Snap Like a Pro: 8 Tips for Stunning Smartphone Photography

While using a smartphone has been the go-to way of capturing everyday moments in recent years, primarily due to its convenience compared to having to carry a dedicated camera around, taking high-quality photos with a smartphone can definitely be challenging at times.

Today, we have eight actionable tips that you can use right away to bring your smartphone photography skills to the next level and take stunning photos that everyone will fall in love with, regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer.

Keep the Lens Clean

Even though this doesn’t exactly sound like a valuable tip at first, a camera lens that’s even slightly dirty can easily ruin what would otherwise be a fantastic photo, with the dirt on the lens creating widely encountered issues such as flaring and blurriness.

Combined with the fact we don’t really pay a lot of attention to keeping the camera lens of our smartphone clean, whether it’s during usage or storage, a dirty smartphone camera lens reducing the quality of a photo is actually a lot more common than you think.

smartphone (iphone) camera lens

To keep your smartphone’s lens as clean as possible without damaging it, the best thing you can do is to gently wipe it with the help of a clean and dry microfiber cloth, which should be sufficient to get your smartphone to produce crystal-clear photographs.

Additionally, as the lens can quickly get dirty even when your smartphone is resting in your pocket, our recommendation would be to keep a clean microfiber cloth handy whenever you’re planning on taking photos with your smartphone.

Avoid Using Flash and Utilize Natural Light

Getting the lighting right is one of the essentials of photography, regardless of whether you’re using a camera or a smartphone for the task, as both the visual quality and the mood of the photo you’re taking depend entirely on how you use lighting.

Unless you have access to professional lighting, making full use of natural light, even when it’s darker outside, and avoiding using your phone’s flash is the best way to capture stunning photos with your smartphone, which we can explain with two different lines of reasoning.

scenery with natural light

First, using natural light gives you a considerable amount of flexibility when taking your photos, as each different position and angle will change how the light affects the image. This flexibility allows you to capture the same photo in various ways, allowing you to find the one that looks the best.

Second, the flash of a smartphone is relatively weak (as it’s usually just a small LED) compared to what you will find on a camera, and combined with the fact that using flash is inherently tricky, even with an actual camera, smartphone photos where the lighting is provided by flash rarely turn out great, with issues such as reflections and washed colors plaguing the image.

That being said, it’s worth mentioning that using flash alongside natural light and not as the sole source of lighting can have some benefits, such as brightening up unwanted shadows and making your photos look crisper, which is something to keep in mind.

Use Gridlines and the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a photographic composition rule that tells us to evenly divide an image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and then to align the subject of the photo with either the intersections of the lines or along the lines themselves.

This way, the main focus of the photo takes up one-third of the image, as opposed to it being placed right at the center, which is considered to create a better composition in most cases.

To be able to apply the rule of thirds to your photos in the most effortless way possible, the best thing you can do is to enable the gridlines setting on your smartphone, which will conveniently place two vertical and two horizontal lines on the screen to divide it into nine equal pieces.

enabling gridlines on iphone

Once you have the gridlines on, you can easily place the essential parts of your composition along the gridlines and on the power points (the four corners of the middle section where gridlines intersect) to emphasize them, which will implement the rule of thirds to your photos and improve them considerably in a quick and easy way.

For instance, when photographing a person or a flower, you will usually want to position the flower’s stem or the person’s body along one of the vertical gridlines to apply the rule of thirds, and the flower’s petals or the person’s head on one of the power points to apply the rule of thirds to the photo as best as possible.

Adjust the Exposure

The exposure setting allows you to manually adjust how bright or dark your photo will be, which is a simple but effective tool to enhance your smartphone photos, as some photos will naturally look better with less light and others with more light.

While smartphones usually do a decent job of adjusting the exposure automatically, which happens whenever you tap on the screen to focus the lens (you’ll notice how the lighting of the photo changes when you do that), manual adjustments will easily take the quality of your photo a step forward.

adjusting exposure on iphone

Even though the exact way of manually adjusting the exposure will vary across phones, it should be relatively simple to find in most cases, as the whole point of having an exposure setting is for it to be adjustable as you’re taking the photo.

For instance, in the default iPhone camera app, you can adjust exposure by sliding up or down on the square that appears after you tap the screen to set the focus. As you’re sliding, you’ll see a sun icon going up or down on a vertical line next to the focus square, which shows that you’re adjusting the exposure.

Refrain from Using Zoom

As smartphones come with a fixed lens, optical zoom capabilities are practically out of the window, which leaves digital zoom as the only option for zooming into the image.

Unfortunately, the way digital zoom works, which is to crop the image and enlarge the pixels, is something that directly reduces the quality of the photo you’re taking, as the pixels being enlarged mean that your photo will consist of fewer pixels in total, reducing the resolution.

adjusting digital zoom on iphone

Because of this, using zoom when taking photos with your smartphone is something we never recommend doing unless you really have to, at which point you would have to accept that you’re zooming in at the expense of image quality.

While it may sound obvious, the best way to “zoom” on a smartphone is to get physically closer to the subject whenever possible, and while this may not always be convenient, it is the only way you will be able to preserve image quality.

Use a Stabilizer or Gimbal

Keeping the camera completely steady is perhaps the most crucial rule for taking a high-quality photo, as even a slight shake can cause the lens to lose focus and introduce common issues such as blurriness to the image that will practically ruin it, regardless of whether you’re using a smartphone or an actual camera.

That being said, as a smartphone is much lighter than a camera and as it’s harder to get a good grip on a smartphone while also keeping your finger off the lens, holding steady is particularly challenging when taking photos with a smartphone, which is one of the primary factors that make smartphone photography a lot more difficult.

smartphone gimbal

The best way to eliminate this problem and keep your smartphone completely stable when taking your photos is to attach it to a stabilizer, such as a tripod, or to use a gimbal, as these tools will greatly improve the quality of your photos from the get-go by ensuring that you never have to think about holding the phone steady.

Additionally, as you won’t have to pay extra attention to holding the phone steady anymore, you will be able to focus better on areas that require your attention, which will indirectly improve your smartphone photography in various ways.

Use Focus and Exposure Lock (AE/AF Lock)

Locking your focus and exposure prevents your smartphone from automatically refocusing on a different area and automatically readjusting the exposure until your input, which comes in quite handy in scenarios where lighting is variable or when you would like to use slightly different angles for a bunch of additional photos.

Without focus and exposure lock, a slight change in the angle or lighting can easily prompt your smartphone to change the camera’s focus, which would also end up with the exposure being reset and practically lead to a scenario where you would have to adjust both focus and exposure from scratch, creating both inconvenience and inconsistencies across photos.

enabling exposure lock on iphone

Similar to adjusting exposure, the exact process for activating the focus and exposure lock is also different for each smartphone, but it should usually be in a place accessible on the same screen as where you can take the photo.

For instance, on the default iPhone camera app, you can activate the focus and exposure lock by tapping the screen to set focus and not letting go until you see the “AE/AF Lock” banner appear on top.

Once you lock the focus and exposure, you can configure the exposure according to your needs, and until you tap the screen again to set a new focus, your focus and exposure settings will remain stable.

Take Photos in RAW Format and Edit Them

The RAW format allows you to save the photo you have taken in the highest quality possible, as it’s made up of an uncompressed and unprocessed version of the image data that comes straight from the camera.

Because of this, a RAW image is your best option if you’re planning to edit the photo later on, which you can then compress into a format suitable for distribution, such as JPEG.

That being said, taking photos in RAW format also comes with some disadvantages to keep in mind, primarily related to the file size and compatibility.

The first drawback of saving images in the RAW format is the file size, which can be between two to six times larger than a standard JPEG file due to it being uncompressed, meaning that you will most likely require extra storage space.

The second drawback of saving images in RAW format is that they will need processing before you can distribute them, as RAW isn’t a standard image format that can be opened in any image software, unlike popular image formats such as PNG or JPEG.

enabling apple proraw

While it may not be able to take RAW photos with your smartphone’s default camera app, based on whether the manufacturer has added support for it or not, it’s usually possible to find a third-party application that makes taking RAW photos possible on any modern smartphone.

For instance, on iPhone Pro models that come after iPhone Pro 12, you can enable Apple ProRAW to take photos in RAW format. On the other hand, for iPhones that don’t support Apple’s ProRAW, you will need a third-party camera app to take RAW photos instead, such as ProCamera.

Once you have the RAW file at hand, you can use any modern photo editing software, such as Photoshop, to enhance your image in many different ways, whether it’s making the colors more vibrant, correcting the exposure, cropping the image, or removing unwanted spots.

That being said, it’s also worth mentioning that not having access to your photos in RAW format does not, in any shape or form, mean that you can’t edit them, as editing RAW format photos is a best practice that allows you to obtain the highest quality possible but by no means a complete necessity for successful editing.