How to Take Better Photos With Your Smartphone

How to Take Better Photos With Your Smartphone

Blog post by Cesar
Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Every day Instagram members post an average of 95 million photos and videos with their smartphones. In 2016 Flickr’s 122 million members used smartphones more than any other device. In fact, smartphones were more popular than professional cameras, such as digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) devices exemplified by the Canon and Nikon brands.

Chances are you’re one of the mobile millions on a photo-sharing network. (The Library is on Instagram, Flickr and more.) Even if you’re not networked, look at the megapixel camera on your smartphone. It’s a tiny lens with tremendous creative power. It’s an artist’s eyeglass, if you want it to be. You don’t need a professional camera to shoot like a pro!

For years, as a hobby, I’ve explored the limits of this premise. And there are limits. A smartphone camera has a more limited technical output than, say, a Canon EOS Rebel (a popular DSLR). In general, a photo generated by your Samsung Galaxy or iPhone will not be as densely pixelated as a photo by a Canon camera. Pixel density matters when you want to print your photos (for example) and not as much when you’re simply sharing them on social media.

The creative output of your smartphone camera is a different story. It’s limitless, and there are tips galore on how to take better photos with the devices in your purses and pockets. Consider these tips for smartphone users of all stripes, these for Android and these for iPhone users. Here at the Library check out this list (displayed below) of items in our collection. You can also connect with local Apple fans through the Library’s iPhoneographers of Austin group. Use #ioatx on Instagram, Flickr and beyond.

To this catalog of pro tips I would add one that has always worked for me, especially when I’m on the go:

Find an unexpected angle.

“Angle,” to me, is a catch-all for everything you allow into the four corners of the photo frame: lines, shapes, colors, distance, people and natural light (forget the flash on your phone). There are angles all around you, even now as you read this. I will show you what I mean by telling you the story behind the photo above.

Last Autumn I went to Jester King Brewery in west Austin with a friend. We sat on the outdoor tables next to a line of trees and an open field. The weather was fresh, partly cloudy, and the sun began to set. We finished our brews and my friend stepped away from the table. I noticed a couple a few yards straight ahead. They were standing between two trees, taking in the view. It was an unexpected photo op. I didn’t know these people, but their backs were turned to me, ensuring their anonymity. So I snapped a few frames with my smartphone.

Frame 1: Nice but too straightforward.

As I looked for a more interesting angle from where I was sitting, I noticed the pair through the pair of empty brew glasses on my table.

Frame 2: Better but it’s hard to tell there are two people on the other side of the brew glass.

Frame 3: An unexpected angle comes into focus.

Frame 4: The same angle enhanced with Instagram. (Tap to enlarge.)

The angle is ultimately one's unique perspective, which drives not only photography, but also art and creative pursuits of any kind. (The Library's Arts & Humanities Information Guides can give those pursuits some pathways.) You don’t always find the angle! I certainly don't. But that's part of the fun because, when you do, it’s as if the stars align for your camera. In a vaguely spiritual way, the universe conspires to give you a shot at a good shot. All you have to do is take it.