Photography has changed quite a bit since the days of our grandparents’ driving down to the local drugstore with their rolls of film from the most recent holiday or vacation.
And now that everyone has a high resolution camera in their pocket, the art of photography has become more accessible than ever. But phone cameras have clear limitations, and if you’re not aware of them, then you’ll never understand how to take great pictures with your phone.
1. Understand composition — it’s every good photographer’s best tool
Before diving into how to take good photos with your phone, it’s better to understand the most basic principle for taking interesting photos using any kind of camera. Of course, that principle is composition.
It doesn’t matter how exciting your subject matter is; your phone camera, when used incorrectly, will suck the intrigue straight out of the scene if you’re not taking into account your photo’s composition.
And what is composition, exactly?
Think of your subject matter as a movie. You’re the director of that film. You’re not just taking a photo — you’re telling a story. And if your photo isn’t telling a clear story, then no one is going to find it particularly interesting.
The fastest trick to good composition is always being aware of your foreground (front) middle-ground (middle) and background (back). Think of all three components as layers to your story. You want to play with all three, find a unique dynamic between them all, and start from there. If you’re missing one or two layers, your photo is going to fall flat.
2. Do not use digital zoom, EVER!
Understanding the limitations of your technology is the only way to understand how to take great picture with your phone.
For example, if you find yourself zooming in on your subject, you’ve already made a grave mistake. The fact is, the camera sensors inside most of our phones are too small. They tend to only capture a specific focal point.
Zooming in on a subject just blows up each pixel and makes them blurrier in the process — it’s not using true optics to enlarge the image.
However, many new phones on the market have multiple cameras and cleverly use stereographic technology to combine the sensor input from both into one image, allowing the operator to optically zoom to a degree.
And by all means — if you have one of those devices, then zoom in on your subject matter. These phones should tell you when you are leaving the boundaries of true optical zoom and crossing into digital zoom.
With that said, heed their warnings and stop when your zoom goes digital, or face the blurry, noise-ridden photo it produces.
3. Stay away from the front-facing camera
Learning how to take good pictures of yourself is an art form. There’s a reason that portrait photography is a highly regarded form of a photography — it’s hard to master and there’s a lot of intuition that makes a great photo into an amazing photo.
However, you can learn how take good pictures of yourself using your phone. But the process may not be as obvious as you’d think.
The front camera is stuffed in between a microphone, a speaker, and a myriad of other hardware. It’s most often an afterthought.
Instead, you should use your back camera for self-portraits. They’ll look the cleanest, be of the highest quality, and will have a much deeper color and contrast than that of your front-facing camera.
Learning how to take good pictures of yourself using your back camera can be a bit tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it. Try investing in a portable tripod and using your camera’s timer.
4. Shoot for your medium
Every professional photographer understands their medium before they even shoot their first photograph. They take the time to know where their pieces will be displayed, what they’ll be displayed on, and who will be viewing them.
All of this goes into their composition — photography is never a one-size-fits-all industry.
These days, we take photos for a variety of reasons. And learning how to take good pictures for Instagram is completely different from taking photos that’ll appear in a personal album. If your focus is on Instagram, then you need to understand that platform.
5. Get out of the stock camera app
If your goal is to take great photos with your phone, then you need to stop using the camera app that your phone came with.
It probably has a ton of tools to finesse your photography, but at the end of the day, it’s an afterthought by a phone company.
Instead, research stand-alone camera applications. Applications like VSCO are great tools for controlling every aspect of your phone’s camera. There are many photo editing apps for photographers and bloggers that work great.
Things like focus lock, and fine control over your exposure and camera shutter are what will take your photographs from “good” to “great.” You may be overwhelmed by the myriad of settings on these apps, but you’ll soon understand what works through trial-and-error and be well on your way to professional phone photography.
6. Be mindful of your formats
You just shoot a photo and it’d saved to your phone, right?
Sort of — but there is something more to consider if quality is a concern.
Most modern phones will let you shoot in RAW format, which is a completely uncompressed file format that is perfect for taking professional quality photos.
You may not realize it — but our phones commonly compress our photographs right as we’re taking them. They do this to save on our already-limited storage space. But if you’re at all worried about quality, then you’re going to want to have full control over how your photos are compressed.
So, if you have the option, shoot in unadulterated RAW format and compress them under your own terms or you’re going to lose out on quality before you even view your photo.
7. Retouch your photos in Photoshop
Now that you’ve shot in RAW format, ensuring that no image loss has occurred between you taking the photo and the storage of said photo, it’s time to transfer your photos to your laptop.
Yes, you can edit and retouch your photographs on your phone, but we are discussing how to take great pictures with your phone, not how to take good photos with your phone.
Photoshop is still the industry leader in photo retouching. If you want professional level results, then you should use the most professional tools.
Best of all, Photoshop will make quick work of your RAW photographs — it’ll allow you to make minute adjustments to exposure without drastically altering the color profile of the image.
And beyond that, you’ll have the entire arsenal of tools at your disposal for retouching, cropping, and any other miscellaneous correction that is needed. When you’re finished, you can upload them to whatever platform you prefer or even pop them back onto your phone.
Practice good composition, know your phone’s limits & go the extra mile
Great phone photography is all about preserving photography as an art form.
Understanding what has always made great photographs real pieces of art will go a long way for you, even if your camera of choice fits into your shirt pocket.
Yet, knowing the clear limits of your phone is the only way to hide those limits from your audience — so don’t forget to constantly check your limits when shooting photos! And most of all, go the extra mile — many people won’t and the effort you’ve made will be noticeable in the end.