In our Ultimate Guide to Phone Photography we are sharing Mobile photography apps, phone photography tricks and mobile photography ideas. After all this is a camera that is on you at all times or at least most of the time. Learn to use it well.
You are probably here reading this because like everyone else we have a phone with a camera…it’s on us all of the time and we want to learn how to take better pictures with it…
so I’m glad you’re here and lets get talking…
Taking Your Mobile Snapshots to the Next Level
Have you ever wondered how pros get their cell phone shots to look so good? Maybe their camera is better? Maybe it’s their lighting or their subjects?
The answer is much simpler: They are simply getting the most out of the available tools…and you can too!
Today’s smartphones are equipped with sophisticated, highly sensitive cameras. Some are even successfully competing with entry level DSLRs on quality and performance.
You’ve always got your phone with you, so it’s the obvious first choice to capture the world and moments around you as they happen.
Why not take your mobile shots to the next level?
Let’s go ahead and dive into the details.
Ultimate Guide to Phone Photography
The first ingredient is a good, solidly composed shot.
Here are some components to consider when taking the shot:
The first thing to ask yourself is what stands out to YOU; what details are you trying to capture? This will help you determine what angle you will choose.
In the first shot, I took the picture from the perspective of my line of vision, but what stood out to me about the moment was the beauty and expanse of the sky behind my daughter. I moved low to the ground, to get as much of the sky in the frame as possible, and switched from portrait (upright) to landscape orientation. These were taken only a few seconds apart, but look at the difference!
Ever try to take a silhouette shot on your phone and just couldn’t get it right? This is where adjusting your exposure comes into play.
When you tap the screen on your phone to focus on your subject, the camera makes an educated guess on how to expose the picture based on what it thinks you want to do. But you can manually adjust it to suit what you are specifically trying to achieve.
On an Android, when you tap the screen within the camera, a slider will appear on the bottom of your screen with a slider and the image of a light bulb. You can slide it to increase or decrease the brightness of the picture you are about to take.
On an iPhone, when you tap within the camera, a box will appear and a slider showing a sun symbol. Again, you simply adjust the slider brighter or darker to suit your goal.
In the instance of a creating a silhouette, your phone will assume that you want the subject in focus to be properly exposed, so you would use the slider to make the photo darker, leaving your subject as a silhouette.
In the example below, the picture on the left was taken with auto exposure, the right with the exposure slider moved as dark as possible.
Phone Photography Tricks
Light & Shadows
Light and shadows are a great way to add depth and emotion to your photo. Instead of photographing your subjects in full light, try changing it up with side light, pockets of light, and dappled light!
Mobile Photography Apps
In an age where we take over 1 billion photos per day, there is an overwhelming number of photo apps to choose from. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from apps with extreme filters and face altering/warping beauty filters. These tend to detract from the beauty of life and focus more on creating a superficial image.
My top picks for photo editing apps are, in order of ease of use:
Instagram is simple, versatile, and user friendly. Instagram effects offers tons of editing customization, and their filters can be applied in varying strengths, allowing them to be used without detracting from the natural beauty.
Since most people utilize Instagram as a social platform, being able to take your picture, edit, and post it all from within the same app makes it a quick and simple choice for editing.
VSCO offer many beautiful presets (filters), which can be applied in varying strengths. These presets are well developed and can be used as a stand-alone edit without the need for a lot of additional hand editing. This is a good choice for those who want a quick but professional looking edit with minimal effort.
- LR Mobile (Lightroom)
My favorite features in LR Mobile are Color Mix (which allows the customization of Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) and Curves Adjustment (which allows the adjustment of shadow, midtones, highlights, as well as reds, greens, and blues). The iOS version of LR Mobile also recently received an update which allows brush adjustments, which gives you the capability to brush over an area and edit it without affecting the rest of your photo.
This photo app features many advanced editing tools, but what sets it apart from the previously mentioned apps is its brush editing tool and HDR filters. The brush tool allows for fine-tuned hand editing, maximizing your creative editing capabilities. It’s available for Android and iOS users, whereas LR Mobile currently offers the brush adjustment for iOS users only. HDR is that special something that makes your landscape photos go from beautiful to wow! This app is ideal for users who really want to fine tune their images, down to the details.
The choice of which app you use will primarily depend on the complexity of editing you want to do. I’d recommend trying out at least 2 or 3 of them and feeling them out to see which works best for your personal editing style. If you are feeling adventurous, try utilizing multiple apps to edit a picture, capitalizing on the best features of each. Just save the photo in one app and open the saved version in the next!
Need other recommendations for additional mobile photography apps, read our 2018 BEST Photography Apps article!
How to Fine Tune Using Editing Tools
Now that we’ve been over getting a better shot and which apps to try, let’s look at fine tuning.
Step one when polishing your shot is to check your horizon and crop. Don’t be fooled, even the pros take crooked shots; the difference is that in editing they correct it, and you can too! Some shots can be taken to be intentionally angled, but as a rule of thumb, you want your horizon to be level. All the apps listed above show grid lines when cropping, so this takes the guess work out of getting a straight horizon. If your horizon wasn’t level, like when shooting against hills or slopes, you can choose another object in your picture to align your grid lines with, like a tree or building.
We discussed the technique of adjusting exposure when you are taking the shot. If you don’t get it right in the moment, you can still tweak it in editing. Exposure in editing is basically adjusting the overall brightness of the picture. An exposure adjustment should usually be applied conservatively, most pictures needing only a slight change.
- White Balance and Hue
White Balance (WB) and Hue are invaluable tools once you learn to use them! When taking photos in incandescent or fluorescent lighting, you are often left with rather unattractive hues due to the artificial lighting. In some apps the WB adjustment is called “Warmth”, and they do not include Hue. LR Mobile and VSCO include both adjustments, one of the reasons why LR Mobile is my preferred app!
White balance changes your photo’s overall color cast: Too blue? Move your slider warmer. Too yellow from those incandescent bulbs? Move your slider to adjust the tones to be cooler. While it sounds like an incredibly simple change, it can make a huge difference.
Hue works with the green and pink tones. This can be great for pictures where people’s faces have taken on an unappealing green hue from reflecting the grass or other greenery. Artificial lighting also creates strange hues. This adjustment is usually applied in small doses, often needing only a slight tweak one direction or another. Many pictures don’t need a hue adjustment at all, so you will often not need it unless the hue is badly off.
Contrast is the separation between the dark and bright areas in your picture. Increasing the contrast will make your shadows deeper and your highlights brighter, but will also increase your color saturation. Decreasing contrast will do exactly the opposite: lightening shadows, toning down highlights, and softening color saturation. A little goes a long way, so be conservative with it.
I love using this tool to decrease the highlights (brightest spots) in my photos! Pulling back the highlights often brings more details back into your picture without affecting the shadows/dark areas. I frequently use this tone down overly bright areas on people’s faces or to bring back detail to bright skies and clouds.
How you choose to adjust your shadows is completely dependent upon what you are trying to achieve in your edit. In a silhouette shot, I would deepen the shadows, making the silhouette sharper and darker against the backdrop. In a portrait, I like to bring the shadows up, bringing out more detail in my subject’s faces. I usually combine this technique with lowering the highlights for a softer, more evenly lit portrait.
This adjusts the overall brightness of the light areas in your image, effectively setting the maximum brightness of any area in the photo without affecting the dark areas.
This one does just the opposite of the White adjustment, affecting the depth of all the dark/black areas of your image. For a more striking contrast in your image, you can deepen the blacks. To soften the image, the blacks can be decreased.
The sharpen tool is perfect for getting a crisper image, or even compensating for missed focus. What strength you will need to use will vary depending on the image.
The name of this adjustment varies from app to app, but they all do the same thing. Clarity/Structure can be used to increase the detail of your photo. When decreased, will soften the details. On images of scenery, an increase adds a nice pop, while softening it on a portrait makes for more attractive skin textures.
Vignette is the name for that soft haze around the edge of a photo. It can lend depth and a nostalgic feel to your image, but a word of caution! Going overboard looks tacky and amateurish and is often the butt of many a joke in the photographer world; each photographer laughing while inwardly cringing when recounting how overboard they went in their early days. It should be subtle and soft, making the edges only slightly darker.
Filters can be used by themselves as the sole edit, or can be applied after the above adjustments have been made. Each of the apps mentioned above come with several filters, so play around and have fun with it!
Here’s an edit, from import to finish, of a cell shot of my own:
While a lot was covered here, there is still SO much more that these apps can do, but hopefully you now have a better grasp of the basics and some new things to try!
Don’t Forget to Clean Your Mobile Lens!!! Thanks for the reminder from iPhone Photography School!
MaryAnn is a full-time wife and mother, but shoots life through a lens whenever she can! At home, she documents her children as they grow and explore; outside the home she captures the joy and beauty of her clients as Orion Photography & Design. Aside from providing photography services, she also creates custom graphics and logos for clients.