10 Top tips for better smartphone photography

The sun is out and it's time to start sharing those glorious photos from your smartphone. No matter what you've got in your pocket - Windows Phone, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry - you've got a very powerful package for taking photos.

While  the purists will always argue that a real camera will give you the best photos and they're probably right, there's plenty you can do to make sure your smartphone is giving you the best results you can get from it. By thinking about a few simple things, you can get better results every time when taking smartphone photos.

1. Clean the lens

Photos looking a little milky? One of the biggest problems with smartphone pictures is fingerprints on the lens. You spend the whole day groping your phone, so make sure you wipe away those smeary marks before you start snapping. This is especially problematic when the suncream comes out, wipe it away and you'll get better pictures.

Some phones are better designed to protect the lens, but with manufacturers producing slimmer and slimmer handsets, it's getting easier and easier to cover the lens with your fingers.

2. Focusing

Focusing is key to getting a sharp picture that looks impressive. Give your phone the time to focus correctly and make sure that it is actually focused on what you want. Don't always rely on beeps, use your eyes. If it's not focusing correctly, try switching to touch focusing instead for more precision.

If it won't focus on what you want, perhaps you're too close. Move back a little and try again, especially if you're trying to get a picture of something small.

3. Composition

Think about what you're looking at and what your picture is trying to show. You can very easily change the shape - also known as aspect ratio - of your photo afterwards, but if it's full of distracting background elements or it's not clear what you're taking a photo of then it's never going to look great. Stop and think about the photo you actually want to show people.

Photographers often use the rule of thirds to get the subject into an ideal position. Imagine the scene with a tic-tac-toe grid over the top. The important things should be aligned along those lines, or at the intersection of those lines, for the greatest impact. It's simple and it works.

4. Watch the sun

Sunny conditions are great for taking beautiful pictures with rich blue skies and luscious greens, but think about where the sun is when you pull out your phone. Shoot too close to the sun - ie, pointing towards it - and you might find that a giant lens flare dominates the scene or that subjects are massacred by blown highlights with no detail in those areas. 

In the instance of flare this is because the sun is shining right across the lens. Try using your hand to shade the lens, making sure it's not in shot, and you can get a great result. When photographing people, watch where those shadows fall and think about the best side from which to take a shot - you don't want a silhouette in front of a beautiful background because you didn't consider that the sun was behind them, for example.

5. Consider the flash

The flash on your smartphone isn't great. It can be harsh and in low-light conditions can result in unusual colours. But the flash can reveal shadow detail in close-up shots in sunny conditions which can be particularly useful.

If you do have to use the flash indoors, it can help out dark scenes where shots would otherwise be blurry without the introduction of its additional lighting. But as flash power is tricky to control keep an eye on the resulting shot - you wouldn't want your friend's face to be overexposed and featureless, which might mean stepping back to add some distance for a better exposure.

6. Keep it steady

Smartphones will often do two things to take shots in low light: one is give you a longer exposure - the length of time the sensor is gathering light - which can lead to blurry photos; the other is to bump up the ISO - otherwise known as sensitivity - giving you lots of image noise and making the shot look grainy or flecked with unwanted coloured spots. Often your phone will want to do both, leaving you with a blurry and noisy photo.

Supporting your phone will certainly help you get a better shot. It might be a case of resting it on a table, railing, or the bar. Supporting it while you take that indoor shot gives you a better chance of getting something usable from it. In some instances you can control ISO, but not many phones will let you do this.

7. Avoid the zoom

Pinch zooming is all the range on smartphones and more often than not, you'll be able to zoom digitally in the camera to get closer to your subject. However, this is zooming is achieved to the detriment of quality, because what actually happens is you use a smaller area of sensor and then digitally reproduce an image at the same size as you'd normally expect. 

The result is that there's less information captured to put into the final image. If you need the subject to be bigger, then move closer, or try cropping the image once you've taken it to get closer to the detail, accepting you'll have a smaller overall image as a result.

8. Keep the sound down, speed things up

Some smartphones insist on using a range of beeping noises. In some cases the noises actually slow down the camera. Take a shot to see if the shutter noise really adds anything to the experience. You might find yourself waiting for the noise before you can take the next shot when you needn't. In this case you'd be best to turn it off.

Also consider previews. Some phones will want to show you previews for longer than necessary. Change the settings to suit you, tweak and go.

9. Vertical videos

Hey, you're doing it wrong! As more and more people use phones to capture video, more vertical videos are starting to appear. YouTube and Facebook are filling with upright videos that perhaps make sense on your phone, but once you view them on a computer, you suddenly realise what you've done. That's right, you've created a video that's going to have huge black bars left and right, because you didn't rotate your phone.

Of course you might like this effect, but as your YouTube account is probably already available on your smart TV, do you really want to waste all that screen because you didn't rotate your smartphone? No, we didn't think so.

10. Software to the rescue

There's a host of free applications that will tweak your photos to improve them. Your phone may well have many of the options built-in already. You can crop the photo to get closer in on the shot's main subject, or just to remove something messy from the side, but perhaps more importantly many applications will add contrast and colour that might be lacking in the original.

Changing the saturation of your photo can boost colours, changing to black and white might hide image noise, adding a vignette - those darker corners and edges - might add some retro charm or impact, while helping to lead the viewer's eye on to what's important within the shot. Or there's the full retro treatment. If your shot can't be saved, why not make it worse, intentionally?

We've looked at a host of photo-editing apps that are worth checking out, such as Photoshop Touch, Snapseed, Perfectly Clear, Instagram, Vignette, Camera360.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments below!



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