Friday Focus: 8 Tips For Taking the Best Smartphone Photos Ever

By Dana Vanden Boogart

Thanks to advances in technology, more people are leaving their cameras at home and using their smartphone as their primary picture-taking device. There’s nothing wrong with that, and with smartphone-camera quality constantly improving, sometimes it’s actually a wiser choice.

Since your phone has multiple uses beyond photography, you may actually remember to bring it along. It certainly takes up less space than a conventional camera. And if you can condense your trip technology down to just your smartphone, you’re doing something right!

There are a few things to remember when you decide to use your phone to take all your travel photos.

Many smartphones have an eight-megapixel camera, which is more than enough for you to capture some really nice images. Second, while many smartphone cameras have powerful composition, exposure, and editing tools, many of them are hidden in submenus that are not easily accessible on the fly. Finally, acknowledge that you may have to do some work to create a perfect finished photograph with your smartphone. Smartphones make it harder to create the perfect photograph with your initial shot and easier to create one later on, with those editing tools.

Given that you have such a powerful picture-taking tool in your pocket, here are a few things to keep in mind. These tips will help you take better smartphone photos than you ever thought possible.FullSizeRender

  • The beauty is in the details. Smartphones are able to take really amazing up-close images. In fact, in many situations a smartphone camera can capture just as much detail as a standard camera. Don’t be afraid to take your smartphone camera up-close to get some amazingly detailed images. Scenic views are great to capture while traveling, but remember: Your memories will also be jogged by the close-up of the mural on the side of your favorite building.
Post-shot cropping can add focus to a photo, and is a much better option than zooming.
Post-shot cropping can add focus to a photo, and is a much better option than zooming.

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  • Crop your photos instead of zooming. When you zoom, the phone’s camera can’t capture all the details. You can prove this to yourself: By zooming in on your subject matter before you snap the photo, you actually can see the pixels getting blurrier before you even snap the shot. Next time, take the photo and then when you crop the photo, zoom in to get the closer image you wanted in the first place.
  • Save the original before adding effects. You don’t want to fake depth of field with a tacky blur… or if you do, at least save the original first. Adding your own blur effects or other effects can distort your photo, sometimes to an undesirable degree. Make sure before you add that faked depth of field that you save the original somewhere obvious so you can get back to it, no fuss.
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Some simple post-shot color-and-contrast adjustments are a much better option than filtering.

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  • Don’t filter the photo; edit instead. Nothing ruins a good photo like a pre-set filter. Editing is a much more powerful way of getting the photo effect you desire – and it’s really not that hard! You don’t have to be a professional photographer or designer to learn how to edit your photo. Instead of using a pre-set filter, next time edit the contrast and darkness/lightness to get the photo where you want it. You may get a similar result to a filter you liked, but this is more controlled and less likely to make your photo look like everyone else’s.
  • Don’t use flash. This is the cardinal rule with almost any type of photography, except maybe wedding photography. (Maybe.) Flashes usually do unflattering things to spaces, and they’re especially unkind to people. Worse, the LED flash that smartphones use is really harsh. While there are definitely times and places where you’ll need to use flash to get the shot you want, if you can help it, find a good source of natural light, or any other source of light besides your flash.

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  • Set your settings. Play around with your smartphone camera before going on the trip. Make sure to set the white balance for the room you’re in and set your resolution high. Also, experiment with different camera apps like VSCO Cam and A Better Camera and see if those apps work better for you than the built-in camera app.
  • Tripods are your friend. Steadying your smartphone to get crystal-clear photos is always a good idea, and a tripod is the best way of doing that; however, tripods can sometimes be bulky. If you don’t have a tripod, try bracing your photo-taking arm on something to avoid shaking. A beanbag or something similar can be a great tool to help reduce smartphone-camera shake (something to bear in mind during your next game of cornhole). And, no, a selfie stick does not qualify as a tripod!

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  • Standard photography rules apply. Just because you’re shooting with a phone doesn’t mean that you’re immune from the laws of photography. If you don’t know about the Rule of Thirds, scale or other photography must-dos, consider reading a book on photography or at least researching the topic before you head out on your trip.

Now that you have some basic tips for better photography with your smartphone, you’re ready to get out there and shoot. Just make sure to protect your phone and other precious electronics from theft by buying ExactCare before you go.

Happy snapping!

Dana Vanden Boogart is the lead designer at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.