Title- How To Take Good Portrait Photos With A Smartphone

How To Take Good Portrait Photos With A Smartphone

The capabilities of today’s smartphone cameras are nothing short of incredible. They give some dedicated digital cameras a run for their money. You can capture a variety of pictures from street photography, wildlife photography, portrait photography, and more.

But if you’re going to do portrait photography, you need to do it right in order to get the best results possible. Below are some steps and tips to help you take good portrait photos with your mobile phone.

Step 1: Get the right gear

Just as a professional portrait photographer needs the right equipment to take “professional”-looking photos, you also need the right tools if you want to take portrait photos with a smartphone that look decent.

Here are some of the things you’ll need:

1. Smartphone

It goes without saying that you’ll need a smartphone to take portrait photos with a smartphone. However, it’s important that you use a smartphone with a good camera for the best results.

Even though a camera is only as good as its user, taking photos with a bad phone camera will result in poor-quality photos, no matter how skilled you are as a photographer.

ALSO READ: 7 Key Differences Between A Good Mobile Camera and A Bad One [UPDATED]

2. Tripod

KobraTech Apex A70

Although you can easily take hand-held portrait photos with a smartphone camera, it’s best you use a tripod. A tripod allows you to keep your smartphone steady and prevent blurry photos. The best tripod to use for portrait photography would be one that can be extended to at least eye level.

A smartphone mini tripod is not ideal because of how small it is unless it’s placed on top of something else or you want to get low-angle and low-level shots.

ALSO READ: 4 HIGHLY Recommended Tripods For Smartphones

3. Lens

Beastgrip Pro Series 3x Telephoto Lens

The primary camera on any smartphone usually has a wide-angle lens with a focal length of somewhere between 24mm to 28mm, which is wide enough to include a lot of scenery. But because portraits are usually focused on the subject, it’s best to use a lens with a narrower angle-of-view.

Smartphones with multiple lenses usually have a telephoto lens that is 2x or 3x the focal length of the primary camera, which is perfect for shooting portraits. If your phone does not have a telephoto lens, you can attach an external telephoto lens to your smartphone.

ALSO READ: Best Telephoto Lenses For Smartphone Cameras

4. Lighting

Lume Cube 2.0

Good lighting is what separates a good photo from a bad one. So, if you’re planning on taking portrait shots indoors or in low-light conditions, it’s best you pack some lighting with you.

If you’re shooting outdoors, then natural lighting is always best. But sometimes you might want to bring a light with you that can serve as a fill light to kill some of the harsh shadows cast by the sun.

Lighting accessories such as a reflector and a diffuser can also come in handy for controlling the lighting when shooting portraits.

ALSO READ: Lighting Options For Smartphone Photography

Step 2: Pick a subject and setting

It’s no use having all the right equipment if you have nothing to take a picture of. Picking the right combination of subject and setting can make your mobile portrait photos look nothing short of amazing.

The subject


Your subject can be anyone. It can be a family member, a friend, or a stranger you meet while doing street photography. Whoever your subject is, it’s usually better to deal with willing participants who you have or can develop a rapport with. This will show in their expressions in the photos. Forced expressions don’t look good on camera.

Your portrait subject doesn’t even need to be human. You can take portrait shots of dogs, cats, and other pets and animals.

ALSO READ: Your Subject Matters- The importance of getting the subject right

Choose the right background

Shooting portraits mainly focuses on capturing the subject and not the background. But that doesn’t mean the background isn’t important. Even in portrait mode, the background can still be seen.

Therefore, it’s important that you choose a background that’s not cluttered and that can make your subject pop.


If you’re shooting indoors, you can set up some lights anywhere possible and shoot against your own backdrop or a feature wall, for example. However, when shooting outside, be aware of the position of the sun and avoid shooting in direct sunlight.

But don’t waste too much time trying to find the right background. Remember, depending on your framing, not much of it will be seen and, if your phone supports it, the background will be blurred a bit. So, keep that in mind.

Use props

Props are a great way of adding more life to your shots. You can use them creatively to capture stunning images.

Props are also useful for getting your subject to loosen up a bit. Having something with which to fiddle and interact can make a camera-shy person look more comfortable.


Also, if your subject is a child, props and toys can give them something to play and have fun with, which can make for some really great candid portrait shots. You can also use a prop to have a young child look in the direction you want them to face.

Step 3: Set up

Once you have all your equipment and you have chosen a subject and location, it’s time to set everything up. This includes putting the camera on a tripod and adjusting its settings, prepping and lighting the scene, and getting your subject in position.

The camera setup

By default, most smartphone cameras shoot in auto mode, which does a pretty good job at calculating the best settings for the shot. But if you want to have full control over how your portraits turn out, you need to shoot in manual mode.

If your camera app has a manual or ‘Pro’ mode, you can easily switch to it and control the camera’s various settings. If your camera app doesn’t have a manual mode, you can download a camera app that can shoot in manual mode.

ALSO READ: Manual Mode- A Complete and Illustrated Guide


Exposure refers to the brightness of a photo. An underexposed photo is one that is so dark that you can’t see the detail properly in some areas. A photo is considered overexposed if the brightness exceeds a level where the camera can capture any detail.

For a smartphone portrait photo to look good, you have to balance the exposure well to avoid under or overexposing the shot. Two ways to do so on a smartphone camera is by metering or adjusting the shutter speed and ISO.

  • Metering

Metering is your camera’s best guess as to what the appropriate exposure for the scene should be, based on the amount of light that appears to be in the scene. Basically, metering refers to the measurement of light in a scene in order to set the appropriate exposure

In the metering section of your camera app’s manual settings, you’ll find three metering modes: spot metering, centre-weighted metering, and matrix metering. Each one of them has its own way of evaluating the contents of the frame and set the ideal exposure for you.

  • Exposure triangle

The exposure triangle forms the basis of exposure in photography. Understanding it means you understand how the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, all work together to expose an image the way you want.

Unlike with “normal” camera lenses, the aperture cannot be adjusted on smartphone cameras. But you can still use the shutter speed and ISO to control the exposure. It’s best to keep the ISO as low as possible to avoid introducing noise into the picture.

But also remember, shooting at a slow shutter speed increases the chances of a blurry image, especially if the camera is not supported. So, don’t forget to use a tripod.

ALSO READ: The Exposure Triangle- Does It Matter In Smartphone Photography

Portrait mode

Earlier, I mentioned shooting in manual mode. Some smartphone camera apps have a portrait mode, which is specifically made for capturing portraits. This mode is usually available on phones that have a telephoto camera at the back.

Exactly how portrait mode works differs from phone to phone, but the idea is pretty much the same. The phone switches from the primary camera to the telephoto camera, and it also adds a bokeh effect to simulate the look of portraits taken with a DSLR camera.

Not all phones that can create a blurred background do it well, particularly older phones and those that haven’t updated their camera app. You find that sometimes the edges don’t look right, or areas that shouldn’t be blurred are blurred. In such cases, it’s best to decrease the effect or not use that feature at all.

If your phone doesn’t have a telephoto lens camera or a portrait mode that functions properly, you can attach a telephoto lens to your rear camera for a similar, yet slight effect.


What’s the best way to hold your phone when taking portrait photos? Vertically, of course. Portraits are usually focused on the subject and not the background. Orientating your phone vertically allows you to do just that. You can get a good head and shoulder shot with less of the background if the phone is positioned vertically instead of horizontally.

But that’s not to say you can’t take a portrait shot in landscape mode. Photography is subjective and rules are made to be broken. Whatever makes sense to you, go with it. Just be sure to compose the shots well.


Shooting in the RAW format gives you a lot of flexibility at the post-processing stage. Unlike jpeg photos, RAW images are not processed and compressed by the image signal processor (ISP) to smaller file sizes. Therefore, the RAW format is lossless and retains all the details of the original image as it was captured.

Because of this, you can make extensive adjustments to the contrast, brightness, colour, tonality, and more. You can do the same with a jpeg photo, but the adjustments you can make are limited before the look and quality of the image is compromised further.

The downside of RAW photos is the large file size because of the lack of compression. However, the amount of editing freedom it gives you makes it worth the sacrifice of space. If space is an issue, you can easily backup your photos and create more space.

Keep in mind that not every smartphone can shoot RAW. If yours can, you’re in luck and I highly recommend you take advantage of that feature.

The lighting setup


Light is directional and, therefore, its position in relation to the subject is very important. If you’re shooting indoors, you’ll probably need to set up lights. Where you position the lights can have a dramatic effect on your portraits.

Placing a light behind the subject will create a silhouette. Placing it directly to the side will create a dramatic, half-lit face effect. For a fully lit photo, it’s best that the subject stand facing the light.

Natural lighting is the best lighting and can be used indoors as well. Simply position your subject near a door, window, skylight, or other sources of natural light indoors. Just keep in mind the time of day and how much sunlight falls into that area. If the light is too harsh, it’ll create nasty shadows.

And that’s part of the challenge of shooting portraits outside in natural light. It’s best to avoid shooting around midday when the sun is directly overhead. It’s best to capture portrait shots in a shaded area or when it’s overcast and the lighting is much softer.

To help you control the light indoors and outdoors, you can use a diffuser to soften any harsh light or use a reflector to bounce light onto the subject and eliminate shadows.

The pose

How your subject is posed and positioned can have a big impact on how the photos turn out. Therefore, it’s important to have your subject be as comfortable as possible. Have them pose in a way that compliments their personality while keeping in mind the lighting and camera angles.


But for dramatic effect, you can move your subject out of their comfort zone. For example, having a camera-shy person jump or make funny faces can make for exciting photos. Try out different combinations of poses and camera angles for more interesting shots

However, posing your subject doesn’t always yield the best results. Sometimes people who aren’t comfortable with posing will just not look natural, no matter what you do.

In such cases, it’s best to take candid photos. These are unplanned shots that the subject is usually unaware of. Candid shots often look good because the subject looks more natural and interesting.

Step 4: Take the shots

After everything is set up and you’re happy with the way things look, you’re now ready to photos. But don’t just be quick to take shots randomly without much thought.

Once you have set up your phone on a tripod and the subject is ready, take a moment to consider how you’re going to compose your shot, from which angles, and how you’re going to emphasise your subject.


Composition refers to the way in which the elements in a photo are organized and positioned within the frame. Just as a musician composes or arranges music notes in a certain way that sounds good, a photographer should compose their shots in a way that looks good.


There are many rules and principles of composition that you can follow to make your smartphone portrait shots look good. Whether you choose to place your subject in the centre of the frame or off-centre, it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that you don’t put too much room above the head or chop off parts of the head. But, photography is subjective, so you can do whatever you want. You can even break the rules to create some visually unique portraits. Just know which rules you’re breaking and why, otherwise it will look very amateur.


Traditionally, when people take portrait photos, they generally capture them from eye-level. From there, they can capture full-body shots (head to toe), mid shots (from the waist up), and close-up shots (face and shoulders).

If you want to focus on the subject’s expression, you take a close-up. If you want to bring attention to where the subject is, what they’re doing or wearing, then take a full-length shot or a mid-shot.


But to make your smartphone portrait photos look unique and original, you should try capturing the portraits from different angles and positions. So, instead of keeping the shots at eye-level, get down on the ground or climb up high to take the photos.

These unique angles can make your subjective appear larger than life or small and vulnerable, which can help you tell a story with your mobile phone photos.

Focus on the eyes


They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and it’s true. Sometimes you can tell a lot just by looking into someone’s eyes. Depending on the culture, people usually make eye contact when they meet. That’s how we connect with each other.

So, if you want to connect with the subject, you need to focus on their eyes. It’s probably the first place someone looking at the photo will look, even if the subject’s eyes are closed or covered. Therefore, it’s important that the eyes look sharp and not blurry.

A blurry image will be difficult for anyone to engage with no matter how good the composition, the angles, and everything else is. So, make sure you use a tripod, set your focus correctly, and keep the lens clean.

ALSO READ: What Causes Blurry Mobile Photos?

Step 5: Edit the photos

The process of taking portrait photos with a mobile phone does not end once you have forever immortalized your subject in a digital image. If you want your smartphone portrait photos to look more “professional”, you have to do some touch-ups and edit the photo.

There are plenty of apps you can use to edit your mobile photos. I recommend you use pro-level apps such as Snapseed or Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Not only do these apps provide a wide variety of tools to edit and enhance your image, but they also don’t compress your photos when you save the edits. Therefore, you don’t lose picture quality.

When editing your portrait photos, less is more. So, don’t overdo the edit. Whatever you do, you should always aim to make your subject’s skin tones look natural. Make whatever necessary adjustments you need to make to the contrast, exposure, etc. of the picture to make it come to life without drawing attention to the edit.

Tips for taking better portraits with your phone

Here are a few quick tips to help you get better at taking portrait photos with a mobile phone.

Learn your phone

A camera is only as good as its operator. So, even if you have a phone with a good camera but don’t know how to make the most of it, your photos will look average at best. To take good photos with your phone, you need to learn how the camera works.


As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. Cliche as it might sound, it’s true. If you practice and take a lot of pictures with your phone, you’ll eventually get good at it.

But don’t just take photos randomly and hope to get better. Practice an aspect of mobile photography you’d like to improve on, and once you’re happy you’ve got the hang of it, move on to the next one and keep practising.

Get creative


One way to make your mobile portraits look good is to use a bit of creativity. Find unique ways to capture your subject using colours, textures, lighting, and whatever else is around you.

Creativity can’t be taught but it can be inspired. So, if you’re struggling with getting creative, look at what others are doing and draw inspiration from that.


Taking portrait photos with a smartphone can be pretty easy if you know what you’re doing. Following the steps and tips above will definitely help you get started on the right path. But to get better, you need to practice a lot.

Happy snapping!

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