5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone Photos
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Sales of digital cameras have fallen through the floor since the introduction of the iPhone and Android based phones during the last decade. After all, why carry two devices when you can have an all-in-one device. Everyone is in the habit of grabbing their phone before they leave the house, but before cameras were integrated into smart phones, this wasn’t the case with a digital camera so many moments were missed.

As smart phone cameras have grown in popularity, so have the megapixels and quality. And while everyone focuses on megapixels, there is more to it for making consistently good photos.

It is not all about megapixels though. Just because one camera has more megapixels than another doesn't mean you will get a better quality photos. The size and quality of the sensor built into the camera also plays an important role. The larger the sensor, the bigger the pixels can be which translates into more accurate image.

What is the best type of camera? Well, it is always the one that you have with you at that time as the old saying goes.

I remember once I was walking in Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro a decade ago and just after a rain storm a rainbow appeared. The only camera I had with me was one of those Kodak disposable cameras, so I used what I had, then scanned it in later. It is low quality but hey, that moment would not have even been captured without it.

5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone Photos
Credit: mjpyro

Disposable cameras had a short lifetime before digital cameras became avoidable.

Photography Basics

Smart phone cameras are not as sophisticated or customizable as high quality DSLR cameras. 5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone PhotosCredit: mjpyroHowever, the basics of photography still apply whether you can alter the settings or not. Just knowing how digital cameras work will help you when you take photos using a smart phone.


The exposure setting determines how much light reaches the sensor. Lower exposure settings will create a darker photo and vice versa.  Digital cameras guess at the optimal exposure but it does not do a good job sometimes because it cannot distinguish between certain features.


The ISO setting determines the camera sensor's sensitivity to light. The higher the setting, the more sensitive the sensor is to light which allows for quicker shutter speeds in near dark situations. Higher ISO settings often cause graininess and distortion of color in low light creating a less clear image. Your smart phone camera sensor will be set to an auto ISO for low light settings, and this is not something you are going to be able to control on most smart phone cameras.

Shutter Speed
This setting of course determines how long the shutter is open (how long the sensor is exposed to light).

5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone PhotosCredit: OpensourceAperture
The aperture setting determines how big the hole is that lets light through to the sensor. Think of this as the iris in your own eye that lets lights into the cornea.

All cameras control the size of this hole opening by changing the aperture setting measured in a scale known as f-stops.

  • The larger the aperture, the shallower your depth of field will be, meaning a smaller portion of your image will be in focus; the smaller the number, the larger the aperture or opening
  • The smaller the aperture, the deeper your depth of field will be, resulting in more of your image being in focus; choose a larger aperture setting for a smaller aperture on things such as landscape so everything is in focus.

White Balance
Most smart phone cameras will have an auto white balance which is good in direct sunlight, but in other scenarios like an overcast day, a sunrise or sunset, it can make the image too bluish.

Your camera will try and set white balance automatically based on the type of light available. Your camera will automatically detect the lighting and adjusting the color in photos so that they look natural.

Tips for Taking Better Photos

Clean Your Lens and Sensor

This one might sound frivolous, but when is the last time you did it? To avoid hazy images, clean your lenses with a soft cloth as it often gets covers with dust or fingerprints. One time I returned from a day at the beach only to find all of my photos hazy. Turns out, I had touched the lens with greasy fingers that had been using sun block. There is no filter or photo editing software available that can correct that error.

Along those lines, wipe off the sensor on your camera phone from time to time as it also collects5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone PhotosCredit: Amazon.com dirt and grim.

Turn on Grid for Rule of Thirds

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds with a grid so that you have 9 parts, like a Tic Tac Toe board. The grid identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image. So to take advantage of this photography rule, turn on grid lines on your phone.

Always Use Two Hands When Taking a Photo

Digital cameras are more sensitive to movement than traditional ones that use film.However, that does not mean you have to set up a tripod every time you want to take a photo.

When using any smart phone, hold it with your left hand and release the shutter with your right thumb (or vice versa if you are left-handed). Another trick I learned a long time ago when using my traditional camera is to tuck your arms and elbows against the sides of your body to provide more stability. In effect, you are bracing your arms instead of extending them forward in the air to take a shot. Also, with the iPhone camera, you can press one of the side volume buttons to snap the photo. Some people find that much easier to do rather than feeling for a virtual button on screen.

Note: The camera shutter is not released until you take your thumb off the shutter button on the touch screen. Gently release the shutter button which should help in low lighting. 

Never Zoom5 Tips to Improve Your Smart Phone PhotosCredit: mjpyro

When you zoom in on something, the camera is guessing at what is actually there and trying to account for it up close. It does not do a very good job. Zooming in on anything causes less light to hit your sensor making it highly sensitive to movement. To compensate for this, you may think that you could just use the flash, however, that is not going to help the processor in the camera with the guess it is making on what you are looking at.

Furthermore, you should never use your flash at all when taking photos with your smart phone because it is too close to the lens which is what causes red eyes in so many photos.

Avoid Action Shots

Smart phone cameras were never designed to capture high motion activities such as sporting events. Stick to selfies and capturing random moments in life.

Final Thoughts

Sales of stand-alone digital camera continue to fall as more and more people carry smart phones as an all-in-one device. Smart phone cameras continue to improve with each updated version, but they are not up to DSLR level yet.

While built-in cameras do not have the customization options of stand-alone digital cameras, just knowing how it processes photos based on the fundamentals of digital photography will help you take better photos.