Over the last couple of years, camera sensor technology has really matured. What was once only found in high-end digital cameras is readily available in the latest smartphones. Apple and Samsung are leading the way with their flagship phones.

This has made the process of taking great pictures a whole lot easier and has made it accessible to pretty much everyone. A few of you will know that I am a commercial photographer and am a sucker for the latest pro digital SLRs, but of late, 80% of my imagery of my family is shot on my trusty iPhone 8! In fact I would say over 50% of the photos in our family gallery wall have been taken on a phone.

These new smartphones really do take the guesswork out of taking a fine shot. Even just a few years ago, colour accuracy was a problem, shooting into the sun and night photography was practically impossible to produce good results. These are now problems of the past if you stick to a few basic rules that I follow to consistently produce frame-worthy shots.

1. Wipe your lens!

All the following points will be in vain if you don’t get into the habit of wiping your lens every time you take the phone out of your pocket.

The lens on a smartphone is tiny and unforgiving, even the smallest amount of dust or dirt can effect the quality of your photograph. Ideally use a microfibre cloth although your t-shirt will do the job. Finger grease is the worst culprit and will create softness and lack of contrast in your photo if not removed.

If you get into the habit of cleaning your camera lens every time you take a shot, you should see an improvement in the clarity and contrast of your photographs.

2. Use the right camera mode for the job

Most smartphones now have a specific setting or mode for a particular type of shot. Using them saves you needing advanced knowledge of photography, so it is good practice to use them and let the phone apply the best settings for the shot.

One of my favourites is the portrait mode on the iPhone. Executed well, these photos can look uncannily like the shots you would get from an expensive prime lens on a ‘proper’ camera. Admittedly there is a fair bit of pixel manipulating and processing going on internally, but the results really make the subject pop out the background and are good enough to be printed and framed.

girl riding a pony
iPhone photo using portrait mode

The opposite is happening in landscape mode - The smartphone is trying to make the foreground and background in focus and makes sure all the detail is retained in the sky. A smartphone jpg shot in this setting looks better than my RAW files straight out of a pro camera!

It is worth playing around with these different modes as they can really make a difference to the final photo.

3. Use a grid

I am a pro photographer, but still manage to take pictures on the wonk! Using grid lines on your camera app can help you keep your horizons and buildings from looking like The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The grid also uses the rule of thirds which helps aid better composition. It helps you divide your image evenly both horizontally and vertically.

architectural photo of a lift area
Smartphone photo taken with the grid view

The subject will either be in an intersection of the lines or along these lines. If contrast areas in a picture are kept on these lines and points of interest on the intersections, then the results are generally more pleasing to the eye. This is great for landscapes, as you can put the horizon on one of the thirds and then put points of interest on the intersections which will produce great results.

4. Move your feet!

Try and move your feet instead of using a digital zoom on your smartphone camera. Quality rapidly declines using this method as the phone is just zooming closer into the pixels, meaning the image is going to get grainy and pixelated.

By moving your feet you can create a stronger composition and make sure there are no distractions, taking away from the main subject. A top tip for portraits is to take the photo at the subject's eye level. This works great with both humans and animals and will really enhance your portraits.

photo of a Devon beach
move your feet to create the best composition

Another tip is to use your phone in landscape as well as portrait. People often forget to turn their phone on its side to get a better composition.

5. Use the focus box and exposure slider

To focus your subject, you just simply tap once on your screen where you want the photograph to be in focus. This will ensure the subject is the sharpest part of the photograph. If you don’t do this the smartphone can miss the subject and focus on the background leaving your subject slightly blurred.

a girl and pony in a field
Use the exposure adjustment to refine the lightness/darkness of the scene

The exposure slider will make your photo lighter or darker. Smartphones have got a lot better at exposing scenes correctly, but sometimes it needs fine tuning. Shooting into the sun, or night photography is a time when the exposure might need adjusting slightly. On an iPhone, you adjust the brightness after you’ve tapped the focus, you’ll see a little sun symbol which you just drag up or down. It’s similar for Android phones too! Tap once to focus then adjust the light via a slider that pops up.

6. Keep your phone still!

When photographing in darker, lower light situations your camera has to slow the shutter speed to absorb more light. The problem with this is that slow shutter speeds can mean blurry photos if you accidentally move the camera while taking the shot. Therefore it is good practice to steady your hands and breathing to keep your phone perfectly still. I sometimes rest the phone against a wall or on top of something sturdy. I have even rested it on my shoulder to create more stability. You will see great improvement in your night photography by keeping things perfectly still. Even better, you can purchase a mini phone tripod to do this for you.

Just to recap

Applying these techniques should really improve your smartphone photography and take it to the next level. You will also notice that you are consistently getting good shots and less photos are going in the trash bin due to ‘missed’ or poor quality shots.

Here’s a quick checklist to summarise the above points:

1) Keep your lens clean by wiping it

2) Use the right camera mode for the job, different modes product different results

3) Use a grid to keep your pictures straight

4) Move your feet instead of relying on the in-built low quality zoom function

5) Use the focus box and exposure slider

6) Keep your phone as still as possible!

This guide was written by Andy Hook an advertising photographer and the founder of Hang.

Belvoir Castle