How to take better photos

By: Danielle Garner 10/29/2019

Before the days of smartphones, taking a great photo was a labor intensive process. You'd have to buy a fancy camera and editing software for your desktop computer, and invest some serious time and energy into learning how to use them. But, thanks to the genius tech innovators, we can now take high-quality photos and edit them from the device in our pocket, which is wonderful for in the moment capturing. There is no heavy equipment to lug around.


Visuals remain important to marketing. But make no mistake: Taking a great photo on your smartphone is not as simple as pointing and shooting. There are plenty of bad smartphone photos out there!


So, what's the secret to taking great pictures with your smartphone, then? There are a few simple techniques to keep in mind as you take your shots. Check out these tips below to improve your smartphone photography game. I will also include my favorite editing apps.


1. Use GRID LINES to balance your shot.

One of the easiest and best ways to improve your mobile photos is to turn on the camera's grid lines. That superimposes a series of lines on the screen of your smartphone's camera that are based on the "rule of thirds" -- a photographic composition principle that says an image should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so you have nine parts in total.

According to this theory, if you place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines, your photo will be more balanced, level, and allow viewers to interact with it more naturally.


To switch the grid on ...

• iPhone: Go to "Settings," choose "Photos & Camera," and switch "Grid" on.

• Samsung Galaxy: Launch the camera app, go to "Settings," scroll down and switch the "grid lines" option to "on."

2. Set your camera's focus.

Today's phone cameras automatically focus on the foreground of your frame, but not every picture you take on your phone has an obvious subject. To adjust where you want your camera lens to focus, open your camera app and tap the screen where you want to sharpen the view.

If you're taking a photo of something in motion, for example, it can be difficult for your camera to follow this subject and refocus as needed. Tap the screen to correct your phone camera's focus just before snapping the picture to ensure the moving subject has as much focus as possible. A square or circular icon should then appear on your camera screen, shifting the focus of your shot to all of the content inside that icon.


3. Focus on one subject.

Many of the best photos include just one, interesting subject. So when taking a picture of one, spend some extra time setting up the shot. Some professional photographers say that the subject shouldn't fill the entire frame, and that two-thirds of the photo should be negative space -- that helps the subject stand out even more.

But be sure you tap the screen of your smartphone to focus the camera on your subject -- that'll help to ensure that it's focused and the lighting is optimized.

Once you've taken your photo

you can use filters and apps to make the subject even more vivid, or to crop it to frame the subject correctly. The brightness, contrast, and saturation of the photo can also be adjusted accordingly -- all from your phone.

Photo by pixel parker on Unsplash

4. Embrace negative space.

"Negative space" simply refers to the areas around and between the subjects of an image --and it can take a photo from "good" to "great."

When you include a lot of empty space in a photo, your subject will stand out more and evoke a stronger reaction from your viewer.

Photo by Flipboard on Unsplash

what does negative space looks like?

It's often a large expanse of open sky, water, an empty field, or a large wall, as in the examples to the left and below this section.

5. Find different perspectives.

This is the one and only tip I ever needed to be told. When I was a barista at a mom and pop coffee shop, one of my regulars would come very early in the morning and give me photography lessons. First lesson he says " Everyone has seen everything at some point or other. Your job as a photographer is to show them the same thing but from a different perspective, one they would most likely never view it from."

Taking photos from a unique, unexpected angle can make them more memorable -- it tends to create an illusion of depth or height with the subjects. It also makes the image stand out, since most mobile photos (and just basic daily viewing of objects/scenes) are taken either straight -on or from a bird's eye view.

Try taking a photo directly upward and playing with the sky as negative space- Or, you can try taking it at a slight downward angle. There are so many possibilities. Don't be afraid to get dirty!

6. Play with reflections.

There's something so idyllic about seeing the sky reflected in a body of water. There's a reason why we love seeing that -- our eyes are drawn to reflections. So look for opportunities to play with them in photos.

There are plenty of out-of-the-box places to find reflections -- puddles, larger bodies of water, mirrors, sunglasses, drinking glasses, and metallic surfaces are just a few.


Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash

Photo by Jovis Aloor on Unsplash

7. Use leading lines.

In some photos, there's a line that draws the viewer's eye toward a certain part of the frame. Those are called leading lines. They can be straight or circulinear -- think staircases, building facades, train tracks, roads, or even a path through the woods.

Leading lines are great for creating a sense of depth in an image

and can make your photo look purposefully designed -- even if you just happened to come upon a really cool shape by accident.

8. Look for symmetry.

Symmetry can be defined as "a vague sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance." And pictures that contain symmetry can be incredibly pleasing to the eye -- it's also one of the simplest and most compelling ways to compose a photo.

In photography, symmetry usually means creating an image that can be divided into two equal parts that are mirror images of each other. That's a bit different than reflections -- symmetry can be found everywhere, you just have to look at it that way.

And remember -- use those gridlines from tip #1 to line everything up perfectly.


Top Left: Photo by João Silas on Unsplash Bottom Left: Photo by Adam Birkett on Unsplash Right: Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

9. Keep an eye out for repetitive patterns.

Repetitive patterns are very pleasing to the eye -- they appear whenever strong graphic elements are repeated over and over again, like lines, geometric shapes, forms, and colors. These patterns can make a strong visual impact, and photographing something like a beautiful, tiled floor can be enough to create a striking image. Other times, it's more fun to keep an eye out for where they appear naturally or unintentionally.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Other times, it's more fun....

to keep an eye out for where they appear naturally or unintentionally.

10. Play around with color blocking

Isn't it cool when an entire photo is black and white, except for a single object? It turns out that yes, indeed, there are apps for that. One of my favorites is Pics Art -- an app that you can do a lot of other editing, but my favorite it turning the photo the a Black and White image, then erasing with my stylus the color parts I want to come through. This app is my favorite because you can adjust the hardness and opacity and makes it easy for perfect blending.

Color blocking can help to highlight the elements of a photo that you want to stand out, like a plant or something else with a bold hue. It achieves a similar goal as negative space, in that it can help a single subject stand out -- but with color blocking, the photo's other elements remain intact for a cohesive image.

Photo by henri meilhac on Unsplash

colorized by: Dani Garner

11. Avoid zooming in.

When you take a photo from a distance, it's tempting to zoom in on something specific you're trying to capture. But it's actually better not to zoom in -- doing so can make the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.

Instead, try to get closer to your subject -- unless it's a wild animal, in which case we would advise keeping your distance -- or take the photo from a default distance, and crop it later on. That way, you won't compromise quality, and it's easier to play around or optimize a larger image.


Photo by Laura Geror on Unsplash

12. Capture small details.

You may have heard the phrase, "It's the little things." Sometimes, that also applies to photos. Close-up images that capture small, intricate, and delicate details can make for really compelling visual content. Keep an eye out for textures and patterns like peeling paint, a gravel road, or a tile tabletop.

Use the "sharpen" or "clarity" tool in your favorite photo editing app to (conservatively) sharpen the details of your photo.

13. Use natural light.

It's hard to find a great smartphone photo that was taken with a flash. Most of the time, they make a photo look overexposed, negatively altering colors and making human subjects look washed out. I never shoot with studio lighting unless I HAVE to and even then, I never like the result.

Take advantage of the sources of natural light you can find, even after dark. This gives you a chance to play with shadows, like in the first image below, or create a silhouette with other ambient sources of light.

Once you've taken the photo, play with the "Exposure" tool in your favorite photo editing app to see if you can make the image slightly brighter, without making it too grainy. I usually change my shadow and highlights if the exposure tool is too harsh.


Photo by Banter Snaps on Unsplash

Photo by Sara Aho on Unsplash

14. If you use flash, only do so during the day.

Sometimes, using your camera's flash can improve a photo -- but rarely does it do so at night. Because dark shots reveal a much sharper contrast against your phone's flash, it can make any flash look look invasive and uneven.

In already well-lit spaces, however, a flash can help to soften some dark shadows behind or beneath your main subject.

When framing your next shot, look on the ground or against vertical surfaces for any dark shadows you might want to remove. If you see any, flip on the flash manually in your camera app. Setting your phone's camera flash to "auto" won't guarantee that your phone will notice the shadows you want to get rid of. Just remember to turn the flash off again when you're done.

15. Consider buying a mobile tripod.

Although mobile devices make it easy to snap any photo on the go, there's never been an easy way to ensure the shot stays level and balanced when you shoot -- especially if you want to be in the picture and not just take a typical selfie with your extended arm.

Mobile tripods give you the freedom to mount your smartphone for quick hands-free shots without lugging any heavy equipment with you. Most mobile tripods are barely bigger than your mobile device, and can bend to any angle.

16. Set your camera app's exposure manually.

Another mobile camera feature you'll want to set manually is your exposure. Tapping your screen when your phone's camera is on doesn't just refocus the lens on a new subject -- it also automatically adjusts how much light the camera lets in. This, too, won't always look just right. It's best to adjust it by hand.

To change your mobile camera's exposure by hand, open your camera app and tap the screen. When you see the lens refocus, you'll see a very small sun icon and a vertical scale. Slowly swipe your finger up and down this scale to adjust the light level.


17. Create abstracts.

Abstract photos are meant to capture the essence of an object, or a series of them, without revealing the entire landscape as a whole. In other words, they serve the purpose of creating unique, surprising images from ordinary subjects.

This look can be accomplished by cropping an abstract portion of an otherwise normal photo, or by taking close-up shots of objects that leave the viewer wondering -- in admiration, of course -- what the subject might be. And subjects with patterns or repetition are great candidates for abstract photography, like in the photo of aluminum foil to the right.

18. Take candids.

This is my specialty. Posed photos can be great for the sake of memories -- happy moments with friends, family, or the occasional run-in with a celebrity. But sometimes, candid shots of people doing things, or people with people, can be far more interesting.

That's because candid photos are better able to effectively capture the emotion and essence of a moment. One of the best ways to capture this kind of shot is to just take as many photos as possible. You'll have more to choose from, and the best photos often happen when the "stars align," so to speak, in a single moment -- everyone's eyes are open, one person is tilting their head just so, and you finally got a shot of your chronically closed-lip friend smiling with his teeth.

I use the continuous shot feature on my phone/camera. This enables me to get many sequenced shots of the moment- 9 our of 10 times there is a perfect shot in there.


19. Be non-conventional.

Composition is a huge part of what makes a photo great, but so is the photo's subject. Some of the most delightful and remarkable photos come out of cool, unique ideas. Images are more effective than text at evoking emotion from your viewers -- that often means getting your photos to say something.

Try thinking outside of the box when it comes to what you're capturing -- your viewers could be pleasantly surprised by a cool or unexpected subject.


20. Make 'em laugh.

Speaking of evoking emotion, sometimes the most memorable photos are the ones that make us giggle. The image below of the horse in mid neigh is funny because animals resembling human features (like expressions or like they are talking) is hilarious! -- and there's a part of us that have a soft spot for any animal, too. The second image of two dudes in horse masks playing music is funny because it's unexpected- If you can make your audience laugh, they're likely to enjoy your photo.

21. Clean your phone's lens.

A smartphone camera might be more convenient to carry around than a full-fledged photojournalist's camera, but it comes at the cost of protection.

Your phone is usually in your pocket or your bag when you're out of the house. All the while, the device's camera lens is collecting all kinds of dust and lint. Be sure to clean this lens with a soft handkerchief before taking a photo. You might not be able to tell just how dirty the lens was until you start editing your picture, and making sure the lens is crystal clear before taking a shot can keep you from starting from scratch.

22. Attach an external lens.

Want to get really fancy? External lenses are for you. There are actually several out there that can be attached to the top of your smartphone's native camera lens -- from fish-eye to wide-angle lenses, these add-ons can bring an entirely new quality and perspective to your photos. Do some research to find the lens add-on that fits your smartphone photography needs.


23. Don't be afraid to edit.

Composing and taking your smartphone photo is just the first step to making it visually compelling. Editing your photos is the next step -- and a very critical one, at that. Filters can be a valuable photographic tool, particularly when it comes to two goals: 1) Removing blemishes from a picture, and 2) making the moment as beautiful as your eyes saw it.

For portrait editing, I recommend buying the Face App. So what Russians get all your selfies- the basic "Impressions" feature is perfect for natural look that you would get if you were in a photo shoot. There are makeup formulas and techniques to look that good, so in a way- its NOT false advertisement. If you don't want to go the Russian hacker route, then I suggest Pics App again. They have a Beauty feature that's pretty good for free.


Whew. That was a long list of tips! Bookmark, save the link- whatever you need to do to come back and refresh on the tips. I suggest starting at number one and perfect utilizing that technique and then move on down the line. You are on your way to being an amazing social media photographer! If you're a brand, then you just leveled up. Visit me over on my facebook and post your photos for me to see! @dgcreative420