5 Smartphone Photo Tips from an Apple-Selected Photographer

May 25, 2016

9:49 pm

Access to a quality camera is within reach for almost everyone these days, thanks to smartphones like the Apple iPhone. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve got one in your pocket even as you’re reading this.

While your smartphone may not be a $5,000 Nikon or a rare Hasselblad from Sweden, that doesn’t mean it can’t take some pretty impressive pictures. If you’ve seen Apple’s “Shot on an iPhone” campaign, which features user-submitted photos and turns them into huge billboards and posters around the world, you already know what they’re capable of.

Getting the perfect shot on a smartphone isn’t always easy though. Even if you’re skilled with a camera there’s a distinct learning curve to shooting with a smartphone. Use these five tips from Cielo de la Paz, a “shot an iPhone” invitee who has been chosen for two separate campaigns – an unprecedented feat considering how many people submit their photos to Apple when there’s a call.

1. Take Exploring Trips

Taking a truly exceptional photo, either on a film camera or a smartphone, starts with the subject. Whether you’re shooting a peaceful landscape or a busy street scene, finding the perfect spot for your photos is the first step.

Go out regularly and try to find areas that seem interesting to shoot. de la Paz even makes it a family affair. “My sons and I regularly go on what we call “exploring” trips on the weekends,” said La Paz, in a recent article on EyeEm.

Write locations down or record them on your smartphone. Make notes of any special lighting at certain times of day or when the area seems slow or busy.  Get to know the area you’re shooting visually by noting landmarks and permanent fixtures that you want to include in your photos as well.

2. It’s All About the Details

The average smartphone camera isn’t exactly professional quality, but it does excel at certain tasks. One of the things it does best is take close-ups very well, and small items are often rendered in vivid detail.

When shooting on a smartphone, try getting close to your subject and changing your perspective. What started as a portrait might end up as a beautiful shot of a person’s iris or their profile. A street scene might end up as just a detailed photo of a suggestive landmark that tells the story of a whole community.

Don’t be afraid to get close to your subjects and really capture the small details. Your smartphone is actually pretty well-equipped for that.

3. Upgrade Your Camera App

All smartphones come with a simple, basic camera app that will work to take pictures. The problem for people who want high-quality pictures is that they don’t always give you a ton of control.

Instead, download a camera app that lets you have some manual control over the photograph that you’re taking. Apps like CameraAwesome and Camera+ will allow you to do things like separate the AF lock from the exposure lock.

If you do decide to upgrade your camera app from whatever came on your smartphone, take the time to really get to know it. Many camera apps have online guides you can read to learn more about their unique features. You’ll find a wealth of user-submitted videos on most apps through sites like YouTube as well.

You’ll also want to play around with your app at home. Take pictures of friends, art on the walls or anything else you find interesting. You want to know how to properly use your new camera app before you’re out in the field and you need to quickly capture the perfect photograph.

If you don’t, you might just miss the perfect shot.

4. Stay Active

It seems pretty obvious when you think about it, but a lot of people who don’t take pictures regularly are unhappy with the quality of their photos. To really take an amazing picture on your smartphone, you need to know how your device works and you need to practice using it all the time. Take pictures of everything, from friends and family to interesting things around your house.

As de la Paz recommends, you’ll also want to regularly enter your best photos in contests. Stay abreast of what’s going on in the world of art photography and any trends that might impact you and your work. Remember, you can’t win contests or get recognized unless you’re diligent about taking and submitting quality photos.

5. Use Image Editors

If you’re trying to take photos that will amaze your friends and be worthy of critical attention, why would you go and make them like everybody else’s? That’s what you’re doing when you slap a stock filter on a photo that might otherwise be unique.

Instead of using filters that everybody has access to, get yourself a quality image editing app that will give you more manual control once the photo has been taken. Maybe your photo would look better with more sepia tones, but learn to do it manually instead of with run-of-the-mill filters. You’ll have a lot more control of the end result and your photos will have a personality and style all of their own – and that’s more than worth the cost of a quality image editor.

What’s available to you depends on your specific model of phone, but many budding smartphone photographers love editing apps like SnapSeed and Photoshop Express. Even iPhoto for the iPhone provides more control than most filtering apps.

Using a smartphone for photography may not seem ideal to many people who love taking photos, but they really can capture some magical images. In many cases, their very limitations are what give users such interesting photographs. It’s worth remembering that you usually have one in your pocket most of the time. Sometimes, the best images are the ones that are captured in the moment, and smartphones allow anybody to quickly snap a photo.

I’ve given you five tips here, so how about one from you? What’s your favorite smartphone photography trick? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below:


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AJ Agrawal is an entrepreneur, speaker, and writer. He is the CEO and Co-Founder at Alumnify Inc.