The basics and tips for smartphone photography: How to take great pictures!

This blog post is written by Rajeev Nedumaran, a professional photographer, podcaster & educator. He is based in Auckland, New Zealand, and is passionate about photography. Rajeev loves to shoot flowers and still-life. He runs photography workshops and shares his knowledge on his website Photo Country. Rajeev also hosts his own podcast in which he interviews photographers from all over the world, which you can listen to below:

Rajeev will help you get the right shot with your smartphone in this article! It’s not enough to only have a camera on your mobile phone; you also need to know when to use it. You must understand where to point the camera, how to hold it, and how to compose the image. And, while you may believe that you don’t need any skills to take a good photograph, you’re mistaken. Practice, like everything else, makes perfect.

A person is taking a photo with his phone
Photo by Paula Lavalle on Unsplash

Understanding the fundamentals of photography is the first step toward improving your smartphone photography skills. Here are some basic tips for taking better smartphone photos. This is a combination of tips for using your phone camera and compositional techniques.

1. Keep the lens clean

Always keep a microfiber cloth on hand. You always carry your phone with you, and it is prone to becoming greasy and dusty. Before you begin taking photographs, give it a good rub. If the lens is not clean, dust will appear on your images.

2. Turn on assistive grid on your smartphone

This is how to turn on assistive grid on your phone camera:

  • iPhone: Go to “Settings,” – “Photos & Camera,” – switch “Grid” on.
  • Samsung or Android phone: Launch camera, go to “Settings,” scroll down and switch the “gridlines” option to “on.”
Assistive grid
Assistive grid

The rule of thirds is a simple method for ensuring that your images look great. It divides your frame into three equal horizontal and vertical sections. Objects in the center of the frame should be avoided because they make the image appear too busy. Instead, place people or landscapes in the top, middle, and bottom thirds of the frame. This keeps the viewer’s eye moving around the image rather than being stuck in the middle.

Photo by Arnold Leow on Unsplash

3. Tap to focus

The phone’s autofocus feature is great when you know what you’re shooting, but it can be difficult to get the right focus when you’re trying to capture a moment without knowing what you’re going to shoot. You can use the camera’s auto-focus feature to assist you, but it doesn’t always work well. Simply tap the screen where you want to focus, and the camera will lock the spot until you press the shutter button. A square or circular icon will appear when you tap on the screen.

4. To adjust the brightness, tap and slide.

When you tap the screen to focus, a sun icon appears alongside the square focus icon on your iPhone. (On your Android, a bulb with a slider). This is for increasing or decreasing the brightness of your scene. It is commonly referred to as exposure value. This is the simplest way to prevent your photograph from being over or underexposed.

5. Long press to lock focus and exposure – AF/AE Lock

The camera will lock exposure and focus when you long press on the screen. After you’ve locked this, you can recompose and shoot without changing the exposure. Because your phone camera is set to auto mode, it will adjust to the amount of light it is exposed to. Lock the exposure and focus before pressing the shutter button to avoid shifting exposure when recomposing. Tap the screen again to unlock!

6. Fill the frame

The phrase ‘fill the frame’ refers to how a photographer frames a photograph. It occurs when the subject completely fills the frame, leaving no room for anything else. There are two ways to accomplish this in photography: cropping out any unwanted parts of the image or zooming in on the subject until it fills the entire frame. Get as close to the subject as possible so that it fills the frame. To ensure that the subject is sharp and the background is slightly blurred, tap to focus.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

7. Look at things from different perspectives

Other than an eye level view, experiment with different angles. Taking a photograph from an unusual angle can add interest to the image and make it more interesting to the viewer. Because the camera lens is usually fixed, moving around is required to take a photo from a different perspective. You can achieve this by tilting your device sideways, giving you a wider field of view. This works best when photographing landscapes, buildings, or objects close to the ground.

Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash

8. Color isolation in post-production

Isolating colours is a technique used frequently in photography to create vivid images. The most important element in a photograph is usually the main subject, which should be highlighted. This is accomplished through the use of colour blocking. You can use a mobile app like Adobe Lightroom or Snapseed to convert the entire image to black and white and then create a mask to isolate just the subject in colour. This makes the subject stand out from the background.

Photo by Rajeev Nedumaran

9. Zoom with your fee not with your fingers!

The goal is to get up close and personal with the subject. Because we can optically zoom in, we should get as close to the subject as possible. When we pinch and zoom, we degrade the image’s quality by pixelating it. Another option would be to crop it creatively. A smaller but sharper image is preferable to a blurry and pixelated one.

10. Try street photography on your smartphone

People are accustomed to seeing others take selfies with their smartphones. As a result, if you are using your phone while walking down the street, they will not pay much attention to you. This is an excellent method for taking street photographs. Set your camera to burst mode and start clicking. You will make every effort to capture “the decisive moment”!

Photo by Rajeev Nedumaran

11. Leading lines

The term “leading line” dates back to when film cameras were much slower than they are today. Photographers would use a technique known as “leading lines” to solve this problem. These lines would assist the camera operator in taking pictures without having to move the camera around. These lines are no longer necessary because our cameras are fast enough to capture moving objects. Leading lines, however, are still used to create stunning pictures. They can be used to give the image a sense of depth. As leading lines, you can use staircases, train tracks, roads, and walking paths through trees, etc.

Photo by Gil Ribeiro on Unsplash

12. Symmetry

The word ‘symmetrical’ comes from the Greek word “symmeiotes” meaning ‘equal’. It is used to describe anything that is balanced, symmetrical, or regular. People, animals, plants, buildings, and even objects fall into this category. In photography, the concept of symmetry is very simple. It refers to how things appear when they are divided into two identical halves. This includes structures, animals, people, and even landscapes. Humans are drawn to symmetrical compositions. It is also one of the most straightforward compositional techniques to use.

Photo by Justin Main on Unsplash

13. Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns

Pattern repetition is frequently used to create a sense of harmony and order. From the stripes on a tiger’s coat to the waves on the ocean, we see repeating patterns everywhere in nature. These patterns can even be found in our own lives. Consider how many times you’ve seen someone wearing a patterned shirt. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in your favourite shoes. Keep an eye out for patterns, which can appear in both natural and man-made structures or situations.

Photo by Flo P on Unsplash

14. Make use of negative space creatively

In a photograph, negative space is the area around the main subject. Objects that aren’t directly related to the main subject are included. The term is derived from painting, where negative space refers to the empty canvas. Negative space is frequently used in photography to help balance out the composition of an image. This is an excellent compositional technique for framing grand vistas of nature and juxtaposing them with an isolated subject.

Photo by Rajeev Nedumaran

15. Frame your subject with objects in your scene

In photography, framing refers to the technique of using objects to frame the subject in order to draw attention to it. You can, for example, frame your subject with windows and doors. Alternatively, you can use tree branches to naturally frame your landscape. The use of geometrical lines to frame the subject is naturally pleasing to the eye. The goal is to train your eye to notice such objects in the environment around you.

Photo by Rajeev Nedumaran

16. Use a tripod

A tripod allows you to use your other hand to adjust your camera’s settings. You can also get a steady shot of your landscape. You can also be in the shot by using a delayed shutter release. Taking long exposure photographs is another advantage. To capture long exposures on your phone, set the camera app to live mode or use apps such as slow shutter cam.

17. Use external lenses and rigs

Attachable smartphone lenses are designed to improve your mobile photography experience by increasing the visual capacity of a smartphone’s camera. This is accomplished by adjusting the focal length and angle of view of the phone camera, or how much of the scene can fit within the frame of the shot. And, because digital zoom degrades the image quality of smartphone photos, adding a lens that can magnify your subject is a better option. You can get closer to your subject without sacrificing image quality.

18. Don’t be afraid to edit your photographs

You can make changes to your images using photo editing software. You can change the brightness, contrast, saturation, exposure, white balance, and a variety of other options. Cropping, rotating, and resizing are the most common types of edits. Cropping removes unwanted parts of the image, whereas rotating changes the image’s orientation. Resizing changes the image’s size without changing its aspect ratio. Here are some of Rajeev’s editing apps:

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Snapseed
  • Picsart
  • VSCO

19. Experiment with shooting in RAW

Shooting in RAW gives you more flexibility when editing your photos. You’ll have more freedom to push details out of your shadows and highlights. If you have Adobe Lightroom, you have a great tool for photographers who need to edit photos on the go. Users can view, organize, and edit RAW files in the app, as well as adjust exposure, white balance, colour, and contrast, apply filters, crop, and add text and graphics. You can also make custom presets to save your favourite settings for quick access later.

20. Do not attempt to fix it in post-production! Take better pictures!

Try to get your photo right out of the camera. It is critical to understand the lighting conditions as well as the limitations of your smartphone. The difference between snapshots and great shots is that great photos draw the viewer in and use colour, tone, and composition to tell a story. Finally, practice makes perfect!

Rajeev advises to first understand our device and its limitations which will help us take better pictures whether using a smartphone or a DSLR. It’s important to understand the principles of photography.

Rajeev would love to see you try out his tips so feel free to tag him on your images on Instagram!

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