Smart phone photography tips

Subject Expert: Jenny Kaye

With the advances in digital and smartphone technology, everyone today is a photographer.   After all, we all now carry a camera in our back pocket and as a result there has been an explosion in the amount of imagery produced. Apparently every two minutes, humans take more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago.   We are all part of the trend to document every detail of our lives in photos – whether on Facebook, Instagram, blogs or simply just lurking in the depths of our smartphones.   We are bombarded with imagery all day, and our smartphone cameras are becoming important tools in this.

So how can you make the photos from your phone really great?


Photography is all about light, and it can make the difference between ordinary and fantastic photos.  When you are taking a photo, the first thing you should do is to look for your light source – the sun, a window or artificial light, and think about how it will fall on your subject.  If possible, use soft, diffused light (a cloudy day is perfect) – so this means avoiding direct sunlight which can create really harsh shadows.  If you are outside on a bright sunny day then consider finding some shade which will be more flattering and avoid harsh shadows under the eyes.  If you are inside, try to face your models towards the light (provided it is not direct).  This means that if there is a window, let the light fall on the models rather than having the light behind them which can result in a very dark subject or even a silhouette.


The camera on your phone does not know exactly what you are trying to photograph – so it tends gives you an average exposure of everything in the frame.  Sometimes you might find your photo comes out much lighter or darker than you were expecting.  If you tap the screen on the part of the image that you want to be in focus and correctly exposed you can then slide up or down to increase or decrease the exposure (brightness) of the image.  This is really useful to just brighten an image at the point of capture. 

In this photo I wanted the garden to be well exposed and didn’t mind that it made the keyboard rather dark.
Same photo different exposure. In contrast, by tapping on the keyboard itself (see the little sun icon) this part of the keyboard is correctly exposed and the garden outside is blown out.

You can also use this technique to take great sunsets by darkening the overall image so that the darker areas are completely black and the sky achieves a richer deep colour.


This is the game changer, and if you have not already found this feature, you will be blown away by it!  It used to be the case that you simply could not achieve the same effects with a smartphone camera as with a digital SLR camera.  That however has changed somewhat with the newer phones which have Portrait or Live Focus Mode.  These modes can give you the lovely blurry background effect that makes your subject stand out.  They are really simple to use – just select Portrait (i-phone) or Live Focus (Android) mode just before taking the shot.  The difference is incredible!

Here the hats in the foreground are in sharp focus. Using normal phone camera mode, the background would also be in focus, but in portrait mode this is nice and blurry which focuses the eye on the foreground. Brilliant for portraits!


Consider the composition of your photo.  There are many rules of composition, some of which you may be familiar with, others perhaps not so much.  Possibly you know what “looks good” even if you don’t know why.  Here are just a few:

Rule of Thirds

Rather than putting your subject matter right in the middle of the frame, try putting them on the thirds – off centre.  This is more pleasing to the eye.   On most phones you can turn on the “grid” which helps you to compose with the interesting parts of your image on the thirds/ intersection of the thirds.  If you are taking a landscape, never have the horizon cutting through the middle of the photo – either give yourself one third or two thirds sky – not half/ half.

Leading Lines

Our eyes are unconsciously drawn along lines in images so you can draw your viewer into your image.  The lines can be paths, roads, trees, all sorts of things.  Try to find interesting patterns or lines that lead into your image.


Whilst this may contradict the rule of thirds, symmetry can also be pleasing to the eye.

As with many rules, there are of course situations where we may choose to break them.


Thanks to digital photography, we are no longer constrained by the cost of film or processing, and as a result, we can become a little trigger happy.  Thankfully, we can use this to our advantage.  If you are taking a group shot, take two or three – someone is bound to be blinking or looking away, or you might simply catch them looking better on the third shot.   If you are taking action/sports photos, you will have a lot of shots, but you don’t need to share them all.  Be selective – pick the one or two that are the best, and delete the rest!  I would far rather see the three or four best shots from an event than ten of the average ones.  Our attention spans are short for imagery so it needs to be short, sharp and have impact.

I hope you enjoy putting some of these tips into practice and having some fun with your phone photography!

About the Subject Expert:

Jenny Kaye is a family portrait photographer based in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and head honcho at Jenny Kaye Photography.  Over the last ten years she has photographed many business men and women for corporate headshots as well as hundreds of families, newborn babies, toddlers and teens. Pursuing what has been a lifelong passion for photography, she studied for a degree in Photography and Digital Imaging and has achieved her Licentiate qualification with the SWPP (Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers).  Whether in the studio or on location, her style is informal and fun, and with three (now grown up) children of her own, she is well used to the challenges that every age can bring.

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