Phone Photography: 19 Tips For Taking Better Pictures

Photo: getty images
girls taking a selfie

These days, the cameras on our phones are so good that phone photography is no longer looked down upon — it’s an art in and of itself.

Despite our ever-improving phone cameras, there are still some tips and little tricks for how to take better pictures on your phone that’ll make it look like your photos look even better.

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How to Take Good Instagram Pictures of Yourself

We all love taking pictures of ourselves. If we didn’t, no phone would have a front-facing camera. 

Here’s how to take good selfies that really stand out.

1. Use a ring light. 

Ever wonder how some people look so effortlessly flawless in their selfies? They’re probably using a ring light.

Using a ring light will give you perfect, even lighting every time. We’re talking no redness, no undereye bags, and bright, sparkling eyes.

Don’t have the money to buy a fancy ring light? No worries — you can make a ring light with just a few products that you’ll find at your local dollar store.

2. Capture natural light. 

Another way to achieve great lighting for your photos is to use filtered natural light. 

The flash from your camera is not only blinding but will wash you out. Meanwhile, the light from lamps inside your home is dull and likely to cast shadows in all the places you don’t want them. 

To remedy this, when you’re taking pictures of yourself, face a window during the day and take advantage of all of that natural light.

This works best when it’s cloudy because there will be fewer shadows than there would be with bright, direct sunlight. If it’s unavoidably sunny outside, though, you can place a thin white sheet or curtain over the window to give you the desired effect. 

3. Know your poses

Just as we all have a “good side,” there are certain poses that bring out your best features! Find out what they are and don’t be afraid to strike them each and every time. 

4. Use a tripod

Sometimes, the worst part about taking a selfie is not being able to get the right full-body shot. 

Using a tripod will not only allow you to set up the perfect shot, but you can also get one with a Bluetooth remote so you’re not scrambling to set the timer and pose all in the span of a few seconds. 

5. Don’t use the front-facing camera

If you’ve ever felt personally victimized by your front-facing camera, you are not alone. 

Though phone companies have definitely upped the quality of their front-facing cameras (no more grain, yay!), the lens is totally distorting your face. 

For whatever reason, front-facing cameras tend to have a fisheye type of lens that stretches your whole face. In fact, a 2018 study found that selfies can make your nose look 30% wider than it is in real life.

Don’t believe me? Check out the TikTok face zoom effect trend and see just how badly your front-facing camera is treating you.

So breathe a sigh of relief — that is not what you look like!

How to Take Good Food Pictures

Whether you’re showing off your own creations on #foodstagram or are a foodie using Instagram to keep track of all of your favorite restaurants, these tips will make your photos top notch.

6. Use props

As with many photos, sometimes it’s less about the subject and more about the ambiance. 

Anyone can take a picture of that In-N-Out burger (we all do it, OK?), but in order to really give it that oomph, you want the burger wrapper, the fries, and the bright red food tray in the photo as well. 

Try adding simple things like cutlery and people’s hands to your photos to make them extra vibey. 

7. Try different angles 

When it comes to food photography, flat lay photos are usually a great option. This shows off the plate presentation and any extras like beautiful tableware or drinks.

Of course, some food is better photographed close up. For example, if you have a sandwich you might want to cut it in half to really show off what’s between your bread.

8. Adjust your lighting

As with all photos, lighting is king! Natural light is always going to look best, so if you can manage to grab a table outside, go for it. 

Otherwise, it’s important to be aware of any overhead lighting that might lead to shadows that’ll make flat lay photos tough to perfect, or dark corners that’ll make a brilliant meal seem dull.

How to Take Good Pictures of People

Instagram husbands, these tips are for you.

9. Take panoramic photos 

While you might only ever use that pano option in your camera for landscape photography, panoramic portraits actually look super cool and will really stand out in your Instagram feed. 

To do it right, go to the panorama option in your camera and turn your phone horizontally as if you were going to take a landscape-oriented photo. Pointing the lens down at your subject’s feet, press the shutter button and slowly follow the arrows up to get your subject’s full body and any background you want in the photo.

This is a great option for those who don’t have a built-in wide-angle lens or who just want a beautifully dramatic look for their photos.

10. Pay attention to lines and frames. 

For whatever reason, sometimes it’s hard to line your photos up just right, leading to skewed horizon lines or cluttered photos. 

To avoid this, turn on the gridlines on your phone’s camera, which will help you with photo composition. 

Also, use leading lines to your advantage. Look for elements around you that will guide the viewer’s eye from the edges of the photo toward your subject, like the lines in a road, a sidewalk, or a railing.

When it comes to framing, you can also use actual frames to your advantage.

For example, position your subject right in the middle of a doorframe or archway so that the eye has no choice but to be drawn to them.

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11. Make your subject laugh

There’s a reason candid photos are usually follower favorites: they’re natural and fun. 

While we all have the tendency to smile for the camera once it’s pointed at us, doing so can end up making us look stiff and pained (or is that just me?). 

In order to avoid that, try bringing a genuine smile to the face of your subject. Whether you tell an actual joke or literally just tell them to start laughing, this will help them loosen up and look more natural.

12. Turn your camera upside down

This is a great way to give your portraits some depth without having to use a wide-angle lens or panorama feature.

When you’re taking a photo, simply turn your camera upside down so that the lens is closer to the ground. 

To make the photo extra dramatic, crouch down and lower your phone so that it’s almost touching the ground, and tip the lens slightly away from you so that your phone is at a bit of an angle.

How to Take Good Pictures At Night

Camera lenses don’t adjust to light quite the same way our eyes do, so night photos don’t always turn out the way you want them. 

These tips will help you better capture what’s going on around you at night.

13. Put your camera in night mode

In layman's terms, night mode works on phones by creating a series of images at different exposures and then creating a composite image featuring the best lighting from each photo. 

When you use night mode, you’re able to get a better-lit image as opposed to the quick, dark shot you might get with the regular camera.

14. Use a tripod

Here are the basics of night photography: the darker it is, the longer your lens has to be open in order to let in enough light to actually see what’s in the photo. The longer the lens is open, the more room time there is for blur to occur from movement. 

Even the slightest hand movements can blur a nighttime photo, so using a tripod is key for crisp night photography. 

Additionally, when your phone is on the tripod, it’s best to set a timer or use a Bluetooth remote for the photo instead of taking it manually because even that motion of pressing the shutter can cause blur.

How to Take Good Pictures in Bright Sunlight

Just as darkness can affect your photos, so can too much light! Find out how to combat bright sunlight in your photos.

15. Bounce the light

If you’ve ever seen a photographer at work, you might notice they have a big white or metallic sheet with them. This is called a reflector, and it’s used to quite literally bounce the light that comes from a flash or the sun before it hits the subject, creating a more natural-looking light.

You don’t need to carry any fancy photography tools with you to bounce light. 

For example, you can put your subject in the shade and use light concrete or a bright wall to bounce the light onto her as opposed to placing the subject directly in the sunlight.

16. Diffuse the light

If you’re inside and trying to take a photo by a window that’s full of bright light, try placing a thin white sheet or blanket over the window to help soften the light. 

Outside, a light umbrella can help get rid of some of that harsh light.

General photography tips

These are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after you take your photos to make them even more beautiful. 

17. Post-process your photos.

Post-processing, or editing, is the best way to take your photos from amateur to pro. 

Photo editing gets a bad rep because people often take it too far. However, editing your photos is a great way to give them your own signature style every time. 

Some of my favorite photo editing apps include Adobe Lightroom (which is free and gives you full control over every aspect of your photos) and VSCO (which is free with in-app purchases — insert VSCO girl memes here).

18. Use manual mode

Putting your camera in manual mode gives you more freedom to adjust things like brightness and focus. 

19. Clean your lens

Your phone is in your hands, pocket, or purse all day every day. Naturally, it’s going to accumulate some dust, dirt, and fingerprints. 

How many times a day do you wipe your screen? Show your camera lens the same love!

When you go to take a photo, make it part of your routine to give your lens a quick dust-off with a soft fabric (I like using a glasses cleaning cloth) to ensure your photos are as crisp as possible.

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Micki Spollen is a YourTango editor, writer, and traveler. Follow her on Instagram and keep up with her travels on her website.