Phone Photography 101: How to Take Good Pictures With Your Mobile Device

How to Take Amazing Photos With Your Smartphone in 2024

Smartphones have revolutionized photography in recent years, putting powerful cameras right in our pockets. The latest phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, and others now boast multiple lenses, large sensors, computational photography, and pro-level controls that enable us to capture incredible images wherever we go. Whether you‘re a casual snapshooter or a serious shutterbug, these 10 tips will help you take your mobile photography to the next level in 2024.

  1. Master the basics of composition
    Before diving into your phone‘s fancy features, it‘s important to understand the fundamentals of composing a great photo. Start by turning on your camera‘s grid lines, which divide the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Position key elements of your scene along those lines or at the points where they intersect. This is known as the "rule of thirds."

Also look for leading lines that guide the viewer‘s eye into the frame, like roads, fences, or architectural elements. Experiment with symmetry by centered subjects vertically or horizontally. Incorporate patterns and repetition when you find them. Use objects in the foreground to frame the scene. Get low, get high, tilt your camera, and shoot from creative angles. Composition is all about arranging the parts of your photo in a pleasing, attention-grabbing way.

  1. Find your light
    Photography is all about light, and learning to master it is key. Avoid using your flash and seek out natural light instead. Shooting outdoors? Aim to shoot in the hour after sunrise or before sunset, known as "golden hour", when the light is soft and warm. Harsh midday sun casts unflattering shadows on faces. An overcast day provides even, flattering light. Indoors, position your subject facing a window for beautiful diffused glow.

Take a moment to observe how light is interacting with your scene and subjects. Is it casting appealing highlight and shadows? Is it reflecting off surfaces in an interesting way? Is backlighting creating a dramatic silhouette? Play around with side-lighting and backlighting your subject for moodier photos. If you must shoot in direct sun, use fill flash or have your subject face their shadow to avoid harsh facial shadows.

  1. Choose a strong subject
    The most compelling photos tend to have a clear, singular subject as the focal point – whether that‘s a person, pet, detail, or moment. Once you‘ve identified your subject, do everything you can to emphasize it within the frame.

With a person, try using portrait mode to keep them in sharp focus with a pleasingly blurred background. Get close to fill the frame and capture their facial expressions. For objects and small details, engage your phone‘s macro mode to get super sharp close-ups with artful background blur. Animals often look best at their eye level or slightly below. If photographing action or movement, use burst mode to capture multiple shots and select the best one later.

With any subject, a good general rule is to avoid placing it smack in the center of the frame. Use the rule of thirds to position it off-center for more visual interest, and don‘t be afraid to leave some breathing room around it. Lastly, declutter your composition and minimize any distracting elements that don‘t add to the photo.

  1. Keep it steady
    Camera shake is the enemy of sharpness. For pixel-perfect shots, brace your elbows at your sides or against a stable surface, or use both hands. Better yet, pick up an inexpensive mobile tripod. Today‘s top phones have built-in optical image stabilization, but you can go a step further by also turning on electronic/software stabilization in your camera settings (just beware that this crops in on your image slightly).

When shooting handheld, gently release the shutter button rather than jabbing at it. If your phone has a voice command shutter, use that. Consider a Bluetooth shutter remote, or the volume buttons on your earbuds. In low light, the camera‘s shutter needs to stay open longer, so it‘s extra important to keep steady, or use a tripod. Prop your phone on a ledge, against a tree, or on a bag of rice!

  1. Control your exposure
    Your phone does a remarkable job of determining the right exposure for a shot, but sometimes it benefits from a little manual assist. First, set your focus by tapping on your subject on the screen. Then, slide your finger up or down to adjust the exposure, i.e. brightness. Frequently check that you aren‘t over-exposing and blowing out the highlights in a scene, as those details are impossible to recover later.

For the most control, experiment with your "pro" or "manual" camera mode. This allows you to directly adjust not only focus and exposure compensation, but also ISO (sensitivity), shutter speed, and white balance. Increasing ISO is an easy way to get sharper shots in low light, but beware it can introduce noise/grain into the image at high settings. Shutter speed is fun to play with for artistic effects – use fast speeds to freeze action, and slow speeds to create motion blur. White balance helps ensure colors are rendered accurately.

  1. Shoot in HDR… sometimes
    Most modern phones now have an HDR or "high dynamic range" mode, which combines several frames taken at different exposures into one image with maximum highlight and shadow detail. It‘s ideal for landscapes and high-contrast scenes where you want to capture details in both the brightest highlights and darkest shadows. However, because it saves a composite of multiple exposures, it‘s not ideal for moving subjects – though Google and Apple‘s latest phones are getting better at this.

For stationary subjects and sweeping scenery, definitely try HDR. It tends to produce bolder, more impactful images. But also shoot a non-HDR version for comparison. If your phone doesn‘t have auto-HDR, remember to keep extremely steady during HDR captures, as any shake or movement will result in a blurry composite.

  1. Get a wider view
    Most smartphones today have an ultra-wide lens in addition to the standard wide lens, which is incredibly useful for capturing expansive scenes, especially indoors and in tight spaces. At the press of a button, you can fit way more into your frame – about 2-4x more. Leverage ultra-wide for landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, and interiors. It also adds a cool, slightly distorted perspective effect for a more artistic, dramatic look.

For an even wider view, try shooting a panorama. In pano mode, pan your phone slowly and steadily across a scene to capture an extremely wide or tall field of view. Most phones make capturing seamless panos very easy now. They‘re perfect for sprawling landscapes and cityscapes. Just make sure you pan at a consistent speed and avoid any moving subjects in the frame.

  1. Experiment with add-on lenses
    Take your smartphone camera to the next level with external lenses that attach directly over your built-in lenses. Brands like Moment, Olloclip, and Sirui make high quality, portable lens kits that greatly expand your phone‘s optical capabilities. Depending on the kit, you can gain fisheye, macro, telephoto, and more specialized looks.

Clip-on fisheye lenses are great for getting a wider perspective and unique rounded distortion, ideal for landscapes, architecture, and creative portraits. Macro lenses allow you to focus on subjects just centimeters away, perfect for detail shots of flower petals, insects, jewelry, etc. Telephoto lenses provide 2x or 3x optical zoom for bringing far-away subjects closer with no loss in quality. With a lens kit in your bag, your phone essentially becomes a DSLR in your pocket.

  1. Edit for impact
    With phone snapshots, post-processing is half the fun. Before you share, open your image in your favorite editing app to make some tweaks. At the very least, perfect the exposure, contrast, and color. Many phones now have advanced AI-powered editing tools built right into the native photo app/gallery.

Start with the auto-enhance feature, then dive into individual settings. In most cases, boosting contrast, highlights, and saturation a bit will add some pop. Straighten and crop thoughtfully for the strongest composition. Try apps like VSCO, Afterlight, and Snapseed for more advanced adjustments, filters, and effects. The goal with editing is simply to elevate the image without venturing into "fake" territory.

  1. Practice, practice, practice
    As with any creative pursuit, the path to taking better pictures is paved with continuous practice. The great thing about phone photography is that your camera is always with you, so you can practice all day every day! Get in the habit of pulling out your phone whenever you spot an interesting subject, scene, or lighting condition.

Snap a bunch of variations on the same subject – from different angles, distances, and perspectives. Play with all the different modes and settings to see what each one does. Examine your photos afterwards (on a larger screen) to analyze what works and what doesn‘t. Find photographers whose style resonates with you and try to emulate aspects of their technique. Photography is a lifelong journey of development, so enjoy the process!

The cameras in our pockets these days are truly phenomenal picture-taking machines, and they‘re only getting better. We hope these tips help you harness your smartphone‘s full potential to create stunning images anywhere, anytime. Stay curious, keep practicing, and most of all – have fun! Your best shot is yet to come.

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