How to Improve Your Smartphone Photos and Videos

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As each year goes by, smartphone cameras keep getting better, and this also means more and more people have access right at their fingertips to a powerful camera. Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook wouldn’t be as big as they are without the proliferation of smartphone photography. Still, even with the impressive improvements that have put these mobile cameras in competition with traditional camera systems, there are times that they show their limitations. This is why many companies have been developing mobile photo and video accessories to help upgrade your smartphone camera. However you choose to equip your phone’s camera, we've compiled a list of some tips and suggestions on how to take better photos with your smartphone and some accessories that can help you get the most out of smartphone photography.

1. Shoot Using the Best Quality

This one is easy. If you are one of those people who just picked up their phone and started snapping photos, you may not have noticed that there are multiple quality options for your photos and videos. Most of this is due to the fact that your average consumer doesn’t need the ultimate image quality, especially since that usually comes with larger file sizes that will quickly clog up a phone with base storage.

If you want the best quality because you plan to do some major cropping or editing for your social media accounts, then you’ll have to dive into settings. Choosing higher resolutions (such as 4K for video) will help. Also, getting a new app that offers manual control if your phone doesn’t offer this ability natively (like iPhones…) can help you make sure you are getting the right exposure.

2. Use the Right Camera/Lens

Nearly all modern smartphones come with at least two cameras/lenses these days. Some even come with eight! Make sure you select the right one when you shoot. Filling the frame and minimizing the need for cropping or zooming is the best way to guarantee best quality. Double-check your lens/camera selection before you start using your fingers to crop.

Not all smartphones have a variety of lenses to choose from or even the best option for what you want to shoot. That is where add-on mobile lenses can save the day. These lenses, such as the Moment Tele Lens, can give you a real zoom, so even if you have to zoom in more later on you are still getting significantly better quality than digitally zooming alone would get you. Essentially, you’ll want to get your image as close as possible to your final result when you first click the shutter.

3. Better Lighting

Pay attention to light and shadows before you take your shot. It’s a lot easier than it seems. Making sure your subject isn’t in deep shadow in front of a bright background—aka backlighting—is a basic one, unless you’re going for the heavily silhouetted look. Finding a place with enough light is another useful tip. If you are out at night, try having your subject stand closer to a light source for cleaner images.

Arguably, not enough light is the biggest problem for smartphones because they lack the lens options and sensor sizes of traditional cameras. One of the best ways to tackle that is by using an artificial light. Profoto designed the C1 for just that purpose, a light that will fit in the palm of your hand and sync with an iPhone camera. Use the Profoto app, hold the light in place, and enjoy an impressive system. Now even the B10 works with smartphones, thanks to the AirX system.

For video you might want a portable constant light, such as an LED. There are plenty out there that will do the job, but we recommend something like the Godox M1 RGB Mini LED Light. It’s small and light and has the ability to change colors if you want to add some extra style to your images. It’s also just fun to try out the different colors.

Click here to learn more about the Godox M1 Light.

Other tools to consider when you start to seriously think about lights are modifiers. Small reflectors can help fill some shadows and should be the first place you look. Otherwise, I think we start getting beyond easy-to-carry tools for quick smartphone snaps.

4. Tripods and Stabilizers

Video and vlogging require a few more tools to get things done right. Optical stabilization is getting better and better in smartphones, but it will still not fix jitters from walking and talking or simply handholding telephoto shots. Good tips for everyday use are to brace yourself against a building or other sturdy surface, balancing the phone, or simply not hold your hands out too far where you’ll lose stability. If you can’t stand still, you’ll need some sort of mobile support or stabilizer.

A tripod/hand grip is the best place to start, especially since it is still the best way to get stable footage. We are huge fans of the JOBY GorillaPod Mobile Rig. It holds a phone, has bendable legs to position everywhere or be a suitable selfie stick, and has two arms for mounting a light and maybe a mic. The benefit of a tripod today is that you can take advantage of advanced night modes to get incredible shots that make the most of the processing power.


JOBY GorillaPod Mobile Rig

If you are really moving and shooting video and need something smoother than that, you’ll have to turn to a gimbal stabilizer. There really is none better for mobile video than the DJI OM 5. The OM 5 is the brand’s latest flagship 3-axis stabilizer, now even better, and with a novel built-in 215mm extension rod that allows users to capture footage from farther away and doubles as a selfie stick.

DJI OM 5 Smartphone Gimbal
DJI OM 5 Smartphone Gimbal

5. Get a New Phone

Even if you love your hot pink Motorola Razr from 2006, I don’t think its 1MP camera holds up compared to modern smartphones. One of the simplest ways to get better-quality photos from your smartphone is to get a new phone with better cameras. Yes, the camera shouldn’t be the sole decider when it comes to how good an image is, but, with smartphones anyway, the improvements made every couple of years are so impressive that it is a night and day difference if you’ve had your current model for a couple of years already.

Modern smartphones with multiple cameras and advanced processing afforded by the latest and greatest developments in mobile tech can do so much. The introduction of computational photography features, like Portrait Mode and Night Mode, can create images similar in quality to traditional cameras without the size or learning curve.

Of course, the iPhone 13 Pro line of phones has one of the most impressive camera systems available currently, but with Google's Pixel 6 just around the corner and plenty of offerings already on the table from the Samsung S21 to the OnePlus 9, there hasn't been a better time to upgrade your smartphone to a device with a better camera.

Is there anything you use for mobile photos that wasn’t mentioned here? What about questions on how to make the most of your smartphone? In either case, you should leave a comment, below!

3 Comments

I have another tip. Use the appropriate orientation, landscape aka horizontal, or portrait aka vertical. It seems that the majority of cellphone users think that since they hold the phone vertically to talk, that's the way they should take photos. I had an SLR (digital wasn't available in 1980) long before I had a cellphone. 

I would say this is definitely a great tip if you're new to composing photos on smartphones. Another thing I always recommend is to turn on grid lines as that helps immensely in either orientation as well!

Thanks for that tip on grid lines. I never knew that existed. I think an HTC Thunderbolt was the first Android phone I owned. I currently have a Samsung Galaxy S9 (yea, it's old and I need to upgrade).

I mentioned on one of Todd V's Explora articles that my wife is starting to use landscape organization more. I think most of her videos are landscape oriented.