7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Smartphone’s Camera

Back in the summer of 2011, I sold my car and settled for a downgrade in order to buy a Canon 5D Mark II. And right now I don’t remember the last time I picked it up in the past year. I’ve had no need to since getting an iPhone 5 (now an LG G2).

Don’t take that as a diss against DSLRs. I bought that thing knowing it’ll have my back whenever it comes time to start shooting a project. But other than that, it’s not typically something I keep as an everyday carry-around anymore.

  • [EDIT 2/12: I need to clear something up here. The reason I haven't been using my Mark II is because of how much baggage is coming with school and LSAT prep lately. I didn't stop using my DSLR because I got an iPhone 5, but I did end up using the iPhone 5 more when I had to cut down on being able to spend time in photography.]

There’s a point to all the back-story here. One very common thing I hear from people is that they want to get into photography. Good photography. And most of the time, for them, that means they need to find a DSLR. Bad decision? No.

But necessary? Not exactly.

If you’re someone who’s just getting into the game, then listen to what you just read. You can start off just fine with the lens on your smartphone. A dope camera is great by its own means, but it won’t mean jack if the person behind the camera can’t keep up with it. Ultimately, what makes or breaks the picture comes down to (1) the person taking it, and (2) the environment the picture’s shot in. We’re living in a world where point-and-shoots are dying, and the reason is because we’re starting to realize that our phones’ cameras are starting to become enough. Here’s a few tips on how to make the most out of them.

1. Angles. 

You’d be shocked by how different a picture can look when you try shooting something from above your head, or (in the case above) from the ground. It builds interest. Tip: If you’re shooting from ground level and your camera’s located on one side of the phone (i.e. iPhone), then try flipping the phone on the other side against the surface.

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2. Macro.

Taking pictures of objects up close is almost like cheating when trying to take a cool shot. Close in as much on an object as you can with the phone still keeping it in focus. The best thing about shooting in macro is that you can’t get bored by it. No matter where you are, there’s always an interesting way to take a picture of something around you.

3. Experiment.

See an abandoned train you want to take a shot of? What’s the first method of taking that picture that comes to your mind? Okay, take it, disregard it, and try something different. Maybe you always take pictures with objects in the direct center. Try changing its framing. Try changing the focal point. Try slanting your camera and see how the horizon looks when it gets tilted in the background.

Just mess around. The things you learn about yourself and how you shoot will become invaluable to your skills over time.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 4.25.18 PM

4. Lighting / Rule of Thirds

You’re guaranteed to have heard these rules if you’ve ever taken a photography class. But the rule of thirds does make a difference. Yeah, it’s alright to go and put the focus on an object in the center of the picture from time to time; but looking at your shot through a 3×3 grid really gives a boost in how diverse your portfolio becomes. You’ll start shooting more and more once you notice how many ways you can frame what you see.

Lighting is a big thing too. Too much can wash your picture out, too little can cause the grain you see in dark pictures. Attention to both rule-of-thirds and lighting is just as important for taking smartphone shots as it is for DSLRs, but focus heavily on how you handle lighting. When it comes to phone cameras, it’s an especially significant factor into how crisp your pictures end up turning out. Oh, and speaking of lighting;

5. Don’t you ever, ever, ever use the fucking flash.

Natural lighting is crucial.

6. Balance your editing.

Filtering can be great for giving photos a vintage look or a change in tone. But there’s a fine line between that vintage and a crappy toy-cam finish. Be careful on how you approach editing pictures. If you want to rack up the likes on your Instagram feed, then I’d recommend not using its filters at all. Send your photos to Instagram after a few good touch-ups in an app like Snapseed (iOS and Android). If you want absolute sophistication, my go-to is VSCO Cam (iOS and Android), and I highly recommend using it as your main editing app. The filters and tools it offers are top-tier in how they’ll complement your shots, rather than looking like they’re layered over. While you’re at it, buy every single filter pack they offer in their store, as well. They’re worth it.

7. Take advantage of the places around you. 

Traveling somewhere? Your phone’s not going to be bulking you down. Take advantage of that. If you see something that catches your interest, then take a shot right there. If you’re having a once-in-a-lifetime experience on a trip to New Zealand, then take some good damn shots of the mountains there.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

Forget about the limits of what you have. Tech blogs and advertising has us believing that the pictures we take with a Nexus 4 won’t come out as nicely as the pictures from an iPhone 5S. When you’re out in the world and you’re taking a look at something worth capturing, the megapixels won’t matter. What will mater is that you have a camera, and the shots that you take with it. At the end of the day, pictures tell stories. And the strength of their words comes from the person that takes them. With the right amount of work and a keen hunger for capturing something wicked, those pictures will tell some sick stories. DSLR or not.

But seriously. Don’t use the goddamn flash.

- @drcon

11 thoughts on “7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Smartphone’s Camera

  1. I use WordPress too for my blog. When you upload pictures in the “Add Media” screen, it shows your library and the photo you selected in it’s own little box on the right. If you scroll down in that box, you can choose “full size” for your photos.

  2. Great thoughts here. Ultimately, it’s about who does the shooting—and how—and not about what we shoot WITH. You captured that beautifully. Sure, there are things I can shoot with my DSLR and heavy glass that I can’t get with my phone… Understanding (and shooting to) the limitations of the gear is important. But the phone is always in my pocket, ready to go in even the smallest of spaces.
    The important thing is taking the shot, no matter what box you do it with!

    1. Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. And just in addition, I always like to think that every photograph starts from the eye of the photographer. That’s one lens that pretty hardy and never too old a model to capture the beauty in the world around us.

  3. When it comes to creativity the phone has got you covered. I love how cortex camera app captures long stabilized super clean photos. Vsco and iPhoto are my ammo of choice.

    I have an Olympus camera with a useful tilt screen and wicked stabilizer. With a great camera, shooting just becomes like cheating. When did you last handheld and get a one second exposure tack sharp. Suddenly the word tripod is not a necessity. You get the busy street with a flurry of people look. Amazing technology. Someday I believe it will come to phones.

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