How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

by Max Therry

You don’t need a state-of-the art DSLR camera to take good shots, and you don’t need the most modern and expensive device to take top-rate smartphone pictures, either. These tips are aimed at helping you to get the best out of your mobile phone photography, from setting up the shot to taking the photo through to editing it.

1. Download a Camera App For Your Phone

Your built-in smartphone camera is fine, and you don’t have to have the latest model, but the mobile phone’s built-in camera does have some limitations. If your phone will support it, think about downloading a dedicated mobile camera app. Adobe Lightroom mobile is a great choice, but there are others like the totally free Open Camera app, or Camera ZOOM FX Premium. Find one that suits you and your skill level.

Download a smartphone photo app to take better pictures

These apps allow you much more control over how you shoot your photos. You can manually adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance and other settings when you take photos using these apps.

Read related: Essential Travel Photography Gear to Buy Before Your Next Trip 

 

2. Back up Your Images

To keep your memory free, get into the habit of downloading your photos to another device, to your cloud storage, or both. Backing up your precious images to at least two different storage formats means that if something happens to one lot, the other will still be safe.

 

3. Learn About Different Smartphone Camera Modes and What They Do

There are several dedicated modes for different types of photography available on smartphones, and these are the most common ones to familiarise yourself with:

  • HDR Mode: This mode basically takes multiple images of the subject at different exposures in quick succession. It then merges them using the software, and will produce a final image that has detail in both shadow and highlight areas, as well as brighter color and contrast. This mode is great for shooting skies in daylight, landscapes, architecture, or in the case that there is minimal light in the subject’s foreground. For example, compare those two photos, and look closely at the sky to spot the difference:

How to use HDR setting on a smartphone

How to change exposure on your smartphone camera

  • Panorama Mode:This mode allows you to capture much more in a single shot. To use it, you need to move the smartphone horizontally along a predefined line to take your shot. The camera takes multiple shots and stitches these images together to create one wide, panoramic image.

How to use the Panorama mode on your smartphone camera

  • Portrait Mode: This mode adds an artistic effect to your portraits by keeping your subject sharp, and blurring the background to add depth of field. This mode is great for shooting people from up close.
  • Burst Mode: This mode takes a burst of shots in rapid succession, and it’s great for capturing action or sports scenes, as you won’t miss a thing! The only issue with this mode is that it will quickly fill up all your memory storage, so delete the images you don’t need soon after taking them.

 

4. Use a Tripod in Low Light

You can get specialized tripods for your phone to keep the camera steady while you shoot. If you’re shooting in low-light situations, hand-holding your phone will result in blurry photos, and you don’t want that unless that’s the effect you’re going for.

Why to use a tripod in low light for your smartphone camera

If you don’t want to use a tripod in low light, you’ll have to use the flash or go somewhere where light conditions are better. I personally don’t ever use the flash on my phone, as I have never seen a good shot taken with direct flash on either a phone or a DSLR camera. You end up with harsh, dark shadows around your subjects, and it makes their skin look washed out. That’s just my opinion, though – if you want to use flash, go for it!

 

5. Don’t Neglect Exposure and Lighting

Exposure is controlled by three things: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. On a smartphone, you have no control over the aperture, as the lens isn’t adjustable. You can adjust ISO, which relates to how sensitive your sensor is to the light coming in, and shutter speed, which relates to how long your camera shutter stays open.

Read related: Top 7 Tips For Taking Amazing Travel Photography

 

The longer your shutter stays open, the more light it lets in, and the higher your ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to the available light. On a bright day, you may need the lowest ISO, and a high shutter speed to get good exposure, while in low light, you may need the ISO up high, and the shutter speed under 1/30th second to get correct exposure. For lower shutter speeds, you’ll need a tripod or you will get blurry images. Modern smartphones let you control the exposure by simply tapping on the screen. However, if you learn how to use the manual camera mode, you’ll have much more control over your images.

For example, trying to photograph  sunrise in the desert, the camera focused on the wrong area,  and the photo (especially the sky) came out too bright and over-exposed:

How to avoid overexposure in smartphone photos

But tapping on the white part can help you correct the exposure, bring out more colors and produce an overall better photo:

How to control exposure on your smartphone camera

As for lighting, natural light is better for smartphone photography, but not direct sunlight. If you can, take images in shaded areas, or while the sky is overcast. Another good time is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, while the sun is low in the sky, as it gives a beautiful, soft light. You don’t need to stay in the shade if you are shooting at these times.

 

6. Learn How to Focus

Different smartphone brands will offer different ways of fixing the focus, but often it’s just a case of tapping on the screen where you want the camera to focus. For instance, if you’re taking a portrait, tap the eyes on the screen, and the focus should be fixed there.

For example, focusing on the plane window:

How to use focus on your smartphone camera

And focusing on the wing:

How to adjust focus in your smartphone photos

For some phones, you can manually lock the focus by tapping on the screen and holding it down for a few seconds until the focusing square or circle changes color;  this tells you that the focus is now locked. You can then re-compose your shot, and the focus will remain the same because you have locked it. Read your phone’s manual to find out if you can do this with your phone camera.

 

7. Try to Shoot in RAW Format

Many camera apps have the capability to shoot in Raw file format. Although this is the best format for photography in general, it does have one drawback on a phone camera.

Pro photographers shoot in Raw format because it is totally uncompressed, and contains all the information from a photo. JPEG format is compressed, and is called a ‘lossy’ format because the camera discards some of the image information to enable the compression. This is the reason why JPEG file sizes are much smaller than RAW files.

How to shoot in RAW format on your smartphone

For example, increasing brightness on Jpeg (on the left) and Raw (on the right) photo

That brings me to the main drawback of shooting Raw files on a phone – memory, or lack thereof. Raw files take up a vast amount of your phone’s memory, so before you start shooting, make sure you have enough space. The same applies to shooting video on your phone, as that is another feature that eats massive amounts of memory.

If your phone doesn’t support Raw format or you don’t want to use up your memory, don’t despair. Go into the camera settings and select the highest resolution Jpeg settings it has. The larger the Jpeg, the higher the image quality.

If you do shoot in RAW, you’ll need a Raw file converter to work on the photos after you’ve taken them. Lightroom mobile will let you do that on your phone, but it’s often better to upload your Raw images to a computer.

You can get totally free Raw converters like GIMP, or you can install inexpensive editing software such as ON1 or Luminar. The latter allow you to work directly on your Raw files to make adjustments before saving your finalized image as a JPEG.

 

8. Choose Your Background

Before you start taking photos, look for objects behind your subject and in the frame of your phone camera. Is there a tree branch or lamppost directly behind your subject? Move them away, or it will look like they’re growing out of your subject’s head.

If you’re taking food photos, a plain background is best, as it lets the food be the star. Check that there are no dirty dishes or other unwanted objects in the background. Either remove them, move your food, or change the angle of your shot so that they are not in the photo.

 

9. Try Different Angles

Try to get creative with your shots. Most people will only take a photo from directly above or from straight ahead at eye level. When you get a different angle on your subjects, the image stands out from the norm. Why not try shooting from the sides, from up above, or getting down and shooting at ground level for a different perspective?

A related tip: Take lots of shots. If you have plenty of images, it makes it easier to find the really good ones when you come to edit them.

Learn how to use different angles and perspectives for your smartphone pictures

10. Check Your Composition

How your image looks has a lot to do with composition: It should be balanced, with all the elements in the shot working to create a harmonious photo.

Your phone camera probably has a ‘rule of thirds’ grid that you can overlay your shot with to help improve your composition.

A quick explanation of the rule of thirds grid in photography is this: The camera screen is split up into nine squares, with three lines running vertically, and three lines running horizontally. Where those lines intersect, along one of the lines or just above one of the horizontal lines, is where you want to place the items of interest in your photo for the most pleasing composition.

Look at your favorite photos for inspiration. What makes them good? Why is the composition visually appealing? Can you use some of these ideas in your own photos?

 

11. Don’t Zoom – Get Closer if You Can

If you use your phone’s zoom function to get in close and fill the frame, you’ll end up with very poor image quality when you look at it closely: It will look pixelated and strange, especially if you’re viewing it on a larger screen.

Try to get in closer to your subject if you can instead. You can crop unwanted objects out later in post-processing to keep your image quality and resolution high.

 

12. Learn Some Good Post-Processing Techniques

Your phone will probably have a built-in editing suite, or you can use an app to help crop and adjust a given pic. You may be wondering if editing your images is really necessary, but even the best shots will be enhanced by some careful adjustments for color, contrast, sharpness etc.

If you have the time and access to a computer with editing software, I’d suggest uploading your images to it and editing them on the larger screen. It makes a world of difference to be able to see the good and bad points of your image on a big screen.

The main rule of photo-editing? Don’t overdo. You want your photo to be bright and attractive, but still real (unless you want to achieve some artistic effect –  in that case, don’t hesitate to express your creativity!)

Final Thoughts

These days, anyone with a phone camera is a photographer, and that’s no bad thing. There are so many smartphone pictures out there that just blend into the masses, or don’t reach their full potential, and that’s a shame. If you follow my tips above, you’ll be well on your way to creating images that stand out from the crowd– for all the right reasons!

About the Author

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Visit his website and feel free to reach him by email.

Visit Max’s Website

Contactphotogeekymax@gmail.com

Essential Travel Photography Gear for Your Next Trip: 10 Must-Have Items

Essential Travel Photography Gear for Your Next Trip: 10 Must-Have Items

If you want to take truly excellent pictures on your next vacation, you’re going to have to do better than relying on your smartphone. Equipping yourself with some essential travel photography gear will make taking and storing high-quality shots much easier, so if you’re serious about upping your photo-taking game, don’t leave home without a few of these key items. 

1. Rugged & Durable Hard Drives

There’s no point in taking photos if you don’t have a safe place to store them. A good hard drive will leave plenty of room in your camera, and if your camera is lost or stolen, you won’t lose your photographs. Pick up a sturdy hard drive that will hold up even after a week or two of getting tossed around in a suitcase and backpack. We suggest not “cheaping out” here. Ideally, you’ll only need to buy one of these and it will serve you for a long time–  so do some research and find a nice one that will last.

Durable hard drives are essential for travel photography trips.

2. Travel Plug Adapters

Your travel photography equipment will be of no use to you unless you can plug it all in and recharge when necessary. You can find inexpensive adapters on Amazon, and it’s probably worth it to get two or three so that you can charge multiple devices at once. Universal adapters work with almost every outlet type in existence, so whether you’re off to Europe, East Asia or Australia, your trusty universal charger should do the trick. 

3. Power Strips & Extenders

North America is big on outlets, but in other places around the world you may find you run out of power sources quickly, especially if you’re traveling with a lot of electronics. A simple power strip turns one outlet into five outlets, and it can make your creative photo endeavors a lot easier. Of course, the strip is useless without an adaptor, and you should also make sure you choose a power strip rated for up to 240v. Most North American outlets use 110v, but 240v is common in many countries worldwide– and a 110v strip will be fried if you plug it into the wrong socket. Don’t short-circuit and even potentially ruin your equipment: choosing the proper voltage allowance is essential! 

Choosing the right power strip with the correct voltage allowance is crucial when traveling abroad.

4. USB Chargers

Another solution for charging devices is to bring along a USB charger. These plug into an outlet and offer you multiple ports to charge USB devices. These days, most small electronics charge via USB, so an adaptor can really free up some much-needed outlet space. Even better? This lightweight little gadget is handy year-round, even when you’re not on the road. 

5. Cards & Card Readers

All the hard drives and outlets we listed earlier are useless without a way to get your photos off your camera and onto another device. A card reader and a handful of good-quality memory cards are non-negotiable travel gear. If your laptop has a built-in card reader, you can skip a step, although having a portable card reader can be handy if you want to transfer files on the go.

Read related: Our Top 8 Travel Gear Must-Haves 

 

6. Travel Tripods

A sturdy, compact carbon fiber tripod is a lightweight and useful travel solution for taking professional-quality pictures with a stabilizing tool. The weight savings on an ultralightweight tripod frees you up to carry more lenses and gear than you otherwise would, and the compact size reduces the amount of bulk you’ll have to contend with on your trip. You may even avoid those annoying overweight bag fees airlines charge these days– a real boon.

Read related: Top 15 Ways to Budget & Save Money on Your Next Trip 

 

You may also want to look into purchasing a tripod with bendable legs that can grip railings or adjust for uneven surfaces. These give you better flexibility, and they’re also pretty fun to play with on long train rides.

A good-quality travel tripod is an important investment for aspiring travel photographers.

7. Camera Rain Covers

This is yet another one of those items you don’t want to be without– lest you literally get caught in a deluge. A rain cover protects your gear from water damage and lets you take photos no matter where you are. Whether it’s mist from a waterfall or just plain bad weather you need to protect yourself and gear against, a rain cover is essential. It’s also a very lightweight addition to your kit that won’t take up a ton of room in your suitcase or pack.

8. Cleaning Gear

If you’re going to travel with your precious photo gear, you may as well make sure you can properly clean it while abroad. No one wants the nuisance of not being able to clear up a smudged lens. Dust is a big issue in rural and urban areas, sand at the beach is a nuisance that can also do some serious damage to your gear if you let it get into nooks and crannies– and nothing ruins a shot faster than a giant speck on your lens. A rocket blower and a brush should do just fine. You can also browse for complete camera and equipment cleaning gear and kits here

9. Non-Branded Camera Straps

Swapping out your branded camera straps for a generic ones makes you less of a target for thieves looking to steal big-name brands. Neoprene options work well for humid climates, and you can pick up a few options very inexpensively online. Even if you invest a bit more than you initially hoped, this is still much cheaper than buying a new camera if yours gets stolen!

Essential Travel Photography Gear for Your Next trip

10. Insurance For Your Gear

Don’t leave home without insuring your most expensive gear, especially if you’re a professional photographer whose livelihood depends on your tech and equipment. Even if you’re an amateur, you certainly don’t want to lose your hard-earned investment to damage or theft. An insurance policy for your cameras can be bought specially for your gear, or you can obtain a rider on your regular insurance policy for one specific item. Before you sign on the dotted line, read the small print carefully– and double-check that your policy really covers the full value of your complete kit so you’re covered in case of worst-case scenarios.

Travelshoot: International Photo Shoots Made Possible (and Fun!)

Travelshoot: International Photo Shoots Made Possible (and Fun!)

(PROMOTIONAL CONTENT)

Travel creates memories that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life– and often, the most precious physical items you come home with are the photos you take on the trip. But taking photos of your travel party is often the last thing you want to do, and you end up with more photos of plants and cafes than of you and your loved ones.

Travelshoot is an international photo service that connects travelers with professional photographers in destinations around the world. We’re excited about this service, because it makes having a professional photoshoot in a foreign country easy and accessible. You don’t have to speak the language, nor rely on a company operating in the country: you just give Travelshoot your information and they take it from there. It represents a fantastic way to help remember all the colorful details from your trip. 

With Travelshoot, the stress of taking photos on your trip is removed-- so you can relax and just enjoy the process.

How it works:

 

1. Book your shoot

The process starts when you find your location and book your shoot. A simple booking form helps the service pair you with a local professional who can take the best photos for you and your family, and they use a five-step process to qualify photographers in their network. You can feel confident that your photos will look great, and the photographers give you an insider’s tour of the city during the shoot. You’ll come away with some beautiful new memories that you might not have experienced without a local showing you around.

2. Meet your photographer

Once your information is collected, you’ll be matched with a photographer and receive their information and sample photos so you can have a good sense of what you’re getting. Travelshoot sends you a detailed itinerary for your shoot with everything you need to know ahead of time.

3. Embark on your personalized shoot

On the day of your shoot, your photographer will meet you at a designated meet-up point, ready to guide you around their city and take natural, beautiful photos of your travel group. There’s no cheesy posing involved: just organic, fun-filled shots against beautiful local scenery.

Travelshoot operates in destinations around the world

 

4. Get your photos

Within 48 hours, you’ll get a sneak peak of your shoot, and within a week you’ll receive the whole album of your Travelshoot images in an online gallery for you to download.

Where can you book a shoot?

The short answer is that Travelshoot has a network of photographers across the globe. You can look up your specific destination, but they have the big tourist locations covered. Australia, Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa and the Middle East are all represented.

Occasion-specific travel shoots

Travelshoot is a great option for big events that you want to commemorate, such as weddings, elopements, proposals, honeymoons and other important occasions in your life. They have wedding and engagement packages that cater to small-scale events, and you can book your shoot quickly for a flat fee at a fair price. Of course, you don’t need a special occasion in mind to use the service! “Just-because” travel photos are a great option too.

Travelshoot's professional photographers work with you to create albums that will last a lifetime

Get $50 Off Your Travelshoot Package

At Loftus, our travel philosophy has always favored quality over quantity, and Travelshoot makes getting beautiful photos easy and fun, removing the hassle and giving you keepsake photos you’ll love. It’s a truly unique service, and we’re thrilled to say that Travelshoot has given us a discount code to use on their site. Simply use the code “LOFTUS50” at checkout to get $50 off the standard price.

Check Out These Other Resources

Passionate about taking your camera with you on trips to record unforgettable memories? Read our 8 travel photography tips from a professional. Prefer writing your impressions and thoughts down on paper? Find out which of these 7 travel journal styles best suit your personality— and get inspired to start writing.

8 Travel Photography Tips to Learn Now

8 Travel Photography Tips to Learn Now

Rebecca Northcott’s Top Advice

Rebecca Northcott

Rebecca Northcott

Guest Photographer

Rebecca originates from Yorkshire, England. She specializes in portraiture of families, individuals and couples. Since traveling to Canada 10 years ago she has become a lover of travel, sampling local delights and meeting new people from every walk of life.

GUEST POST by Rebecca Northcott, a professional photographer based in the UK. We asked her for her top tips, and she’s been generous enough to share them with you!

Traveling means one thing for your social media feed: lots and lots of pictures. Whether it’s boasting your latest tan at the pool or the cool features in your hotel room, there’s always the perfect excuse to take and share a snap. Photographs also lock in the memories that are made when traveling, no matter where you are going. Here are some helpful tips to hopefully make your clicking fingers snap happy.

1. Before you go, get prepared!

Just as you make sure all your luggage is cleared out and organized before you leave, and remove that old chewed up gum out of the front pocket that was from last year’s trip, you should always, always charge the batteries of your camera and if you can, carry spares.

A helpful tip for those of you who love the rapid fire option on your camera: be sure to take more than one memory card with you – you won’t forgive yourself if the card you used to capture your partner’s pool dive suddenly dies. You can get memory cards now for dirt cheap anywhere from 2-20 GB. Your safest bet is to take at least two with you

2. Off you snap!

You will want to capture all the details from your trip, be it on the way to the airport, the pit stops during the car trip, the pending rainstorm, or your kids “am I there yet” frown.

The most important thing is to snap those spur-of-the-moment instances. That pack of chips your kid is eating will change branding within the next ten years and you will look back and have a giggle how funny the font was.

I know this from my own family photos. These shots may seem random or boring to you, and I don’t encourage you to go about taking photos of every chip packet known to man, however if it’s something important to you or someone you care about, you may just want to take a photo of it. Remember, this moment won’t happen ever again.

 

3. I’m so excited! (Get the big attractions)

Are you going to a popular tourist spot? Make sure you get a photo with all the big attractions or statue or tower.

Whatever it is, take full advantage of it.

To help you photographically, please always follow this rule: Be sure the attraction in the photo isn’t behind your head; Always place the person to the side of it.

Trust that this will save you the grief of regretting that one shot.

 

4. Don’t be a party pooper

While you’re on vacation, don’t always be the one taking the photos: make sure you get in some as well!

We all know you take the best photos in your group, but hey, we need to see that you were there, too. Set your camera on auto and let someone else snap some of you (or there’s always a self timer). Run rabbit run!

Remember, you are there for a holiday, after all. Enjoy it!

5. The posing guide

Silly faces and gestures are funny– but only when it’s appropriate.

This can apply to serious posing toothere’s a time and a place for it. If you want to imitate a puffer fish at the aquarium, go for it, we will all giggle along with you, but doing the same face everywhere else gets a bit monotonous. You may just want a nice sunset photo that’s relaxed where you just look happy.

Change it up, get a variety of shots with and without you in it.

6. Get creative

Don’t be afraid to use props, hide behind parts of a building, or pop out from behind an object.

Taking pictures is all about getting creative and having fun. Spend a few minutes finding an interesting angle or perspectiveshoot upwards, downwards and any other position that will produce a unique photo.

Give your photo some depth. If you are struggling with low light or shooting when it’s dark, don’t forget to use your flash.

Also, try to make sure you are at least a few feet away. No one wants their eyes closed in a shot because you’re blinded by the camera’s flash.  

 

7. I’m tired and I wanna go home

We’ve all heard it and know it to be true- sometimes we need a vacation after the vacation.

Before you get home and upload your 500 odd photos to Facebook, go through your images and delete them on the go.

Unless you are a real camera geek and enjoy spending hours sifting through images, you will probably not have the time or energy to go through them when you get back. Another tip is simply to take less photos.

The less you have, the easier it is to go through them, even on a daily basis and delete the ones you don’t need. This is faster and saves you time in the long run.

8. The most important thing: keep your perspective

If these tips seem overwhelming and you just want to take a few snaps on Instagram, then this last tip is for you. Put down the camera. Yes, you heard right. Sometimes it’s best to just let your eyes and mind actually enjoy the view.

Seeing things with your own eyes rather than through a camera lens enables you to looks at things with more depth. If it’s hard for you to put the camera away when on vacation, think of it as a challenge for at least one day.

One day where you simply enjoy the view and not worry about snapping that perfect shot. It will revitalize you. The image you take with your own eyes will surely capture that memory forever, more so than any picture you have to search for and look back on.

Do something different with your time- share it with your loved ones or just sit and soak it all in. Take time for you.

Hopefully these tips have helped you. Vacations are to be enjoyed so take these suggestions with a pinch of salt. Do what works for you, and most of all, have a great holiday!