A Guide to Smartphone Photography

With advancements in camera technology and the convenience of carrying a device with a high-quality camera, smartphone photography has become increasingly popular among amateur and professional photographers alike. 

It allows individuals to easily document everyday moments, landscapes, portraits, and more, with the ability to instantly edit and share these photos through various social media platforms. 

Introduction to mobile photography

Smartphone photography has not only made capturing memories more accessible but has also revolutionized the way people express themselves visually in the digital age.

However, creating outstanding mobile photography requires skill, patience, and creativity. It's not just about owning the latest smartphone with the best camera; it's about understanding composition, lighting, and timing. Experimenting with angles, perspectives, and editing tools can also significantly affect the final result. Observing the work of other photographers and seeking inspiration from all over the web can help develop a unique style that sets your smartphone photography apart from the rest.

In this guide, we will elaborate on smartphone photography techniques, tips, and considerations to improve your skills and enable you to use your smartphone camera like a proud shutterbug.

Understanding your smartphone camera

Before starting a more advanced journey into mobile photography, you must understand your smartphone camera. It is essential for getting the most out of your mobile device.

First of all, familiarize yourself with the specifications of your smartphone camera. This includes the megapixel count, aperture size, focal length, and additional features like optical image stabilization or dual lenses. Knowing these details will help you understand the capabilities and limitations of your camera. 

Leveraging a higher megapixel number can result in sharper images with more details. A larger aperture allows more light to enter, which is ideal for low-light conditions and creates a blurred background effect. Optical stabilization reduces blurriness caused by shaky hands, ensuring clearer photos. Focal length affects the field of view; using it appropriately can produce versatile shots. Dual lenses offer different focal lengths, leading to more creative composition options. By mastering these specifications, you can elevate your phone photography skills significantly.

Your smartphone camera allows you to control the focus and exposure settings manually or automatically. Learn how to tap on the screen to set the focus point and adjust the exposure by sliding your finger up or down the screen. The result will be well-exposed, sharp images. 

Composition Techniques

Good composition helps draw the viewer's attention to the subject, convey a specific mood or message, and elevate the overall impact of the image. In a world where everyone is a potential photographer with a smartphone, understanding and utilizing composition techniques can set your photos apart from the rest in terms of creativity and aesthetics.

First, we need to understand the three key composition techniques and how to use them to create visually appealing and well-balanced photos.

The rule of thirds divides the frame into a 3x3 grid by placing two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Place the main subject or points of interest along these lines or at their intersections. This technique creates a sense of balance and visual interest. In smartphone photography, most camera apps offer a grid overlay option, making it easier to align your subjects accordingly.

Open your camera app's settings and enable the grid or grid lines option. This will help you align your subjects along the rule of thirds and use dominant lines more effectively. Then, you can practice positioning the subject.

Next, let's get familiar with the concept of the dominant line.

Dominant lines are strong, leading lines within a photo that draw the viewer's attention and guide their eyes through the image. These lines can be straight, curved, diagonal, or converging lines. Look for natural or man-made lines in your surroundings, such as roads, fences, or architectural elements, and use them to lead the viewer's gaze towards your subject. Aligning these lines with the rule of thirds can enhance the overall effect and impact of the image.

Last but not least, master framework techniques.

Framing involves using elements in the scene to create a structure within the frame, directing the viewer's attention to the main subject. Incorporating doorways, windows, arches, foliage, or other objects naturally surrounding the subject can achieve perfect framing. Experiment with placing your subject within frames to add depth and context to your photos.

Remember, these guidelines are not strict rules but tools to help you create visually appealing photos. Experimentation and practice will help you develop your style and understanding of composition using your smartphone camera.

Mastering lighting for mobile photography

Mastering lighting for mobile photographyMastering lighting for mobile photography

Without light, there are no photos. Lighting plays a crucial role in photography. Learn how your smartphone camera performs in different lighting conditions. Experiment with your smartphone in natural, low, and artificial light to understand how your camera handles exposure, white balance, and noise in different situations.

Many phone photographers find that natural light tends to produce impressive results. But artificial lighting can lead to dramatic and highly styled pictures if that’s the look you’re trying to achieve. Avoid harsh midday sunlight, which can create strong shadows and overexposure. Instead, opt for soft, diffused light during the golden hours (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) for a warm and flattering glow. 

Backlighting occurs when the primary light source is behind your subject, resulting in a silhouette or loss of detail. To avoid this, position yourself or your subject so that the light source is behind you or to the side. This will illuminate your subject and prevent it from becoming overly dark.

When your light isn't balanced enough, obtaining the right exposure is particularly important in low-light conditions or when dealing with high-contrast scenes. Exposure refers to the brightness of your image. Smartphone cameras often have exposure adjustment controls that allow you to manually increase or decrease the exposure. Experiment with these controls to achieve the desired brightness level, ensuring that your subject is well-exposed without being too dark or bright. 

To create more balanced lighting, you can purchase portable reflectors and diffusers or use everyday objects like whiteboards or sheer curtains as makeshift solutions. Reflectors are made from a reflective material, such as silver, gold, or white fabric. They can bounce light from a primary light source, such as the sun or a studio light, onto the subject, filling in shadows and providing additional light. Reflectors are versatile tools and can create different lighting effects by adjusting their position and angle.

Diffusers are used to soften and spread harsh light. They are typically made of a translucent material, such as fabric or plastic, that scatters and diffuses the light passing through it. When placed between the light source and the subject, a diffuser reduces the intensity and harshness of the light, creating a softer and more even illumination. Diffusers are particularly useful when the light source is intense or direct, such as shooting portraits in bright sunlight or using artificial lighting with hard light sources.

Exploring camera modes and settings

Different camera modes like portrait mode, HDR, panorama, and night mode offer specific features that cater to various lighting conditions and subjects. Choosing the right mode and settings can improve clarity, color accuracy, and overall composition of the photograph. 

If your smartphone camera app offers a manual or pro mode, use it for more control over your camera settings. This mode allows you to manually adjust parameters like ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and focus. It provides greater flexibility to capture photos in various lighting conditions and achieve the desired effects. ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to light. In low-light situations, a higher ISO value can help capture brighter images, but it may introduce more noise. Use a lower ISO to minimize noise and maintain image quality in well-lit environments. Experiment with different ISO settings to find the right balance for each situation.

Higher shutter speeds freeze motion and are suitable for capturing fast-moving subjects, while slower shutter speeds can create motion blur or capture low-light scenes. While specific camera modes and settings may vary depending on your smartphone model and camera app, today, almost all smartphones have a High Dynamic Range (HDR) mode that can be helpful in challenging lighting situations, such as scenes with a wide range of light and shadow. When enabled, HDR mode captures multiple exposures and combines them to create a well-balanced image with enhanced details in bright and dark areas.

You should try to avoid using digital zoom on your smartphone camera as it degrades image quality. Instead, physically move closer to your subject or consider cropping the image during post-processing to maintain image clarity. If your smartphone supports RAW Format, consider shooting in this mode. RAW files contain more image data and provide greater flexibility for post-processing adjustments.

Recommended photography apps

Many photography apps provide advanced camera controls that go beyond the native camera app of your smartphone. Another popular category of smartphone photography apps is meant to provide a wide range of filters and presets that can dramatically change the look and mood of your images. These filters emulate various film styles, color grading effects, black-and-white conversions, and more.

Here are a few popular mobile photography apps to try:


VSCO is a popular photography app known for its powerful editing tools and creative features. The phone photography app provides a vast collection of presets (or filters) that emulate film-like aesthetics and various artistic styles. These presets can be applied to your photos with a single tap, instantly transforming the look and mood of your images.


Snapseed is loved for its professional-level editing capabilities, rivaling those found in professional desktop software. It provides precise controls for adjusting exposure, color, sharpness, and other parameters, allowing users to fine-tune their images with high control and precision. One of the standout features of Snapseed is its non-destructive editing workflow. It saves edits as separate adjustment layers, so you can easily revert or modify edits at any point during the editing process.

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom offers a comprehensive suite of professional-grade editing tools, allowing users to make precise photo adjustments. Lightroom is part of Adobe's Creative Cloud ecosystem, seamlessly integrating with other Adobe applications and services. This integration allows for a smooth workflow between Adobe software, such as Photoshop. It lets users sync and access their photos across multiple devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. 


ProCamera integrates seamlessly with various photography accessories, such as external lenses and tripods, providing enhanced capabilities and flexibility for mobile photographers. Popular features include manual focusing, focus peaking - a visual aid that highlights the areas in focus, making it easier to achieve accurate focus even in challenging situations, and anti-shake technology. ProCamera has a history of regular updates and continuous development, ensuring the app stays updated with the latest technologies and features.

Mobile photography accessories

Mobile photography accessories provide smartphone photography enthusiasts with a wide range of innovative tools to elevate photos to the next level.  

From external lenses like wide-angle and macro lenses to enhance perspective and capture intricate details to tripod mounts for steady shots and long-exposure photography, these accessories aim to provide versatility and creativity to smartphone photographers.  

Other essentials include LED lights for better lighting in low-light conditions, Bluetooth remote shutters for capturing group shots or selfies, and portable power banks to ensure your phone stays charged during long photo sessions. A high-quality phone case with a built-in grip or strap that can provide added security and comfort while shooting on the go. Waterproof cases, smartphone gimbals for smooth video recording, and editing apps for post-processing are also must-have accessories for mobile photographers looking to explore their creativity and produce stunning visuals.

Once you get the hang of mobile photography, consider moving on to more advanced photo enhancement techniques like exporting your images to your laptop and adding a layer of illustrations or coloring with a digital pen.

Tips for editing and enhancing photos

Most smartphones come with built-in editing tools, or you can try one of our suggested apps if you’re ready to level up your artistry.

Here are some common steps in the smartphone photography editing process.

  1. Download and install the app of your choice from your device's app store
  2. Open the app and tap the "+" button or the "Add Photos" option to import a photo you want to edit. You can import from your device's gallery, camera roll, or cloud storage.
  3. Start with basic adjustments like exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, and white balance. Use sliders or adjustment tools provided in the app to make these adjustments.
  4. If needed, use the crop tool to adjust the photo's composition. You can crop out unwanted elements or straighten the image to align it properly.
  5. Use the app's color adjustments to fine-tune the colors in your photo. Adjust parameters like saturation, vibrance, temperature, and tint to achieve the desired look.
  6. Use the sharpening or clarity tool to enhance the details in your photo. Adjust the intensity carefully to avoid over-sharpening and artifacts.
  7. Explore the available options if you want to apply a preset or filter that complements your photo. You can adjust the intensity of the preset to suit your preference.
  8. If specific areas in your photo need further adjustments, use the app's local adjustment tools. These tools allow you to selectively edit specific parts of the photo. For example, you can only brighten a subject's face or darken a distracting background.
  9. Review your edits and make any final adjustments to achieve the desired look. Pay attention to small details like lens corrections, vignetting, or adding a slight fade effect.
  10. Once you're satisfied with the edits, save the edited photo. Depending on the app, save a copy of the edited photo to your device's gallery or export it to your preferred file format (JPEG, TIFF, etc.). You can also share the edited photo directly to social media platforms or other apps.


Capturing those perfect moments with a smartphone in hand has become an essential skill in today's digital age. Whether you're looking to up your social media game or simply want to preserve memories in stunning clarity, mastering the art of smartphone photography is a valuable asset. 

Becoming a proficient smartphone photographer begins with understanding the basics, from grasping manual settings to composing each shot with precision. So, grab your smartphone, tap into your creativity, and embark on a visual adventure.

About the Author: Elle Rex is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Elle is a research-obsessed creator currently based in Hong Kong. She enjoys exploring topics involving innovation, startups, psychology, and travel.