With the flash. See how it’s completely obliterated anything in the background and created a black void. Not what I wanted.
5. Hold the phone steady or use a tripod
One big issue with many mobile phone images is they are blurry. That is most often due to not holding it steady enough during the shot. So get a tripod or device that will help you hold the phone steady. If you don’t have one make sure you brace your elbows on something as you shoot to try and minimize any camera shake. The tripod you have for your main camera will be overkill for a phone so look for one that’s smaller and made for mobile devices like a Gorillapod or Smooth Q.
6. Turn off the HDR setting
Some cameras offer an HDR setting. Turn it off! Or at the very least, use it very sparingly. You do not need it about 90% of the time. If you follow tips #2 and #3 above you will be taking photos with better lighting and you shouldn’t need this, especially for shots of people. I find that results are hit and miss with it and some cameras do it better than others.
Where I would use HDR is when you’re shooting in a high contrast scenario and you want a bit more detail in the shadows and highlights. But what I suggest doing is shooting two different images; one using the HDR function and one without. Then that will give you more options later at the processing step (see tip #8 below).
OR avoid shooting in contrasty lighting. Come back later in the evening for the blue hour or shoot in the shade if those are options for you. The point here is, choose your battles. I took the images above while we were out for a walk in the afternoon. If I wanted to do a really good job of this shot I’d come back at sunset, but in this situation, using the HDR mode is appropriate.
Here is a contrasty scene shot without using the HDR mode on the camera.
This is with the HDR mode activated. It actually did a pretty good job of pulling out detail.
Here is the same image (the non-HDR one) processing using Lightroom for comparison. So while there is better detail here, the HDR mode image (above) stands up to it fairly well.
7. Adjust the exposure
This tip follows #2 above. If you’re using a pro camera app it should allow you to set the exposure compensation, and darken or lighten the image as you’re shooting. Some cameras will let you do this even with the auto mode. Mine does by touching the screen and adjusting a light slider up or down.
So just like your DSLR or mirrorless camera, you take control of the exposure and look of your image this way. If you want to make a light and airy image then brighten it. But if you want dark and moody, lower the exposure. The choice is yours, not the camera’s.
8. Process your images
Image processing is a discussion that often comes up in regards to all photography. Is it right to process them? That is a long debate but my viewpoint is that you should IF you want to. But having said that, I highly recommend it! If you aren’t currently processing your big camera images, why not start with your mobile photography? It’s super simple and you can’t mess anything up. Just go get my favorite photography app (Snapseed) for either Android or for iPhone.
This is the original image, straight from the phone.
Processed using Snapseed. I added contrast, an edge darkening vignette, and enhanced the details and structure (clarity).
Here’s a black and white version, also made with Snapseed. It’s a pretty neat app.
I personally find it a lot of fun to play with my images using Snapseed. It’s a great way to pass the time if you’re traveling somewhere (when you’re not driving!) or even while standing in line at the grocery store. Get creative and try all the filters out to see what they do. Playing around like this is a great way to find your own style too and see what you like and dislike in terms of the look for your images.
With my Fuji cameras I can even download a JPG of any image I want and pull it into Snapseed, so it also allows me to edit and post some of my regular camera images to social media right away. I often do that when I’m on the road. If your camera has wifi and an app, you probably can do this too!
This is actually my husband’s image, shot with his Google Nexus 6P phone. This is unprocessed.
I grabbed the image and processed it with Snapseed. Doesn’t it really snap now?!
9. Clean the lens
I can’t count how many times I’ve told friends, family, and total strangers to clean the lens on the phone. This is a handheld device, your fingers and fingerprints will be all over it. It’s exposed to daily grit and grime and possibly even spills or being set down in a puddle of coffee on the table. Having a dirty lens will degrade your image significantly and cause it to be blurry. It can even cause a lens flare or make the whole photo look foggy. Do this test to check your camera.
Take an image with a bright light in the shot, like the sun, a street light or a lamp in your house. If the image looks blurry and hazy – then you need to clean the lens! Use a microfiber cloth as you would for your regular lenses and take care not to scratch it. Remember to do the same for the front-facing camera as well so your selfies are tack sharp!
10. Use the rule of thirds and good composition
Just because you’re shooting with a phone doesn’t mean all the rules of composition go out the window. They apply here as well and having a strong composition will go a long way to elevating your mobile phone photography.
The yellow flower was placed off-center here and the unopened one on the left creates balance in the image. This is the unprocessed original image.
Processed using Snapseed. Notice how I toned down the stems in the lower left corner of the image.
In this final version, I added a funky edge frame to give the image a retro film look. Also done with Snapseed. Have you downloaded it yet?!
11. Watch the background
This tip ties in with the last one as it is part of the composition as well. When you’re taking a photo don’t forget to look at the background. I find with cell phones it’s too easy to shoot too fast and not put enough thought into the image before pressing the button.
I placed the flower off-center here to create a more interesting composition, following tip #10 above. But the background is really busy and distracting. So . . .
Then I followed tip #1 above and got even closer to make this image which I think is a lot stronger. Notice how the middle of the flower is still off-center in the image above?
So slow down, take your time, take a shot and review the image. Pay special attention to the background. Is there anything distracting in it that you could eliminate by getting closer or adjusting your camera angle? Look at the edges of the frame and do the same thing. Is there anything sticking out or poking into the frame that doesn’t need to be there? If so, then get rid of it! Move closer or reposition yourself and take another shot.
Lastly, select the focal point yourself. Depending on your phone and model, you may have the option of touching the screen where you want the camera to focus. If you do have that feature, use it! Don’t let the camera choose where to focus because it may get it wrong. If manual focus is an option (it is in my Pro Camera app) you can try that as well. But it’s tricky to tell when anything is in focus. I personally don’t use it for phone photography. I just tap onscreen where I want it to be sharp.
Cat photo was taken with a smartphone. I focused on her nose for this image by tapping my screen in that spot.
Whew, I did say these were quick tips right? I can’t help myself, I get into explaining and get wordy. Bottom line, I hope you find these tips useful and get out there and try them out. So go grab Snapseed and install it on your phone now. If there are any other photo editing apps that look neat, give them a try as well. Tell us about them in the comments if you find any good ones, and share your images too!
Doing mobile phone photography is a great way to play around and experiment. Test out different lighting scenarios, try various filters and processing looks and see what fits for you. Remember, photography is a journey, not a destination. Whether you get there by DSLR, mirrorless camera or smartphone enjoy the trip!