15 Tips for Taking Fabulous Camera Phone Photos

By on

According to The NPD Group, consumers take more than a quarter of all photos and videos on smartphones. While photos taken with smartphones are on the rise, traditional camera use is declining.

Smartphone cameras are now capable of taking much better photos compared to years ago, and with more than 5 million photos being uploaded to Instagram each day, sharing photos has never been easier.

While phones with better cameras still don’t guarantee great photos, tweaking the settings and knowing a few tricks can make all the difference. Before you’re let down by cell phone photos that don’t stack up to point-and-shoot shots, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shows us picture perfect tips from a pro.

Now that you know the basics, here’s more on how to take great photos with your cell phone camera.

1. Get the lighting right

One of the major challenges with cell phone cameras: They’re not ideal in low-light situations. To fix this, take extra care so you don’t end up with shadowy subjects.

Natural light works best, with cloudy days ideal for even lighting. For bright conditions, put your back to the sun and let your subjects face the light. When indoors, have subjects face the light source and move them away from windows and walls.

2. Use the flash with care

While a flash helps solve the lighting limitations of cell phone cameras, a flash that’s too bright can make people look like ghosts.

If you’re on the fence with the flash, snap one photo with flash and one without. View and edit later and choose the best result. Or skip the flash altogether, as explained next.

3. Try a longer exposure

Instead of turning on the flash, try adjusting the exposure time for low-light environments. Longer exposure time will provide brighter photos with better color when the environment is a little too dark.

For the iPhone, you can lock the exposure by tapping and holding on a certain area of your screen and waiting for the box to blink. With other apps, simply adjust the brightness settings on your camera app to get the desired effect.

4. Use HDR mode to replace flash

Another option for flash-less photos is to use the High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode. A built-in feature on many phones, using HDR will capture a wide range of tones and colors that often results in better-looking photos than using your phone’s flash.

5. Clean the lens

While normal cameras may protect lenses when they’re shut off or stored in cases, cell phone cameras tend to have lenses exposed and may get touched by oily fingers.

Give the lens a wipe, or you’ll risk crummy photos no matter what techniques you use.

6. Turn up the resolution

For high-quality photos, make sure to max out the resolution settings and set your camera to take the largest-sized images. High-resolution photos will fill up your phone’s memory faster, but you’ll be able to enlarge images without risking a grainy photo.

7. Don’t digital zoom

While an optical zoom will actually magnify the subject of your photos, digital zoom does nothing more than blow up the existing image. You’re better off moving closer, and you can always crop and enlarge the image later with the same effect as digital zoom.

8. Hold steady

Just like with point-and-shoot cameras, holding your phone steady while snapping a photo is crucial to prevent blurry shots. To ensure clear images, there are a couple of tricks.

Some phones will use the built-in accelerometer, which senses movement of the device, to make sure you’re still before the photo is taken. Check if your photo app utilizes this feature and that any stable shot settings are turned on.

To keep your phone and body still, hold your phone with both hands and rest your arms against your body to keep them from shaking. You can also use a nearby surface, like a table or shelf, to rest your phone.

9. Adjust white balance

White balance is another potential flaw for cell phone cameras in low light. Many cameras will self-adjust simply by waiting a few seconds after opening the camera app. If your photos still look off, try making manual changes for the type of lighting to improve photo color for your environment.

10. Watch shutter lag

Many cameras don’t snap photos the exact moment you press the button. Make sure you’ve experimented and gotten a good feel for the shutter speed on your particular device before an action shot calls for perfect timing.

11. Adjust colors

To adjust color of photos, dig a little deeper into the settings. Tweaking the saturation, contrast, and sharpness can give your photos a different look when the default settings don’t provide the desired results.

Editing colors on your computer might prove easier than fiddling around on your phone. Software like Gimp, iPhoto, and Adobe Photoshop can take care of any color adjustments after the fact.

12. Use the “rule of thirds” for correct composition

You may be tempted to capture your subject in the dead center of the frame, but that’s not what the pros do and neither should you. Instead, use the “rule of thirds” by imagining vertical and horizontal lines splitting your screen up like a tic-tac-toe board.

You can easily enable an on-screen grid for the iPhone Camera app by turning it on in the options screen. For Android, the ProCapture app will allow you to do the same. Then, put your subject on an intersection of those lines for the best photo composition.

13. Check the background

While you might be focused on the faces right in front of you, check the background of the photo too. Objects popping out from behind someone’s head can make for an awkward photo that distracts from the image you were trying to capture.

14. Upgrade your camera app

While smartphones come with a camera app, there may be better options available for download. These add-on apps offer more settings to customize and improve photo quality.

The Camera+ app for iPhone offers 16 scene modes as well as shooting modes to enhance the picture taking ability. For Android phones, check out the Camera ZOOM FX app for similar features.

To add retro effects or interesting tints to your photos with just a few touches, check out Instagram. Instagram is focused more on funky photos with friends rather than tweaking settings for professional-looking shots, but it’s simple to use and lets you instantly share photos.

15. Try pro techniques

Just because you don’t have a fancy camera doesn’t mean you can’t use special photo techniques for more unique photos. Try the “panning” technique by moving your camera at the same speed as a moving object or person. The background will be blurry while the subject in motion appears in perfect focus.

Many apps will also let you take panoramic photos on your phone. It’s as simple as turning on the proper settings and taking a series of photos. Your phone will stitch them together, creating a perfect wide shot.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,144 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.