How to Not Suck at Taking Pictures With Your Smartphone

When using your camera phone there is a statement that cannot be any more true, it goes something like “It’s not the camera, it’s just in the way you use it.” This is the Gospel that so many photographers have based their work off of and still adhere to today. A smartphone is very capable as a photographic tool and in the hands of the photographer that thinks a bit out of the box and instead just focuses on the basics, it can become a tool that captures photos that will impress even the editors at big publications.

Part of it involves basic common sense if you’re a photographer that uses dedicated cameras.

Wipe Your Lens Off

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The other day I was watching the show “An Idiot Abroad” and noticed that their lens in a scene had smear marks on it. This changed the way that the image looked overall. It’s very subtle, but consider how many of your friends images have light steaks going across the photo like they’re the next JJ Abrams but failing terribly at doing an anamorphic flare look. This comes from a problem like finger grease on the camera lens and can degrade the quality of the image by making it look softer than it is.

Imagine putting on a pair of glasses and on those glasses, you’ve smeared some coconut oil, Vaseline, etc. That’s what it looks like.

Cleaning your smartphone camera lens ensures that this problem never occurs.

Underexpose the Scene, Push it in Post

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Just like in normal photography with a dedicated camera, sometimes the best thing to do is to underexpose a scene. The reason for this has to do with the fact that your camera (and pretty much any and every camera) can recover more information from the shadows than it can from the highlights. That means that if you underexpose the scene by around 1/2 of a stop, not only will you get more detail but you’ll also set yourself up for a better image overall.

In the film days, this was called push processing.

Your Flash And Just How Useless It Is

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer SNAP! Pro iPhone case review samples (2 of 21)ISO 1001-30 sec at f - 2.2

Let’s get something very, very clear here about the flash on your smartphone. It sucks. No one has made a good one–absolutely no one.

You’re honestly much better off just editing to make an image brighter in post.

So why shouldn’t you use a flash? Well, there’s a special rule when it comes to photography and it goes a little something like this:

  • The smaller and further the light source is in relation to a subject, the harder the light will be.
  • The larger and closer the light source is in relation to a subject, the softer the light will be.

Hard light and soft light refer to the quality of the shadows. The more you can see in the shadows, the softer it is. The less you can see and darker the shadows are, the harder they are.

Find Sources of Sufficient Ambient Light

Instead of using your flash, I strongly recommend the alternative: finding sources of actually good ambient lighting. This can be anything as simple as a window, light from a bar ceiling fixture, etc. Just go chase the light–it will mean so much more.

Use Depth Field in a Smart Way

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You know that beautiful blur that you can get in an image? The way that you can achieve that is by using the tilt-shift/ defocus setting in the editor. But to do that and still make the image look organic and real, you should place your subjects in an area where that makes sense.

Focusing moves back and forth in a scene–and that’s why this works so well–because only that one particular thing is in focus.