few tips.
Stop and keep your hands steady
This would usually go without saying if you were holding a big DSLR camera up to your face to take a photo, but with smartphones being so much smaller in size people tend to think they can just take pictures on the move. Realistically you won't be able to take a clear picture one-handed while walking down the sidewalk, no matter the lighting conditions, so why not just stop for a moment and make sure you get the best possible shot.
If you have a picture to take, you might as well get the best one you can — stop moving, use both hands on the phone and keep things steady when you take the photo. There's so much in photograph that you can't control, you should really do your best to manage the things you can.
Think first, shoot second
With these fast cameras, burst modes and boundless storage, we often choose to shoot pictures before actually considering composition, lighting or framing. There was a time way back when that taking a single picture on film cost you money, and now that's not the case — but that doesn't mean you shouldn't think about every picture you take. Composition and framing are important, and are both things you learn over time as a photographer, but every picture is a learning experience.
Take your time when framing a shot, and if it doesn't look right just move until it does! There's no reason to settle for an inferior picture that can be improved by moving a little or changing your perspective.
Choose the right shooting mode for the scene
No matter your phone model, chances are the built-in camera software has different shooting modes meant for different situations. Of course there will be an "auto" mode of some sort, but you'll usually find a "night" mode, "sunset" mode, maybe a "party" mode or an "action" mode. Have a look at the different modes and make use of them if the situation calls for it!
A night mode will lower the ISO and decrease the shutter speed to keep things smooth and bright, while an action mode will do the opposite to freeze moving subjects in their tracks. It may take some trial and error to see if the modes work the way you want, but taking a few seconds to choose the right one rather than sticking the camera in auto could get you a shot you wouldn't otherwise capture.
Post-process your images
Even the best photographers with high-end cameras don't take a picture and simply post it without editing. And while smartphone camera software is pretty good at processing each photo and spitting out a good JPEG image, you can always tweak it after the fact to get improve the look. Whether you just crop and rotate with the built-in photo editor your phone offers, or use one of the many popular photo editors like Snapseed or VSCO Cam, a few extra minutes editing can make the difference between a good, and great, photo.
Don't just leave HDR on all of the time
Turning on HDR on your camera is a great way to get bright and punchy photos that a small smartphone camera wouldn't normally be able to take in a single shot, but that doesn't mean that you should use it all of the time. HDR is a great choice when your subject is lit from behind and you want to see the foreground, but it's a bad choice when you're in a dark situation or are taking pictures of moving subjects. Some cameras will intelligently choose to turn on HDR and usually do a good job, but if you want to take control, lean toward not using HDR so often.
Consider a tripod mount
Alright, this is getting to the most extreme end of smartphone photography, but if you want to absolutely maximize the quality of photos your phone can take maybe you want to consider a tripod. Thankfully you don't need to get a special tripod for your phone — you can use any camera tripod with a standard adapter screw to add a small phone attachment. You can get these phone adapter mounts just about anywhere, but we like the iStabilizer brand (or the XL version for large phones.
Of course you don't need to pair that up with a 70-inch tripod, you can always use a small or flexible tripod that's easier to carry around for on-the-go shots. With your phone stably positioned on a tripod you'll be able to take the best possible photos in any situation, and you'll see the most benefit in low light situations where camera movement is detrimental. Once you have it, a tripod is also the only thing required to turn your phone into a great timelapse camera.
Zoom with your feet, not with software
The temptation is there — you're far away from something you want to take a picture of, and you have digital zoom in the camera app on your phone. You want to simply pinch in and everything gets closer, but don't give in! Even with very high resolution cameras, digitally zooming on your phone greatly decreases the quality of your photos. Not only does the resolution decrease, you're also increasing the amount of blurriness that can be caused by hand movement when shooting.
It may not always be the most convenient thing to do, but the best way to zoom is with your feet. Just walk over to that thing you want to take a picture of and get the best possible shot of it, don't use the crutch of digital zoom. The end result will be much better, and you may just see something else neat while you're walking over to get the original shot.
Clean the lens
Often when we're out to take the best possible photos, we forget the most basic things. And something that always needs to be considered on a phone that isn't usually an issue on a standalone camera is cleaning the lens! Smartphone camera lenses are small and often touched throughout the day as you handle your phone... and that means you're leaving dirt and smudges all over a very small camera lens. Before you take a picture, snag a piece of your shirt, pants, coat, hat or scarf and clean off your lens — you might just find it'll make a big difference in your next phone snapshot.
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