How to Take Professional Caliber Photos With Your Smartphone

If you’re like many people, the days of carrying both a camera and smartphone to special occasions are over. Today’s smartphones can take pictures that rival all but high-end digital cameras and take up way less space in a pocket or purse.

Smartphone cameras just keep getting better. Here are two examples of the latest improvements in smartphone cameras, at the high and low ends of the price spectrum:

  • iPhone 6S: This year’s iPhone models feature big camera improvements, including a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, upgrades to the FaceTime camera and improvements to the front-facing camera (for taking selfies) that include a flash and 5 megapixels for improved image resolution. The new 6S and 6S Plus (from $649 and $749 respectively) also enable video recording in 4K resolution, about four times higher resolution than the 1080p in last year’s iPhone 6 models.
  • The Nokia 222: Nokia, owned by Microsoft, recently released this $37-phone with a 2-megapixel camera, according to ZDNet. The 222’s camera is a solid improvement over the 0.3-megapixel camera in the $29 Nokia 215, which Microsoft has called the “most affordable Internet-ready phone.” Other camera features in the 222 include video recording at QVGA resolution.

Such improvements make it possible to take better photos. With more than 70 million photos uploaded to Instagram each day, image-sharing and the urge to capture ever-more beautiful or arresting images define communication and online life for many users.

Phones with better cameras still don’t guarantee great photos, however. Tweaking your phone’s settings and learning a few pro tricks can go a long way toward boosting the quality of your photos.

1. Get the lighting right

One of the major challenges with cellphone 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 cellphone 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-free photos is to use the High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode. This is a built-in feature on many phones. HDR will capture a wide range of tones and colors that often results in better-looking photos than those using your phone’s flash.

5. Clean the lens

While normal cameras may protect lenses when they’re shut off or stored in cases, cellphone 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.

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