How to take good photos with your phone

Follow these tips and tricks to take the best photos with your phone

You’re starting on page 2 of this, click here to start at the beginning.

Never use digital zoom

Another thing that should be avoided at all cost is the digital zoom function on your camera. This is because the zoom function on most phones doesn’t work in the same way a normal camera would. When you use a camera with optical zoom, the lens adjusts its inner optical elements, enabling it to increase or decrease its focal length. The digital zoom on a smartphone doesn’t do this. Instead, it merely zooms into the photo by effectively cropping in, making subjects appear closer, but with a loss in fidelity. Admittedly the digital zoom in the latest phones, such as the iPhone XS, have improved, but we would still avoid it.

The only good way to photograph something far away is to actually get closer. For example, here is the same subject photographed with the digital zoom, and then photographed again up close.

Notice how the first photo has far less definition than the second. The details are blurrier, the colors a bit washed out, and overall it’s a subpar image. Moving closer to the subject preserves the image quality. If you can’t move closer, you’re better off taking a regular photo and cropping the final image in post-production. You’re effectively doing the same thing.

Camera modes, HDR, and RAW

When using the default camera app, you might notice there are various “modes” to choose from, as well as an automatic option. It’s likely that most people simply leave the app on auto. This lets the camera adjust settings based on on a variety of factors within the environment, from exposure to color temperature. That’s fine if you’re casually shooting something quickly. But sometimes you need a little more from your camera.

Using specific modes can help you take better portraits, create panoramas, and more. Try browsing through the various settings within your camera app of choice and figure out what mode best fits the scene you’re trying to capture or style you’re hoping to replicate.

One of the more useful settings is HDR, or High Dynamic Range. This is a form of image capture and processing that helps your camera balance the highlights and shadows in a scene, thus allowing it to create images that better resemble how the human eye sees an image.

Although it varies from app to app and from one smartphone manufacturer to another, more often than not, the HDR function takes three photos – a darker image, a lighter image, and a neutral image – and smashes them together, producing an image that clearly conveys all the highs and lows of the scene. This is a useful tool for some situations, such as photographing landscapes or backlit scenes, though it can cause problems when you’re photographing moving subjects or scenes with lots of vibrant color.

Newer smartphones and operating systems, let you dive even further into capture and creative modes. They mimic shooting modes you would find in an advanced camera, such as aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual, as well as ISO (sensitivity) and white balance. Using these manual settings gives you greater control over the final image, instead of handing the wheel completely to the autopilot. Casual users will find this overkill, but in certain situations, it may come in handy. Still, a phone is not like a “normal” camera, so don’t expect the same performance, but it gives more advanced users some flexibility.

Another pro-like feature is uncompressed RAW capture, which many phones now offer. Almost all smartphones save photos as compressed JPEGs, a common file standard. While JPEGs are fine for most uses, RAW photo formats give you more post-processing opportunities, since it’s retaining a lot more data than the compressed JPEG files. You can pull out more information from the highlights and shadows, more accurately adjust white balance, and overall pull more from the image without losing quality as you would with a JPEG.

Experiment with different editing apps, and saving the photos

best raw camera apps android ios iphone vsco
Screenshot from the popular Android and iPhone photo editing app VSCO

One of the more snide reactions during the early days of Instagram has been to lament how people simply throw random filters on to photos, giving the pretense of art without any sort of deeper intent. While it’s true that Instagram and other image-editing apps have given the average smartphone photographer tools that they might not know how to use correctly, that should not reflect poorly on the tools themselves.

Critics once decried the creation of electronic instruments, but rather than destroy music, they have only added additional layers to the creative process. The same holds true for image-editing software. When used properly, filters and digital editing can be a great tool for expression. In addition to the stock camera apps, there are are multitude other camera apps available for Android and iOS devices, as well as apps for editing photos. Experiment with different apps and tools to find the best look for the job.

Remember that photography is an art, and like any art, knowing the rules is important, as is breaking them. Use the aforementioned tips to improve your photos, but do not be afraid to experiment.


Authentic, holistic, retro photography is in: Here are 2019’s predicted trends

What types of imagery are we most drawn to? According to recent stock photography data from Adobe, StoryBlocks, and Shutterstock, authentic, holistic, and humanitarian content will be in high demand in 2019.

From DIY to AAA, here's how to take a passport photo in 6 different ways

If you're applying for a passport or renewing one, you need to submit a photo in your official application. There are strict guidelines, but fortunately, it's something you can do at home. Here's how to take a passport photo.

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera just isn't giving you the results you're looking for, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone…

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.

Going somewhere? Capture more than your phone can with the best travel cams

Hitting the road or doing some globetrotting this year? Bring along the right camera to capture those once-in-a-lifetime vacation memories. Here's a list of some of our current favorites.

The best mirrorless cameras pack all the power of a DSLR, minus the bulk

Mirrorless cameras offer a lot of photography firepower, inside a compact body. Explore the best mirrorless cameras, from the pro-level to the beginner-friendly shooters, in this guide.

This A.I.-powered camera follows the action to produce epic selfie videos

Want to capture more epic action selfies? The Obsbot Tail is a camera-gimbal combo that uses artificial intelligence to follow the action. Using a handful of different modes, the camera works to keep the action in the frame.

Sony crams its best camera tech into the new $900 A6400

Love Sony's autofocus, but can't stomach the full-frame price? The Sony A6400 mirrorless camera uses some of the same autofocus technology and the processor of the A9 in a compact, more affordable crop-sensor camera.

GoPro bumps resolution on Fusion 360 cam to 5.6K with new firmware

Currently available in public beta, Fusion firmware version 2.0 offers a new 5.8K mode that results in 5.6K output when the 360 camera's two hemispheres are stitched together. It also adds support for 24 fps video and RAW time-lapse…

With 5-stop optical stabilization, Fujifilm GF 100-200mm is ready for adventure

Fujifilm revealed a new lens designed to deliver on the GFX system's promise of adventure-ready medium-format photography. The GF 100-200mm F5.6 R is a weather resistant, relatively lightweight, 2x telephoto with impressive stabilization.

Olympus teaser shares glimpse of OM-D camera that’s good for more than sports

Is Olympus about to release a new mirrorless camera geared toward sports photographers? The latest teaser offers a glimpse of an upcoming OM-D camera set to launch on January 24, and by the looks of the teasers, it's capable for landscapes…

Nikon A1000, B600 pack big zooms into compact, budget-friendly cameras

The new Nikon Coolpix A1000 packs in a 35x zoom lens, 4K video, and an optical viewfinder, while Nikon's B600 brings a 60x zoom lens to the table. The cameras are modest updates to Nikon's budget-friendly zoom models.
Social Media

Nearly a million Facebook users followed these fake Russian accounts

Facebook purged two separate groups behind more than 500 fake accounts with Russian ties. One group had ties to Russian news agency Sputnik, while the other had behavior similar to the Internet Research Agency's midterm actions.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
2 of 2