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How To Take Photos on a Smartphone

Top Tips For Taking Photos On Your Smartphone

Everyone has a smartphone. Whether it’s an iPhone or the latest Samsung extravaganza. Therefore everyone has the ability to take photos, which we do. Instagram and Snapchat are amongst the most used apps today. Despite this, not many people know how to make the most of their phone’s camera. This post will aim to give you top tips in how to take advantage of the camera you own and use it to the best of yours and it’s abilities.

Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the factors that could make or break your photographs, is the lighting. Now this isn’t something that can necessarily be adjusted on your phone directly, but can be changed through exterior means.

Mobile phones come fitted with a light for a torch and for a flash when taking photos. This is especially useful when taking photos at night, or of somewhere dark. The flash lights up the area at the same time the camera takes the picture. On the one hand, it does mean you are unable to see what the photo will look like before you take it.

To use the flash:

iPhone: With camera open, select the “lighting flash” in the top left corner, and select “on”

Samsung: With camera open, select the “settings” cog, and then look for the “lighting bolt with arrow”. Select this and change the flash setting to “on”.

You can use exterior means of lighting such as artificial and/or natural lighting. With the light behind the camera, it lights up the image from the front. Therefore taking an image with the sunlight behind you/the camera, the photo will look naturally lighter. If you use artificial lighting, you can place it at different angles to highlight different aspects of the subject. High angles will highlight the top half of the subject. Low angles will make the subject look bigger and light it from below.

An advantage of using natural lighting, is the ability to play with shadows and silhouettes. Using the flash won’t be able to create this effect, as it overexposes the photo, and changes the colour negatively.

Look for natural means of lighting and place the light behind the camera.


Photograph of hands holding iPhone at Football Match
Taking advantage of lighting

On the Grid

Phones have an option to turn a grid on when taking photographs. It keeps the image balanced, by splitting the screen into 9 sections; 3 lines horizontal and 3 lines vertical. There’s a photographic rule, called the “rule of thirds”, which suggests if you put the point of interest in these intersections or along these lines, the photo will be more balanced, and more natural for viewers to interact with it.

To turn the grid on:

iPhones: go to “settings”, choose “photos and camera” and switch “grid” on

Samsung: open the camera app, go to “settings”, scroll down and switch the “grid lines” option to “on”

Photograph of iPhone taking a photo
iPhone with Grid


Focus on ONE subject

Ever noticed when you touch the screen when in camera mode, a little yellow box appears? That yellow box allows for you to focus on one specific subject and heighten the focus on that area of the photograph.

iPhone: When in camera mode, tap the screen on the subject. The yellow box will appear which will focus on the subject and alter the lighting for the subject.

Samsung: Select “settings”, and tap “selective focus”. You can also select “picture stabilisation” which will prevent the image from being blurry in the event of moving.

Photograph of a phone taking a photograph of city buildings
Focus on the subject


Photograph of the outside of the Pantheon in Rome
Pantheon- Credits to Caitlin Robertson

Small Details

Look for the small details and the little things. Focus in on small details. Sharpen images after taking them by adjusting them with outside apps.

Filter! Filter! Filter!

If you use Snapchat, then you know what filters are. I’m not talking about the one that turns you into a dog, or makes you vomit rainbows, it’s the filter after you’ve taken the photo that alters how it looks.

You can filter images without needing Snapchat. Using iPhones, you can apply the filter beforehand, so as to see the photo as you are taking it, and what it will look like in the end.

On the camera screen, you should see three white and grey circles overlapping each other. Select this image and it should open up the filters. You will have these options to choose from:

  1. Mono
  2. Tonal
  3. Noir
  4. Fade
  5. None
  6. Chrome
  7. Process
  8. Transfer
  9. Instant

Each filter will alter the image slightly differently, except for the “none” filter which just leaves it as normal.

You can also add filters to photographs, after you have taken them.

Once you have the photo you would like to filter, tap “edit” in the top right corner, and then tap the “centre icon” which shows the interlocking circles. There you will find the filters.

It’s also possible to add filters from third-party apps such as the image editor built into computers. The photos at the bottom of this post, “Viking Ships” demonstrates the difference filters can make on an image.

Photograph of a hand holding a Samsung Phone
Taking a photograph


Photograph of Bournemouth carousel
Credits to Caitlin Robertson


Use Different Perspectives

Most photos on phones are taken straight-on or from a worm’s eye view. Playing with perspectives and taking images from different angles, can create unique and memorable photographs.

One of the beauty of phones, is that they are incredibly versatile and mobile. They are a lot smaller than normal cameras, therefore are easy to move around and manipulate into different angles and positions.

Try taking photos of the sky, but skew the camera or tilt it.

Photograph of Eiffel Tower
Credits to Caitlin Robertson
Photograph of the Colosseum in Rome
Colosseum- Credits to Caitlin Robertson
Photograph of the Colosseum in Rome
Colosseum- Credits to Caitlin Robertson

Symmetry, Leading Lines and Reflections

Pictures that include symmetry naturally draw the eye. Symmetry is incredibly pleasant and beautiful and can bring a sense of harmony and peace. Symmetry can occur naturally in nature, as well as be set up by the photographer.

Using the grid can help to line up the photograph and keep the symmetry, symmetrical.

Reflections are different to symmetry in the sense that they don’t actually exist physically. Reflections occur in mirrors, windows and puddles drawing our eyes especially when it is nature reflecting back at us. Taking these reflective photographs takes serious skill, and a lot of hard work.

Take advantage of the light when it is at it’s best, either early morning or when the sun is setting. Especially for nature.

For metallic or man-made surfaces, you will need artificial light.

Light the subject from the back, or use angles where the light won’t be reflected back off the surface.

Leading lines draw the audience’s eye to a certain point of the frame. They may be straight, or circumlunar. These lines help create depth in image, and draw the reader’s attention in a specific direction, often off into the background.

Look for staircases, train tracks, roads, skyscrapers into the sky.

Photograph of skyscrapers and the sky
Different Perspectives

Avoid Zooming In

Zooming in can pixelate a photo, make it appear grainy or blurry. If you can’t capture the image from a distance, move closer to it. The picture inserted below is slightly grainy from being zoomed in on.

Photograph of Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame- Credits to Caitlin Robertson

Attach an External Lens

If you find you absolutely cannot work with your phone, attach an external lens. start your research with Moment and if they don’t fit your needs, continue to research.


Finally, don’t be afraid to edit. Use photoshop or free versions, mobile apps, or even the filters on Instagram. Don’t hesitate to play around. Make a copy and edit that, and then if you don’t like it, you still have the original. The below images shows the difference an edit can make. In the bottom image the Viking Ship appear to have changed shape, and moved slightly, when the only change made was in the colour of the image.

Photograph of a Viking Ship
Viking Ship- Credits to Caitlin Robertson
Photograph of Viking Ship
Viking Ship- Credit to Caitlin Robertson

Happy Photographing!

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