There is no doubt that some of the best smartphone cameras take some really amazing pictures. In some instances, you can hardly even tell that a photo was taken with a smartphone camera. In fact, some people have made money selling their smartphone photos.
That just goes to show that smartphone photos are nothing to sneer at. They can compete with photos from some pretty good cameras.
If your smartphone photos look nothing like those taken by a professional, don’t worry. The points and tips below will help you take photos that look professional with your smartphone.
1. Get the right gear
If ever you’ve seen a professional photographer at work, you’ll know that they carry quite a bit of gear with them. And each piece of equipment they carry serves a specific purpose. If you want to take professional photos with your smartphone, you also need the right gear for your mobile camera.
Use a phone with a good camera
One of the things that make people believe a photo was taken by a professional is the picture quality. No matter how good you are as a photographer, if the picture quality of the camera you’re using is poor, your photos will not be thought of as “professional”.
And because not all smartphones are made the same with good mobile camera specifications, it’s important that you look for one with a large sensor that can shoot well in low light and also produce sharp images.
Invest in a camera support
If you want to take professional pictures with your phone, then you have to invest in a tripod. There are no two ways about it. It’s part of every professional photographer’s arsenal of tools, and so it should be part of yours, too. And for good reasons.
Firstly, using a tripod helps to keep your phone steady. This eliminates the likelihood of blurry photos from a shaky camera. Secondly, it opens up opportunities for creative photography such as long exposure or light painting.
The nice thing about smartphone tripods is that they come in different shapes and sizes. So, whether you want a mini tripod, a flexible tripod, or a tripod that can double as a selfie stick, there are various options available for every pocket.
My favourite tripod is the Ubeesize HG50 tripod. It’s a sturdy and versatile tripod that can support a smartphone and small DSLR at the same time on its lateral arm. What’s more, it has a Bluetooth remote that allows you to take full-length photos of yourself. And it’s affordable. You can check it out at Amazon.
Use mobile photography accessories
Depending on the type of photography you want to do with your smartphone, you may need to add more accessories to your arsenal. Things such as add-on lenses can come in handy when doing the likes of macro photography and portrait photography.
Lighting is another important piece of equipment you might want to invest in, particularly if you want to take photos in low-light conditions. There are lighting options available specifically for smartphones worth checking out.
For more smartphone gear and accessories for mobile photography, click here.
2. Pick a subject
A photo without a clear subject can be confusing and lacks professionalism. So, if you want your smartphone photos to look professional, you must pick a subject and put a lot of emphasis on it.
One of the ways professional photographers emphasise their subject is by blurring the background and keeping the foreground subject in focus. This is something that a lot of smartphone cameras can do digitally these days with some pretty good results, in some cases.
If your smartphone camera can do that, then it’s worth exploring that option to make your mobile photos look more professional.
3. Plan your shots
Great shots don’t always just happen by accident. If you want to take photos with your phone that look like they were taken by a professional, then you need to plan the shots.
A professional photographer makes a list of the photos they want to take and the best time to take them. They may take into consideration factors such as the weather and lighting conditions.
Of course, not all photos can be planned for. But if you’re in control of the photoshoot and the environment, then you can make a checklist of the types of photos you want to take and the best time to take them.
Having a plan also helps you prepare for the future and pack the right gear that you might need for the specific types of photos you want to capture. Without a plan, you might forget something crucial such as additional lighting.
4. Lighting is VERY important
Without lighting, there is no photography. It’s for this reason that professional photographers are always chasing the right light or setting up their own when there isn’t enough available lighting. The best lighting you can use for your mobile photos to look professional is natural lighting, i.e., the sun.
When shooting out in the sun, pay attention to the time of day and cloud cover because it affects the colour temperature of the light and its intensity. The golden hour (sunrise/sunset) has a beautiful warm glow, while overcast days have a cooler colour temperature.
It’s best to avoid taking photos outdoors with your phone at midday because the sun is directly overhead and casts a harsh light that causes unflattering shadows.
When taking pictures indoors, position your subject near a source of natural light such as a window. Alternatively, you can set up your own lights and have more control over how the lighting moulds the subject. If you can’t afford to buy lights made especially for smartphone photography, then house lights can be a less-than-ideal-but-okay substitute.
But whatever you do, do not use the flash on your smartphone. Although professional photographers use flash to create some stunning images, the flash on smartphones is far weaker and can’t be adjusted and repositioned like a professional flash.
Smartphone photos taken with the flash switched on look horrible and are a far cry from the professional look. It’s best to avoid it completely.
5. Compose your shots well
Just like how a musician composes music that sounds good to the ear, a professional photographer arranges all the elements in the photo so that it looks good to the eye. This includes how the subject is positioned in the frame, where they are facing, how many subjects there are, and so on.
If you’re new to photography, the easiest way to compose your shots in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing is to enable the grid in your phone’s camera settings and use it to apply the rule of thirds.
The grid divides an image into nine segments by using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guidelines and their intersection points. The horizon is usually placed on the top or bottom line.
Of course, the rule of thirds is not the only composition technique you can use. You can also centre the subject or use symmetry. For other composition techniques, check out Chapter 1 of the 5 Ways To Improve Your Smartphone Photography ebook. You can download it for free here.
6. Shoot in manual mode
By default, most camera apps shoot in auto mode, which pretty much leaves all the decision-making to the phone’s AI. It analyzes the scene and decides the exposure levels, white balance, focus, and others. And to be quite honest, most smartphones do a pretty good job at reading a scene and automatically choosing what it believes are the best settings for the picture.
Shot in auto mode
Shot in manual mode
However, if you want to take photos with your phone like a pro, you may need to switch to shooting in manual mode. Doing so allows you to be in control of the camera’s settings so that you can get the image to look exactly the way you want it to, not how artificial intelligence “thinks” it should look.
7. Shoot RAW
Typically, when a smartphone takes a photo, it saves it as a jpeg file. However, jpeg files are processed and compressed by the image signal processor (ISP) before being saved in their final form. During this process, some information is lost and can never be recovered. Therefore, a jpeg photo has a low dynamic range which limits how much you can do with it in the edit.
RAW photos are just that-- raw. They are unprocessed and uncompressed. At first glance, a RAW photo might look dull compared to a jpeg file. However, RAW photos have a high dynamic range which allows you to play around with the contrast a lot more without losing detail in the highlights and shadows.
Professional photographers tend to prefer shooting RAW for the flexibility and creative freedom it gives them when editing. Unfortunately, not all smartphones cameras can shoot RAW. But if yours can, you should learn how to shoot and edit RAW photos with your smartphone to make them look more professional.
8. Edit moderately
Professional photographers are not usually just satisfied with the way their photos look straight from the camera, particularly if they shoot RAW. Oftentimes, the pros will import their photos into an image editing program and do some touch-ups to brighten up the colours and adjust the contrast among other things.
What’s worth noting is that you wouldn’t know that their photos have been edited because they look natural and not overdone. If you want your smartphone photos to look professional, you need to go easy on the edits and filters.
A professionally edited photo does not draw attention to the edit, but rather to the contents of the image.
To further help you make your mobile photos look more professional, take the following tips into consideration:
Hold the phone correctly
Photography is a subjective art, so you’re entitled to hold the phone however you wish when you take photos. However, if you want your smartphone photos to look professional, then there are some ways to hold the phone for certain shots that you need to be aware of.
Also known as landscape mode, holding your phone horizontally is ideal for capturing scenery and, well, landscapes. That’s because the horizontal position has a wider angle-of-view that can fit more into the frame in terms of action and scenery.
For most, this is the default way they take photos with their phone because it’s how a phone is held, to begin with. However, in photography, positioning the camera vertically is often used for capturing portraits. That’s why it’s also known as portrait mode.
But you can also shoot vertically to capture tall subjects that wouldn’t otherwise fit in the flat and wide frame of landscape mode.
Don’t use digital zoom
When a traditional camera zooms in with a zoom lens, the glass elements inside the lens barrel move and magnify the subject you’re zooming into. This is known as optical zoom and suffers no loss in picture quality.
Smartphones are too small to have zoom lenses, therefore, they use digital zoom. What this does is crops the image and then enlarges it. What results is an image with poor picture quality the further you zoom in.
Smartphones with multiple cameras often have a telephoto lens that provides 2x or 3x optical zoom. Some smartphones have periscope cameras that can zoom in even further optically without noticeable picture loss.
Unless you have a phone that has optical zoom, it’s best you get closer to the subject instead of using digital zoom.
Keep your camera clean
No matter how well-lit and beautifully composed your photos are, if they are blurry or foggy they will not look professional at all. Most often, the cause of blurry smartphone photos is a dirty camera lens.
Smartphones are handled more regularly than any type of camera and they generally don’t have any lens caps to protect the lenses. As a result, at some point, the lens will get dirty. Keeping your lens clean by wiping the camera with a soft cloth will ensure your photos come out looking sharp and professional.
ALSO READ: How To Prevent Blurry Smartphone Photos
Photography is an art form that requires creativity in order to make an impact. Professional photographers don’t just take the same old boring pictures from the same angle. They switch it up and spice things up a bit. They get down on the floor or climb on things to get unique angles.
By experimenting with different shots and angles, you can come up with some creative shots that the everyday person wouldn’t think of. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Use props. Have splashes of colour or none at all. Do anything that will make your photos unique and stand out.
As cliche as it might sound, practice does make perfect. The more you take photos with your smartphone, the better you will get at it. But don’t just take lots of photos randomly with no objective. Make it a point to practice a certain aspect of photography until you get it right and then move on to the next one.
For example, once you get the hang of composition after taking many practice shots, you can then practice lighting until you understand how to work with it better before moving on to something else.
For inspiration, you can join some online mobile photography communities on social media and see what others are doing and try to replicate that. Engage with other photographers, ask questions, and ask for feedback on your work. This will help you get better at capturing photos and making your smartphone photos look professional.
It may take some time and practice, but it’s completely possible to take professional-quality pictures with a smartphone. What you need is the right gear, a good subject, and a clear plan of what you want to achieve.
But most importantly, you need to understand your mobile camera better in order to capitalize on its capabilities. From there, you can hone your mobile photography skills.
To help you with that, you can download the 5 Ways To Improve Your Smartphone Photography ebook. It’s simple and easy to understand, yet very informative. But best of all, it’s absolutely free! Download it here.