A sample photo from Microsoft taken by the Lumia 950
A sample photo from Microsoft taken by the Lumia 950

There was a time not so long ago that one had to have a digital camera to take photos at family events, copy from memory card to computer and share with friends. But in 2015, photography has moved to the smartphone. These days even entry level smartphones have 8MP shooters and can take decent photos. At the higher end of the spectrum, the premium smartphones have really impressive cameras! But no matter what phone you have, there’s always room to take better photos once you step out of the “auto” comfort zone and work with the settings. Here are some tips & tricks to help you take better photos

Avoid using the flash

Even on a DSLR camera, the flash function is generally best saved for emergencies. If you can use natural light to illuminate your picture, you always should, because your want your pictures to look natural, don’t you?

There is a time and a place for the LED flash on smartphone cameras, but because it tends to be located very close to the lens, it can have a nasty glaring effect. If natural light isn’t quite enough, increase the exposure value (EV) and ISO on your camera. Bear in mind that increasing ISO will also increase the graininess or ‘noise’ in your pictures.

Don’t use digital zoom – EVER!

Digital zoom is notorious for destroying smartphone photos. Unless your camera has an optical zoom, where the camera lens actually protrudes out of your device (like the not-great Samsung Galaxy K Zoom), all zooming does is enlarge and crop the picture.

“Can’t I just do that after I’ve taken the photo?” I hear you ask. Well, yes you can – that’s the point! Digital zoom merely narrows the editing options for your picture. Take fully zoomed-out photos, then crop them manually if you want to.

Check details of your best, worst and Auto photos

We all have some photos that come out incredibly well and others that are pretty awful. Whenever you take either a great or terrible photo, check the ‘Details’ of the photo to see what ISO, exposure time and aperture it had.

This way, you’ll slowly learn which settings on your smartphone work best with which light conditions. This is particularly useful for ‘Auto’ photos, so you can get a feel for the settings your camera resorts to by default, and adjust them accordingly.

Use HDR mode

HDR is a great mode for taking photos of stationary objects, as long as you have steady hands. What HDR (high dynamic range) mode does, is ensure that the lighting and shadows in the photo are evenly exposed. This is particularly useful for photos with high contrast.

HDR mode takes two or more pictures of varying exposures almost simultaneously, then combines the best and brightest bits of both into one photo. You need to keep the camera super-steady, otherwise your photo will come out blurred.

Use those post-processing filters

There are plenty of people out their who pour scorn onto all the lovely filters you can enhance your photos with. But for casual smartphone photographers, those retro, black-and-while, Windmere, Islandia, and other hipster filters can really add character to a photo. Most Android smartphones come with a great selection of filters, but if you’re running a bit short, try Pixlr (formerly Pixlr Express) for a great selection.

The rule of thirds

This is one of the simplest rules for photography, yet it’s invaluable for making your photo compositions look great. The idea is that our eyes are naturally attracted to images that are divided into thirds, where the subject of the photo is slightly off-centre.

To help you achieve this, most smartphone cameras let you use a grid of two horizontal and two vertical lines when taking photos. The subject of your photo should be at one of the four intersections of these lines to theoretically get the most visually-pleasing photo. Give it a go!