• Rich Engelbrecht

Hey, my cell phone takes some pretty good pictures.


The cell phone is, for many people, their primary camera nowadays. The newer phones are capable of taking some exceptional pictures and compete well with the dedicated cameras. Their primary purpose is on-line display [FaceBook, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.] and can even support prints up to 11x14 without much in the way of distortion.


However, it’s still a phone and a camera and a flashlight, and so many more indispensable items to modern day life. They are ubiquitous; for 2017, the number of smartphone users in the United States was estimated at 224.3 million, with the number of smartphone users worldwide forecast to exceed 2 billion users by 2022. [www.statista.com/statistics/201182/forecast-of-smartphone-users-in-the-us/] That’s a lot of cameras, and a lot of pictures.

There are a number things you should consider to assist you on getting a great image out of your cell phone. Any one of these will help.

1. Clean the Lens

Your phone spends a lot of time in your pocket, a bag or in your hand, and as a result it will get dirty. Dirt, dust, grease and fingerprints on your lens will have a big effect on the quality of your photos.

There’s no point trying to take great photos if the glass of the lens is dirty. It will block light from entering the camera’s sensor and will leave smudges, blurs or dust spots on your images. A clean lens will ensure you get sharp, clear images.

You should clean the lens each time you take it out to take a photo. Use a soft lens cloth when doing this as any abrasive cleaners will scratch the glass over the lens and this will result in poorer image quality.

2. Set the Focus

The most important thing to look out for when taking a photo is to make sure that your subject is in sharp focus. To set the focus on the phone camera you simply tap the screen where your subject is in the frame. A small yellow square will appear to confirm the focus point.

If your subject is moving around, make sure you tap the screen just before you take the shot to ensure that they are in focus.

3. Adjust Exposure Manually

When you tap on the subject to focus on them, the camera will also use the focus point to set the exposure in the shot. Exposure simply refers to how bright or dark the image is.

Allowing the camera to set exposure on the focus point isn’t always ideal. For example, if the subject is in a dark area of the frame, this could lead to the overall image being over-exposed (too bright) or vice versa.


When you set the focus by tapping the screen, on many phones a small sun icon appears on the side of the focus square. When you see the sun icon, simply swipe up or down on the screen to adjust the exposure slider.

Swiping up will brighten the overall image, and swiping down will darken it. When you’re happy with the exposure/brightness of the image, release your finger from the screen. This manual exposure slider allows for much greater control over the look of the final image.

4. Don’t Use the Zoom

The phone has a zoom function which you can access by pinching or stretching two fingers on the screen. This brings up a zoom slider which you can slide with your finger to zoom in and get a closer view of your subject.

Unfortunately this is a digital zoom and not an optical zoom. In essence what happens with a digital zoom is that the image is cropped as you zoom in. This results in a noticeable loss in image quality the more you zoom in.

If you want to take a photo of a far away subject, don’t use the zoom. Walk closer instead and use the camera as normal without any zoom. You’ll end up with a far better quality shot.

Alternatively you can crop the image yourself in the editing process to bring the viewer closer to your subject. Cropping afterwards gives you more control over how much of the image you want to remove.

5. Keep Your Camera Steady

Keeping your camera still is particularly important when taking photos in low light or at night. When you take a photo in these conditions, the phone camera will need to use a slow shutter speed to allow more light to hit the sensor. The problem with this is that any movement of the camera will result in a blurred image.

To avoid blurry phone photos you should hold the phone with both hands or rest it on a solid surface to keep it steady. You could also use an phone tripod. There are a number of tripods designed specifically for phones.

When using a tripod, you can be extra careful by using the timer button. Place the camera on the tripod and set the timer to 3 seconds.

When the photo is taken you won’t be touching the phone at all which means the camera will be perfectly still when you take the shot. This is taking things to extremes but could be useful in some very low light situations.

6. Use the Rule of Thirds

Getting focus and exposure right is crucial in photography, but composition is equally important. Without good composition, your photo isn’t likely to be very eye-catching.


The rule of thirds is one of the most useful composition techniques in photography. It’s an important concept to learn as it can be used in all types of photography to produce images which are more engaging and better balanced.

The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, as shown below. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

You should try and put your subject in line with one of the vertical lines. If there is a horizon in your photo, it should be in line with one of the horizontal lines. The idea behind the rule of thirds is that the off-center composition makes for a more interesting shot.


7. Use Leading Lines

Leading lines can be another very useful compositional tool. Using leading lines in a photo can help to focus the viewer’s eye on the main subject and lead the eye deeper into the image. It’s a simple technique that involves using vertical, horizontal or converging lines to focus attention on the subject of your image.

When taking photos with your phone, you should always be aware of any leading lines in the frame as they may lead the viewer’s attention away from your intended subject. You might need to change the position that you’re shooting from in order to make the most of any lines in your scene.

8. Shoot from Different Perspectives

You should always look at alternative points of view when taking your photos at any location. Most beginners will take shots from a standing position, but the beauty of the phone is that it’s so small and light it can be used in places that a bigger camera wouldn’t work.


You should consider getting down low and shooting from ground level This technique is great for creating a unique view of your scene that people normally wouldn’t see from standing height. You could also try shooting from high up to get a bird’s eye view of your subject.

9. Watch Out For Distracting Backgrounds

If you have a cluttered background in your photos it can distract attention away from your intended subject. If the backdrop to your photo has a lot of clashing and distracting colors, the best solution in this situation is to convert the photo to black and white. By eliminating all color, the distraction is removed. Another solution is to avoid cluttered backgrounds altogether. One way to do this is to get down low and used the sky as your backdrop. This really helps your subject stand out.

10. Take Multiple Shots

If you see something that catches your eye don’t just take one shot and hope for the best. The chances of getting a good photo with your first shot are very slim. You should take shots from various angles and distances.

Keep reviewing your photos as you go to get an idea of what is and what isn’t working. If you find an angle or point of view you like then take multiple shots from that position. This helps ensure that you get a well composed shot that is in sharp focus.

The beauty of digital photography is that you can delete all the photos that didn’t work… and there will be a lot that don’t work! Also don’t be afraid to take bad shots. No one will ever see them.

11. Use Panorama Mode

There are certain situations where the standard camera just won’t do justice to the scene you’re trying to capture. For example, you might want to take a shot of


an expansive landscape, a cityscape or a wide building, but can’t fit everything in the frame. This is where you should use panorama mode.

12. Don’t Over-Process Your Photos

Learning how to edit photos on phone involves more than just knowing how to use the tools within an app. It also involves resisting the urge to use too many apps or overly strong effects when editing your photos.

A lot of beginners make the mistake of thinking that using photo editing apps will turn a bad photo into a good one. It won’t. I know from experience. I have tried it enough over the years!

Before using any apps you should concentrate on getting a sharp, well composed shot. Apps can work well to enhance a good photo, but not a bad one.