The Comprehensive Guide to Smartphone Photography

a comprehensive guide to smartphone photography

The best camera is the one you have with you. – Chase Jarvis

Unlike professionals, who run amok with their cameras all the time, most of us hardly own a camera. Regardless, most of us keep our phones with us all the time, which means most of us have a camera with us all the time too. Due to the advances in smartphone design, that camera does a pretty decent job! Awesome shots are now within your reach, everywhere you go. All you need is to practice your craft and add to our visual history, every single day. Although, not as powerful as digital cameras. Smartphone photography can be still really fun. For, when you can’t rely on your technical or editing powers to create a great picture, you have to go back to the basics: Composition. You need to think more about the light, the colours, the lines and the placement. Being forced to focus on fundamentals can render amazing things for your photography. Besides pictures taken on your phone are easier to edit and share on your social feeds, so that’s a plus.

During my school years, my cell phone simply was a phone, a simple Nokia phone. Hardly took any pictures with it, the few years I had it! If I wanted a picture, I would use a camera. Then it was time to upgrade and I got a new android phone with a decent camera… The day I bought it, I signed up for Instagram, cuz why not. Over the years, things changed. The phone was the new camera. I started running more often in search of great spots, getting to know my hometown better in the process. I got up for sunrises, I stayed up in the moonlight. I learned the technical stuff and experimented more. I saw more, I experienced more. I spent hours editing and captioning photos. Battled insecurities about what I say and share online. Those costs are so small, compared to the record I have. The photos of family, friends and adventures, and the emotions and lessons attached to those images. I do look back on those photos and wish I’d taken them with a better camera, but I know too that if I had only used a camera, so many of those photos simply wouldn’t exist. Since then its always me and my phone.

Choosing the RIGHT phone.


If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what to buy. For one, there are too many smartphones out there. Second, I can’t say what’s right for you, because I don’t know you as well as you do! You’ll need to think about what’s available to you, what you want out of a phone, how much you’re willing to pay and so on. However, these are some of the main points you may want to consider from a photography perspective.

Megapixels, Image & Video quality.
If you’re looking to share or print your images at larger sizes, as a very general rule more megapixels on a phone is better. Most camera phones can shoot HD video (1080P)some support shooting at slow-motion. Only a few can shoot at a 4K resolution, support raw files and have image stabilization.

Consider things like screen size, resolution, and the quality of the contrast. They will all make a difference in how easy it is to use your camera, especially in tricky lighting conditions, like low light and direct sun. They’ll also influence how similar the image on your phone looks to that same image when it’s posted online or printed out.

Storage space & Battery life
If you plan to take a lot of photos or use a lot of apps you may want to opt for a phone with lots of storage space. Current phones have 32 GB of space, and you wouldn’t want any less. Your battery life will depend on a lot of things but it’s worth getting an idea of what the maximum battery life is.

Other camera features
Do you care about having burst mode, manual control, panorama capabilities, etc.? Maybe dual cameras, or perhaps accessories. If so, do your research and see whether the phone you’re eyeing comes with those features or not.

As a general rule, the better the camera features, the more expensive the phone will be. If you’re serious about smartphone photography, it may be worth it to pay the price. But don’t lose sight of the fact that smartphones still don’t match the quality of DSLRs or even advanced point-and-shoots.


When it comes to smartphone photography, the general philosophy is to see the camera’s limitations as its advantages. Camera phones are not nearly as powerful DSLRs. For the most part, they lack the manual controls or the hardware you need to say, create a dreamily shallow depth of field or produce a shot in low light that’s not peppered with noise. However, when you’re limited technically. You have to push yourself in other ways to make a shot work. By pushing yourself to get great shots from your camera phone, you’ll be developing fundamental skills Skills for great photography!

First things first: Get to know your camera. Test out its various modes (panorama, video, etc) in different conditions – like low light, direct sun, and when your subject is moving. See what the different modes excel at and where they fall a little short.Knowing how your camera’s different modes work will help you have more control over the final look of your shots. All it takes is a little bit of practice! You can also download 3rd party camera apps that can give you additional functionality.

“Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

Spend time on Instagram, and you’ll discover that photographers with big followings have something in common, whether they photograph fashion, families, wildlife or still life. That common feature: A great compositional style. When you compose a shot, you’re choosing how to arrange the visual elements in your frame – elements like lines, shapes, colours and light. The resulting arrangement is your composition.

Composition impacts not only the look of your image – like whether it feels static or dynamic – but also how your viewer thinks and feels about it. A shot of several birds flying may not catch your eye, but a shot of a single bird could convey a range of feelings or ideas, from loneliness to adventure.
With smartphone photography, the composition is key because everything in your frame will be in focus. You can’t adjust your aperture to blur out all the background details, so you have to work a bit harder to make sure the elements in your frame make for a great shot that communicates your message.Plus, chances are that if you’re posting to Instagram, you’re going to be doing the bulk of your editing with a not-so-powerful editing app. You have to get it right in-camera – your app’s not going to save you from bigger mistakes!


Light can have a big impact on the look and feel of your images. Light directs attention. We tend to look first at things that are brightly lit, or lit in a way that differs dramatically from the rest of the scene. Light can change the colour of your shot too! For example, daylight tends to be neutral or slightly blue, sunrise and sunset light tends to be warm, and the light before sunrise and after sunset is much bluer. Keep the difference in mind as you shoot, and look for light that enhances your message. If you don’t like the effect a light source is having on your image, change it. Turn off an overhead light and shoot only with window light, come back to your shot at sunset instead of midday, or reposition yourself (or your subject) until the light falls where you want it to.


Eyes love good symmetry. Whether it’s wavy, straight or curved, our eyes will latch onto the line and follow it to the end. If you want your viewer to look at your subject, place them at the end of a line or a series of lines, for even more attention-directing power! If you want to create a particular feeling in a shot, incorporate the types of lines that enhance that feeling! Horizontal and vertical lines feel calm, diagonal lines feel energetic, and wavy or curved lines feel gentle.


When you surround your subject with empty space – it simplifies your frame. There are fewer things to distract from your subject, so that subject really pops. The sky makes for a great example, but look for non-distracting space elsewhere too – in architecture or even nature! Just make sure there aren’t any major bursts of colour or lines that draw your eye away.


Just think about it! Colour can change the mood of your scene: an image filled with rainbow shades will feel different from one without it, and will feel different when converted to black and white. Colour can also direct your viewer’s attention: a pop of colour that differs from the rest of the tones in your scene is going to stand out. Some Instagrammers take their consideration of colour a step further by paying attention to how the colours mix across different photos in their gallery. You’ll find people who chase particular shades, and some whose galleries seem to change colour over time. It takes work and restraint to post only photos that fit within a colour scheme, but it’s a great way to push yourself to get out and look for a shot!


An interesting reflection or shadow can be a subject in its own right. It can be used to suggest that space exists beyond the frame, adding intrigue to your image. Further reflections and shadows can create other elements like lines or frames – elements that can be used to direct your viewers’ attention to a particular part of your scene.

While smartphones may not be able to produce bokeh shots and blur the background as effectively as a DSLR. Playing around with the little limitations can result in some abstract shots. You can play with shutter speed and focus to create a different vibe in your compositions. Sometimes, your phone is going to reduce your shutter speed to let more light in. And that means anything that’s moving may end up being blurry. Take advantage of it! Purposefully create images that capture blurry elements lending to a more dynamic feeling. In some cases, they can even result in some pretty cool, ghost-looking shots. While the autofocus on our phones to be pretty good, sometimes it misses the focus altogether. Use that! The resulting blurry shots may look a bit like an impressionist painting.

Quick Tips

  • Get your subject out of the centre: Placing your subject in the centre of your frame can get a little boring after a while. Give the rule of thirds a try: Imagine your frame is divided into a 3×3 grid, and place your subject along one of the resulting gridlines or where two gridlines intersect.
  • Leave a little room at the edges: When your subject is pressed up right against the edge of your frame, it can be a little uncomfortable to look at. Give it some breathing room by leaving some space in between.
  • Check your corners: Before you snap your shot, do a quick check of all four corners of your frame. Is there anything there that’ll distract from your subject? If so, consider recomposing to eliminate distractions.
  • Straighten up: When a line that should be straight like the horizon, looks askew in a photo, the symmetry disappears. So unless you purposefully want a line to be askew, take extra care to get your lines straight. Enabling the gridlines on your camera makes this a lot easier!
  • Never cut the limbs: Keep an eye on the edges of your frame to make sure the person/animal you’re photographing hasn’t had any of their body parts chopped off. Cutting a part of your model’s head or limbs, will not only spoil your shot but also distract the viewers’ attention away.

What should You Photograph?

Even with the technical limitations of a smartphone camera, there’s still a huge amount of choice when it comes to deciding what to photograph. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few basic ideas to help get you the smartphone photography mindset. Don’t feel like you have to do all or any of these! Use them as a starting point to get your own ideas flowing. Pretty soon, you’ll find your smartphone photo voice!


A notable trend among photo-sharing services – especially Instagram – is to use the service as a visual diary or journal. That means that instead of just sharing your holiday snaps, you use photography to give people a look into your everyday life – what you’re eating, where you’re going, who you’re hanging out with, little details in your everyday environment that catch your eye. There are even #hashtags just for this. Although, it may seem a little silly at first, to photograph such small things. In reality, looking for photo-worthy moments in everyday life makes us better photographers in the long run. Plus, we have to admit, it’s awfully nice to be able to scroll through our shots and have a visual history of moments we might otherwise forget!


Travelling is great for a ton of reasons. One of the big ones for us is that it helps us build relationships – not just with folks we meet along the way, but also with family, friends and friends-to-be scattered across the world. Part of the reason we can build those relationships is that we stay connected – even just a little bit – while we’re away. By sharing photos of your travels while you’re travelling, you keep your loved ones up to date. You give your friends the chance to enjoy your adventures and give you travel tips of their own. And if you drop the local hashtags on your shots, you give locals and other travellers in the area the opportunity to engage with you.


Nowadays, when you attend an event there’s a good chance that it will have its own hashtag. The idea is: If you share anything on social media about the event – a Twitter tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram photo – you can tag it with the custom hashtag so that other social media-using attendees can get your take on the event. It’s a fun way to connect with other people who are into similar things as you, and to get more eyes on your work! Watch for event-specific hashtags popping up at music festivals, fundraisers, workshops and even weddings. If you’re hosting an event of your own and expect your attendees to be social media types, hook them up with a unique hashtag they can use when they share photos of the festivities!

WhatsApp Image EM


“The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”

Sometimes, as a photographer, your goal is to go unseen by the world around you and capture a moment that’s unspoiled by your presence. That’s what street photography is all about. With a camera around your neck, it’s hard to blend in with the crowd. The average person on the street may be more attuned to the photographer’s presence and more likely to change their behaviour as a result. Enter: The smartphone. Most of us have them – and a lot of us have them out, all the time – people may not take much notice when you use it as a camera. It doesn’t guarantee invisibility, of course, but it can help to take some of the pressure off the folks around, allowing you to capture that unspoiled scene.


“Every man’s work, whether it be literature, or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.”

Humans are inquisitive creatures. We love getting a look into someone else’s life – and that means not only seeing what you do and what you like but also seeing who you are. So, if you’re up for it, capture photos of people around you, capture your friends, family and pets – and yourself too. Freeze their reaction during their least suspecting times and show it to them later. The amount of emotion captured in such shots can really be insightful.

Editing on a smartphone.

If one of your goals with your smartphone photography is to share your work quickly, chances are you’ll be looking to do your image editing straight on your phone using a photo-editing app.While these apps aren’t as powerful as the professional-level editing programs you might have on your computer, they do allow you to make coarse adjustments to your images, quickly, often for free. There are a lot of editing apps offering a huge range of functions, so take a look at the photo editing apps in your phone’s app store to see what’s popular. It may take a few tries to track down an app you find intuitive to use and that contains the features you’re after. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular image-editing app available today.


snapSnapseed is a complete and professional photo editor developed by Google. Originally designed for the iPad, it is available for all platforms today. It has a minimal interface and can edit RAW files. Users can enhance the photo by using swiping gestures to select different effects and enhancements. A variety of filters are also provided. It has a selective adjustment feature, which can be used to tweak the image in specific areas. The app has an inbuilt tutorial section providing insight on how to take full advantage of the application.


vscologoThis editing app for IOS and Android-enabled phones is one of the most popular out there, thanks in part to its range of filters (both free and paid). In addition to applying filters, with the VSCO Cam app you can adjust the basics – brightness, contrast, sharpness, warmth, tint (one of the few we’ve found that does this!), crop and orientation. It’s geared towards creating a particular aesthetic (the washed out look that’s popular at the moment) and so only lets you, take the highlights down and the shadows up. It also has a social feature where users can share their creations with the community.


lightroomAdobe Photoshop Lightroom CC for mobile is a free app that provides a simple solution for capturing, editing and sharing your photos. It is the scaled down version of Lightroom for a desktop. It provides most of the features that the desktop version provides.On upgrade to premium, users are given precise control with seamless access across all devices – mobile, desktop and web.


instaAlthough an image sharing app in its core, Instagram also allows you to edit your shots. You can make both upwards and downwards adjustments to brightness, contrast, sharpness, shadows, highlights and warmth and more. You can also add filters and blur part of your shot using their radial and linear blur using their tilt-shift function.


picsAdvertised as the #1 photo editor and pic collage maker on mobile. PicsArt is an image editor, collage maker, camera, and a clip art library, combined in a single application. PicsArt’s all about making awesome pictures and having fun by remixing free-to-edit pictures into awesome collages. It also includes customizable brushes, layers & professional drawing tools. Additionally, the PicsArt Camera lets you snap pictures with live effects.

Sharing Your Creations

One of the advantages of smartphone photography is that it allows you to create and share your work – with folks from around the globe if you want – in just a matter of seconds! When you have a phone that connects to the internet, you can upload your shots to all kinds of places – photographic communities, social networking sites, messaging services, emails, and so on. It’s easier than pie, takes just a little effort to get started, and the potential benefits can be huge!

“A hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the hash character (or number sign), #, to form a label.”

Hashtagging is a great way to get your shots in front of a particular audience. Most brands and organizations these days have not only a social media presence but a hashtag of their own for fans to use. If your image is relevant to them, you may want to apply their hashtag to it to increase the chance that they see it. It doesn’t happen often, but they may just get in touch with you to see if they can repost it.Once you’ve considered all of those extras, it’s time to get your image out there! When you post, and how often, is totally up to you, but you’ll quickly get a feel for what works best – for yourself and your audience.


Taking photos with your smartphone can be a hugely rewarding experience. It can help you improve your fundamental skills, get you inspired, help you build friendships and work relationships, and create for you a visual record of the moments in your life, big and small. It can further your business or even turn you into an internet celebrity. Its all up to you and the compositions you create.Let your smartphone guide your photography. It’s going to be great!

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