10 tips for better mobile phone images

Whatever the level of our photographic knowledge and skills, we all like very much using our mobile phones in vast spectrum of situations. Sometimes we get the results we expected, sometimes we are not as satisfied as we wished. With apps that allow us to upload our content immediately to stock agencies, let’s see some tips that will make our mobile photography stand up a bit more from the crowd.

1. Use basic compositional rules

The same principles apply to all photography no matter the equipment we use to make it happen. Most of the rules are simple and well known, but here are some of them:

Rule of thirds is one of the most simple yet very powerful. Divide your image in thirds vertically and horizontally and place the main points of interest to intersecting lines or dots. You’ll see the improvements instantly

Use grid lines to help you achieve the compositions you want. Most of the phone models offer “rule of thirds” grid as an option so be sure to use it it will help you a lot.

Check for the leading lines

One of the strongest ways to lead viewer’s eye into your image and main point of interest. It can be dirt track, modern road, river, architectural elements that have lines in their shapes… whatever you can find around you that will draw attention by leading the eye to where you want it.

Colors can be compositional element too…. Patterns of the decaying rusty metal, abstract colors that can be corresponding or complementary. Vivid and bright colors can bring attention to where you intended to.

Consider what to exclude from your framing. It’s often more important than what to include. Distracting elements can really ruin your photos. Stuff like electric cables on blue skies with puffy whit clouds, part of the shoe when you’re photographing down to the ground, part of someone’s head in the corner of your seaside shot from the beach…. These are a huge NO-NO’s! So always look at your frame from bottom to top and from far left to the far right. If something slips, remove it in post, don’t leave it hanging like that.

Use other graphical elements like shapes, forms, strong diagonals, circles and everything that can draw your attention. If you use it the right way, the viewer’s attention will be drawn to your image as well.

2. Accept limitations of you camera and don’t push them over the limits

You must accept that the sensor size of your phone camera is very small, thus reflecting the image quality possibilities especially when it comes to low light performance. So don’t use your phone shooting from your hand in situations which would be challenging even for the best performing dSLRs. Instead, if possible, try lowering ISO values manually to the minimum possible number that will allow you to take descent shake-free photos, using your built in lens or camera stabilization.

Never use your digital zoom, just optical, if available. Instead, zoom “with your feet”. Get closer or further away to make the composition you wanted

Dynamic range of such a small sensor is very limited. So, if you have high contrasty scenes, better live your camera in HDR auto mode, where it will use High Dynamic Range mode automatically when needed. That way you will avoid blowing highlights completely white or burning shadows pitch black.

Pretty brunette sitting on the beach

3. Familiarize yourself with all camera modes at your disposal

Modern phone cameras offer a bunch of camera modes for you to chose. Get to know them! You might not use more than 2-3 of them, but you should know what they are for. Some of the most popular are - landscape, portrait, panorama….Use them when needed and you’ll get much better results at the spot.

4. Don’t leave your flash in auto mode

This is one of the most important tips I can give you. If you leave your flash in auto mode, it will fire only when the light levels are too low for normal exposure. And it will ruin most of you photographs with harsh light.

- Use you flash in daylight whenever you have a contrasty light and you’re shooting people. We all tend to use our mobile phone cameras in harsh light mostly, in the middle of the day. Especially at the seaside during our summer vacations. And we get these nasty shadows under our model’s eyes that make them look like zombies, right? Well…. Put you flash in “ON” mode and it will fill the nasty shadows of the harsh midday light and make your portraits stand a lot more.

- Avoid using it at night, or your get pitch black backgrounds and nasty lit models in front of them. If it is too dark, forget about shooting portraits, find some support for your phone and put it in night mode or manually shoot longer exposures to compensate the low light levels. At night time, you can use your flash indoors or outdoors where ambient light levels are not too low so you can get at least a notion of the ambient around your subjects - like in clubs, restaurants, bars, etc.

5. Watch out for that unexpected stray fingers on you camera lens

Sounds completely over the top to write anything about such obvious thing, but I have seen many, let me emphasize, many shots ruined with finger positioning over the camera lens. Sometimes the location of that lens is very hard to keep it finger-free, but take some time to learn your grips both in portrait and landscape orientation so it grows into your habit and you have no need to think about it. It’s not by chance that the lens of the proper dSLR camera is almost in the middle of the camera body. On phones, it’s rarely the case, so be aware of it.

6. Throw the background out of focus for your portraits

It’s much harder to achieve that on your phone than on dSLR, but it is possible. Most of the phones offer portrait camera mode that automatically blurs the background to make your subjects stand more from it. Use it and you’ll get pleasing results. If you want to emphasize it even more, zoom your camera optically, if available, to the longest focal length (as close as possible) and get closer yourself to your model too. If you have manual controls over the lens aperture, which is very rare, open it to the widest opening, i.e. the smallest number of f/stop possible.

7. Maximize the depth of field of your landscape shots

Panorama of the beach in Greece

For wast nature scenes you need as much depth of field as possible. If available, put your mobile phone camera into landscape mode so it uses the minimum lens aperture thus maximizing the depth of field. For those who are not completely sure what depth of field (DOF) means, the most simple is to say it’s how much of the image is in focus or sharp. The best way to maximize it, is to focus at “hyper focal” distance. To avoid being too technical and too detailed, that means you should focus at the first third into the image. So, even if there is a lonely house in the background of your image, you still should focus at the first third of the frame to make almost all of the image appear sharp and in focus. That’s the trick all of landscape photographers use.

8. Use panorama mode

Great thing about phone camera modes is that you can make excellent panoramic images within just a few seconds. And it’s much easier than doing it with most of the current dSLRs. Even the scenes looking boring at first glance, can stand out if you use panorama mode. Just click your first image, rotate yourself while holding your phone and keeping horizon as straight as possible while the phone guides you how to do it and you’re bound to have a very nice image, stitched immediately in your phone. Just a small advice - panorama mode offers 360 degree panoramic shots, but if you want to make them look more realistic, you should stop at around 180 degrees max.

9. Edit your images

Sunset in greece

After making the shot, don’t be afraid to go into edit image mode that is pretty good in most of the modern phones. Small tweaks in contrast, light, cropping and straightening can make a huge difference in the final result. Check your horizon, is it straight? If not, crop it and straighten it. Pull up your shadows and lower highlights if necessary or increase the overall contrast of the image to make it more eye-catching. If you need to edit your images even more, there are some great free apps to use, like Snapseed. Try some of the filters available, or make your portrait images black and white, sepia or blue toned. But don’t go over the edge with filters, you’ll sacrifice quality and possibly your images will get refused on stock sites if you plan to put them there.

10. Take criticism constructively

Upload your images to forums, to micro stock sites, to online galleries to get critique and opinions. Use them to your advantage to make your photography even better and don’t be disappointed if you get some opinions that are a bit too harsh for you. You should be able to define what’s positive of those critiques and what’s just rubbish you should discard the moment you see it. Most often, people are willing to help you out as you advance. The refusal reasons you get from stock agencies should help you a lot too, because if you care to think about them, you will get a notion of what’s wrong and adjust to what’s needed.

So, have fun with you phone camera! Explore it, master it and make it an extension of your creative possibilities. Wanna share some of your thoughts on stuff that can improve mobile phone photographs? Please do in comments section. And snap away! :)

Photo credits: Uros Kovandzic.

Your article must be written in English

November 15, 2018


You're welcome, Vladimir :)

February 26, 2018


Thanks for the good advice!

February 26, 2018


i agree about the zoom.last summer i visited

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