How to Improve Your Camera Phone Photography


Co-authored by Jasenka Grujin

Camera Phone Photography is everywhere. In this post, we are going to outline for you 9 ways to improve your photos, 5 editing apps that we love and 7 tutorials that are going to ensure you master the craft.

As any camera phone photographer will tell you, talent beats equipment almost every time in photography. A talented photographer can produce a stunning image with a pinhole camera given enough time. Whereas, many amateurs struggle to produce even average photographs using top of the line camera gear.

These days, there is a growing movement of camera phone photographers who are out to show that talent combined with a camera phone, can produce some incredible photos. Given what they come up with, we are certainly not going to argue.

In fact, the stunning examples of camera phone photography that we have seen led us to investigate how camera phones can be used to produce incredible images.

And so, here is our guide to camera phone photography. We have included some tips on shooting and editing, as well as a list of the most comprehensive tutorials on mobile photography.

There are a lot of things you can do to start getting the most out of your camera phone in terms of the best possible photography. Some of the more obvious things you can do include:

Photo of camera phone photography of forest
Sid Verma

Maximise The Camera Resolution

Resolution matters a lot when it comes to camera phone photography, especially if you plan to print them or transfer them to your computer to edit them. Luckily, many camera phones come with the option to increase or decrease the resolution of the camera. If you want to take artistic or commercial shots for your Instagram portfolio, then you should jack the resolution up as high as possible for most scenarios.

Be Aware Of Light

Camera phones don't have large sensors like full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, and they struggle a lot when it comes to difficult lighting situations. Generally speaking, the majority of cameras phones deal with low light quite poorly, so you have to make sure that your subject is well-lit. 

Alter The White Balance

Choosing the proper white balance will undoubtedly improve the quality of your mobile photography. The white balance of shots on many camera phones can be adjusted easily – you need to play around with this setting to achieve the effect that you want.

You should know the basics of colour temperature to set the white balance correctly. Another tip is that you might want to decide to adjust the white balance depending on your creative vision. Therefore, it is essential to get used to using one of the few controls that you have over the image-making process on a camera phone.

Take Many Shots

Never expect to take just 2-3 random shots and end up with a masterpiece in mobile photography! It takes a lot of time and patience to master this type of photography. Now, you have to realise that you are simply not going to have the options available to you that many people who shoot on SLRs or DSLRs will. One easy way to make up for that is to start taking as many shots as possible. This increases the chances of snagging a good one, especially if you're shooting moving subjects.

Get Close

You have to know that zoom on mobile devices is rarely good because it's not an optical zoom. In almost all cases the zoom is digital rather than optical. This means the image chip takes a part of the scene and makes that section larger, which leads to more inferior quality. It is much better to get up close to the subject than to use the zoom on a camera phone.

However, things are starting to change when it comes to optical zoom – the Huawei P30 Pro smartphone has an optical zoom, which is up to a whopping 5x. Because of this, the Huawei P30 Pro is considered a camera phone with superpowers.

Use Gridlines To Improve Compositions

The easiest way to quickly improve your mobile photos is by taking care of your composition. If you turn on your camera's gridlines, it will be easier for you to follow specific compositional rules, such as the rule of thirds. 

The gridlines break down your screen into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total. You should place your points of interest in intersections or along the gridlines – this will result in balanced and visually appealing photos.

Play Around With Negative Space

In case you're not experienced in photography or other visual arts, you maybe don't know about negative space. Simply speaking, negative space refers to the areas around and between the primary subjects of your image. You don't have to crowd your frame with people or random things – sometimes cleverly placed negative space can transform a photo from average to exceptional.

If you're shooting outdoors, things like an open sky, a large body of water or desolate field can play the role of negative space.

Use Natural Light

Even though every mobile phone has its own built-in flash, it's best to stay away from it. Most of the time, this type of flash will overexpose your photo – especially the faces of people. Further, any shadows in your image will look extremely harsh, which is particularly unappealing for portraits.

Even the flash of newer models of iPhone isn't impeccable, and it can't compare with external flash units or natural light. Because of this, you should always take advantage of the available light, even after dark. If your photo seems to be underexposed, you can try to improve it in various photo editing apps. You just have to be very moderate with these edits, because photo editing apps aren't a substitute for Lightroom and Photoshop.

Man taking photo with phone with flash on
Tinh Khuong

Buy A Compact Tripod

Compact tripods made especially with camera phones and small, pocket cameras in mind are becoming more and more common these days. If you really care about the quality of your camera phone images, you should definitely get one!

Compact tripods are fantastic because they give you the freedom to mount your smartphone for quick hands-free shots without any heavy equipment (such as regular tripods!). The majority of these tripods are small and flexible – they can bend to any angle. This will allow you to play with perspective and create some genuinely original shots.

Feel Free To Edit

Editing your mobile photos properly matters as much as capturing them in the best possible way. Especially if the quality of your mobile photos is crucial for your work. You should explore various options when it comes to photo editing apps. 

We're going to cover the top 5 free editing apps which are reliable and popular among food and fashion bloggers:

VSCO Cam is one of the most popular photo editing apps for mobile because it has a comprehensive set of editing tools. It's also well-known for its impressive filters that can add interest to any type of photo – portraits, product photography, travel photography, and so on. 

VSCO Cam filters are sought after because they look soft and subtle, unlike some of the Instagram filters which give an over-saturated vibe to photos.

Adobe Photoshop Express is the pocket version of Adobe's most popular photo editing program. With this app, you'll be able to use some of the basic tools available in Photoshop. The big benefit here is that you may be already familiar with these tools if you currently edit your images in Photoshop.

Another great thing about Photoshop Express is that it's able to make photo collages and add digital stickers. This is popular on social media such as Facebook or Instagram.

Snapseed is another popular and, even better, free app for basic photo edits. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily crop, straighten and sharpen your photos, or play around with colours and contrast.

Snapseed is best known for its fantastic sharpening tool – it enhances the details in your photos without making them look grainy and over-processed.

If making photo collages is the most crucial editing option for you – look no further!

Live Collage is much more advanced than Photoshop Express in this sense because it offers a wide selection of layouts suitable for any blogger. It also allows you to remix your own photos with text, stickers, frames and custom backgrounds and share them instantly.

Foodie is a handy editing app explicitly geared towards food and cooking blogs. It uses more than 30 filters and other editing features to turn average images of food into something vibrant and mouthwatering! You should definitely give it a try if you are new to food photography.

Recommended Online Guides to Camera Phone Photography

These online tutorials and guides are the pick of the bunch in getting you started towards taking decent camera phone photos. Now, you shouldn't expect to be taking shots like Nachtwey out of the gate, but you can get very respectable images on your camera phone.

Smartphone Photography 101 – This is one of the most comprehensive guides on camera phone photography, and it covers all the crucial topics. It includes how to take a great shot on your phone, what editing apps to use, how to share and print your images and keep them safe. It's not a 5-minute read – you should even take some notes while you read this guide since the tips are really insightful.

The Ultimate Guide To Shooting Manual Photography On Mobile – If you're not an absolute beginner when it comes to mobile photography, this one is for you. Here you will scratch beneath the surface of smartphone photography.

It covers all you need to know to get the most out of your mobile photography with manual settings. It will teach you how to independently control ISO, shutter speed, focus, white balance, and image formatting. 

Beginners Guide To Mobile Photography – This is an excellent guide for beginners since it's very detailed yet written in a simple language. It's basically a step by step guide on how to take breathtaking photos without a professional camera. It includes many screenshots, which makes it even more user-friendly.

12 Mobile Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know. – This straightforward guide gives you 12 rules to follow for great iPhone shots. It is powerful because it includes many examples of artistic images taken on camera phones. Using these simple tricks, you'll be able to shoot the kind of photos you never thought possible!

Best Phone Camera For Low Light Photography – If you like to take photos after dark, this guide is perfect for you. Shooting in low light with your camera phone, no matter how good it is, can be very challenging and even frustrating.

The tips in this guide are helpful because the author has covered different camera phones – not all of them perform in the same way in low light. 

12 Tips for Improving Camera Phone Photos – This is a brief and accessible overview of photography issues that will be faced by a camera phone photographer. It covers aspects of lighting, composition and technique that are unique to camera phones and is an excellent first stop for getting to grips with this type of photography.

Better Photos from Your Camera Phone – This is another pretty good guide along the same lines as the one above. Still, a lot of these tips bear repeating. Staying really still might seem obvious, but how many of us have had disappointing shots from camera phones due to moving or shaking? Well worth the read.

Closing Thoughts On Camera Phone Photography

If you want to show what excellent images can be taken with a camera phone, then you have set yourself quite a challenge. But exceptional camera phone photography is certainly achievable. One key that is repeated in all of these guides is that planning is paramount. If you can control and plan for as much of the photography process as possible, then you offset many of the drawbacks in shooting with less adaptable equipment such as a camera phone. But as many camera phone photographers have shown, the results can be well worth the effort.

If you want to learn more about camera phone photography, check out the following links!

Further Resources For Camera Phone Photography:

  1. 5 Tips For Taking Better Photos With Any Mobile Device
  2. 6 Common Smartphone Photography Issues And How to Fix Them
  3. The Freedom Of Smartphone Photography
  4. How Mobile Cameras Can Help Fill The Gaps In Your Photography Life
  5. 5 Ways to Improve Your Camera Phone Portrait Photography
  6. 3 Tips To Releasing The Power Of Your Camera Phone
  7. 108MP Sensor-Equipped Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Promises Smartphone Users the Universe

About Author

Rob is the founder of Light Stalking. His love for photography started as a child with a Kodak Instamatic and pushed him into building this fantastic place all these years later, and you can get to know him better here.
Rob's Gear
Camera: Nikon D810
Lenses: Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Excellent tips. I’ve always argued that a good photographer with a command of the basics will always take a better photograph than someone with top of the line equipment with no clue and a big ego.

Unfortunately this philosophy has a hard time catching on as is not in the interest of the photography industry as it doesn’t generate the mountains of cash that stupidity and sheep acting as megaphones do.

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