Phone Photography Tips

11 Cell Phone Photography Tips
By Droid Photo
We have been experimenting seriously with cell phone photography for the last three years. Before that the quality was simply not there. They say the best camera is the one you have with you and… well we almost always have a cell phone along. My first phone camera was the Motorola Q. Less than desirable photos and they were impossible to work on in Photoshop.

Old Motorola Q Image

Next I upgraded to the Blackberry Storm, found the images usable, and sometimes good. I currently use a Motorola Droid X and enjoy its output even better.

Our photography company donates images to websites that have charitable causes. Some donations have been cell phone photos capturing what the client needed. Cell phone photos are good enough for the web now. One site you can look at and see how the image holds up is The Giving They use six cell phone images of ours as well as some of our regular digital imagery.

Significant improvements have appeared on cell phones. If you have a camera that is less than two years old, you probably have a good picture taker. These improvements include better sensors, higher mega pixels, better lenses, and higher capacity storage.

Can a cell phone really take good photos? The answer is yes and no. It depends on what the final output will be. Do you want to make 16x 20 print enlargement? Sorry can't do it. One has to learn to live within the limits of the tiny camera's abilities. The following are my recommendations for improving your cell phone photography. The cell phone will make you a better photographer. It forces one to visualize the desired image and move around to create that image.

Tip 1 - Turn up the mega pixels. For most camera phones, 8 MP (megapixels) are the maximum limit. Take advantage of it! On many phones you must go into your settings and add more pixels. A point to make is that more mega pixels doesn’t necessarily give you better quality photos.

Tip 2 - Photograph in daylight. This one is pretty simple, just wait for the light. Camera phone images are better during daylight. The better lit your subject is the clearer your image will be. Camera phones simply cannot handle dark areas well. They introduce noise into these areas. Photograph outside or turn on all lights available when shooting indoors. 

 Tip 3 - Get close to your subject. The scene may look absolutely beautiful, but if the elements are quite a distance apart the cell phone image will not look good. A phone’s camera, for the most part, cannot deal with multiple subjects at multiple distances. Pick out elements within that beautiful scene and move in close to them.

Tip 4 - Jam it. I have given a name to this little technique. Add an element to the foreground. Jam it into the beginning of the image. This adds perspective and will really help your cell phone photos.

Tip 5 - Simple images. Keep your cell phone photos simple. So use the KISS system. (Keep It Simple Stupid). Less is more when it comes to photography. This especially is true with cell phone photography. Pay attention to the background and again move in close. Try sticking to single image concepts. This in itself will make you a better photographer. It forces you to look closer at a subject and eliminate elements near and around the subject. Remember in cell phone photography LESS IS MORE.

Tip 6 - Keep Still. As with all types of photography, the more steady your camera phone is when pressing the shutter the sharper your image will be. Hold the phone with both hands. Take a deep breath let it out and gently press the shutter. This is especially important in low light situations where the cell camera will select longer shutter speeds to compensate for the lack of light. Try to lean your camera phone against a solid object (like a tree, a wall, or a ledge) when making photos. Keep in mind that many camera phones also suffer from “shutter lag” So you need to hold the camera still a little longer to ensure it doesn’t take a shot as you’re lowering it away from the subject. Lastly if you have a sports mode in your cell camera use it. It will atomically make faster shutter speeds.

Tip 7 - Don’t Zoom. Don’t do it! Don’t use that Zoom. Now promise. Cell phone cameras use digital zoom and when you zoom in it immediately degrades the image. Remember the sensor isn't really that good anyway so zooming quickly destroys the potential image. Embrace this and enjoy this limitation and physically move around and in to get the shot. Get low or hold the camera high over head. Experiment and have fun.
It will make you a better photographer because you have to work now to see the shot better. If you need to zoom, use a point and shoot or DSLR. In the future I'm sure this will be improved.

Tip 8 - Clean your lens. Since phones are in your pocket or purse most of the time, they collect gunk and dust around the lens. Blow on the lens first. Use a cotton cloth or any camera lens cloth to wipe off any debris.

Tip 9 - Cell phone covers and protective shells. It's best to keep a case on your cell phone. This protects the phone itself. This will protect the camera lens. Without the case the lens over time will become scratched and make poor quality images. Additionally, keep your phone in a soft carrying case. Since phones are in your pocket or purse most of the time, they collect gunk and dust around the lens. Blow on the lens first. Use a cotton cloth or any camera lens cloth to wipe off any debris.

Tip 10 - In most cases, edit later. It is fun to use your camera phone’s inbuilt editing and effects. There are a ton of apps available for smart phones these days. But, still editing pictures later on your computer produces better quality images. When you edit a photo within a camera app, it will automatically downsize the image when you save it. It simply throws away ¾ of the image information. Technology is simply not here yet. If you only need the image small for example for a small web photo that’s ok. But, if you want it bigger or plan to make a print … well you're out of luck. Load your images on your computer and edit them there and always “save as” the edited copy. Leave your originals untouched.


Tip 11 - Use the cameras built in image assistant settings. For instance if your phone camera have a macro setting utilize it for close ups. During my tests I have found 3 that should be used. Portrait, macro or flower, and sports. You will end up with a better photo.

Final Thoughts. The most common business question we get about our photography is "What kind of camera do you use?" What does the camera brand have to do with photography? I suppose it is like asking Rembrandt or Picasso what kind of paint brush they used? I hope I have encouraged you to use whatever camera you may have and begin creating personal works of art yourself. Even with your cell phone!
Decide today to make more images with your cell phone. You will become a better photographer because the limitations of the phone will force the creativity to blossom within you. Create one image a day all year long. Open a free Flickr account and upload the photos there for others to see your work. It's fun.
Note: I've been experimenting with making quality prints from cell phones and will cover that at a later date.