Photography used to be the domain of people with deep pockets: You had to buy expensive cameras and lenses, had to buy film and pay for someone to develop it. But once the digital revolution happened, and once the smartphone became a camera, photography was democratized. Most phones now come with cameras that far exceed the capabilities of digital cameras from just a few years ago – allowing anyone to become a photographer.
Taking good photos isn’t all about the camera, however. After all, the camera just serves as a tool to capture the things you see and decide to hold on to. It means that even the best camera won’t help you if you don’t know what to do with it – but also that photography comes down to learning a few tricks and a lot of practice.
Here are six tips you can use to improve your phone photography.
1 Get closer
The famous photographer Robert Capa once quipped “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” That piece of advice seems incredibly obvious, but it bears repeating. Most photos that seem bland and boring are like that because they’re missing and interesting viewpoint or detail. Great photos give us something to discover, they surprise or delight us – and all of that is difficult from far away. Unless your are shooting a landscape (where you can’t get much closer) or a very tall building (which you have to be far away from to squeeze it into the frame), try to get as close as you can. Portraits are much more engaging if they show just the face rather than the full body. Nature reveals patterns and small worlds from up close. Stop keeping your distance and dare getting closer – it’ll transform your photography.
2 Rely on your eye, not the technology
With your phone, you have a surprisingly powerful camera at your disposal. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking that it will do all the work for you. If something doesn’t look interesting to your eye, chances are that the camera or even a few filters won’t be able to magically make it look good. Take a look at the photos you have taken recently. Which ones did you like the most? Chances are that they are those in which the light was nice, the background interesting, or the event you captured particularly unusual. They key to better photos is to stark recognizing those kinds of situations and making the most of them when they happen – rather than thinking that the right camera will transform them on its own.
3 Look for the bright side
Phone cameras have become very good at color reproduction, but they still struggle to work well in dark situations. A part of the problem is simple physics: Phone cameras have to be portable, and so they use small lenses that let in a lot less light that their larger equivalents. While phones get better at managing low light with each iteration, good lighting remains fundamentally important to a great photo. Keep your phone in your pocket at night, but snap away during daytime. A photographer’s favorite is the golden light in the late afternoon, which casts your subjects in pleasing, soft light. This is ideal for portraits. Once the sun has set, you get the “blue hour”, a short window of blue light that makes cities and landscapes look mystical. Seek out the times with the best light and it barely matters which camera you use.
4 Organize the frame
The sharpest eye and the best light won’t help you if your photos end up cluttered and confusing. (Mobile) photography is about making decisions on what to include and what to exclude from your pictures. Most of the time, you are capturing one distinct subject: A person, a building, a specific object. Remember to get close to it and try to get as much of your subject in the frame as possible. But don’t forget to consider the background: A nicely-framed subject can be ruined by a busy background, so move around your subject to see it from different angles and to find a background that’s either clean or interesting. That can be a contrasting color, a dramatic sky, or whatever strikes your attention.
You can also turn this process around: Find a nice background and wait for a subject to appear. You can learn more about this trick in Lesson 10 of the EyeEm School of Photography.
5 Embrace the limitations
A phone isn’t the same as a standalone camera. It is slower, has inferior lenses, and usually doesn’t offer a zoom lens. But don’t let that dissuade you: Being technically limited is actually a great motivator to become a better photographer. A technical limitation forces you to be create and work around it. Can’t zoom? Well, try to “zoom with your feet” by moving around your subject and finding different angles. Your camera is too slow for action photography? Capture what happens right before or after the action. Good photography doesn’t require great equipment but the willingness to try something new with the tools that you have. To take better photos with your phone, let the limitations push you to try new ways of shooting.
6 Learn from others
There are some exceptional photographers out there who have made shooting with a phone their specialty. On EyeEm, check out community members like Cielo de la Paz or Monika Kanokova. These photographers use just their phones and still produce arresting photos – mainly by being creative in their composition.
Want to learn more about shooting? Check out our free video lessons from the EyeEm School of Photography.