10 Tips for Beautiful Smartphone Photography

by John Stapel

tips for gorgeous smartphone photography

Did you know that you can capture beautiful images using only your smartphone?

It’s true. And while smartphone photography might seem difficult, it’s actually pretty easy – once you know a few techniques.

That’s where this article comes in handy; I’m going to share with you some simple tips so you can achieve awesome, beautiful, and memorable mobile phone photography in no time at all. I also include plenty of smartphone image examples so you can see exactly what your little phone camera is capable of.

Let’s get started!

1. Clean your lens

This tip is extremely basic, but you will be amazed by the dirt and grime that accumulate on your smartphone lens.

When I reach for my phone, I often find lots of smudges and dirt caused by my kids, my pockets, the environment, and more.

So do yourself a favor and get in the habit of quickly wiping your phone lens before beginning a photoshoot. It’ll make your photos look so much sharper!

smartphone photography tips

2. Tap the screen to set focus

Typically, when you point your smartphone at a subject, the camera will guess what you want to photograph. For instance, if it recognizes faces, it’ll focus on the faces; if it recognizes a person, it’ll focus on the person.

This method of autofocusing can work well, especially if you’re photographing a clear scene with an obvious main subject. But when the scene is more complex – you’re photographing a bird surrounded by trees, for example – your smartphone may get the focusing wrong, and the shot will turn out blurry.

So what do you do?

Instead of letting your smartphone’s algorithms determine your point of focus, simply tap on your subject, and then – voila! – you’ll get a sharp result.

smartphone photography tips

3. Don’t use flash

Your smartphone camera has a flash…

…but it really, really sucks! Sorry – there simply isn’t a way to sugarcoat it: The flash on your phone camera is not flattering for photos, whether you’re shooting in the daytime, late at night, landscapes, flowers, or portraits.

So whenever you’re shooting, keep that flash off. Instead, use natural light for great results. For instance, shoot in the early morning or the late evening to get beautiful golden lighting, or work on cloudy days for soft, evenly lit images.

4. Manually set the image brightness

Did you know that you can set image brightness (i.e., image exposure) manually?

It’s true, and you can use this function to control the level of detail that will appear in the final photo.

The details depend on your specific smartphone model, but try tapping on the screen, then look for some sort of exposure symbol (such as a sun). Swipe up (or drag the corresponding slider) to brighten the exposure, and swipe down (or drag the corresponding slider) to darken it.

Note that the general goal is to keep as much detail as possible in the final image. However, you can also deliberately brighten or darken an image for creative effect, like this:

smartphone photography tips

5. Compose your photos creatively

Composition refers to the arrangement of elements in the frame. If you want to capture stunning photos, you must carefully position people and objects in a pleasing way.

A few quick pieces of advice:

  • Avoid placing your subject smack-dab in the center of the frame
  • Symmetry often looks good
  • Try to include a natural frame around your subject, like a window, a doorway, or an arch

If you want especially beautiful compositions, I’d recommend using the rule of thirds, which encourages you to position key elements a third of the way into the image. See how the chairs are positioned around the bottom-third portion of the frame:

smartphone photography tips

Note that you don’t have to use the rule of thirds – it’s not really a rule, just a guideline – but it helps create compositions that are well-balanced and dynamic at the same time.

6. Rule of odds

Another tip for great smartphone composition is the rule of odds, which encourages you to group your subjects in odd-numbered collections.

(For some reason, odd-numbered collections just tend to look good!)

So if you were photographing a group of people, you’d want to include three, five, or seven people in a cluster – not two or four. And if you were photographing a group of forks, you’d want to include three, five, seven, or nine. Make sense?

As with the rule of thirds, the rule of odds isn’t actually a rule. It’s a suggestion – but a good one, so I do recommend you follow it whenever possible!

7. Straighten the horizon

A common beginner smartphone photography mistake is a crooked horizon. After all, it’s so easy to accidentally tilt your phone when shooting!

Unfortunately, crooked horizons are a major problem, and unless you know how to handle them (either in the field or in post-processing), you’ll be stuck with a set of bad photos.

Fortunately, dealing with crooked horizons isn’t difficult. Simply take a moment to turn on your camera grid; this will display a set of lines across the screen, which you can then use to level your horizons in the field.

You can also handle crooked horizons in post-processing. Most editing apps include some sort of straightening option, though you will lose pixels in the process, so it’s always best to get it right in the field!

8. Use leading lines

Leading lines are lines that lead the viewer into the frame and draw attention to the main subject.

And leading lines, when used correctly, are insanely powerful.

When you’re shooting with your smartphone, look around for roads, buildings, or even furniture that can help lead the eye to the subject. Technically, a leading line can be pretty much anything, from outstretched arms and tree branches to road signs and buildings, so even if you can’t see any obvious lines, I encourage you to keep looking!

Once you find a leading line, adjust your position so that it points to the main subject. Your composition will instantly improve! Here, I used the row of chairs to direct the viewer toward the building in the background:

smartphone photography tips

9. Photograph in natural light

Earlier in the article, I mentioned the value of natural light, but it’s so important that it deserves its own section.

You see, there is something so pure and clean about photographing in natural light. It looks great, it produces beautiful photos, and it’s always available.

I love morning and evening light because of its golden hues and soft, flattering effect. Overcast light is nice, too. And even high-contrast light produced by the harsh sun can look amazing (especially in black and white).

If you shoot in heavy shade or at night, you can still use natural light, but you’ll need to use a tripod to prevent image blur. (Fortunately, there are plenty of high-quality, cheap smartphone tripods to choose from!)

This next image, of a foggy morning out on Lake Michigan, shows the beauty of soft natural light:

smartphone photography tips

10. Try not to zoom

Unless your camera offers a telephoto lens, don’t zoom.

You see, most zoom functions use digital zoom, which simply crops the image to magnify the subject. In other words, it doesn’t actually get you closer to the subject; instead, it just removes pixels.

While digital zoom might seem convenient, it’ll only serve to magnify image imperfections and noise. You can get much better results by walking toward your subject (or, better yet, composing a more scenic, environmental-type shot).

Smartphone photography tips: final words

Well, there you have it:

10 quick and easy tips to help you improve your smartphone photography.

Remember: With a bit of practice and perseverance, you can capture stunning images using only your smartphone!

Now over to you:

What kind of smartphone photos do you plan to take? Which of these tips will you use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

10 Tips for Beautiful Smartphone Photography