In the early days of photography, taking photos was a rather labor intensive process. The first cameras offered for sale to the public came in the late 19th century but it would be decades before amateurs could easily take decent looking images.
Digital photography revolutionized the way people captured memorable moments and made taking photos far less costly than using film.
Quality digital cameras are now a standard feature on smartphones, and while using an expensive, fancy DSLR camera can produce professional looking images, they can prove quite complicated for most novices to use.
Thanks to smartphones, you can now take great images without needing to know or understand a lot of technical photography jargon. However, there are simple ways you can take your smartphone images from being good to looking really professional.
Of course nothing can beat an actual professional photographer for life’s most important moments, and when true professional photography is required, look to Perfocal which will match you with a professional photographer.
But for the moments in-between, here are some of the top ways you can start taking professional quality images specifically with your smartphone camera.
10 Hacks to Make Your Smartphone Camera Photography Look More Professional
Many people know that the resolution of a smartphone camera is measured in megapixels, but you may not know that you can go into your camera phone settings to adjust the resolution by selecting a higher or lower megapixel setting.
It always pays to make sure you have your megapixel setting set to the highest amount your camera can go if you plan on blowing up your images into large prints you can hang on the wall.
While lower megapixel images may be fine for posting to social media, you will need a camera that offers up a minimum of maybe 12 megapixels to be sufficient for most needs like making framed prints or displaying in photo books you create online.
Choosing to shoot in high megapixels is especially important when using your camera’s zoom feature which causes pixelation, thus reducing the image quality in larger image sizes.
Ideally, you should avoid using your smartphone’s zoom as much as possible for crisp photos. Other shooting settings like panorama mode will also often produce photos at a lower megapixel quality than images shot in standard mode.
Lastly, always choose to export your images as “Actual Size” whenever possible. Whenever images are resized and compressed, which often happens when sending a text, you will notice a reduction in photo quality.
Clean Your Smartphone Camera’s Lenses
This may seem like a no-brainer, but ask yourself when the last time you cleaned the lenses of your smartphone camera was.
Smartphone camera’s often have multiple lenses and they can easily be smudged, scratched, and be coated in dust and debris. I myself am terrible at being diligent about keeping my lenses clean.
But when my images start to get noticeably cloudy do I realize it’s just oils from hands or makeup acting as an unwanted filter for my photos.
Most phone cases don’t cover or protect the camera lens, as they would just become scratched over time and reduce the quality of your photos. They do make tempered glass lens screen protectors that can help, or you can just keep a small cloth designed for cleaning lenses in your purse or wallet.
Never use abrasive materials like paper towels to clean your lens, as these can leave faint scratches than can reduce image crispness over time.
Lighting and Color
Lighting and color are two of the most crucial elements to quality photography. Even a photo of outstanding subject matter can be awful if the lighting or color is poor.
In most instances you should be able to use your camera phone’s Auto setting when it comes to things like ISO and exposure values, but there are many times where you will need to go into these setting before snapping away in order to get pleasing images.
Changing your camera’s ISO setting will allow you to shoot clearer photos in low-light conditions like evening events, while adjusting the exposure value can turn an image that seems to bright or dark to the proper exposure.
The camera is not as good as the human eye and can be tricked by certain elements in a photo that may be really bright or dark and then makes incorrect auto adjustments that will result in a poor photo.
You may also need to adjust the white balance, which is basically how warm or cool the colors in your photo look. Depending on the source of light you are shooting in such as full midday sun, cloudy skies, or under fluorescent lights, you may need to select the appropriate camera setting that will render the true color of subjects in your images.
Lastly, try to limit the use of auto flash, especially at night. Flash used during the day (fill flash) can be good at times to brighten deep shadow areas, but at night the flash can simply wash things out.
If the color or lighting isn’t working shooting in normal color mode, play around with filters like black & white or sepia which may produce a more professional look.
Some moments where subject colors may be a bit blah can be quite dynamic in black & white.
Find Unique Angles
Most people tend to use their smartphones to take average point and shoot images. Often what makes a photo intriguing is shooting your subject in a unique way and that can simply be done by adjusting your angle.
This may mean getting on the ground or shooting down on your subject. It may also mean telling your subject, if they are a person, to adjust their angle.
A simple adjustment in angle can create the illusion of height or depth. Finding an interesting angle that normal eyes walking by a subject don’t often get can make your images seem much more artistic.
This is why many of us are captivated by drone shots, because we don’t get a bird’s eye view of things very often.
Another key aspect of good photography is composition. How you arrange your subject or subjects can make a photo look chaotic or well balanced and pleasing to the eye.
You may have heard of the “rule of thirds”, which is when an image is divided into thirds evenly both vertically and horizontally.
While most novice photographers tend to put their subject such as a person smack dab in the middle of the photo, the rule of thirds states you should place your subject on or near what would be the intersecting grid lines of the photo should you imagine it divided into equal thirds both vertically and horizontally.
Luckily most smartphones now make adhering to the rule of thirds easy.
There is usually a camera setting you can turn on called “gridlines” or “grid” which will literally display a grid of lines when you go to take a photo which divides your viewfinder into thirds both vertically and horizontally.
All you have to do is try and position the key elements of what you are trying to photograph along the intersections of those grid lines. This will greatly improve the composition of your images and make them interesting to look at.
Take Candid Portraits
People often look more natural in photos when they don’t know they are being photographed.
While taking pictures of people who are posing with a smile can be good for simple family snapshots or travel selfies in order to recall certain memories, the most captivating and professional looking people photos are achieved with candid shots.
The key to candid photography is not to catch people off guard making unwanted funny faces or blinking during a shot, rather it’s about catching a real honest moment in time. It’s about capturing people’s real emotion and personality which is difficult to portray with a posed photo.
The key to capturing quality candid portraits is to take a lot of photos, because it often takes perfect timing and a bit of luck for everything to align just right in order to capture the perfect moment.
You can also use the idea of candid photography when taking selfies to a degree. Instead of taking selfies face-on, try looking away from the camera to create a more natural candid feel.
You really notice photographers who do prenup shoots choosing to take mostly candid photos. If you aren’t familiar with prenup shoots, it has become a growing trend for young late Millennials and Gen Z couples to get photos taken together just after getting engaged.
Instead of opting for cheesy posed photos, young couples are seeking dramatic portraits they can share on social media that really showcases their love for each other often in dramatic landscapes.
Simplify Images by Removing Clutter
Whether you’re taking a picture of your friend or a flower, it pays to take a moment to seek out a setting that isn’t filled with a bunch of distractions that will take away from your subject.
Decluttering your images means making sure there are not a bunch of strangers in the background photobombing your shots or distracting objects in your shots that don’t need to be there.
With DSLR cameras, you have much greater control over depth of field which can help you blur background and foreground objects to simplify images and bring greater focus to your subject, but with phone photography you have to be more aware of choosing better locations for your subjects.
If taking product shots for items you may be selling on Ebay or Etsy, you may want to make your own DIY Photo Studio Box where you can give your products a nice black or white background free of distracting clutter.
When it comes to people shots, simply seek out a bare wall or pretty landscape as a backdrop. Getting closer to your subject with your camera phone will also help to blur backgrounds and simplify your images.
Avoid Zoom Feature
While it may be tempting to use your smartphone camera’s zoom feature to get close-up shots of wildlife or sporting events, camera phone zoom still has a long way to go to before they can match the quality of telephoto lenses that are paired with DSLR cameras.
You often hear about the latest smartphone models boasting about 20x or 50x zoom capabilities, but what they don’t tell you is that this zoom is digital zoom as opposed to optical zoom.
Digital zoom and the magnification technology it uses is more like a cropping feature to make you think you are zooming in on your subject, but when using long digital zoom to take photos you are left with an image that is reduced in megapixels and therefore crispness.
Using digital zoom may allow you to get your subject to fill the frame of your viewfinder, but the resulting image will be quite grainy and you will often be restricted to shooting in full daylight sun in order to get a decent looking image.
Some camera phones are now using hybrid-optic zoom which is better than your average digital zoom, but this still won’t give you anywhere near the quality a telephoto lens paired with a DSLR will.
Another option is getting external telephoto lenses which can be clipped onto your smartphone. Many of these lenses sold online are made of cheap plastic as opposed to glass but you can find more expensive quality clip-on lens systems that produce good results.
Consider Buying a Tripod
While most situations won’t require the use of a tripod when shooting with a camera phone, there are instances where they can come in really handy.
Most professional photographers use a big bulky tripod when they are using heavy DSLR cameras with large telephoto lenses, since without them most of their images would be blurry. Smartphones are lightweight and you usually aren’t zooming in on subjects so tripods are not all that necessary.
However, mini tripods do come in handy when you want to take self portraits or pics of yourself with your bestie and don’t wish to have your extended arm in the photo. They allow you to take candid selfies much more easily too.
Tripods are also useful when shooting in low light situations, when you are using high digital zoom, plan on photographing night-time star trails, and when shooting videos and want to get rid of handheld camera shake.
Many smartphone tripods are small and quite portable. Some newer models I have seen look like a credit card but then act as a sort of Swiss Army knife where you can fold out and rotate bits of the contraption to keep your smartphone at nearly any desired angle without needing to hold your phone yourself.
Edit Your Photos
Digital photos were designed to be edited. Very few professional-looking photos you see online whether it be on websites or social media feeds haven’t been edited to some degree, whether it’s done by the photographer themselves, or using a photo editing service.
While I’m not a fan of photoshopping images to trick viewers into thinking something is real or giving false representations of reality which can be harmful in instances such as young girls seeing skinny models that have been altered to look that way, there are many edits that can be made to enhance a photo or make them more resemble what you saw with your own eyes.
Utilize your smartphone camera’s editing capabilities or better yet look to a computer program like Adobe Photoshop to easily create more professional photos.
You can add saturation, adjust contrast and lighting, crop your image to bring more focus on your subject, add filters, and simply remove any distracting elements that may be in your shots.
It can be very difficult for any camera to capture exact true colors and lighting in many situations, so often your photos will require editing to showcase what something really looked like. Other times, you may want to create more of a dramatic image that conveys a feeling or mood you want to express.
Photography is an art and different styles of photos will appeal to different people. What professional looking photos all share in common though is that thought and planning went into them.
If you follow these 10 hacks, your photography will no doubt start to look more like professional work in no time. Don’t try to tackle all these tips at once, rather experiment with them one at a time so as to not overwhelm yourself.
And most of all, take photos that give you pleasure and fond memories rather than trying to take pictures you think others will like.