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How To Take Great Smartphone Photos

Michael Sarlitt is CEO of PostalPix.

The point-and-shoot digital camera is dead, and the culprit of its demise is none other than the smartphone.  

There are a few reasons for this change in behavior. Camera technology in iPhones, Androids, and other mobile devices is finally on par with consumer grade cameras. Also, the proliferation of photo sharing apps (i.e. Instagram) has encouraged photo capturing to transition to the mobile phone. The ultimate nail in the coffin, however, is that our smartphones are with us everywhere we go. In the words of acclaimed photographer Chase Jarvis, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.”

Now that “phoneography” is here to stay, there are a few unique things to keep in mind in order to capture great photos with your mobile phone.

Camera Shake

Quick tip: Stabilize your arms and body while tapping the shutter to reduce blurriness.

Camera shake refers to image blurriness caused by body movement while snapping a photo.

This is especially prevalent with camera phones for two reasons:

  • They often lack image stabilization technology.
  • Their lightweight bodies are more difficult to hold still.

After printing millions of images from mobile phones at PostalPix, we’ve learned that camera shake is the most common reason why people aren’t happy with their photos.

To prevent camera shake, try propping your upper arms against your abdomen or rest them on a steady surface just before tapping the shutter. Holding the phone with both hands will reduce shaking as well.

Keep in mind that the camera shutter will stay open longer when it detects less light (i.e. at night). The longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible you are to camera shake.


Quick tip: Shoot in settings with soft lighting, like early morning or late afternoon outdoors.

It’s common for older mobile phones to struggle with low-light scenarios, so setting up proper lighting in your shots is critical. The goal is usually to find “soft” lighting where the light source isn’t too intense or direct, but still lights up your subject sufficiently.

If you’re shooting outdoors, a good timeframe to find soft light during the day is the first or last hours of sunlight. Photographers often call this “the magic hour”. Another benefit of capturing photos during this time is the interesting shadows created by the low position of the sun.

Aligning the Horizon

Quick Tip: Position the horizon line at the top or bottom of your photo.

It’s amazing how dramatically horizon placement can improve a photo. The common convention is to place the horizon at the top or bottom third of your image frame. This relates to the rule of thirds, which proposes that you should imagine your photo is split into thirds horizontally and vertically, and any important elements should be positioned where the thirds touch.

Some of my favorite mobile photos push this rule to the extreme by sliding the horizon to the very top or bottom of the frame. I think it shows a really interesting perspective.


Quick tip: Always check your camera app for a “quality” or “resolution” setting and set it to the highest level.

The word “resolution” is a complex term, so to keep things simple we’ll refer to it as the dimensions of a photo in terms of pixels (i.e. 3264x2448). All else constant, a higher resolution results in a sharper picture.

Phoneographers, beware! Even if your camera boasts a ridiculous amount of megapixels, the camera app you’re using will control the final image resolution. Many camera apps have a resolution or “quality” setting. This setting will normally be set to medium or low by default in order to process images faster (higher resolution = larger file sizes). Be sure the resolution setting is at its highest if you’re planning to enlarge or print your images.  


Quick Tip: For hardcore phoneographers, bring a spare battery or case charger.

Planning on shooting for a few hours straight? Chances are your battery will be toast by the end of the day. If this is a common practice for you, it might be worth shelling out the dough to buy an extra battery or charger case like the Mophie Juice Pack.

Hopefully these tips can get you on your way to becoming a great phoneographer. Do you use your smartphone as your go-to camera? If not, what’s preventing you? If so, I’d love to hear any tips you have for taking great photos in the comments below.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessNewsDaily.

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