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How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

It’s hard to imagine life without a camera phone.

I remember back when mobile phones started adding cameras as a feature. The picture quality was truly awful – faces in photos looked as though they’d been censored because the pixelation was so bad.

Nowadays, we can whip out our smartphones and take a photo that looks almost as good as one from an actual camera. The quality has improved so much that some people even use their smartphone as the primary camera for their travels.

In my opinion, a DSLR or mirrorless camera will always give you the best quality travel photos, but that doesn’t mean that smartphone cameras won’t cut it. There are always moments where you just don’t have your camera on you – and in these times a smartphone is a perfect option for capturing that moment.

So how do we make sure those photos look the best they possibly can? Here’s a few tips on how to take awesome photos using your smartphone!


How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

get a smartphone with a decent camera

First of all, it doesn’t really matter what model your smartphone is, as long as it has a decent camera. This will make a significant difference to the quality of your photos. If you’re thinking of getting a new phone with a better camera, here are 2 great options:

The new iPhone 7 has an unbelievable amount of camera features, and is easily the best smartphone camera on the market. Robert is waiting on his new iPhone 7+ to arrive, so I’ll soon be able to see this option for myself.

If you’re not into iPhones then you could try the Nexus 5X, which is what I use. The camera may not be quite as fancy as the iPhone 7, but it can take excellent photos and I would highly recommend it.

Update: Google just released the new Google Pixel. I haven’t had the chance to play with it but apparently the quality is on par or maybe even better than the new iPhone!

HavsVidden, Åland

Åland Islands, Finland – taken with my Nexus 5X.

Use available light

Photography is really about making the available light work to your advantage, so make sure you consider the following:

The time of the day will make a huge difference to how your smartphone photos look. If you can help it, avoid taking photos in the middle of the day as this is when sunlight is very harsh, and go for the early morning or late afternoon instead.

Weather conditions also make a difference. Cloud cover is often a good thing as it diffuses the sunlight and eliminates harsh shadows. If you’re taking photos during the day and notice harsh shadows, wait until a cloud passes over or step into a shady spot if you can.

Most smartphones are notoriously bad at taking photos in low light situations (such as night-time or indoors). There’s actually not a lot you can do to amend this, except for use the flash or maybe prop your phone up on something while you take the photo to keep the camera completely still. The iPhone 7 is supposed to be much better in low light.

Cats omg

Taken with my Nexus 5X.

Use your feet to zoom in

You know how you can pinch the screen to zoom in when you’re using the camera app? This is called digital zoom, and you should avoid it at all costs! A little known fact is that digital zoom actually lowers the quality of your photo.

Instead, use your feet to walk closer to the object to get a better shot. This way you’ll still get the best quality photo without having to use the digital zoom. If you can’t walk any closer, then it’s probably better to take a zoomed out shot and then crop the image afterwards.

One important thing to note here is that the iPhone 7 actually has a telephoto zoom lens, which means that the camera actually has two lenses – one of which will allow you to zoom closer without losing quality. This is actually the first time that any smartphone has had this ability.

Pensar Syd, Finnish archipelago

Finnish archipelago – taken with my Nexus 5X.

Hold the camera close to objects

Smartphones with a decent quality camera will be able to imitate depth of field in photos, which means that when you’re taking a photo of an object, the object is in focus and the background is slightly blurred.

To do this, hold your smartphone up close to the object (between 6-12 inches is a good distance for small objects) and focus the camera on your object. When you take the photo, you should be able to see the difference in focus between the object and its background.

Providence mural

Providence, Rhode Island – taken with my Nexus 5X.

Take multiple shots

I usually take around 2 to 5 shots of any one scene. It’s inevitable that sometimes my photos will come out slightly blurry, or focussed on the wrong object, or too bright, or too dark.

By taking multiple shots from a few different angles, I have the option to look through the photos I took then choose the best one and delete the rest.

World Trade Center, New York City

World Trade Center, New York City – taken with my Nexus 5X.

Edit, edit, edit

I often use Instagram to edit my photos as it gives me the most control to make adjustments, but you don’t always have to chuck a filter on a photo to make it look good. Most smartphones have the option to do even basic photo editing in the camera app.

First turn your screen brightness up, then look at the photo and decide whether it needs to be a little brighter or darker, whether the colours could be adjusted (maybe the photo looks a bit too yellow or too blue), and whether it could use a little more or less saturation.

It only takes a few seconds to edit your photo before you post it, and a little bit of editing can turn a good photo into an awesome photo.

New York State

Upstate New York – taken with the iPhone 7.

Update: Last weekend I had the chance to play with the iPhone 7, and can confirm that the camera is pretty damn good! Low light photos come out much less grainy and dark, and the telephoto lens takes waaaay better zoomed in photos, though the lack of image stabilisation was a slight problem when it was zoomed in all the way. Still, it’s much better quality than anything else on the market.

You’ll still need to use the above tips to take good photos, but it would be perfectly fine to use it as a primary camera on your travels.

Do you struggle to take photos using your smartphone? Or do you have some pro tips to add to the list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!


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Ashlea Wheeler

This post was written by Ashlea, a colourfully clothed and excitable vegetarian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

14 Responses to “How to take awesome photos using your smartphone”

  1. Veronica U

    You should try Snapseed to edit your photos 🙂 It’s a step above Instagram

    Reply
  2. Neni

    I´m so glad my phone is reliable when it comes to pictures. Now I can take decent pictures without ALWAYS carrying my big camera.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – a smartphone is a perfect substitute for a DSLR when you don’t want to carry it. Those cameras sure can get heavy, mine weights 1.4kgs!

      Reply
  3. Becky Schulze

    Thanks for the article. I have been debating whether to use my phone or buy a camera. I don’t have the iphone 7, and don’t see it in my future. But, it is a good iphone, so I think I may give it a try.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Becky! I’ve actually had the opportunity to play with the iPhone 7 camera now, and it is definitely better than other smartphone cameras, though there are cheaper smartphones with very good cameras as well. The choice is yours, but at least you have enough information to make an informed decision 🙂

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s quite an amazing camera – I had the chance to play with it on the weekend and can confirm that it’s a step above other smartphone cameras!

      Reply
  4. Sophie Nadeau

    I love the comment ‘love your feet to zoom in’. So accurate! With no good zoom on your smartphone camera, it’s SO important to walk around to get that ‘perfect’ shot 🙂

    Reply

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