Featured Photography

8 Insanely Simple Tips to Instantly Improve Your Phone Photography

Can I tell you a secret?

I’m a professional photographer and sometimes I can’t stand my camera. It’s big, clunky, and a pain to carry around with me everywhere I go.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the results of my big DSLR camera…dreamy blurry backgrounds, and the ability to capture light even more stunning than I see in real life.

But the reality of me having my camera in tow everywhere I go is just not happening.

Because I don’t pack my camera with me, I’ve missed lots of fun every day shots. Sweet memories of my kiddos jumping in a puddle at the park, enjoying story time at the library, or discovering the new puppy next door.

Moments I didn’t plan for but moments I would have loved to have more than a memory in my mind to remember it.

Fleeting moments.

Fleeting moments that were not being documented.


I got an iPhone.

All of a sudden my life changed. I had a super portable camera that I carried with me at all times AND I could edit my photos AND I could publish them pretty much instantaneously. Wow.

Do I think my phone camera can completely replace my DSLR camera? Heavens no.

My DSLR camera is able to produce shots that my phone camera simply cannot do. (yet!) But having a good camera on your phone and (most importantly) knowing how to use that camera to take awesome pictures means catching moments you might have otherwise missed.

With that said, Let’s begin. Here are 8 secrets to help you instantly improve your phone photography.

Side note: All the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 5. And now that the iPhone X has come on the scene you are able to get even better photos with a phone. Whatever phone you have…you will find that using these techniques will dramatically change the quality of your photos.

1| Go Toward the Light

I can’t emphasize just how important it is to have as much light as possible. Without going into a lot of technical mumbo jumbo just remember that more light will equal sharper photos.

So that means when you are outside during the day you will be able to get some awesome sharp photos. Or if you’re taking a picture inside just move toward the window. That will usually give you a sharp photo as well.

Side note: Above all, try to use natural light when possible. Natural light will give you a better photo than artificial light. It will give you that color and feel of actually being there. However…more light means more light so if it’s night time, use overhead lights, headlights, flashlights…whatever you can to get more light.

2| Face the Light

As you move toward the light position your subject so that they are facing the light source. The light source is  most likely going to be the sun but it can also include a lamp or other artificial light.

When I’m outside taking pictures I look for open shade. An area that has a nice shade covering without sun splotches peeking through.  You want your subject’s face to be in even lighting. You can find this this shade on the side of a building, under an awning, or even under a tree if you can get nice even shade.

Once you find the even, open shade, position your subject just on the edge of the shade, facing the sun. When your subject is facing the light it illuminates their face and also gives that striking catch light in their eyes.

3| Hold Still

I know this sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by how many people are taking blurry pictures simply because they are moving.

Especially if you are in a low light situation, you want to hold as still as possible because your shutter speed will be slower than if you are in full sun. (When you have a slow shutter speed you have more of a chance for blurry pictures.) Sometimes I will even hold my breath or rest my elbows on a solid surface while I’m touching the shutter button to minimize any movement.  

Side note: When pressing the shutter speed, use a light touch and refrain from tapping the screen too hard as that could cause the camera to shake. 

In the photo below of Lyndon running to Epcot I made sure to stop walking before I took the photo. That way I was able to minimize any type of camera blur coming from my own movement.

4| Set Your Exposure and Focus 

Your camera will automatically set your exposure (how light or dark your photo is) but sometimes it will not be “correct” so you may need to increase or decrease it. You will know if it’s “correct” if your picture is too dark or too bright.

You can adjust the exposure by simply tapping (or rather lightly touching) the screen where you want your focus to be and then slide your finger up for more light or down for less light.

In addition to your camera automatically setting the exposure it  will also automatically set where your focus will be. The focus will generally be toward the center of the screen or a prominent face/object. But if you need the focus to be elsewhere, just tap the part of the screen where you want it to be in focus.

Side Note: My camera usually does a pretty good job determining exposure except when I have backlighting. When I do, I need to increase my exposure from what the camera has set.


With the photo below of Lily in the bath I tapped my screen over her face so the camera would be sure to put the focus on her.

In the photo below, I got close to the cup and tapped the screen on the cup so it landed the focus there and made Lily blurred in the background.


5| Take LOTS of Pictures

I know this sounds like a weird tip but hear me out.

Whenever I’m trying to get a particular look or photo I never settle for just one or two shots. I take shot after shot. Usually without my subject even knowing it. (Turn the sound off on your phone so no one can hear when you’re taking the picture.)

The reason I take so many shots is so that I will have ample photos to choose from. In a split second someone’s eyes could close, or you might miss the best smile if you’re settling with just one shot. Keep going to be sure you have captured the “one”. 

Side Note: If you’re in a situation where you need to be quick to catch a certain look or movement, hold down the shutter button to take a burst of photos. I was able to get the sweet interaction of Lily and Maddie (below) because I took a bundle of pictures until they were both looking at each other.

Also as you’re taking your plethora of pictures, vary your angles to find the best way to tell the story. Don’t just stand in one spot and click away, move around looking for new ways to capture the same thing.

Side Note: Before you toss any photos out, take a second look … cropping or editing may be just what you need to find a diamond in the rough. I have found a lot of my favorite photos by cropping out part of the photo to uncover the perfect gem!

6| Frame Your Photo Using the Surrounding Environment

To make your photos more appealing try using the surrounding architecture like windows, doors, trees etc. to frame your focus and draw the viewers eye toward the subject.

Be sure that you are aligned properly to have straight lines. You will want to keep your camera perfectly vertical and be at the correct angle. So you may have to squat down or rise the entire camera up to achieve straight lines and angles.



Side note: To really dial it in and make sure all my lines are straight I use the tools, “transform” and “rotate” in an app called Snapseed. You can make small adjustments to your photo that will play out in a big way.

7| Take Advantage of Backlighting

The hour before the sun sets is a magical hour.

You can capture some awesome pictures that show so much emotion. The way you accomplish backlighting is to have your subject with their backs toward the setting sun to capture that beautiful glow.

Your camera will want to automatically make your subject dark because light is flooding in from the background so review Tip 4 to adjust your exposure. This will enable you to properly expose your subject and will greatly improve your success with backlighting.

Side note: The sun is going to be quite harsh at this time of the evening so try to position yourself so that something (your subject, a tree, etc.) is blocking the sun from directly shining on you.

BONUS: You can also capture awesome silhouettes at this time of the evening. Instead of increasing the exposure for backlighting, decrease the exposure to under expose your subject thus making a nice silhouette.


8| Keep Lines Straight

 One rule of photography is to keep lines level and straight, i.e.: horizon lines, architectural lines, trees, and people. You want to create your photo as if you are viewing it in real life. It would look funny if we saw people or buildings leaning over to the side. The same goes for pictures…you don’t want people looking like they missed their V-8!

I try to keep things level as I’m taking the photo by using the grid lines, however, I don’t always make it perfect. So when that happens I straighten it up using the “rotate” tool in the Snapseed Photo App.

Side Note: Occasionally I like to have a tilt in my photo to add movement or artistic flow. So in that case you obviously would scratch the straight line rule.

In the photo below, the lamp post is the object that I’m keeping straight.

And that’s it! These quick and easy tips will take your phone photography from blah to awesome. And how cool that you don’t even have to carry around your big camera.

Just think of all the tender moments you’re going to capture…


. . .


Want a game-changing check-list that will get up and shooting in the fastest way possible? If you subscribe below, I’ll instantly send you The Photographers Quick Guide to Shooting.

This is the perfect guide for you to reference back to when you are out and about with your camera. Print it out to a 5×7 to easily fit in your camera bag. It lists 6 quick and easy steps to begin shooting along with pictures referencing Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.

You no longer have to miss precious shots while you’re busy trying to remember what to do first.

Jot your email below, and I’ll send you photography tips like this one and send you the Quick Guide to Shooting immediately.