Phone Camera Basics: 5 Mobile Photography Tips You Should Know (But Don’t)

There are loads of things to learn about mobile photography, but we’re here in this case to talk about cell phone camera basics. From how to open your camera app to when to use the different phone lenses, these five tips will simplify the process for you.

Phone Camera Basics – 5 ‘must-knows’

landscape photography on your phone
Joe Monk (@jmmobiphoto)

While here we’re going to give you five tips on phone camera basics, it’s important to remember never to stop learning. Let your drive for fantastic photos be your friend!

We have a plethora of other posts; some give you in-depth explanations on how to do different types of smartphone photography, others introduce the best gear and gadgets in the industry, and still, others explain things like shutter speed and optimal light conditions. For those looking to learn linearly, mobile photography 101 is the next logical step after this post.

But, for now, we’ll focus on the very basics.

Do you know how to open your phone camera?

  • Are you using your phone’s camera or a third-party app? If the former, a simple swipe up on any screen should open a menu with a camera logo. Simply click it to open the camera. If, on the other hand, you’re using an app, then you’ll have to find it on your phone. A simple search using the phone’s search function (In-Apps for Android and Spotlight for IOS) will do the trick. Or, you could create a photography folder where all your tools are kept together.

Do you know how to zoom on a smartphone?

  • Place two fingers together on the screen and pull them away from each other (vice-versa will unzoom). Don’t overdo it, though, as zoom compromises the integrity of the photo! So that you know, you shouldn’t be using the zoom anyway.

Do you know how to focus?

  • Technology is awesome. A simple tap on what you want to be in focus should do the trick. Once you get good enough, you can try to use the manual focus capabilities. We won’t go over that here, though, as it’s a more advanced technique. We have, however, gone over it in the past, so if you’re interested, give this a read.

Do you know how to turn on the flash?

  • Usually, by opening your camera app, the ability to adjust the flash is visible on the home screen. It should be located somewhere on the top, depending on your cell phone. The symbol should look like a lightning strike. While this is a useful tool to have, use it sparingly. If you need help with lighting, a relatively inexpensive clip-on LED light will solve all your problems.

Can you turn on your phone’s grid? Why would you want to?

  • So, your phone’s grid will definitely help you adhere to the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds may be the single most crucial photography rule to learn if you want to improve your smartphone photography. Essentially the rule states that if you break your photo into nine boxes, then your subject should sit on one of the lines running through the image. Take some of your best smartphone photos and employ the rule of thirds to see if your work adheres to the rule. Do you need a little more information because you’re unconvinced? Check this out.

Why turn on portrait mode? How do I do it?

  • You will utilize portrait mode if you’re looking to blur the background while enhancing the foreground. This bokeh effect, as it is known, is ideal for photographing people. Sometimes portrait mode can also be used when photographing animals or when trying to do macro photography without a dedicated lens. While we don’t recommend this technique, we do also push our readers to experiment!

Basic Smartphone Photography Tip #1 – Why To Use a Mobile Over a Pro-Quality Camera

mobile landscape photography
moving car photography
Joe Monk (@jmmobiphoto)

Which photo was taken with a Sony AR7 camera, and which photo was taken with an iPhone 5C?

Are you struggling to decide? We aren’t surprised, and smartphone cameras are only getting better. While it’s true that they don’t compete with mirrorless or DSLR cameras in many ways, indeed, smartphones will eventually be able to do what the mirrorless or DSLR cameras of today can do.

Look, we know it seems like we’re pro-quality camera bashers, but we’re really not. We know there are times and places for the old-faithful. We’re just pointing out the value of the camera in your cell phone.

In the end, though, we realize that mobile phone cameras are getting unbelievably good. It would be irresponsible if we didn’t take advantage of learning about them and how to use them as often as possible.

On the other hand, phone camera basics are also much more straightforward than the pro-quality camera basics.

Unless you’re making serious money from photography, why would you want to overcomplicate things?

Basic Smartphone Photography Tip #2 – Gear, Apps, and Tools

smartphone travel photography gear
Joe Monk (jmmobiphoto)

Before we get into the basics of actually taking the photo, we must explain why you should be using your phone over a mirrorless or DSLR camera in the first place (even though we’ve discussed it before).

The most obvious example of a reason why you should choose your phone is that you could spend hundreds on an assortment of lenses, camera bags, camera straps, and the like.

Or, you could spend $100 total for a top-class phone camera lens and tripod that will effectively do the same things. Add in a couple of photo taking and free photo editing apps, and you’re well on your way to being a top rate smartphone photographer.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that you really should be taking advantage of every opportunity to edit on your PC instead of on your phone. While the latter is undoubtedly faster and more convenient, the added control provided by Adobe Suites – Lightroom CC and Photoshop – is too good not to use.

If you can spring the ten dollars a month for Adobe – hint you’ll have access to the mobile app where you can seamlessly transfer mobile photos around – then buying it is a serious no brainer.

Basic Smartphone Photography Tip #3 – Photo Composition

So you’ve pulled out your phone to photograph something and came to the alarming realization that you have no idea where to stand, what angle to attempt, how the lighting should be handled, or even how to take the damn photo.

Some light reading will tell you everything you need to know!

So, the most important thing is to picture how you want your photo to turn out before you take it. By this we mean, use your imagination and then just try to replicate what you see. You’ll be amazed by the results. Some other things to consider are:

  1. The Rule of Thirds
  2. Blue/Golden Hour
  3. Your Vantage Point
  4. Leading Lines
  5. The Business of the Background
  6. Symmetry and Patterns
  7. What is Framing the Subject

Basic Smartphone Photography Tip #4 What Should You Photograph?

You want to want to capture breathtaking landscapes, eye-gawking actions, and poignant portraits – those are givens.

It’s the photo of the mundane, however, that is the most impressive if done correctly.

Do you ever wonder how someone can make a bike leaning against the side of a building look impressive in a photograph? It’s all about what’s included in the image – what creates the photo’s aesthetic.

Oh, and another thing. Just like you think about your photo’s composition, you should consider its surroundings and what you’d like to include before taking the shot.

Basic Smartphone Photography Tip #5 – It’s All About Editing

Ditch those boring filters that come with your phone. Ditch those popular filters from Instagram. Download something new, something cutting-edge, and something that’ll have your followers scratching their heads.

By this we mean, good photo editing solves a lot of problems. If you’re taking mediocre mobile photos, and you shouldn’t be because you’re all over tips one through four (but I digress), make them pop with both photo-taking and photo-editing apps.

A combination of the two will give you exponentially more control, allowing you to do exactly what it is you envision.

Also, do some experimenting to figure out what the best combination is for your photography style, then get out there and slay the game!

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