How to Shoot Pictures Like a Pro With Your Cellphone Camera

The camera on your phone is all you need to take the great pictures you want — as long as you pair it with these tips and tools.

If you have “digital camera” on your wish list but only take Facebook photos of your friends, family or pets, you might want to ask for something else instead this year — assuming your cellphone has a camera. The quality of the images phones can take just keeps improving.

Historically, the number of megapixels was a major factor in determining the quality of the pictures you could take. More megapixels meant sharper photos.

These days, an iPhone 8, for instance, has 12 megapixels. If your phone is in this ballpark, according to GadgetHacks.com, you don’t need to keep chasing more pixels:

“[W]e’ve reached a point where all smartphone cameras have more than enough megapixels. For instance, a 1080p HD TV has a resolution of 2.1 megapixels, and even the highest-end 4K displays top out at 8.3 megapixels. Considering that nearly every smartphone camera has a double-digit megapixel rating these days, your photos will be in a higher resolution than most screens can even display.”

In short, all you really need are some tricks and tools that will allow you to take great images when you travel or attend family events — and leave your big old camera at home.

The basics

For starters:

  1. Use both hands and keep your elbows in tight to avoid camera shake.
  2. Avoid pointing the camera at the primary light source. Position people so their faces are lit by that source; if they are back-lit they will appear as silhouettes.
  3. Try different angles, whether taking pictures of people or things.
  4. Landscape mode, or the sideways shot, is better suited for scenery, group and family photos.

Better people pictures

Before you start shooting, look at what appears in the background and move people to avoid, say, a limb that appears to be sticking out of someone’s head.

Next, get close. Using a camera’s zoom feature may undermine picture resolution. So, when possible, move closer to the subject so that the most important part of the subject — usually faces — fills the frame as much as possible.

Another trick: Stand on a chair, so that your subjects are looking up at you. It’s often a more flattering angle.

Now, all you need is genuine smiles. Professional photographer Barry Schein gives Money Talks News this tip:

“Let’s say you’re shooting a picture of a couple: Mom and dad, aunt and uncle, grandma and grandpa, whatever it is. Let them stand next to each other. Put their heads together. The minute their heads touch, they will break out into the biggest smile you have ever seen. It works 100 percent of the time. They will look at that and say, ‘That’s the best picture anyone’s ever shot of me.'”

One last way to improve your chances of getting a group of people all looking good at the same time is to use the “burst” function on your phone camera, if it has one. This will cause the camera to take a series of images in rapid suggestion. Of the dozen or so pictures shot in a few seconds, you should find a few in which no one has their eyes closed or is looking the wrong direction.

Observe the lighting

Indoor photography can be tricky because of lighting. At a family gathering where I was shooting with my cellphone camera, I went around stealthily turning on more lamps in the house. Why? I didn’t want to use a flash. When your flash goes off, direct light hits the person smack in the face. That washes out their complexion and doesn’t look natural.

If those lamps or lights are directly behind the person, that’s even worse. Their faces will be shadowed. What you need is for the light to hit your subject from an angle.

You can improve your travel or nature photos, too, by focusing on the light. If you see something fantastic at high noon, you can take the picture, but chances are it will be a better picture in low-angle, late-afternoon light. If you can, return when the light is perfect.

Sometimes using your flash makes a positive difference. For instance, if you are taking a picture of your children in front of the Grand Canyon in daylight but their faces are in shadow at that time of day, try using your flash to “fill” the light on their faces.

Touch it up

Once you have the photos, spend a few minutes retouching them. It can make all the difference. Normally, that means basic edits like cropping the photo so the action is front and center, altering the colors to make them richer, sharpening the focus and adjusting the exposure and contrast.

Photo-retouching technology has come so far that you can do a great job using free software. Digital Trends offers an extensive review of the best options. There are also free photo-editing apps for smartphones.

How are your digital photography skills? Do you have tips to add to these? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

Michael Koretzky
Michael Koretzky @koretzky
Journalism is a profession of highs and lows. I've covered the 1988 Democratic and Republican national conventions, two space shuttle launches and one landing, and a jazz festival in Istanbul. Then again, ... More

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