5 Ways to Take Better Smartphone Photos - Digital Photography School
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5 Ways to Take Better Smartphone Photos

When you think about smartphone photography what comes to mind? My guess is you probably think about Instagram, photo filters, bad selfies and any number of other keywords that describe this new wave of photography.

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Today, I’m going to share a few tips on how you can improve your smartphone photography and start capturing interesting photographs wherever you are with whatever you have in your pocket. If you like this post you might also want to check out this DPS eBook specifically written for improving your iPhone photography.

Oh and no just because Apple improved their camera in the 5s doesn’t mean that they’ve created a device that will make you a better photographer – you’ll just get the same boring images – unless you learn how to become a better photographer.

Take Your Time and Treat it Like a DSLR

Smartphone photos on Flickr, Facebook and Instagram get a bad reputation for being terrible because well, 95% of them are terrible. One of the biggest reasons that this is the case is because 95% of the photos on these sites are taken not as photographs, but as a way of sharing moments – they’re snapshots.

IMG_0826-650x650

People aren’t thinking about capturing a photograph – they’re thinking about how cool that thing that happened in front of them is. If you want to truly impress people with your smartphone photographs you have to first and foremost start treating your smartphone more like a camera and less like a phone.

In the photo above I noticed that the sun setting behind me was reflecting off the mirror at the other end of the bar. I positioned my beer and spent a few minutes taking different shots, both in portrait and landscape orientation, as the sun quickly passed its way below the horizon.

Think With Filters in Mind

The great thing about smartphone photography is the ease of which you have to process your captured image. While it might not be true that every photograph looks “better” with a filter, it is certainly true that filters can add interest to an otherwise boring photo. That said you shouldn’t simply think “oh well I’ll just add a filter to it to make it awesome” instead think “that would look really cool with this filter!” and then shoot your photo accordingly.

IMG_0104

When I saw these two hikers sit down in front of me on a recent hike I knew right away that it’d make for a great “old time” family portrait style photo. I framed the shot and instantly went in that direction when I process the image – there was no doubt in my mind as to how I wanted the image to look from the moment I captured it.

Get Into Strange & Uncomfortable Positions

Smartphones are light, easy to maneuver and have a large screen making it possible to compose your image in awkward positions. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid of looking like someone who’s had a few too many hallucinogenic drugs in public. If you’re taking a photo people will understand won’t they?

So get down on your knees, on your back or hang upside down and have fun capturing photos that you would otherwise be unlikely to get with a larger heavier device.

Use Third Party Lenses

In most cases the third party lenses are best used for specialty situations like fisheye or macro photography that the built in cameras just aren’t capable of doing. With the iPhone I use the Olloclip 3 in 1 attachment and absolutely love the macro lens (read my full review here).

Dragonfly Macro

The above photograph was captured using an iPhone 4S with the Olloclip Macro attachment and to be honest the quality of this photograph even stunned me when I finally got it onto my computer. One of the key points to keep in mind here is that when you are using this lens you are required to be about 12-15 millimeters away from your subject to achieve focus – that’s incredibly close to a an insect that typically is fairly skittish.

Use Third Party Camera Apps

Yes the smartphones come with built in functionality, but in most cases they are fairly basic and while they will work well enough if you’re looking to capture a snapshot to go beyond that there are certainly better options out there. Many of the good quality camera apps on the market offer improved stability control, better filter options, and the ability to pick a focus and exposure point separately allowing for better control over the final image. Seeing as there are so many good apps out there rather than listing one that I recommend how about you leave your favorites in the comments below!

Have Fun and Share

Okay so ultimately the best part of smartphone photography is how easy it is to share your creations with the world. So now that you’ve learned how to take better smartphone photos how about sharing some of your favorites below – let us know which phone and apps you’re using to capture the images!

Learn more about taking photos with iPhones with our iPhone PHotography eBook.

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John Davenport is the man behind a small, but growing, community called Phogropathy. Join for FREE today!. John also shares various news and post production tips on YouTube - subscribe for weekly videos.

  • Peter Rex

    I totally agree with the points 1, 3 and 5, but especially with the first!

    Time to tread your phone cam like an “adult” cam, it is no longer a gadget![eimg url='https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-UfXAaA9y0V0/UjXSo5p8xpI/AAAAAAAABXw/RWLCtOUw0yI/w913-h685-no/CameraZOOM-20130915172821029.jpg' title='CameraZOOM-20130915172821029.jpg']

    Galaxy S3 and CameraZoomFX

  • ScottC

    Helpful advice, I’ll definitely check into the apps. My iphone photos could use some improvement.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/6888859579/

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    With good light I have some cell phone pictures making it to stock agencies! So you can actually take sellable pictures with the modern cell phones.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Beth

    I use Camera+ with image stabilization most of the time. If I want to capture something quickly that I’ll miss if I wait for stabilization, I use the iPhone camera. I’m hoping to get the iPhone 5s on Monday if I don’t have to wait in line. Otherwise, I’ll probably order it and wait a couple of weeks to get it.

  • Kenneth Larsen

    When you talk about the Olloclip Macro attachment
    you do mean 10-15 centimeters en not millimeters right.

  • http://www.phogropathy.com John Davenport

    Hi Kenneth – oh no it’s definitely millimeters you are super close to your subject – Here’s the specs sheet for the macro lens http://www.olloclip.com/gallery/macro-lens/ – It’s actually 12-15 not 10 that’s a typo on my part – which I’ll fix up above.

  • http://www.pacczone.co.nz/shop/ Phillip

    I love using filters on photos I take with my smartphone. There are so many apps that’s it’s easy to take great looking pictures with limited to no actual photography skills. The joys of technology :)

  • Chris Munday

    I think the iPhone is massively underrated as a photography tool. I have been amazed at what you can do with it. I took thi afocally through my telescope with an iPhone 4S http://www.flickr.com/photos/91675652@N02/9777533335/

  • Raghavendra

    I have been taking photographs from my mobile since 2010. My mobile have a 2 megapixel camera. First and foremost thing would be get to know your mobile, Avoid zoom and Backgound matters a lot.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/p/mobile-photography-tips.html

  • http://bit.ly/oufr4c gnslngr45

    So many photos could be so much better if someone was humble enough to get in an awkward position or look like an idiot lying in the dirt to get the right composition. Cell phone cameras make that so much easier.
    The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13mp camera and in bright sunlight can easily stop the motion of water drops.
    I’ve used it many times when my “real” camera was sitting at home in the closet.
    I would however love to check out some 3rd party lenses to attach.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Ken Maurer

    I agree with Peter Rex, camera phone quality has risen above being a “gadget”. No longer do I regret leaving my gear at home, but I will turn around if I forget my iCamera,

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenmaurer/9661111048/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • http://shoto.com Nick Noreña

    Great article! After reading, I just had to respond to your request for cool apps for sharing photos. I’m working on an app called shoto, and it automatically creates privately shared albums for you and the people you took photos from. It’s a great way to snap a photo, edit it in any way you want, and as long as it’s saved to your camera roll, you won’t have to worry about sharing!

    You can find more at shoto.com. Really excited to push this article out to our followers on Facebook and Twitter!

    Cheers,

    Nick

  • Kylie

    I’ve been treating my iphone as a ‘proper’ camera for a while and have fallen in love with photography as a consequence. I use the Procamera camera app, it’s a great app that allows you to quickly and easily adjust exposure and focus points, as well as tap anywhere on the screen to take the photo (a definite plus for street photography and also those awkward positions).

    I have also just bought my first camera camera (a Fuji XPro1)! I’m looking forward to learning more, but I doubt I will ever totally abandon my iphone as camera :)

  • http://rindakoban.blogspot.com rinda

    It’s true that smartphones have opened the door for creativity in photography. Right now, my fav app in my Galaxy 7 Samsung tab is the pudding camera, with some options for cameras AND films. Here is one of the results:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/54378500@N00/9874299706/lightbox/

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/54378500@N00/9874299706/' title='let me out of here' url='http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5460/9874299706_53bcf0bc70.jpg']

  • Moe

    My iPhone albums are really like a photo journal. I love taking every day pictures without having to drag out my dslr. My absolute favorite app is an HDR app that combines two photos to make an HDR photo. It is absolutely amazing what this little app can do. Hands down my favorite.
    It is called Pro HDR . HDR PRO

  • Will

    iPhone camera is great and all, but my mind has been BLOWN with the power and clarity of the Lumia 1020. Yes, WP8 is still evolving so it’s a hard switch to make for some folks. (I didn’t, I have both phones.) I took the Lumia on my recent cruise and was AMAZED with the pictures is took SOOC.

  • Rob

    My Samsung has an HDR option for pictures. I use that 90% of the time.

  • Jerri Lynn Ward

    I have the Samsung Galaxy S5 and I like to use Pixlr Express app to create awesome images..

  • kimberly franke

    This is SOOC taken with Galaxy S5

  • kimafranke@gmail.com

    Well it appears my photo got lost somewhere….trying again…

  • Jason N photography

    I think a 10 stages of Smartphone photography needs to be written much like the HDR article on this site. I’m just coming out of the “bad HDR” stage, scoffing at Smartphone cameras. I do like my Lumina camera that allows manual settings, however, when you exit the camera it returns to auto.

  • http://htmlspinnr.smugmug.com/ Rick Johnson

    Step one should be to wipe the fingerprints from the lens. You’d be amazed at how many photos (snapshots or otherwise) have lack of focus and contest because we’re starting through the fog of skin oil on the lens.

  • Guest

    SOOC Captured with a Google Nexus 5 with a Phojojo Macro lens.

  • http://500px.com/NiTiSHmurthy Nitish S Murthy

    SOOC captured on a Google Nexus 5 with Photojojo Macro lens.

  • http://500px.com/NiTiSHmurthy Nitish S Murthy

    Deleted my previous post but Disqus shows me as Guest .. That’s Weird!

  • John Lebedz

    shot with iPhone 4s

Some older comments

  • Will

    September 29, 2013 01:05 am

    iPhone camera is great and all, but my mind has been BLOWN with the power and clarity of the Lumia 1020. Yes, WP8 is still evolving so it's a hard switch to make for some folks. (I didn't, I have both phones.) I took the Lumia on my recent cruise and was AMAZED with the pictures is took SOOC.

  • Moe

    September 27, 2013 10:32 pm

    My iPhone albums are really like a photo journal. I love taking every day pictures without having to drag out my dslr. My absolute favorite app is an HDR app that combines two photos to make an HDR photo. It is absolutely amazing what this little app can do. Hands down my favorite.
    It is called Pro HDR . HDR PRO

  • rinda

    September 27, 2013 04:49 pm

    It's true that smartphones have opened the door for creativity in photography. Right now, my fav app in my Galaxy 7 Samsung tab is the pudding camera, with some options for cameras AND films. Here is one of the results:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/54378500@N00/9874299706/lightbox/

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/54378500@N00/9874299706/' title='let me out of here' url='http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5460/9874299706_53bcf0bc70.jpg']

  • Kylie

    September 27, 2013 08:01 am

    I've been treating my iphone as a 'proper' camera for a while and have fallen in love with photography as a consequence. I use the Procamera camera app, it's a great app that allows you to quickly and easily adjust exposure and focus points, as well as tap anywhere on the screen to take the photo (a definite plus for street photography and also those awkward positions).

    I have also just bought my first camera camera (a Fuji XPro1)! I'm looking forward to learning more, but I doubt I will ever totally abandon my iphone as camera :)

  • Nick Noreña

    September 24, 2013 06:33 am

    Great article! After reading, I just had to respond to your request for cool apps for sharing photos. I'm working on an app called shoto, and it automatically creates privately shared albums for you and the people you took photos from. It's a great way to snap a photo, edit it in any way you want, and as long as it's saved to your camera roll, you won't have to worry about sharing!

    You can find more at shoto.com. Really excited to push this article out to our followers on Facebook and Twitter!

    Cheers,

    Nick

  • Ken Maurer

    September 24, 2013 01:36 am

    I agree with Peter Rex, camera phone quality has risen above being a "gadget". No longer do I regret leaving my gear at home, but I will turn around if I forget my iCamera,

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenmaurer/9661111048/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • gnslngr45

    September 24, 2013 12:47 am

    So many photos could be so much better if someone was humble enough to get in an awkward position or look like an idiot lying in the dirt to get the right composition. Cell phone cameras make that so much easier.
    The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 13mp camera and in bright sunlight can easily stop the motion of water drops.
    I've used it many times when my "real" camera was sitting at home in the closet.
    I would however love to check out some 3rd party lenses to attach.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Raghavendra

    September 23, 2013 05:59 pm

    I have been taking photographs from my mobile since 2010. My mobile have a 2 megapixel camera. First and foremost thing would be get to know your mobile, Avoid zoom and Backgound matters a lot.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/p/mobile-photography-tips.html

  • Chris Munday

    September 22, 2013 10:29 pm

    I think the iPhone is massively underrated as a photography tool. I have been amazed at what you can do with it. I took thi afocally through my telescope with an iPhone 4S http://www.flickr.com/photos/91675652@N02/9777533335/

  • Phillip

    September 22, 2013 08:15 am

    I love using filters on photos I take with my smartphone. There are so many apps that's it's easy to take great looking pictures with limited to no actual photography skills. The joys of technology :)

  • John Davenport

    September 22, 2013 06:13 am

    Hi Kenneth - oh no it's definitely millimeters you are super close to your subject - Here's the specs sheet for the macro lens http://www.olloclip.com/gallery/macro-lens/ - It's actually 12-15 not 10 that's a typo on my part - which I'll fix up above.

  • Kenneth Larsen

    September 22, 2013 05:31 am

    When you talk about the Olloclip Macro attachment
    you do mean 10-15 centimeters en not millimeters right.

  • Beth

    September 22, 2013 12:39 am

    I use Camera+ with image stabilization most of the time. If I want to capture something quickly that I'll miss if I wait for stabilization, I use the iPhone camera. I'm hoping to get the iPhone 5s on Monday if I don't have to wait in line. Otherwise, I'll probably order it and wait a couple of weeks to get it.

  • Mridula

    September 21, 2013 06:37 pm

    With good light I have some cell phone pictures making it to stock agencies! So you can actually take sellable pictures with the modern cell phones.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • ScottC

    September 21, 2013 07:20 am

    Helpful advice, I'll definitely check into the apps. My iphone photos could use some improvement.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/6888859579/

  • Peter Rex

    September 21, 2013 05:50 am

    I totally agree with the points 1, 3 and 5, but especially with the first!

    Time to tread your phone cam like an "adult" cam, it is no longer a gadget![eimg url='https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-UfXAaA9y0V0/UjXSo5p8xpI/AAAAAAAABXw/RWLCtOUw0yI/w913-h685-no/CameraZOOM-20130915172821029.jpg' title='CameraZOOM-20130915172821029.jpg']

    Galaxy S3 and CameraZoomFX

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