Wish you could take studio-perfect photos on the spot, but don’t have a DSLR? Insta-worthy images don’t always require perfect lighting and expensive equipment. With more content being shot on the go than ever before, savvy bloggers need to know how to use their smartphones to snap gorgeous shots even in less-than-ideal conditions.
With Instagram Stories the breakout medium of the past year, more and more top influencers are now posting most of their content straight from their phone. This not only cuts down the time between shooting and posting, but it also caters to what audiences what to see: when asked what content they prefer, audiences favored authentic, less-than-perfect images over professionally polished studio shots.
The Shopping Links team asked some of our favorite Manhattan photographers for their secrets, and they came back with 8 tips that work for any smartphone, regardless (in most cases) of year, type or model. These simple tricks will have you pointing and shooting on the fly like a pro in no time.
1. Clean your lens
We’ve all been guilty of a fuzzy shot blurred by a stray fingerprint: a small act like giving your lens a thorough wipe-down can make a big difference. To keep dirt and finger smudges from ruining your shot, just use a microfiber cloth or a disposable sheet meant for phone or laptop screens and gently clean your phone once a week. For really stubborn grime, you can use a cotton ball dampened with distilled water.
2. Go for gridlines
To keep your shots straight, balanced and aesthetically pleasing, turn to gridlines when you want to stage your scene. Use the rule of thirds to guide you, as Shopping Links blogger Lavenda Memory showed us in this post. To enable gridlines on your iPhone, simply go to Settings, then under Photos & Camera switch the Grid toggle to “on.” For an Android phone, just click the Settings icon from Camera, where you’ll see the Grid button. If you don’t see this option on your phone, you may be able to download an app to help.
3. Leave the flash at home
We all know the awkwardness of a blinding flash interrupting the evening at a candlelit restaurant or a trendy bar: to avoid a major social -and photographic- faux pas, leave the flash firmly off. Although it can be tempting to use your phone’s flash in a dimly lit setting, photographers universally recommend against this lest you want bright white spots, red eyes, uneven lighting (and irritated diners) in your shot — none of which add up to a photo worthy of Instagram. Rather than use flash, get creative about your setting. Get closer to your available light, such as the hostess stand or foyer at a restaurant, or if you’re outside, take advantage of traffic or streetlights. You can also convince a friend to stand close by with their camera light on so you can pick up a little bit of that extra illumination to create the perfect shot.
4. Avoid zoom altogether
If photographers feel negatively about flash, they feel even more strongly about the zoom button. Their advice? Just say ‘No.’ Your shot might look great through your viewer, but because your phone functions quite differently than a regular camera — you are effectively performing a crop, rather than magnifying your image — the result will always be more pixelated than you intend. To capture a shot like a sunset, when getting closer isn’t an option, you can try add-on lenses for such the olloclip for the iPhone (compatible with iPhone 6 or higher) or the Insignia for Android.
5. Think horizontal
Smartphones might default to camera view, but if you’re shooting for your blog, consider flipping your camera on its side. Most laptop and tablet screens are horizontal, which makes landscape imagery easier to process in a blog post, particularly if you include screen-wide shots, which, if vertical, can be cumbersome to scroll through.
6. Focus with the touch of a finger
Sharper smartphone images aren’t made in post-processing: the secrets to a focused image are just a finger tap away. Whether you use an iPhone, Android or Galaxy, tapping the screen once allows you to bring your image into focus and choose your focal point. With an iPhone, you will also see a yellow “sun” icon when you focus, which allows you to adjust your exposure by swiping up or down. To see this feature in action, we recommend watching this quick tutorial, which shows you “hidden” features of iPhone cameras, step by step.
7. Apps are your secret weapon
Ever been envious of the skill photographers have in conjuring incredible images from the same smartphone technology we all have at our fingertips? If you’re wondering why your photos aren’t turning out the same, here’s their secret: they use apps like Camera+, VividHR and Camera Zoom FX to enhance their in-phone editing capabilities, adjust settings like white balance, and even alter shutter speed. A quick search through your app store will give you dozens of free and inexpensive options compatible with your phone, but here are a few of the “must haves” among leading influencers:
VSCO – As much a community as it is an app, VSCO sets the bar for mobile phone editing with tools to fix exposure, contrast and saturation, as well as filters to adjust the mood. The secret weapon of many a travel blogger, VSCO is particularly good for fixing low-light situations.
Snapsheed – A favorite among fashion bloggers, Snapseed is another influencer staple, offering tools to fix exposure and white balance alongside stylized effects like “Ambience” and “Glamour Glow.”
Darkroom – The top choice among professional photographers we surveyed, Darkroom offers more customization than any other app, including the chance to create your own filter. Ideal for bloggers who love the freedom to make things exactly as they’d like, Darkroom is also easy enough to use that you need not be a pro.
8. Go back to basics
Of course, apps that give you greater freedom are only as good as your ability to apply the features available. Learning photography basics — from ISO to aperture — will help you make the most of your available tools and any enhancements you decide to download. Check out these free courses and resources to become a photography pro — no matter what camera (or smartphone) you use: Creative Live, Shaw Academy, Format Magazine.
Whether you’re looking to capture more spontaneous moments, take more photos when you travel, or even build your blog content without having to invest in a DSLR camera quite yet, your smartphone can help you take gorgeous imagery if you know the right tips and tricks. By learning the basics, getting to know your phone’s features, and downloading the right apps, you can turn your smartphone into your best tool for creating engaging, Insta-worthy content.