5 Tips for Taking Awesome Photos Using ONLY Your Smartphone

With over 200 million blogs out there (and counting), standing out in the crowd can take some ingenuity. Whether you’re selling handmade sweaters, starting a CSA, or telling the story of a four-year-old designer of paper dresses, top-notch photography can help skyrocket your blog from so-so, to so successful.

In the past, bloggers needed a digital SLR camera–or at least a point-and-shoot–to take decent photographs. And while it’s common now to hear photographers lauding the capabilities of smartphone cameras, getting great images out of your phone does require some creativity and forethought.

After food blogging for a year and a half, I came up with these top five suggestions for budding smartphone photographers:

1. Know your (phone) camera.

We know what makes phone cameras great — they’re on your phone! They’re lightweight! They come with a ton of features!

But phone cameras have much smaller sensors than DSLR or point-and-shoot cameras meaning that a phone camera will struggle in low-lighting situations. With less light and a small sensor, your camera has to work hard to gather enough data to create a high-quality image.

In addition, the small sensor makes zooming a shaky situation. Instead of asking your phone camera to pull more information as it zooms, try sticking with your original image and cropping to get the zoom effect.

2. Finetune your toolkit.

Camera Apps

Take control and download a free camera and photo-editing app.

Smartphone cameras are getting better all the time, but to get the most out of your camera phone’s capabilities, try an app that gives you more control over taking and editing photographs. Your phone’s built-in camera merges exposure and focus, so that the camera sets the exposure from the point-of-focus. If you’re focusing on a well-lit area, this can cause the rest of your photo to turn out very dark, and vice versa. Apps like VSCO Cam and Camera+ allow you to set exposure and focus while shooting.

App Features

In addition, camera and photo editing apps add many more options than your standard filters. Try apps that offer adjustable filters as well as full control over the editing process. Some apps even offer settings to control handshake (image stability) and image quality.

Photo Editing App Features

3. Get creative with lighting

To combat your phone camera’s issues with shooting in low light, capture your photos in natural light whenever possible. Light bulbs can create glares and yellow or blue hues. In a dim room, try turning out the light and adjusting your exposure to the natural light in the room. As a last resort, use your photo editing app to adjust the hue. If your photo is turning out yellow, do a little tweaking (with the white point feature) to bring it back to neutral.

Chase the light! Get creative about location. Maybe the best lighting is on your daughter’s windowsill at 10:00 am. Maybe it’s at 3:00 pm on the bed of your truck (done it), or maybe it’s on the floor in front of a set of French doors (yep, done that one too).

Artificial versus natural light

Blackberries in harsh kitchen lighting (left) vs. blackberries in bright sunlight (right)

Create a mood by trying out different angles. Imagine the light as hours on a clock. In general, capturing side light (from 9:00 or 3:00) will create a darker, moody photo. Backlit (12:00) photos are more delicate, and photos with direct light (6:00) have a flatter effect.

Mood lighting

Left to right: Moody sidelit flowers, flat frontlit flowers, moody sidelit oranges, serene backlit bowl

If you shoot photos on the street or outdoors, use interesting lighting situations to create a mood instead of trying to correct what the light is giving you.

Cityscape lighting

Late afternoon sunlight in the city creates a geometric effect.

4. Flex your design and styling muscles

A few tricks from the pros can really kick up your photography. A classic photography standard is the Rule of Thirds. When using the rule, imagine dividing your screen into thirds horizontally and vertically. Notice how positioning your subject in one third of the frame (instead of just in the middle) draws your eye.

There are so many food blogs out there, we’re all familiar with the “fuzzy background” look. Photographers who achieve that look are adjusting the depth of field. Because of that small sensor, phone cameras struggle with achieving that look. While there are apps (try Tadaa SLR and AfterFocus) to help with the fuzzy background look (more professionally known as “Bokeh”), there are other ways to bring attention to your subject and away from the background.

Try using solid, uniform backgrounds or a neutral pattern (like a wooden table or checkered or grassy field) to frame a subject. As a photography teacher once told me “If it’s not adding to the photo, it’s taking from it.” Notice how extra objects or props in the background can make your pristine photo turn messy and cluttered.

Clearing the background

Workspace with cluttered background versus workspace with uniform background

5. Create context

The solid background look is great, but can sometimes leave your subject looking lonely. Incorporating a person or a bit of context takes your photo a step further. If you are trying to sell something on your blog, for example, capturing a person using or interacting with the object can make a big difference.

Photo context