I love my dSLR, but sometimes it’s just not logical to carry a big, heavy, expensive camera around when I am out adventuring with three little kids in tow! Thank goodness for smart phones and the camera that comes with it! They are so handy and convenient and it’s amazing what those tiny lenses can do. It still can’t compare to the quality of a dSLR photo, but I am so impressed with the camera on my iPhone 7, just as I was with the 4, 5, and 6 (it keeps getting better)! I love my iPhone, and I am loyal to it *mainly* because of the quality of the camera. Anyone can take a good photo with a phone these days, but there are a few things you can do to make your pictures even better. Here are my tips:
1. Clean your lens.
Whenever I am about to take a picture with my phone, I almost always use the bottom of my shirt to wipe off the camera lens. Our phones can get so oily and smudgy with fingerprints, it’s best to clean the lens to avoid that weird glow that can show up in pictures taken with a dirty lens.
2. Use your built-in camera app.
Many photo editing apps will allow you to take photos while using their app. I recommend avoiding in-app camera features and sticking to your phone’s built-in camera… it’s just better! Some apps compress your photos when taken in-app (ahem, Snapchat), so only use them if you are sure you don’t care about the photo enough to print it one day. Also, don’t use any in-camera filters while taking the photo, just stick with normal and edit or add filters later. Always take the photo using the full frame, don’t take the photo as a square! This way, the camera exposes more accurately, and when you want to print the photo, you won’t have problems with sizing. Take the photo as-is, then crop it later if needed.
Sidenote: Keep in mind that the rear facing camera takes higher quality photos (more pixels) than the front facing “selfie” camera.
3. Use natural light.
When I take photos indoors during the day, I open up all the blinds and curtains in the room, and I turn off all the artificial light. Let that good, natural sunlight come in through the windows! If you have any artificial lights on, they will leave an orange tone on your photo, so turn them off! I also never, ever use my flash unless I absolutely have to. Cell phone flash is terrible! The iPhone camera itself does fairly well in low-light, so unless I take a photo that is not turning out well in low-light, and it’s important enough to me that I get this particular shot, then I will turn on the flash. Otherwise, I keep it off. Ditch the flash!
4. Don’t zoom in.
When you pinch and zoom the screen before you take a photo, you are using your phone camera’s “digital zoom.” Digital zoom is far inferior to the optical zoom of a quality SLR lens that won’t diminish the quality of the photo when zooming. Digital zooming will result a super pixelated, low-quality image. I recommend taking the photo without zooming at all, and then later, if you must, crop that image to get a closer look at whatever it was far in the distance you wanted to capture.
5. Set your focus by tapping on the subject.
Before taking a photo, tap on your subject with your finger (on the screen) to set your focus. This will not only put your subject in focus, but will also set a more accurate exposure. The exposure is the brightness or darkness of the photo. You can control the exposure! If you are taking a picture of a person, tap on that person’s face to set your focus before taking the photo. If you are taking a picture of an object, tap on the object before taking the photo. If you tap and HOLD the subject, your phone camera will actually LOCK the focus (and therefore the exposure) into place! Even if the subject moves. It’s awesome! ALSO- if you have an iPhone, there is a little sunshine icon next to the focus box. If you touch the sun and slide your finger up and down with the sun, you can brighten or darken the photo. Try it!
6. Take multiple shots.
Take photos until you think you get the right one and sort them out later. I like to “favorite” my favorites, and then delete the ones I don’t want. Deleting takes a little bit of extra effort, but it’s worth it, because it frees up space on your phone!
7. Know your camera options.
Do you know the purpose of HDR or “live photos”? Learn what your camera options are and what they mean so you can determine if you want them on or off! I keep HDR on “auto” and I keep live photos turned “off” (I don’t care to have moving photos, nor do I want them taking up all that extra space on my phone! If I want to take a video of something, I will take a video.)
8. Reduce the chance of blur.
If you are taking a photo in low light, and your subject moves even slightly, you will most likely get blur in your photo. This is because your shutter speed is slowing down to allow more light through the lens. You can reduce the chance of blur when you: add more light to the room, hold the phone as steady as possible, or prop the phone on a table or steady surface.
9. Practice good photo composition
- Focus on your subject (as mentioned above)
- Frame people well: determine if your subject prefers a full body or upper body photo, how much space they want around them, and what they want in the background.
- Don’t be afraid to move your body forward or backward when taking a photo (again, avoid zoom).
- Shoot people from slightly above, never below! Shooting people from below is not flattering.
- Learn about the rule of thirds and use the grid lines.
- Practice and experiment making your photos more interesting with patterns, texture, symmetry, leading lines, negative space, abstracts, and candids.
- Speaking of candids, this is probably my favorite tip of all: take photos of people and things as they are, in the moment, not posed, not staged. Those are sometimes the best photos of all.
10. Learn to edit your photos (subtle is best)
Smart phone photos are usually a bit “flat” looking and need a little “pop,” so I like to edit mine slightly before sharing or printing. I use the VSCO app to edit my photos, but there are dozens of other editing apps. I also like Filmborn, as well as Instagram’s editing capabilities. I choose a natural-looking filter that I like, and then I tone it down by about 50% or more. I recommend lowering the percentage of any filter, if you can, so it isn’t too extreme. Filters are usually too saturated, too trendy, and will quickly appear outdated, so minimal editing is best. I then adjust the brightness, contrast, temperature, and fade — each ever so slightly to get the look I want.
11. Store your photos
I don’t want my photos to get lost in the abyss that is iPhone cloud storage, so I deliberately take some time each month to transfer them to my computer, and then I also use a backup service (we use Crash Plan) in case my hard drives ever crash. There are dozens of storage options these days. Many people use Google Photos. Just make sure the service is legit and that it isn’t compressing your photos. Store them and save them so they don’t get lost!
12. Print your photos
I am of the opinion that photos are best enjoyed when printed. 🙂 Print them, scrapbook them, Chatbook them, make albums, put them in 3-ring notebooks with picture sleeves… whatever you like, it’s worthwhile! For printing photo prints I use a professional online lab WHCC.com. In a pinch I will print with Costco or Sam’s Club. Whenever I print with Costco or Sam’s, I always find the option to “turn off in-house color correction.” Those dang printers will try to auto-color-correct your photos and they will turn out overly saturated and overly contrasted (not what you intended the photo to look like), so turn that option off.
That’s it! What did I forget? Did I miss anything? All of the photos here are my own, some of them are old, and each were taken with an iPhone 5, 6, or 7. Most were edited with VSCO. Happy shooting!