Become better at Smartphone Photography – Part 2
In part one of becoming a better Smartphone Photographer, you have learned all about composition rules, exposure triangle, and using manual settings.
We have talked about whether or not a Smartphone can replace a DSLR camera and how this will evolve in the future.
In this article, we will give you countless tips on photographing different settings, like portraits, monochrome, and macro. We will show you what kind of accessories you can use to get amazing results with your smartphone camera.
Last but not least, we will reveal my top third-party apps for taking and editing images. I have selected my favorite apps, so you don’t have to go through the jungle of Android and iOs applications
Table of contents
- Photography modes
- Theme photography
Let’s start with different photography modes and what you can use them for.
The gear I used for writing this blog can be found on my favorite gear page.
Photography modes available in Smartphones
Not all smartphones have all the modes mentioned below. Find the settings in your native camera app and look for the different options. You can also use a third-party app to get more possibilities. We will give you some handy examples later in this article.
Pro or manual mode
The best and most crucial camera setting on your smartphone is the professional mode, pro mode, or manual mode. With this mode, you can choose the shutter speed, ISO, light metering, compensate exposure, and adjust focus. Some smartphones even let you change the white balance and aperture.
It might get a bit of time to get used to taking images in pro mode, but it will undoubtedly improve the outcome in the long run.
>> Start by accessing the pro mode by opening the native camera app on your phone. Go to settings and choose the pro mode, manual mode, or professional mode. Once you have selected the pro mode, you will see several adjustable settings on your screen. Metering is one of them. Depending on your smartphone make and model, it may differ in appearance.
You also have an option to save your images in RAW format. As we suggested in part 1, you should use this format when you want and edit your image.
Using pro mode on your smartphone
After you have studied the interface on your phone for a bit, it is time to practice. We have already covered ISO values and aperture in part 1 of this beginner’s guide. Let’s continue with metering, exposure compensation, and shutter speed. The first new setting you should pay attention to is metering.
You can tell the sensor in your smartphone camera how to set exposure (EV). There are different types of metering available.
- Matrix or Evaluative Metering: the entire scene is divided into zones. An average value of exposure is set depending on the reading of light available from each zone. It is best used for scenes that are evenly lit.
- Spot or Partial Metering: one part of the scene is very bright compared to the rest of the image (mostly the background). You can use spot metering when you want to photograph the moon or other bright objects in a darker environment, or with backlit subjects.
- Center-weighted Average Metering: in center metering, exposure is set according to the light in the middle of the scene. The corners are less important. It is an excellent way of setting the exposure for portraits or when the subject fills up the majority of the frame.
If you are new to using the pro mode on your smartphone and not yet familiar with the ideal combination of ISO and shutter speed, you can use metering to help you out. The meter will help you in choosing the best setting for optimal exposure.
>> You can change the metering mode of your smartphone camera in the manual mode of the camera app. You can recognize the metering mode icon usually by a rectangle, with a circle in the middle.
When you know how to use metering, you can start learning how to use shutter speed for beautiful and dramatic effects.
Adjusting the shutter speed of your smartphone camera can result in surprising and beautiful images. Shutter speed is responsible for changing the exposure and creating effects by freezing or blurring motion.
The mechanical camera shutter is responsible for blocking light that wants to come through the lens to the sensor. When you take an image with a DSLR, the shutter opens shortly, allowing light to pass so you can take a picture. Shutter speed in a smartphone works differently. Your mobile phone works with an electronic shutter that switches the camera’s sensor on and off for a certain amount of time.
Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the sensor of your smartphone is on. The time is measured in fractions of a second, seconds, or minutes. Most smartphones have a maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds. A shutter speed of 1/20 means that the sensor will be on for 1 twentieth of a second, which is quite fast. A speed of 1/3200 is even quicker. So the larger the number, the faster the shutter speed.
A slow shutter speed gives you the ability to capture motion. In most cases, you need a tripod for this. Otherwise, every move you make is captured by your smartphone. Here are our favorite affordable tripods for Smartphones. Photographing movement during the day also requires using an ND filter (6 to 10-stop) to block out excessive lighting. You can try capturing a moving train while people are waiting on the platform. Or you can smoothen out the water of a waterfall. Another popular way of capturing motion is capturing light trails from moving vehicles at night.
Faster shutter speed will freeze motion. You can try this at home with water droplets falling in a glass, or a cat jumping from the fens.
Most smartphones with a manual or pro mode have an option for exposure compensation. Usually, the exposure compensation will be set to automatic. Your smartphone camera will try to get the right exposure by measuring the light.
Sometimes the result is not what you want, and you have to change it manually. Exposure compensation is usually measured in f-stops. You can manually adjust the exposure compensation with the EV settings on your screen. Plus, values will brighten the scene, and minus values will darken the scene. Give it a try.
We have talked about HDR (High Dynamic Range) a bit in part 1 of this beginner’s guide. Let’s dive in a bit more to understand the capabilities fully.
Details in highlights and shadows
HDR photography can be a blast. It is all about colors, brightness, and contrast. It is a convenient setting under challenging scenes with high contrast and loss of detail in the shadows. Using HDR photography ca be the answer in these kinds of situations. You will be able to reveal much more detail in both shadows and highlights.
Your camera will take multiple images with different exposures and merge them as one. Please be aware that some pictures might look over-processed. But if you do it right, you can get yourself some t amazing shots.
Use a tripod and remote shutter
To get the best results, You need to use a tripod and remote shutter. It will prevent your smartphone from moving and creating blurry images. Open your native camera app and look for the HDR setting. It might also be called Richt Tone, Dynamic Tone, or even Drama. Your phone’s manual can shed light on what this feature is called. It is also possible to buy a third-party application like Pro HDR, HDR Camera+, or 4Blend HDR.
When should I use HDR in smartphone photography
Although HDR sounds like a fantastic tool, only use it when the scene asks for it. It is very easy to overdo it.
You can use HDR photography, for example, when you are shooting vast landscapes with a lot of contrast between the earth and the sky. Or when you are taking portraits in harsh sunlight. It will prevent dark shadows on people’s faces. Even in low-light situations, it might be a solution. Just remember to turn off the flash while using HDR.
If you can’t find the HDR setting on your phone and a third-party app does not work, you can try manually creating HDR images. You will have to shoot a scene from a tripod three times with normal exposure, overexposure, and underexposure. You can combine these images later into one well-exposed photograph.
What is the difference between HDR and Auto-HDR?
Some smartphones come with an Auto-HDR function. It works similarly to auto flash. Your mobile camera decides whether or not the scene needs HDR and switches it on or off accordingly. Some manufacturers call it HDR+ or SmartHDR or anything that resembles an automatic function.
Burst mode can be convenient while taking action photos. Photographing moving subjects can be challenging. But there is a way to make it easier. Many new smartphone cameras have a built-in burst mode.
>> You will find it in the settings of the native camera app. Or you just use it while holding the shutter release button. Your camera will keep taking photos until you release the shutter button. Using this technique will maximize the chance of capturing a moving subject in a cool position.
You can even use the images you took in burst mode to make a short video of the subject moving. You can find the photos in a special burst album.
When should you use burst mode?
First and foremost, it is a fantastic feature to capture action photos like jumping pets, running people or swimming fish. The key to getting the perfect moment frozen in time is by starting shooting before the subject begins jumping or moving through the scene. I will allow you to capture the whole movement.
You can also use burst mode to increase the chance of taking a beautiful picture of someone who doesn’t notice. It is much easier to capture a candid shot of people or pets. It also enables you to capture interactions and moments between people that might only last for a few seconds.
With panorama mode, you can take ultra wide-angle images. Especially new models from Samsung and Apple have a built-in panorama setting. The Ultra-Wide Camera enables ultra Wide Panorama features on the new Galaxy S20 series. It is a 123-degree field of vision, which makes for excellent panorama images. You can use it horizontally as well as vertically.
Smartphone Photography Themes
Now you know the basics of your smartphone camera, and how to use different modes and settings, you might be looking for inspiration for creative images. We have put together a list of different themes and how you can implement them to create stunning shots. We’ll start with portrait photography.
When you take a portrait, you naturally want the person portrayed to be as good as possible in the photo. At the same time, you may want to show some of the environment. We will show you what options there are and how to take portrait photos that make everyone happy.
When you use a single color background, the subject of your portrait gets the most attention in the image. You can achieve this by putting a person in front of an evenly colored wall. The background will be less distracting this way.
Background with structure or pattern
If you like to try something different, go for a structured or patterned background. Think about a brick stone wall or a beautiful wallpaper. It will make the image more vivid. Try to prevent busy or bright colored backgrounds. The subject needs to be an essential part of the picture.
The image behind the portrait
You can choose to take a portrait picture in which the environments play an essential part. Think about a beautiful field or a busy street. Or you can decide to showcase a hobby of the person you are portraying.
Portrait composition rules
You can use the rule of thirds in portraits as well. It will give a certain amount of strength to the photograph. With this composition rule, you will send the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the image.
Another applicable standard in portraits photography is the golden ratio. This mathematic rule exists over 2000 years, it is widely used and accepted in the renaissance, and da Vinci used it in his work. The golden ratio is a spiral that runs through the entire frame. When you build a composition entirely according to the golden ratio, the viewer’s eye is smoothly and naturally guided through the whole image until it arrives at the central point in the photograph.
How can I use portrait mode with my smartphone?
A lot of smartphones have a built-in portrait mode these days. This mode creates a shallow depth of field with specialized software. It is a way of mimicking bokeh with the use of dual-lens smartphone cameras.
You will find portrait mode in the settings of your native camera app. The quality of the images is quite different depending on the model and make of your mobile. Some portrait modes struggle to separate hairs and glasses from the background. Pay attention to the details.
The software works best while using a single-colored background. You can, for example, start practicing in front of a concrete wall.
Macro photography is widely popular in the regular photography industry, but still a bit of a niche within smartphone photography. It is not very easy to take macro images with your phone without a clip-on macro lens. We have selected a few lenses that are easy to use, not breaking the bank, and great for beginner and intermediate smartphone photographers.
Working distance and gear
Without a macro lens, you cannot get very close to the subject. It is impossible to create detailed images of water droplets, bugs, and flowers. With a lens, you will see a lot of movement when shooting by hand. So you need some additional accessories for macro photography with your phone.
You can read more about macro photography with your smartphone and desirable accessories in this blog.
You start with cleaning your lens before starting taking macro images. The tiniest grain of sand or dust can ruin the shot. Cleaning is quickly done with a microfiber cloth. Gather your tripod, lens, and remote shutter and prepare the scene. Remove distracting objects, hairs, sand, dust, and twigs. Set your smartphone camera app to manual mode and choose your preferred settings.
➽ you can find my favorite microfiber cloths on Amazon for just a few bucks.
Beware of lighting
Set manual or pro mode on your camera (you might even try portrait mode to get a shallow depth of field) and remember not to use the zoom! Move with your feet. Get very close to the subject. We get on our knees and bellies often while shooting macro images.
As with all photography, lighting is vital for taking macro photos. Daylight is the easiest to work with but be aware of harsh shadows. Sunlight makes a lot of things prettier, but more challenging to create the best possible outcome. Alter the scene, if possible, to prevent this from happening. Bent a flower stem or leaf to get the best lighting. Or use your body to block direct sunlight.
20 Macro photography ideas for smartphone
It might be challenging to think of macro scenes when you are new at smartphone photography. Here are a view visible and less obvious ideas for shooting macro:
- Water droplets
- Fruit and vegetables
- Grass and plants
- Spider and cobweb
- Details of rope
- Industrial items
- Ice crystals and snowflakes
- Animal features like fur and eyes
- Tree bark
Try different things, and most of all, have fun planning and taking macro images with your phone.
You can create beautiful images when you play with motion. In the paragraph about shutter speed, we have talked a little bit about motion photography as well. And there is a full blog post about how to create the ultimate action and motion photos with your phone. We discuss different kinds of captures, like freezing motion, panning, motion blur, light trails, and chronography.
Photography in the dark with a smartphone was not an option a couple of years ago. But times and technology are changing. Where photography in low light was the Achilles heel of telephone cameras, a smartphone is now ideal for taking beautiful photos. In low light and even in the dark. The only thing you need is a smartphone with a manual or night mode.
Use Night Mode on your Smartphone
Most new smartphones come with a built-in night mode in the native camera app. But it is not switched on by default. You can turn it on in the settings of your camera app. It might be called night mode, but other terms are also used (bright night, night sight, or something similar).
Night mode works similarly to HDR imaging. Your camera will take several images with different exposure levels and put them together as one. It is the best option when you want to shoot hand-held pictures and don’t want to carry a tripod around.
This mode is especially useful for non-moving objects. As soon as the subject is starting moving, it does not work correctly. You should use the manual mode instead.
Lighting in low-light situations
Although it might sound reasonable to use flash in a low-light situation, turn it off anyway. Try to learn how to use street lights or another present light source. Things like the moon, street lights, or billboards can do the job. You can create moody scenes with the right kind of light.
It is possible to use artificial light in low-light scenes. We recommend you use a portable LED panel from Amazon. If you want to use the flash of your camera, soften the light with thin paper or tissue over the lens.
Bright colors attract attention more quickly in a photo: especially signal colors such as red, orange, and yellow. That’s okay, except when it’s distracting from the main topic. If you shoot in black and white (monochrome), you can focus on the subject without distracting colors.
Note, in black and white, everything looks different, and your photo gets a defining atmosphere. The loss of color, therefore, means that you photograph differently than you usually do. We will show you how you can create beautiful monochrome images.
Activate monochrome mode
Because we see the world in color, it is difficult to estimate what a monochrome photo will look like. Fortunately, you can see in advance what the result will be using the monochrome mode. You can turn this mode on in the settings of your native camera app. It might also be hidden amongst different filters that you can activate by swiping up or down the screen.
Think black and white
As soon as you turn on the monochrome filter, all color tones are immediately converted. They will automatically turn into black, white, or one of the many hundreds of shades of gray in between. It allows you to see what produces the most beautiful photo immediately.
Because some colors are converted to more or less the same shades of gray, an object may disappear in the environment. Then try to find a background that contrasts better. Light gray or white works better against a dark gray or black background and vice versa.
When should I use black and white photography
Choose black and white photography when the light, form, or texture in the scene are more important than the colors of the subject. Monochrome is the right choice when the color in the desired images is nothing but a distraction. It stands in the way of getting your message out.
It works particularly well with portraits. Think about people with tattoos or elderly persons with lots of lines in their faces. It can also work quite surprisingly with backlit subjects to create silhouettes. You can create an instant moody picture by using monochrome mode.
Smartphone Photography Accessories for Beginners
As we have discussed in this ultimate smartphone photographers guide for beginners, you should use a couple of accessories to create amazing photographs. We have tried several options and came up with good quality accessories that don’t break the bank and are perfect for newbie smartphone photographers like yourself.
You can find the mentioned accessories on our recommended gear page. As time goes by, we might change our recommendations because manufacturers keep on improving their products.
Tripods: we have selected three lightweight and versatile tripods ranging from $14.99 to $45.00. I have used a Joby Gorillapod 3K with a smartphone mount for seven years and it never lets me down.
Remote shutter: there are different wireless shutters on the market. I prefer this very cheap and easy-to-use wireless remote shutter. You cannot find anything cheaper (a few bucks), and it works just fine.
Macro lens: you will find many different macro lenses on the market. I have tested many of them. I especially like the macro lens Xenvo Pro Lens Kit for beginner smartphone photographers. It comes with 7 different lenses (we don’t use half of it), and the macro lens performs well.
Are you looking for a more professional option? Go for one or more of the Moment lenses. They make high-quality lens cases for flagship smartphones like the Galaxy S20, S21, S22 iPhone 11, 12, 13, and Google Pixel 4, 5, and 6. But you can also use it on any other smartphone with a M-series lens mount.
A few Apps to make your Smartphone Photography Adventure Easier
There are countless third-party apps on the market to choose from. You might wonder where to begin and which apps to choose. We have put together a list of apps that are free or inexpensive for you to start your smartphone photography adventure.
Excellent Affordable Smartphones for Newbie Photographers
Here is an article with our favorite affordable smartphones with good-quality cameras for beginner photographers.
Final thoughts on smartphone photography for beginners
Although we can tell you much more about smartphone photography, you probably have enough input. If you like to know more about different subjects, use the search bar on top of this page.
Here are a few blogs you can use to become better at smartphone photography.
- Action and motion photography
- Blue hour photography
- Concert photography for beginners
- Make your smartphone images professional
Enjoy taking pictures, making mistakes, learning on the go, and sharing your best images on Instagram.