Your Guide to Better Smartphone Photos


Who needs a fancy, expensive, bulky DSLR when iPhone and Android are an option?

Our smartphones have incredible photo-taking capabilities. But unless you are a photography geek or you have too much time on your hands you probably aren't taking full advantage of what your camera phone has to offer.

Please note the phone I used for this post is the Google Pixel. But most smartphones now-a-days have the following features.

Now, I'm no expert on this topic but I am going to show you the methodology behind how I get more bang for a buck when it comes to taking pictures on a phone (without buying add-ons, accessories, or using filters).

Positioning Your Subject

Position your subject where it is well lit. That is the first piece advice I want to share with you. The best light, time and time again, is said to be next-to-the-window light. Whether you're taking a selfie or a picture of your dog, try to position your subject next to a great big sliding door or a big window. This light is usually very soft and provides nice exposure.

Exposure Adjustment Feature

The first thing that comes to mind is something I always use: exposure adjustment.

Where: When you open up your phone camera, tap the screen where your subject is, you'll see on the side of your screen a vertical bar that you can adjust up and down. In the photo below, you can see this bar on the right side of the screen.

When you tap the screen, your phone will automatically adjust for exposure, but usually your eye is better than the automated suggestion. Adjusting the exposure gives you more control for the feel of the photo.

Side Note: Tapping the screen where the subject was should also focus for the subject, making it the most sharp part of the photo.

What it looks like:

Sliding up will increase exposure, sliding down will decrease exposure.

HDR Feature

The next way to get the most out of your smartphone camera is to enable "HDR" (or High Dynamic Range). An article by Trey Ratcliff goes more in-depth on this and describes HDR as "a post-processing task of taking either one image or a series of images, combining them, and adjusting the contrast ratios to do things that are virtually impossible with a single aperture and shutter speed."

To see if this feature is something you can get down with I recommend shooting two pictures of the same subject, one with HDR enabled and one with HDR disabled to see the difference. In my opinion, HDR ultimately gives you a more rich photo.

Where: You should be able to enable and disable this feature at the top of your screen when you have your camera app open.

Your phone most likely has HDR set on the "auto" option. This selection means your phone will decide the best times to apply this feature. Again, remember you're in control here. If you think something will look better with the HDR feature, enable and disable it at your own convenience.

What it looks like:

The feature mimics a technique frequently practiced with DSLR cameras - I'll share that technique in another post.

Lens Blur or Portrait Mode

This is a feature I JUST found on my Google Pixel but I know it has been available to iPhone for at least a few months. This feature keeps the subject of the photo sharp while blurring out the background.

Where: This is a feature that came out on the iPhone 7, so I'm not sure how you enable and disable it on iPhone. Fortunately, Apple has you covered with this support forum.

On my Google Pixel the option is provided when I open a navigation bar to the left inside the app and select "Lens Blur".

What it looks like:

My Biggest Piece of Advice

Just experiment! Take 10-15 minutes of your downtime and check out what features your phone has to offer. It really is mind-blowing that our cell phones are being given the same flexibility and customization that you expect to find in more heavy-duty camera bodies like Canon and Nikon. I hope this guide helps you step up your phone picture game! If you stumble across any other tips or tricks to boost your smartphone photo quality make sure you let me know in the comments so I can stay hip and all that junk. I can't wait to see what you get!

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Nettik Photography

Northern Arizona