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How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

It’s hard to imagine life without a camera phone.

I remember back when mobile phones started adding cameras as a feature. The picture quality was truly awful – faces in photos looked as though they’d been censored because the pixelation was so bad.

Nowadays, we can whip out our smartphones and take a photo that looks almost as good as one from an actual camera. The quality has improved so much that some people even use their smartphone as the primary camera for their travels.

In my opinion, a DSLR or mirrorless camera will always give you the best quality travel photos, but that doesn’t mean that smartphone cameras won’t cut it. There are always moments where you just don’t have your camera on you – and in these times a smartphone is a perfect option for capturing that moment.

So how do we make sure those photos look the best they possibly can? Here’s a few tips on how to take awesome photos using your smartphone!

Smartphone camera taking a photo of New York City

Get a smartphone with a decent camera

First of all, it doesn’t really matter what model your smartphone is, as long as it has a decent camera. This will make a significant difference to the quality of your photos. If you’re thinking of getting a new phone with a better camera, here are 2 great options:

The new iPhone 7 has an unbelievable amount of camera features, and is easily the best smartphone camera on the market. If you’re not into iPhones then you could try the Google Pixel, which is what I currently use. The camera may not be quite as fancy as the iPhone 7, but it can take excellent photos and I would highly recommend it.

HavsVidden, Åland
Åland Islands, Finland – photo taken with Nexus 5X

Use available light

Photography is really about making the available light work to your advantage, so make sure you consider the following:

The time of the day will make a huge difference to how your smartphone photos look. If you can help it, avoid taking photos in the middle of the day as this is when sunlight is very harsh, and go for the early morning or late afternoon instead.

Weather conditions also make a difference. Cloud cover is often a good thing as it diffuses the sunlight and eliminates harsh shadows. If you’re taking photos during the day and notice harsh shadows, wait until a cloud passes over or step into a shady spot if you can.

Most smartphones are notoriously bad at taking photos in low light situations (such as night-time or indoors). There’s actually not a lot you can do to amend this, except for use the flash or maybe prop your phone up on something while you take the photo to keep the camera completely still. The newer iPhones are supposed to be much better in low light.

Cat smartphone photo
My friend’s cat – photo taken with Nexus 5X

Use your feet to zoom in

You know how you can pinch the screen to zoom in when you’re using the camera app? This is called digital zoom, and you should avoid it at all costs! A little known fact is that digital zoom actually lowers the quality of your photo.

Instead, use your feet to walk closer to the object to get a better shot. This way you’ll still get the best quality photo without having to use the digital zoom. If you can’t walk any closer, then it’s probably better to take a zoomed out shot and then crop the image afterwards.

One important thing to note here is that the iPhone 7 actually has a telephoto zoom lens, which means that the camera actually has two lenses – one of which will allow you to zoom closer without losing quality. This is actually the first time that any smartphone has had this ability.

Pensar Syd, Finnish archipelago
Finnish archipelago – photo taken with Nexus 5X

Hold the camera close to objects

Smartphones with a decent quality camera will be able to imitate depth of field in photos, which means that when you’re taking a photo of an object, the object is in focus and the background is slightly blurred.

To do this, hold your smartphone up close to the object (between 6-12 inches is a good distance for small objects) and focus the camera on your object. When you take the photo, you should be able to see the difference in focus between the object and its background.

Providence mural, Rhode Island, USA
Providence, Rhode Island – photo taken with Nexus 5X

Take multiple shots

I usually take around 2 to 5 shots of any one scene. It’s inevitable that sometimes my photos will come out slightly blurry, or focussed on the wrong object, or too bright, or too dark.

By taking multiple shots from a few different angles, I have the option to look through the photos I took then choose the best one and delete the rest.

World Trade Center, New York City
World Trade Center, New York City – photo taken with Nexus 5X

Edit, edit, edit

I often use Instagram to edit my photos as it gives me the most control to make adjustments, but you don’t always have to chuck a filter on a photo to make it look good. Most smartphones have the option to do even basic photo editing in the camera app.

First turn your screen brightness up, then look at the photo and decide whether it needs to be a little brighter or darker, whether the colours could be adjusted (maybe the photo looks a bit too yellow or too blue), and whether it could use a little more or less saturation.

It only takes a few seconds to edit your photo before you post it, and a little bit of editing can turn a good photo into an awesome photo.

Woodstock, New York
Upstate New York – photo taken with iPhone 7

Update: Last weekend I had the chance to play with the iPhone 7, and can confirm that the camera is pretty damn good! Low light photos come out much less grainy and dark, and the telephoto lens takes waaaay better zoomed in photos, though the lack of image stabilisation was a slight problem when it was zoomed in all the way. Still, it’s much better quality than anything else on the market.

You’ll still need to use the above tips to take good photos, but it would be perfectly fine to use it as a primary camera on your travels.

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