8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography


What’s the most useful camera gear you carry with you? This is the most common question asked of photographers. Many will say a tripod or perhaps a lens, but how many people would have answered a Smartphone? Well, I’m sure there were more than a few.

The moment I saw the potential of smart devices was years ago when traveling with a friend in Japan. He had just bought an iPod touch, and everywhere we went he could show people his photos. It formed a lasting impression, and it wasn’t long before I had an iPod touch of my own. Now, of course, there are a plethora of smart devices available, and you can use your Smartphone for photography in many ways.

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

The Smartphone is great for many photography-related tasks.

1 – Use your phone for light painting

This is a really great and creative way for you to use your phone for photography. Using a Smartphone for light painting is the subject of this article: How to do Light Painting with a Piece of Fruit and a Cell Phone, so there is no need to elaborate on it too much here. The flashlight that comes with all phones these days can be used to both light the subject, and to light paint in the background.

You will, of course, need a tripod, a darkened room, and a camera capable of long exposures to make this work. In addition to the flashlight, you can also use the screen for light painting as well. The simplest way of doing this is to download a flashlight app. Now you can customize your light painting almost as much as you can with the pixelstick! Once you have chosen your background color, use this to light paint a pattern in a darkened room.

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

This photo was taken with a dSLR, but all the light painting was done with an iPhone 4.

2 – Download apps for your photography

There are many apps available for download that will help your photography, some are obvious and some you might not have considered. Tablet devices have many of the same apps as a Smartphone, though a phone can be handier to carry around. Here is a selective list of apps you might consider downloading to help with your photography.

  1. Suncalc (iOS version) – This app shows you the direction of the sun, and how that changes through the year. This is vital information when planning a photograph (for Android users here).
  2. Easy release (iOS version) – Store your model releases on the go, this app is accepted by major stock photography sites such as Getty images (Android here).
  3. Weather underground (iOS version) – This or any of the other weather apps provides information about weather conditions by the hour. This is great to know when planning the day you wish to photograph (for Android here).
  4. Pocket light meter – Always useful to have this, especially if you’re using off-camera flash (for Android here).
  5. Simple DoF calculator – Having this information to hand on your phone is always useful (Apple only but there are other Android options available).
  6. My Tide Times (iOS version) – Anyone photographing a coastal area needs to know the times for high and low tide. This can literally be a life saver and will help you plan your time effectively (Android version here).

3 – Never forget a location

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

This photo was taken with an iPhone. The geotagging was used to return to the location later.

Location scouting is one of the most important things you can do as a photographer. This is a good practice to get into whether you’re a portrait or a landscape photographer. Having go-to locations is a must. It’s not always easy to remember locations, though, especially if the area is unfamiliar to you because you’re traveling. Fortunately, the map apps that come with or you download onto your Smartphone will help here. There are a couple of options for saving your locations.

  • Bookmark it – When standing at the place you want to return to simply bookmark it by dropping a pin at your current location, then leave a note for yourself about what to find there.
  • Photograph it – Your photographs taken on your Smartphone can be geotagged, so you can use this to help you both remember the place and what’s there to photograph. If you do this, remember to check that location services are turned on for your camera app.
8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

The location for this music band shoot was scouted out before (see photo above). The photo was of course inspired by a famous music band from the UK.

4 – Share your photos in person, and on social media

Taking your best photos with you to share with people is always smart, you never know who could be a future client. This is a great way to use your phone for photography as it often allows you build up a good rapport with other people. You should be prepared to look at their photos as well, remember most people have Smartphones these days.

Of course, social media is a big player, and branching out of your geographical area is easier as a result. That means putting your very best photos on sites like Instagram, Facebook, and 500px. These sites are a vital part of getting yourself known as a photographer, and your Smartphone is at the center of that.

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

The use of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to share your work is increasingly important.

5 – No external flash, no problem!

Photography is all about controlling the light, and a strobe or flash is a great tool for doing so. An alternative to a flash is your Smartphone in low light. This is because the flashlight on your phone can be used as a makeshift continuous studio light.

In order do this you will probably need to bump up your iso, and shoot with a large aperture. The use of multiple Smartphones will give you even more options. How about using one of them as a rim light?

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

The flashlight on Smartphones is great for lighting your subject.

6 – Use your phone for photography! It’s your second camera!

Having a second camera with you is never a bad idea, and if you’re doing commercial work it’s mandatory. A second DSLR camera body is heavy to carry, though, and if you’re out taking photos for your own pleasure not really necessary. Having a camera phone with you is often all the second camera you’ll need, you can do a lot with it. Why would you use your phone for photography when you already have a DSLR with you?

  • Fun shots: The biggest reason is for those informal behind the scenes photos with your friends.
  • Behind the scenes shots: You can use it to show the setup for your main photograph taken with your DSLR.
  • Second shots: When taking a photo with your main camera on a tripod, another photo opportunity presents itself. You don’t want to move your main camera, but a Smartphone photo will work.
  • Less intimidating: In street photography, a Smartphone is smaller and less intimidating.
8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

This photo was taken with a Smartphone. It records a behind the scenes moment, while the main camera is on a tripod.

7 – Make lists, and store them

It’s said good photography happens when planning and spontaneity come together. There is a lot of preparation that goes into planning, and one of the best things you can do is make a list. The notes app on your Smartphone is another great way to use it for photography.

Making your pre-shoot list gives you a clear focus for your work. The really great thing about having that list with you is you can add to it on location. There will always be potential photos you could take in the future, which you will only see when you arrive. Note the new photo ideas down, and Geotag the location if needed as well. Evernote is another great app that works on any device, syncs with your home computer and you can access from anywhere with a web browser.

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

Make use of the notes function in your phone. You can note down ideas so you don’t forget them in the future.

8 – Use your phone . . . as a phone!

It’s easy to forget the primary function of your techno slab is to be a phone! That’s a mighty useful thing in photography for any business related activities. It goes without saying that your website, e-mail footer, and business cards, should all have your phone contact details included. Those opportunities to shoot commercially will improve you as a photographer as well, it will push you to deliver results. Even if you don’t have a photography business a phone is still great for contacting your photography friends! Your friends are always good to meet up with,

Even if you don’t have a photography business a phone is still great for contacting your photography friends! Your friends are always good to meet up with, collaborate, and bounce ideas off each other.

8 Ways to Use Your Smartphone for Photography

As stunning an idea as this may sound. You can use your phone to make phone calls!

The Smartphone, how will you use yours for photography?

The diversity of today’s Smartphones means they are so much more than just phones. As you can see, there are many ways you can use your phone to enhance your photography, we’d love to know how you use yours.

Are there any other ways in which you have used your phone, that aren’t mentioned here? The phone is a great device to have with you that takes up little space and doesn’t weigh you down. The chances are you have it with you anyway, so try out some of the ideas above.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Bond is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured in national newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in crystal ball photography Simon is the leading figure in this field, get some great tips by downloading his free e-book! Do you want to learn more about crystal ball photography? He has a video course just for you! Use this code to get 20% off: DPS20.

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  • Nata Nedbay

    When photographing film I use my phone to take the test shot and if im pleased, I copy the settings to the camera

  • Simon Bond

    Hey Nata, that’s another great way to use the phone. Thanks for sharing that idea with us as well.

  • Useful tools to have, though I have similar tools that do the same as many of these. I normally travel with an iPad and and Android phone (Samsung Note 4). But here are a few more tricks:

    Use an OTG hub with an Android device to load selected DSLR photos, if you don’t have in-camera WiFi or NFC;

    Edit on the mobile device, both Apple and Android, using Snapseed and / or Pixlr;

    Use IFTTT to link it up – any post to my Instagram or 500px account, with a specific tag, automatically posts to twitter (as an image post), Flickr, and to my self-hosted wordpress site as a draft. Just one post hits ll the targets;

    If I am online an IFTTT DO button can post my location, datestamped, as a Google map link, to Evernote. Add a photo to the note if you wish, but I am more inclined to send the photo to Instagram.

  • Simon Bond

    Some great extra information here Jeremy, thanks for adding this here.

  • Lev Bass

    Cameras with Wi-Fi, etc can be controlled by phones (need an app like Canon’s Camera Connect). You can see what the camera sees, change settings, release shutter.

  • Simon Bond

    That’s a great development, and a useful feature as well. Thanks for telling us about this.

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  • Joel Tejeda

    I use Google Photo app for enhancing my pics, it’s suttle not difficult to use…And is fun. I’m not a professional photographer, so I don’t use Photoshop or Lightroom. I often find my self with a great photo opt, and don’t have my camera with me.

  • Tim Lowe

    As a phone? Never thought of that. 😉
    I use several apps all the time. DOF calculator, pinhole exposure calculator and reciprocity failure calculator make life so much easier for me.

  • Simon Bond

    Hey Tim, yes those are all useful things that the phone can do as well. Glad you’re out and about photographing with camera and smart phone.

  • Simon Bond

    I have yet to try google photo, so perhaps I should try that one. The phone is great for those photo opps Joel, never miss a photo!

  • Tim Lowe

    Now don’t accuse me of cell phone photography. My pocket camera is a Hasselblad 500 c/m. 😉

    Do you are anyone else on here know a light meter program that actually works? I’ve downloaded and subsequently deleted 3 or 4. They were all terrible.

  • Joseph Weshinsky

    Lets bring a little levity to this matter.
    Stop with the selfies already. I am tired of seeing 10 years olds who can pose like a professional model.
    Do they not have an adult in their life warning them these photo’s can be captued and used for seriously bad stuff
    Isn’t the internet filling up?

  • Simon Bond

    Big brother is watching you Joseph;-) In the form of that 10 year old kid photographing you! Selfies are for those who like taking them, I’ve seen people use dSLR’s for their selfies as well. I guess there is a whole other article just on selfies, perhaps I should do it!

  • Simon Bond

    Hi Tim, I can’t this far help you on a smart phone light meter. It would be handy to have a good one though….

  • I have also used my Samsung Galaxy S5 as an IR remote for my Canon 60D with the DSLR Remote app. Worked great as an alternative to an intervalometer when I was shooting a lunar eclipse.

  • Simon Bond

    That’s a nice feature Steve, and a good use for your smart phone. I’m looking forward to upgrading my devices at some point to be able to use features like this.

  • reefski
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