Improve your phone photography

A little while back we raved about using Snapseed as a photo editing app for smart phones. This post is about showing you how to take a relatively ordinary photo on your phone, and make it just a little bit more special before printing it, pinning it or posting it to Instagram. (This is very handy when you’re photographing products or vingettes in situ.) Because us Life Instylers like to defy the ordinary! 

While it’s pretty well accepted that more photos are now taken on smart phones than cameras, the basics of taking great photos still hold, no matter what device you’re using. Let’s take a look at a few of those first.

Rule of Thirds
Composition is noticing where your subject is in relation to it’s surroundings. A common rule in photography to assist with composition is known as the ‘rule of thirds’. Looking at the lines in the photo below, you’ll notice grid lines that divide the photo into thirds. The rule of thirds states that a photo is more interesting if the important elements of the image lie on one of the grid lines or their intersections. In the photo below, the photographer has her daughter on the far right vertical line. (Source)

Check out Leanna Loft's post on Rule of Thirds at imore for more information. Photo credit: imore

If you’re shooting outside, avoid harsh, overhead lighting. Where possible use natural light, and preferably early morning or late afternoon. Also avoid using the camera flash. If you need to direct light, use a reflector (even a white piece of cardboard can make do like in the images below), or move the subject to a better location.

DIY Photo Jojo BounceCard on the Etsy Blog shows how to direct light to your subject. Photo credit: Etsy blog

If you’re shooting inside, choose a location that has indirect natural light, rather than a spot that has sunlight streaming into the room (which can cause dark shadows). A photographer’s tip for locations that only have direct sunlight, is to tape some tracing/baking paper over the window to softening the light.

Also, if you’ve got too much light, consider cupping your hand around the lens to make a DIY lens hood, which will cut down on the amount of flare if the light source happens to be out to the side of the frame. (Source)

Points of View
The best photos are those that catch us by surprise and show us a point of view we haven’t seen for ourselves. When your composing your shots consider taking shots from a range of angles – birds eye view, from below, closer up, from behind and down low. And don’t be afraid to take multiple shots to really nail it. (Source)

Check out the Create with kikki.K blog for more information about finding new angles. Photo credit: Create with kikki.K

Two Hands
Just like you hold a regular camera with two hands, hold your phone with two hands for greater stability, more focus and less blur.

Avoid Zooming
Your smart phone camera will not give you great results when you use it’s zoom function. You’re better to physically move closer to your subject, look harder to get better composition of the shot, or crop the image after you’ve taken it. (Source)

The High Dynamic Range or HDR setting on your iPhone allows your camera to capture photos with varying light ranges (bright sunlight and dark shadows in the same image) and create a photo that looks more like the image we see.

To activate HDR on your iPhone:
– Tap ‘Options’ at the top of the screen when the camera is active
– Move the ‘HDR’ slider to ‘on’

With HDR activated, the camera will take three photographs – one exposed for the darkest area of the scene, one for the mid-range and one for the brightest area. It will then automatically select the best parts of each of the three photos and merge them together to create one picture. (Source)

AE/AF Lock
When taking close-up shots of still objects (like vignettes or product shots), the focus of the shot is REALLY important. The auto focus on the iPhone 5 is pretty sharp, but when you’re working on real close-sometimes your shot can go blurry right at the last second.

Enabling AE/AF (Auto Exposure/Auto Focus) lock means that the exposure and focus settings on the lens at that time will be locked until you take the photo – avoiding blur. To enable AE/AF lock:

To activate AE/AF camera:
– Frame your shot on your iPhone camera, and When you’re happy with the focus and exposure, hold your finger down on the part of the screen which shows the object you want to focus on.
– After a few seconds, ‘AE/AF Lock’ will appear at the bottom of the screen, and you can take your shot. (Source)

Clean Your Lens
Your phone camera lens will pick up dust and grime from your pocket or handbag, so give it a wipe with your sunglasses cloth to keep it gleaming. (Source)

Once you’ve taken the shot, there at a few things you can do to improve it before you share the Instagram love.

Cropping & Straightening
Open the image in a photo editing app like Snapseed. Straighten it, and then crop it.

The left image is a screen grab showing to straighten the image, aligning edges in the photo with lines on the screen grid. The right photo is cropping the image to a grid of thirds.

Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, White Balance
With an app like Snapseed it’s pretty easy to quickly adjust the brightness, contrast, colour saturation and white balance of image to make it a more interesting image. Below is an example of an image that simply had the brightness dialled up.

Simply brightening an image can improve it, but also play around with the contrast, saturation, ambiance and white balance features on Snapseed to improve your shots.

Final Image: Before and After
Once you get the hang of it, in just a minute or two you can easily transform an average photo into a more exciting, interesting and better one. It’s worth taking the time to have a practice on a few shots so you are publishing photos more inline with the quality of your brand. And it’s actually quite fun and very rewarding in the process.

After straightening, cropping, brightening and adjusting the contrast, colour saturation and white balance, the low lit image is transformed into a more vibrant, interesting story ready for Instagram.

Do you have any tips for taking better photos on your phone? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

If you’re interested reading more about this topic, here are some resources we found useful:
Take better pictures with your phone : my best tips, tricks, and apps
How to make your iPhone photography more striking with the “rule of thirds”
10 Quick iPhone Photography Tips
Etsy Blog: Top Tips for Smartphone Photography
Create with kikki.K blog: How To: Improve Indoor Lighting
Vodafone blog: How to take the best photos with your iPhone5


  • Reply June 18, 2013

    Lu Reeves

    This was a fab post, thank you xx

    • Reply June 19, 2013

      LIS Admin

      Thanks so much Lu!

  • […] phone and edit them with an app like Snapseed. Here’s a blog post I wrote a while back on how to take better photos on your phone, using some tricks I learned from a photographer friend of […]

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