Smartphone cameras have come a long way in the two decades or so since they were introduced. The cameras on today's flagship phones are capable of capturing awe-inspiring images and 4K or better video. They have multiple lens options and an unlimited amount of creative control and editing with apps. We had put together a list of the Best Photo Editing apps available that let you shoot, edit, and organize images better on your mobile phones.
Having a good camera to click high-quality images on your phone is a game-changer for a photographer. How many times have you been out and seen something you'd like to capture, but your gear is all at home? Your phone never leaves your side--so that will never happen again.
What is Mobile Photography?
According to some sources, 35 percent or more of the people in the world had a smartphone in 2020. When you narrow that number down to specific professions, the number is much higher. In major cities, it's unusual for someone to not have one.
Unlike a lot of our expensive camera gear, our smartphones are our constant companions. You can debate about the healthy lifestyle and addictive qualities of ceratin apps all you like, but there is no denying that most of us keep our phones glued to our sides, always within an arm's reach. For photographers, this presents a unique opportunity. The best camera, after all, is the camera that you have when you want to take a picture. And technology has caught up--smartphone cameras are fun to use and take wonderful, sharable, memorable, and even marketable pictures. So, if you like taking pictures wherever you go and are looking for simple ways to improve your photography skills or master the basics, this beginner's guide to photography, will help you build a strong foundation. We have listed 25 simple photography tips that will help you become better at your craft and take those stunning pictures that you always wanted.
Imagine going on vacation and traveling with nothing by your phone--no heavy camera bag, no conspicuous DSLR, or hefty zoom lenses. You just have to carry a discreet camera phone that happens to take wonderful snaps. Sound fun? It is.
It's that freedom that sells mobile photography. DSLR and mirrorless cameras will always win in terms of image quality--their sensors will always be larger, and their optics will always be superior. But for carrying around town and for grabbing the camera and shooting for fun, smartphone photography is here to stay.
iPhone vs. Android -- Does Brand Matter for Smartphone Photography?
In this day and age, picking your phone brand has taken on a social dynamic. Many of us have started treating our phones as status symbols instead of the tools that they are. When you compare them next to one another, there is very little difference between iPhone and Android devices. They offer very similar capabilities, with no one phone showing a clear advantage over another.
Apple makes all iPhone models, so there are fewer choices. The current lineup offers about five models, varying in size, price, and capability. All iPhones run Apple's iOS operating system, which includes everything you'd need for basic photography.
Inside iOS, the camera app offers many great functions, including video, slow-motion capture, time-lapses, automatic panoramas, and many specialized filters. On the hardware side, iPhones come with anywhere between two and four cameras installed for maximum versatility.
Because of the consistency between iPhone models and the sheer number of them produced and sold worldwide, many accessories are available. While there might not be more options for iPhones available, it does seem that the options are higher quality than the options made for Android phones.
In contrast, many companies make phones that run Google's Android operating system. Much like computers running Windows, the hardware varies in quality, price, and reliability much more than Apple's does.
If you compare a bargain entry-level Android phone to a more expensive iPhone, the iPhone will undoubtedly beat it. But if you compare an Android phone of similar quality and capabilities, the two will likely be toss-ups. While Androids are commonly found for much less money than iPhones, comparable Android phones are similarly priced.
Android's apps are packaged similarly to the iPhone's. Their camera app is nearly identical. For easy editing and uploading, Android phones sync to your Google account automatically.
Things to Look for in Mobile Phone Camera
While not specifically linked to photography, video has become the content of choice for many creators. It's convenient to have a phone that can take great videos. Most are now capable of 4K or even higher resolution video.
Since it's there and easy to use, many photographers find themselves using the video more often than they'd ever imagined. Video on DSLRs and mirrorless systems requires extra equipment and techniques. It is, in short, an entirely separate endeavor. But on your smartphone, taking a quick video only takes a few seconds, and the results are often surprisingly awesome. A large number of editing tools are now available that make capturing and editing high-quality videos easier. Here are some of the best phone video editing apps for 2021.
As phone makers put more effort into their cameras, technologies once reserved for professional photography equipment filter down and get micro-sized. The latest thing to get into the best phones is IBIS, or in-body image stabilization, technology. It's also sometimes called sensor-shift stabilization. This technology debuted on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Before this, many phones were using optical image stabilization (OIS), and many also stabilized video digitally.
It's crucial to study your phone's specs closely. For various reasons, manufacturers will put one technology on one camera but not on another in the same phone.
Multiple Cameras and Lenses
And that brings us to another important factor when comparing phone cameras - how many cameras does it have, and what capabilities do they offer? All phones offer at least one back camera and one front camera. The front camera is nearly always of lower resolution and designed simply for video chatting rather than serious photography endeavors - sorry selfie lovers.
The rear cameras are the ones that get the attention of photographers. Since space is so limited on the phone, manufacturers can't use zoom or interchangeable lenses. Instead, they add multiple cameras for more focal lengths and options. If a phone has two cameras on the back, there is generally a wide and a telephoto lens. If there are three, an ultra-wide is added.
Multiple cameras give the photographer many options that are not immediately apparent. For example, most phones will produce a simulated shallow depth of field in portrait mode with two cameras. This feature is otherwise unavailable with a fixed aperture camera like this.
Sensor and Image Resolution
Finally, like all cameras, you can and should compare the specifications of the image sensors themselves. It's often hard to discern any useable information here, though. Most sensors are so small that no matter how many pixels the makers squeeze in, the image quality doesn't change much. Many 12 MP cameras on phones will easily outperform sensors with much higher resolutions. The difference comes down to pixel spacing, lens optics, and software compression.
The best way to compare pictures is to look online and find some actual images to compare on your computer. If you can find an unedited photo from the phone before you purchase it, it can tell you a lot about the camera.
15 Top Tips for Better Smartphone Photos
Clean Your Lens
Experienced photographers will be no strangers to the best mobile phone photo tips. This one is simple, but it takes on new importance with a phone. On our big cameras, we seldom touch the lens glass for any reason. It's second nature to keep it clean and protected. Nothing could be further from the truth with phones. In this case, our hands are all over the camera lens, and it's constantly getting smudges and grime on it. It doesn't even come with a lens cap. So every time you pick it up to take a photo, give it a quick wipe.
Painting with Light
Smartphone photography is still all about light. The basics of a great picture never change. Remember to shoot away from the sun. If you can't or don't want to, figure out some tricks to control backlighting. Use a reflector, a light, or the flash as a secondary light source. In general, forget the built-in flash. They're terribly helpful as flashlights, but as camera flashes, they're just terrible. Use natural light only, meaning light that comes from somewhere other than the camera.
Learn and Use the HDR Setting
Most phones have an integrated HDR (high dynamic range) setting. In some cases, it's automatic, and in others, it is a manual switch you must turn on. It works by taking multiple images when you take one picture, then stacking the best part of each picture together. This way, both the lighter and darker parts of the frame should look good. HDR has limits, though. If a person or object is moving in the frame, it may be blurred. Most cameras save the original image and an HDR version of it in case something went wrong.
When Should You Zoom In?
The answer? Never. Avoid using the digital zoom feature. You'll nearly always get better results by simply cropping the photo later. Digital zoom pixilated the image and reveals all the negative things about the cameras in smartphones. Just say no to digital zooming!
In all photography, the composition makes or breaks the final image. In the most basic sense, photography composition definition can be said as how you put your subjects into your photo. The composition is where the artistry comes from in photography; it is where the human element overtakes the technical. Use all of the tools you've got in your toolbox, like the rule of thirds, to perfect composition. Leading lines, symmetry, patterns, and controlling perspective are just a few more of the things you should be thinking about.
If you want to use the rule of thirds, most cameras have a grid setting that you can activate in the camera app. This shows the lines for composition right on the phone. It's a great reminder to slow down and work out the best composition.
The most important thing is to remember that great images are made, not taken. That means slowing down and thinking through your shot. The great, memorable images require forethought and planning--they require pausing, if just for a moment, and getting the composition just right. Just because it's a phone doesn't mean you are limited to on-the-fly snapshots. Do read our article on 12 Amazing Tips and Tricks Photography Composition techniques.
Take in Both Landscape and Portrait Oriented Photos
This tip isn't just for mobile photography--it applies equally to every other type of shoot you might go out on. But it's worth a mention here, especially when it comes to social media. Later on down the road, it's nice to have various orientations to choose from. If you've got a shot at a magazine cover, having a perfect shot in horizontal only is a real bummer.
Do you want to master Instagram, for fun or even for your business? Vertical videos are maybe the weirdest trend to get normalized by social media, but it's here to stay. If you're shooting stories or Instagram Reels, consider recording videos in the vertical.
Focus on the Details
Phones often have lovely wide-angle lenses, but they're also really good at close focusing. If anything, it's akin to walking around with a 35 mm prime lens. Instead of relying on the zoom capabilities, move yourself around. It's freeing to have fewer options on the camera and more options outside of it. The phone lets you move anywhere and shoot from any direction. A great example is to get up close and find some minor details that tell the story. Maybe it's the texture of a brick wall or the leaves in a grass field. Get a macro-level view of the world and get a new and different perspective.
Manually Control Exposure and Focus
The phone apps allow you a lot of control that you might not realize you have. By selecting an area of the frame, you can control the phone's focus point and exposure levels. Spot metering on a smartphone? Easy as pie. How about exposure compensation? On the iPhone, when you click an area, it will meter off of that area. But you can fine-tune that by moving the slider next to the selector box up or down.
The focus control using this method is also helpful. It's a little more challenging to control but is most valuable when you are nearer objects.
Use Your Lens Hood
Did you know that your smartphone comes with a handy lens hood? You know, those bulky plastic things that all of the expensive lenses have. They're great for keeping wayward light from entering the lens at funny angles, and they're handy for controlling and sometimes eliminating nuisance lens flare.
So where's your phone's hood? Well, you've got to get a little creative. You can use your hand - just make sure not to get any random fingers in the frame. Hats work pretty well, too.
Be a Low Light Guru
If there's one skill that will set you apart from nearly all other mobile photographers, it's mastering the art of taking photos in low light. Whether it's late at night, just after sunset, or in dark places like museums, low-light photography is an incredibly handy skill to have.
There are a few key things you should do. Firstly, get good at bracing your phone and holding it as still as possible. The goal is to eliminate all shakes that might occur during slow shutter speeds. Hold the phone with both hands, as much like a real camera as you can manage. Hold your arms at your sides, and keep your feet planted firmly. Using the physical volume buttons to activate the shutter helps, too. Just moving your hand enough to press the button on the screen is usually enough to jerk the camera.
Another route is to carry an actual tripod capable of holding your phone. The good news is that it doesn't have to be very large. Since your phone is small, the tripod can be small enough to fit in your pocket and sit on tables, rocks, or fences. A web search will reveal many options that allow for attachment to all sorts of surfaces.
Another way to reduce handshake is to use a remote shutter release. Don't worry--you don't have to buy a special one for your phone. Plugin your headphones and the volume keys will snap photos without moving the camera. How cool is that?
Screen Brightness Matters
Always keep an eye on the screen brightness settings. If the brightness is low, it might make your images appear underexposed, even though they are not. Before editing, do a simple check to make sure your brightness levels are up.
Apps and More Apps
One of the best things about using your smartphone for photography is finding amazing apps to make the process easy and fun. Sure, there's some trial and error, and there are plenty of apps that you will delete after using once. But once you find some editing apps that you like to use, use them! A few examples are apps specifically designed for tasks, like removing unwanted elements - think about strangers at the beach. Some apps fix perspective issues, giving you the power of a tilt-shift lens right in your smartphone!
Embrace Your Phone's Small Size
One of the key mobile phone-taking tips is to take advantage of the small low profiles of a phone. You can use it in places that you wouldn't dream of taking a big DSLR. And you can move it and place it in some crazy angles to get some crazy effects.
Bursting with Speed
Is something happening fast, and you're worried your phone is too slow to capture the action? Use burst mode to ensure you don't miss the shot. Just frame the picture as you usually would, then press and hold the shutter button. The camera keeps taking pictures until you release the button.
Portrait Mode Pro
Phones with more than one back camera feature a portrait mode. It uses the perspective difference in the cameras to create a virtual depth of field, giving your images a unique look. The effect is as if you took it with a $1,000 portrait lens. It's a nifty tool, so use it to your advantage. Like all digital tools, it has its limits. On the newest iPhone models, you can edit the depth of field by adjusting the f-stop after the image is taken. You can also adjust for different lighting setups after the fact.
Few Tricks To Up Your Photography Game
Use Live Photos
When you first see them, live photos seem a little gimmicky. Aren't they too small to be videos and too digital to be actual photos? What are they--just an ode to Harry Potter fans? Well, live photos are actually really useful. For one thing, you can export them as a video and post them to social media. Or you can select your favorite frame and use it as a photo. HDR works with live photos, too, in case you are wondering.
Did you know that you can adjust live photos and add effects after you take them? View the live photo in your library, then slide up. You'll see a handful of effects you can apply, like looping and bouncing animations. But by far the most interesting is the ability to create a long exposure effect. If that doesn't get your creative photography grey cells firing, we don't know what does.
Keep It Simple and Fun
Mobile phone-taking tips should revolve around keeping the camera as fun to use as possible. Some people, especially professional photographers, can get bogged down in maintaining the best quality. We think you must edit things in Lightroom or Photoshop, and you must shoot in RAW format for professional results. But all of this, after a while, gets to be work. And work isn't fun.
Think of your phone as a way to free yourself from all of that. Get back in touch with the fun parts of making pictures. Use digital filters and fun apps. Use iCloud Photo sync or your Adobe Creative Cloud account, so you can easily have access to photos on a phone, computer, or the web. Whatever you can do to keep the process easy and fun, do it. Don't get bogged down in the little professional details.
Know or set up a way to access your camera quickly. Your phone is in your pocket, so have a way to grab it and have it in camera mode as quickly as possible. Some Android phones support gesture apps, and iPhones have a quick swipe to access the camera from the lock screen. It's a handy timesaver.
If your camera's app leaves you wanting more, don't despair. Look around and do some searching online. Chances are, there's another app you can use. Adobe and Instagram make capture apps that have more functions. Some apps add professional features, like f-stops, shutter speeds, exposure dials, ISO control, and RAW file creation.
Not Your Dad's Clip-On
No list of mobile phone photo tips would be complete without mentioning clip-on lenses and filters. There are many examples, from systems that use a custom phone case to simple ones that clip on over your existing camera. They aren't perfect, but they are fun. There are super-wide-angle, macro, and portrait telephoto lenses you can play with. If you're really into time lapses or long exposures, give a filter set with ND filters a try.
The only sea change with phone photography is the adoption of their use as genuine cameras. They are no longer fun playthings. They might not replace your DSLR or mirrorless system anytime soon, but for street, candid, or travel photography, the smartphone is hard to beat.
Once you have learned the rules, mastered the technique, and clicked some stunning pictures, it is time to showcase your work on your professional portfolio website.
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