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Five things to do to take better photos and videos with your smartphone

While smartphones are capable of capturing fairly high-quality photos and video, you can achieve more-professional results by paying attention to a handful of details. Photo by Angela Compagnone courtesy of Unsplash.
While smartphones are capable of capturing fairly high-quality photos and video, you can achieve more-professional results by paying attention to a handful of details. Photo by Angela Compagnone courtesy of Unsplash.

For most people, the days of needing a camera other than what’s part of your smartphone are over.  

Unless you require a powerful fixed focal length lens, a cinema lens to shoot a dolly shot or, perhaps, an ND filter, a smartphone will produce photos and videos that are as good as what any $1,000-plus camera will render.

This is because modern smartphones do computational photography. They don’t merely capture a single image when you tap the shutter button. Most take 10-50 photos, analyze them for the best exposure and meld them into one super image.

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There’s no doubt that the one-step ease of smartphones has made everyday photography and videography easy. But let’s say you are working on a photo project for a virtual tour, an item for your Facebook group or something special that you really want to step up. With your smartphone still in hand, you have additional options at your fingertips. 

Here are our top five tips to take things up a notch or two.

1. Choose your exposure

As mentioned, your smartphone is not just snapping a single picture for you. In metaphorical terms, it’s trying to create the image it thinks you want. But many times, people fail to give the smartphone camera app a crucial piece of information: your intended subject.

To do that, you can use the feature all the apps have to set your exposure for the shot by tapping on the subject of your picture. That will put the focus on that spot and ensure it has the correct amount of light in that area. As the program creates your image in the background, it will prioritize that area, making it look the best, even if that means making other areas a little brighter or darker.

2. Walk, don’t zoom

Your camera has a zoom feature, but try not to use it. Instead of zooming in on a subject from far off, get as close as possible before taking the picture or video. Smartphone cameras lack a diameter of lenses, meaning less light is captured for each image. When you are far off, even less light will make it from your subject to your lens.  

In addition, when you zoom beyond the capabilities of your smartphone lenses, it will give you the illusion that you are getting closer, but in fact, it will just be cropping the image and blowing it up. That will reduce the overall resolution, potentially making your video or pictures look pixelated, grainy or blurry.

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3. Gauge the lighting

Over the past several years, because of the increased effectiveness of computational photography, phones can achieve good results even when you have low light or backlit subjects. However, to take your images and videos to the next level, start every shoot by considering the lighting. 

First, remember that more light is always better. Even if you are doing a shoot that is supposed to be in a dark place, increasing the light everywhere and lowering the exposure to keep it dark will produce a better image.  

Second, pay attention to your subject over everything else. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the background is from a certain angle. Without light on your subject, the video or photo will fall flat. Pivot your subject so that the light is not behind it. For example, if you are outside and it is very sunny, you don’t have to ask a group to face the sun. Bring the sun to their side or bring them into some shade, but make sure the light is not behind them.

Doing it right may mean adding or reflecting light. Using a couple of inexpensive video lights can make a huge difference if inside. Adding a little light to a background or at a better angle (not overhead) can make your shoot look much more professional. If you are outside, you can reflect the light with a piece of white pasteboard. An inexpensive set of reflectors can transfer light from the sun and make it go where you want to make your images pop.

4. Add an external mic or mic app

When shooting video, you will get poor audio quality if your smartphone is too far away from your subject. For better audio, plug in one of the many fantastic mic options and use a wireless mic that can be clipped onto the speaker’s clothing. You also could use a more directional shotgun mic on the side of the smartphone.  

If you’re on a budget and have an old smartphone lying around, you could use the mic on your older phone and a voice recorder app to record the audio. When finished, you could then use your favorite video editing software to replace the default audio with the audio file you recorded on the older phone that you used as a mic and export it for the web.

5. Play the angles

We’ve all seen images taken from too low and seem to go right up someone’s nose or make their head appear the wrong size for their body. Identifying a good angle is an essential part of capturing great images. How you hold your smartphone or position your tripod can make someone look fabulous or strangely proportioned. 

Most people look best when the camera is positioned at their eye level or slightly higher. If it is too high, it will look like you took a video from a security camera. To get an image or video that feels natural, place your camera at your subject’s eye level and raise it an inch. 

Don’t feel like using your smartphone means you’re an amateur. Your results could end up looking better than what many people get from expensive rigs. Try these tips to take your smartphone photos and videos closer to professional quality by using a little more thought and effort.

Jeremy Steele

Jeremy Steele is a writer, conspirator and spiritual entrepreneur who refuses to give up on Christianity. He spends his time resourcing the dreams of the next generation and helping it discover paths to spiritual enlightenment and connection with God. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is associate pastor at Chesterbrook UMC. Find more about him and his work at

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