SNAP! 11 tips for taking better smartphone photos

Today’s smartphones can take better photos than yesterday’s most expensive full-size cameras. They make it easier and more convenient than ever to snap vacation photos anywhere, anytime.

And yet, your photos lack the zip of prizewinners. So how do the pros do it?

Below are 11 tips that will raise your smartphone photography game. And while we can’t promise you’ll get pro results, with time and practice, you’ll definitely get better results.

  1. Get to know your phone. You have lots of settings on your camera phone already. Get to know them. Invest the time, experiment and shoot till it feels intuitive.
  2. Compose with care. Go to camera settings and turn on “gridlines.” You’ll see the screen divided into thirds. The pros know instinctively about the “rule of thirds,” placing important subjects along or at the intersections of these lines for a stronger composition. Also, don’t crowd your frame. In fact, learn to embrace “negative” space. If your subject appears in the right-hand third and the rest is sky or field, that makes for a more dramatic composition.
  3. Play the angles. Every photo doesn’t have to be eye-level. Use unexpected high, low or wonky angles. Get down to pet- and kid-level.
  4. Shoot dramatic landscapes. Include a foreground shrub, tree or fence for scale, depth and visual interest. And look for “leading lines.” These are visual paths — straight or curved — that lead the eye to the subject: a fence, a road, a set of tracks. For the best landscapes, shoot early or late, two hours after sunrise and before sunset. That’s when you get the most ravishing light.
  5. Tell a story. Focus on a rusted hinge, teacup or spider web to tell a story. Or take abstract photos of patterns, crop closely or use unusual angles to make the ordinary extraordinary.
  6. Question colour. Colour is our default setting. But why? Try dramatic black and white or sepia.
  7. Take better people pictures. Posed shots are often unavoidable (been there, done that). But lean toward candid shots. Wait for your subjects to drop their guard. Shoot a lot and locate the gems later. Take portraits in shade (not in direct, unflattering sun) and avoid using the flash, which washes out skin tones. And remember, there’s absolutely no reason you have to get the entire person in. Cut off mid-calf, mid-thigh or even closer.
  8. Download an app. Download a free or inexpensive app to adjust, correct and edit your photos. Among the most popular: Snapseed, Camera+, VSCO, Aviary and Lightroom. Can be a game-changer!
  9. Buy external lenses. Buy inexpensive lenses for your camera phone, including fisheye (very wide angle), wide angle, macro (flowers, insects…), or zoom. This way, you can avoid using the zoom on your camera, which makes pictures less sharp.
  10. Learn from the pros. Every prize-winning photo teaches a lesson. Observe and learn about composition, angle, storytelling, light and colour.
  11. Break the rules: You know all that stuff above? As you get more comfortable, start forgetting it. That’s when you’ll also start expressing yourself.

And what about selfie sticks? Well, we had to leave something for a later post!