10 Tips for Taking Amazing Smartphone Photos
By: Lynn Burkhead
Follow these best practices to help turn mobile-device photos into treasured lifelong memories
If the idea of taking good photos – the kind that wow your family and friends – is of interest to you, look no further than the camera on your smartphone. Mobile devices have steadily improved camera function over the past several years, so much so that the hand-held device’s ability to take a top-notch photograph has steadily risen to the point that such images are now worthy enough to be used in newspaper, magazine, and website productions, something unheard of not too many years ago.
Here are a few tips to make your smartphone’s camera a device that turns the process of capturing your photos, and even videos, into a powerful memory maker.
1. Keep the Lens Clean: It’s really one of the most practical pieces of advice for any form of photography, the act of keeping the lens clean of dirt, grime, fingerprints, and moisture. To clean your lens without scratching it, use a lens cloth, either the disposable kind with some sort of lens cleaning fluid saturated onto it or a microfiber cloth dabbed with a small drop of clean water or lens cleaning fluid. These lens cleaning supplies can be purchased at just about any retail store with an electronics department.
2. Shoot the Story, Not the Location: As you travel around the country on an RV trip, get the obligatory photos of landmark locations like the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore to name a couple. But don’t just shoot the view across the massive canyon or the timeless image of four U.S. Presidents immortalized in granite. Instead, also capture the various moments that occurred as your family traveled to the destination, read signage overlooking the location, hiked a trail, enjoyed a meal and ice cream, toured a visitor’s center, or walked through a collection of flags leading to an overlook. The idea is to let your photographs tell the story of an amazing experience, not just capturing a single moment when a bucket-list item gets checked off.
3. Get the Light Right: One of the basic components of good photography, either with a digital SLR camera or a smartphone, is to get the light right. In other words, with few exceptions, be sure the sun is on the back of the photographer. That way, light is illuminating the faces of your subjects. Shooting into sunlight will darken your subjects. Keep in mind, the best photographic light is the soft light found early and late in the day. During the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, taking good photos becomes more difficult. During the time of the day’s most harsh lighting, use shade to your advantage as you snap photos, turning on the camera’s flash to illuminate faces and details. To do this, disable auto flash by setting to “on.”
4. Stop the Shakes: If there’s a knock against smartphone photos, it’s that they often contain a little bit of blurriness, especially in low-light conditions. That’s often because the shutter speed wasn’t high enough in auto mode, in the necessary high-action freezing speeds like 1/800th or 1/1,000th of a second. How can you overcome lower shutter speeds? If available in your device’s settings, consider using manual modes of operation that allow you to change the shutter speed. Some third-party apps will allow you to control shutter speed, such as one called Warmlight. Other motion-stopping tricks include standing as still as possible while taking the shot. Try bracing yourself against a sturdy object, such as a large rock or tree. Finally, consider using a small tripod or gimble with a stand specially designed for smartphones.
5. Two Key Settings: To help get the most out of your smartphone photos, make two changes in the settings. First, put the camera in HDR (High Dynamic Range) filter mode, something that will help balance out the lighting. The other setting is to turn on Burst Mode. This feature will take several images over a short period of time, something that will undoubtedly help produce one or more shots where everyone is smiling, no one is blinking, and a gust of wind wasn’t blowing something around.
6. Get the Shot Right: To get the shots you want, sometimes, you’ll have to politely ask a bystander if they’d mind taking a photo of you and your family with a wonderful sight looming in the background. Before you do so, snap a photo or two to see if the shot is what you’re wanting and what challenges need to be overcome. Get the details worked out and the camera settings right before asking someone for photographic assistance. Then politely coach them through the quick process of obtaining the shot that you want. Have them take several shots and then quickly examine them to make sure you get the photographs you want. And when the mission has been accomplished, graciously thank the bystander who gave you an assist.
7. Make the “Rule of Thirds” Work for Photos: In photography circles, it’s known as the “rule of thirds,” the dividing up of a prospective image into a grid composed of nine same-size rectangles created by two horizontal and two vertical lines being placed across the scene (you can imagine this or go into your phone’s settings, setting the camera view to grid). By composing the subject where important components of the photo meet in an off-centered position (think a lighthouse sitting in the left or right third of your photo, not in the dead center), a more powerful photo is created.
8. Vary the Perspective: Nearly every smartphone photographer out there does the same thing when they take a photo of some scenic wonder or landmark location – they stand on level ground, point their phone’s camera in vertical fashion at the subject and/or group, and take a level shot that looks like all the others. To make your photos more appealing than others, vary the perspective in your photo story telling. Turn your phone sideways, sit on the ground, lie down on the ground, look up at your subjects, get above your subjects, move off to the side, etc. The idea is to take a variety of photos from different angles and perspectives so your photos stand out when compared to others.
9. Take Advantage of a Tripod and Timer: To include yourself in photos – particularly if you’re alone and/or there are no bystanders handy to help – purchase a tripod or a gimble with a stand designed specifically for smartphones. Using either a remote shutter control with Bluetooth technology – or the smartphone camera’s self-timer, if one is available – you can compose the photo, snap the shutter button, and have several seconds to step into the shot.
10. Take Multiple Shots: I call this tip the power of redundancy. Meaning if you take several photographs – think 5 to 10 here – from different perspectives and angles, you’ll likely end up with one or more successful images. Take a quick look at what you’ve shot in terms of smartphone photos, delete those that don’t work, and retake again if necessary. Remember, your camera film is only limited by the amount of free space on your smartphone.
Put these tips into action on your next RV trip, and odds are, you’ll end up with a collection of storytelling images that are the envy of your friends, photos that are among the best and the most memorable shared across your favorite social media platforms.