An orange perspective shot of mosque in Schwetzingen castle in Germany
Typical dutch canal houses in Amsterdam reflected in water
minimal style winter image of orange reed taken with fog and rain
Typical dutch canal houses in Amsterdam reflected in water

Are you a smartphone photographer? What’s the definition of a smartphone photographer you ask? Well, it’s someone who takes pictures with their smartphone.

Gone are the days where you had to have an expensive camera to take great images and a photography degree to understand how to use it. Today we are all photographers in some sense. Also, we can all get better at it.

Our smartphone cameras are getting better and smarter each year, but there will always be a few basic things that YOU can control. These “tricks” will give you better pictures from the moment you take them.

I have based this article on my iPhone8 as that’s what I own. These tips apply for all types of smartphones, but the tools may have different names, icons, and placement on your phone. If you can’t find the tool on your phone, I advise you to google the specifics for your phone model.

With no further ado, these are my top 10 tips to take better pictures with your mobile phone.

1. Clean your lens

This is the most common reason for getting bad quality pictures with any smartphone. The small lens very easily collects dirt and lint from being carried around. A crystal clear lens will give you sharper images, so take the extra 5 seconds to clean it with a handkerchief (or your T-shirt) before taking the shot.

2. Use the grid lines to compose better

Having grid lines in the camera app will help you compose the image better. If you have knowledge of the rule of thirds, you can use the lines to help you find the best placement of your subject. If you don’t know what the “Rule of Thirds” is, you can read all about it in this article.  The lines will also help you avoid skew horizons.

This is how to turn the grid on with an iPhone:

Open settings   ->   Camera   ->   turn on “Grid”

3. Turn HDR on

The HDR function can be great in high-contrast lighting situations. HDR (High Dynamic Range) means that your phone takes several photos in rapid succession using different exposures and blends them together. The final combined picture will have more details in both the lighter and the darker areas of your photos.

When you have “Auto HDR” turned on, your camera will only use HDR if it renders it necessary. If HDR is used, the camera will take one picture with normal settings and one with HDR, and you’ll have two versions of the same picture. This way you can compare the images and choose which version YOU like best after you’ve taken it.

Not HDR - the highlights are blown out
Not HDR - the highlights in the sky are blown out
HDR - more details in both the highlights and shadows
HDR - more details in the highlights
How to turn HDR on:

Go to settings   ->   camera   ->   click “Auto HDR” + Keep normal photo

4. Set the focus

Don’t let the camera decide where the focus should be FOR you. It’s better to be in control of your image and tap the area that YOU want to focus on. The samples below show you what a difference it can mean.

Btw. did you know that you can lock the focus? Tap and hold the area that you’d like focus on, the focus will stay put, even if you move the subject. This can be handy if you want to get creative. I.e. for “blur on purpose” pictures, or if you’re shooting through glass with raindrops. It can be challenging to focus on the raindrops, but you can put something like a paper close to the glass and lock the focus on that, move the paper away and the raindrops will still be in focus.

Image of houses and yellow flowers as demonstration on how to use focus in iphone camera
Focus on flower in the foreground
Image of houses and yellow flowers as demonstration on how to use focus in iphone camera
Focus on houses in the background

5. Don’t use flash

I don’t advise to use the on-phone flash ever. Simply said, it doesn’t work well. The flash makes a photo look overexposed and it will alter the colors badly. Faces will look washed out. It will also overexpose objects with reflecting surfaces. Instead of using flash, look for sources of natural light and move your subjects into or close to the light. Or get creative, i.e. take silhouette photos.

With flash
Without flash

6. Don’t use the digital zoom

Using the digital zoom is actually the same as cropping your image in post-processing, so it means you’ll get a smaller image with less quality. It will look grainy, blurry, and pixelated. The better way is to take the shot as is (without zoom) and then crop it afterward. That way you’ll have better control of the composition and the quality.

Another way to “zoom in” is to physically get closer to the subject or to use the telephoto lens if you have a newer smartphone model. To use the telephoto lens in newer iPhones, click on the white circle with 2X showing on the image in the camera app.

7. Set the exposure manually

In some situations controlling the exposure can make or break an image. Your camera will analyze the lighting situation and set the exposure based on an average, but that’s not necessarily how YOU want the image to look. By tapping your screen with your finger you can set both focus and exposure the way YOU prefer.

First, tap to set focus, then move your finger up and down to change the exposure. My advice is to expose for the lighter areas (making the image darker). Areas that are blown out (overexposed) will lose details and you will not be able to recover them in post-processing. The darker areas on the other hand can be brightened later. It’s better to have a too dark image than a too bright image.

Check out this mini-tutorial where I show you how it works:

8. Keep a steady hand

I know it’s fun to quickly take an image without giving much thought to how you’re holding your phone. Problem is that a shaky hand will give you less quality – probably a blurry picture. So, if you want your image to have the maximum quality from the get-go, try to notice how you’re holding the phone, stabilize your posture, breath in, hold, click, breathe out.

9. Turn off “Live”

Don’t use the “Live” function if you want top-quality images. It’s a cool feature, but it will not give you the best quality, so use this only if you want the live effect especially.

You can turn the live function on and off inside the camera app (circles icon) If the icon is yellow, “live” is on.

10. Don’t use the in-camera filters

Have you ever had your images all turned a weird color and not known why? It’s very likely you’ve turned on the filters inside the camera app by accident. I advise everyone to keep the filters off during shooting and to rather add filters in post-processing. That way you have more options and better control of the final look of your images.

Do you have a bunch of images with filters that you didn’t intend? Luckily you can easily go in and remove the filter inside the editing mode In your Photos app. You’ll have to do it one by one though.

The Live icon - yellow means it is ON
In-camera filters icon - colors means it is ON

I hope these tips have been insightful and will help you take better pictures with your mobile phone. If you would like to learn more about mobile photography and photography in general, I invite you to join my newsletter where I send you tips and tricks and mini-tutorials directly to your inbox.

As a subscriber, you’ll never miss out on my articles and tutorials. I also have an in-depth mobile editing class in the making and my email subscribers will be the first to hear about it when it goes online. As a subscriber, you’ll receive a special discount – only for my subscribers, so if this all sounds interesting to you, I hope to see you over there.


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