Are you dissatisfied with the photos of your cell phone, but you simply cannot afford a new camera smartphone at the moment?? Then check out our guide to smartphone photography for helpful tips and tricks to improve your phone’s pictures and selfies.
To get better cell phone photos, you don’t necessarily have to spend money on a new device. Even though smartphones now do many of the settings themselves, there are some things you can do wrong with smartphone photography. We have summarized some helpful tips for you, which you can access via the table of contents.
Table of contents
Image composition: Why many pro photos look so good
Even if your smartphone camera has been around for a few years, the intelligent camera makes most of the decisions itself. You don’t have to worry too much about settings like white balance, exposure time or ISO. This has the advantage that you can fully concentrate on the image composition and the choice of subject. Let’s go into both in a little detail.
With a good composition you can focus on specific subjects. / © NextPit
Professional photographers usually use very expensive equipment, but if you were to hand them your cell phone, you would certainly get better cell phone photos. This is due to the fact that over time photographers have "an eye" for the subject The rule of thirds is to get a good idea of the composition of the picture and to know exactly how the picture should be cropped while taking it. For laymen there are a few tips that you can consider.
The rule of thirds
With the rule of thirds, you can easily create more order in your pictures. To do this, show the grid lines in the settings of your smartphone camera, which divide the image into nine boxes. The subject you want to pay most attention to should then be placed on one of the four intersections of the grid or along a line. For landscape shots, it also makes sense to align the horizon with one of the two lines.
Guides help you with the image composition / © Screenshot: NextPit
With the rule of thirds a great photo composition succeeds easily. If your smartphone camera offers other settings besides the 3×3 grid, you can of course also play around with them.
Some apps can also help you with the golden ratio / © Screenshot: NextPit
If you apply the rule of thirds for some time, you will gradually get a feeling for a better image composition. It is especially exciting when you look at the pictures of the professionals again. Often, for example, the eyes in portrait photos are found on one of the four intersections in the middle. Sometimes, however, it’s a good idea to deliberately break with the rule of thirds to add a bit of unrest to the image.
Very rarely, however, does it look good if your picture is crooked and skewed. The horizon on your photo should therefore be as straight as possible and again the grid functions of your camera will help you here. In addition, some camera apps automatically or on request fade in a digital horizon – a kind of spirit level that is superimposed on the image.
In this picture, the plant in the foreground in the left third of the image gives the shot depth, but the sloping horizon is disturbing and brings unrest into the picture. / © NextPit
If the horizon didn’t work out so well in one picture, that’s no big deal. Finally, you can straighten the image afterwards, and this is where we’ll briefly discuss later in our paragraph about post-processing your photos.
Avoid plunging lines
This tip is actually related to the straight horizon line. But now it’s about the alignment of the camera to the subject. Keep your camera as straight as possible to avoid the effect of plunging lines. These arise when you photograph, for example, a skyscraper at an angle. In extreme angles, this can be a nice effect, but especially in ultra-wide-angle mode, buildings do not look good at all.
Rule of Space
The next tip is especially important if you like to take portraits of your friends. If the person is looking to the left or right, you should choose a composition that gives your friend "room to breathe" has. So there should always be more space where the person’s face is pointing too.
The viewer of the picture can follow the look of your model a little bit and imagine what is probably to be seen outside of the cutout. At the same time you easily avoid cutting off parts of the face when moving the subject. If a piece of the back of your head is missing, that’s much less of a problem.
Space rule: Give your subject some space "to breathe. / © NextPit
This rule also applies to non-human objects. A moving car looks much better if you can see a little bit where it is going to. Again, you can also create the opposite effect if you deliberately break the rule. The car then does not drive into the picture, but into the uncertainty. Exciting!
Place elements in the foreground
Photos depict the three-dimensional space around us. But if your subject is quite far away, it may make sense to enhance it with multiple image layers. A person, tree, or other object in the foreground breathes life into an otherwise bland panorama, as its presence adds depth to the overall image. "Foreground makes picture healthy", says the photographer’s wisdom. Of course, this also applies to cell phone photos!
Photograph from above
If you want selfies – but be careful! – or take portrait photos of other people, you should hold the smartphone a little higher when taking the photo, so that the subject is looking upwards when the photo is taken. This way you avoid annoying double chin effects and unwanted contours. Of course there are also other positions in which your chocolate side comes to the validity.
Selfies and portrait photos make a better impression when shot from above. / © NextPit
However, if you look up, you stretch the neck and the face and everything looks a little smoother and tighter even without image editing and beauty mode. But don’t overdo it with taking pictures from above, otherwise the photographed person will look like a dwarf.
If you want to take better pictures with your cell phone, you should put some effort into it! Because if you take every picture from a standing position with the photo at the same height as your face, you’ll end up with nothing but uniformity. Find some utensils in your apartment, look for holes and hedges on the way, through which you can take pictures or lie down on the ground with your cell phone.
For this image, a position close to the ground was chosen, making it look more dramatic and sweeping. Increasing the color saturation does the rest. / © NextPit
The result are usually cell phone photos, which attract attention by their difference alone. At the same time, you turn the disadvantages of a cell phone camera into advantages. Because with a heavy SLR camera, you can’t just climb a wall and take a group selfie with your arm outstretched.
At the same time, the huge lenses don’t fit well behind sunglasses for effects, or through tubes or under glasses for creative angles. Think "out of the box and you will quickly notice that your pictures will be better.
Settings for better cell phone photos
Resolution, format and image quality
Manufacturers are now competing with more and more megapixels in their smartphones, and 108 megapixels have now even arrived in the mid-range smartphone segment. If you have wondered why pictures with 108 megapixels are not taken, you should read on now.
If you want a wide backdrop on the picture, you should use the panorama mode. / © NextPit
The intelligent cell phone camera uses pixel binning to combine several pixels into a single image. The 108 megapixels of the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example, are downsampled to 12 megapixels by Nona pixel binning. If you want to print especially large prints, you can also use the full resolution of your phone or turn down the resolution just as well if you want to save a little memory.
Use the maximum resolution and image quality for the perfect snapshot. / © NextPit
By the way, the numbers behind the megapixel number describe the image format. You can use the 1:1 format directly for Instagram, 16:9 is more optimal for viewing on TVs. If you are not afraid of post-processing, it is recommended to always choose the native image format of the sensor. Because this way you can do the cropping yourself afterwards.
Exposure time, ISO and aperture
You don’t have to worry about the exposure settings of your pictures on your cell phone. They are automatically selected and most of the time you can easily adjust the brightness with a slider when you take the picture. If you don’t like the pictures at all, you may find a mode for manual photography – often called "professional mode" denotes. Especially in situations, which are difficult for the software of the cell phone, you can adjust your cell phone camera with it correctly.
Among other things, you can set the exposure time and the ISO value. The exposure time describes how long the sensor is supplied with light when taking a picture. The longer the time, the brighter is the image. At the same time, fast motifs blur and the picture will be blurred at an exposure time of 1/8 second at the latest.
Pictures get worse when you increase the ISO number. / © NextPit
If you increase the ISO number, you can keep the exposure time low, because the light sensitivity of the individual pixels is increased. Unfortunately, there are also problems here when you reach a certain value. From ISO 800 at the latest, you have to reckon with image noise, i.e. small errors in the image. If you can’t get a picture bright enough, you should use the night mode of your cell phone. Here several shots are combined intelligently to take better pictures in darker environments.
Strictly speaking, you don’t need to worry about the aperture on your cell phone. Except for a few experiments like in the Samsung Galaxy S10, manufacturers use fixed apertures in their phones. But in combination with portrait mode, which digitally separates subjects from the background, some camera apps offer virtual blend settings. These simulate the effect that an open or closed aperture has on the image composition. The creators of the blog Hamburger Fotospots have created a wonderful graphical representation of the effect of exposure values.
A cheat card for the effect of the image parameters / © Hamburger Fotospots
Set the right focus
A lot depends on the right focus in a successful picture. Here usually the autofocus helps, but it is not error-free, after all, it often does not know what we actually want to have in focus. A touch of the finger is enough to get around this problem, because touch focus is the solution. Touch the screen where you want to set the focus point. You can even focus completely manually in the manual mode of the camera app.
Choose the right focal length
Triple or quad cameras have been found in smartphones for a few years now, and you can usually choose between different focal lengths. The most popular combination is standard wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle, but there are also telephoto lenses that offer optical magnification.
The ultra-wide angle can also serve well indoors. / © NextPit
But you should be careful when zooming in with your smartphone. Basically, you should remember that digital zoom is necessary for all intermediate steps. If your phone has a 3x telephoto camera, the 2.5x magnification is only a section of the main camera. The quality is accordingly modest.
Furthermore, the highest quality sensor is usually used in the main camera, despite ultra-wide-angle and telephoto cameras. So if you have the option to zoom in on the focal length or field of view by moving back and forth, that’s usually recommended.
It took front-facing cameras in smartphones to make taking selfies a common practice among amateur photographers and Instagram fans. At that time, manufacturers still installed small mirrors on the back of cell phones for this purpose and so you had to guess whether you could really be seen well on the cell phone screen.
Selfies could be the subject of a whole separate article, but in principle you can apply all the tips in this article to portrait shots of yourself as well. Still, there are some things that are important when taking selfies.
Beware of beauty filters
Especially smartphones from Chinese manufacturers often slap filters on your face for selfies, which make you look completely unnatural afterwards. Wrinkles are smoothed out, cheeks are made a little narrower and your eyes are enlarged. Casi recently took this to the extreme in a test report:
Beauty filters can really mess up your selfies. So be careful. / © NextPit
As you can see, Casi in the picture on the far right has quite a bit of an animated Disney character about him. However, this only happens if you set the beauty filter settings incorrectly. A little retouching may even look quite good and save you time in post-processing.
Diffuse light from the right direction
If you stand directly in the sun for a selfie, you will squint your eyes on the screen and also have harsh shadows on your face if the angle is wrong. On the other hand, if you stand in front of a window and close the white curtains a little, the picture will look better right away. Professional photographers put a diffuser in front of the flash for portrait shots to reduce shadows and highlights a bit.
The direction from which the light hits your face is also important. If it comes from below, you can also read out a scary story, because you might look quite monstrous. Turn a little, change the angle of the selfie and your selfies will look more friendly.
Main camera usually the better choice
With a little practice, you can also turn your hand so that you use the main camera for selfies. Here manufacturers always use better cameras than on the front and thus come out with better cell phone photos. If you can set the function in the settings, you can also set the volume buttons as the shutter release button.
The main camera (right) offers better quality than the front-facing selfie cam. / © NextPit
This makes it a little easier to take the shot with the phone upside down. Alternatively, self-timer can be found in all camera apps.
Native camera apps prefer
You may have read about "artificial intelligence" when you bought your smartphone Improves the images taken by the camera. Hereby manufacturers describe the use of algorithms and post-processing of the shots, which works completely automatically. Even though there is no real "intelligence" in the cell phone you should by no means underestimate this advantage.
Google’s Pixel smartphones are considered to be very good camera phones, even though they have quite old sensors with "only" a few cameras 12 megapixels use. The trick lies in Google’s clever software, which of course is only available in the native camera app. This is similar with other manufacturers and therefore you should best use the pre-installed app for photos. Although other apps can access the cameras of your phone, the quality is usually not comparable with the standard application.
Software aids can be handy when things need to be done quickly. / © NextPit
However, there are also situations and motifs in which these AI helpers mean a little too well. Again and again, pictures are taken in which the colors in particular appear to be extremely turned up. Beauty and portrait effects can also really disfigure a photo. It is not so trivial to make all the settings automatically, especially since it is the "perfect" Photo doesn’t give: Every photographer thinks a different look is pretty, and not every picture is meant to achieve the same effect, after all. The automatic mode therefore also limits the creative possibilities.
AI can also be too much of a good thing. / © NextPit
Again, you as a hobby photographer have to decide for yourself what you expect from the respective picture. As already mentioned, the AI functions can also be bypassed with the manual mode and, if you want to get a little more into the subject of smartphone photography, you can also take pictures in RAW format.
In RAW format, your phone saves the sensor data in a separate file, bypassing the image processor and camera software. This is how you get the unaltered data from the sensor and can process it in programs like Adobe Lightroom.
Now we leave the field of photography. Once the picture is in the box, you can continue: You want to share the pictures. But before you do that, you can still get a lot out of the photos – whether it’s correcting the colors, choosing the right crop or using filters to create more drama. You should have installed the appropriate image editing app for this:
This article was published on 15. March to large parts revised. Comments may therefore seem incoherent.