Day 11: How To Take Better Photographs with Your Phone

Note: This post was originally published on my photography site.  I'm sharing here as well because I've had such great feedback on the helpfulness! 

Phone Photography. iPhoneography.  It feels like an entirely new genre. Even though I'm intentionally trying to use my non-phone camera for this month's posts, my phone is what I use most on an everyday basis and it's what we're all using the most to capture our everyday, so I thought I'd talk about it a bit.  The thing I love most about using a phone to capture the everyday is that it's not complicated. There aren't a million buttons and settings to learn(well, for the most part.) It's just your phone. Sure, you can do more, but you don't have to!  

To start,  If you want a more interesting picture, move your body!  You'll hear that over and over in relation to photographing kids in general, but it's true and there's a reason!  The angle that you get, especially of kids, by just standing where you are and putting the phone (or any camera) in line with you face or at arm's reach is what you're used to seeing all day. everyday.  It's just more boring because it's what we always see.  Squatting and getting down low or trying to get a photo from above are two easy ways to mix things up a bit.  Getting down on their level is always more fun for kids, too! 

Composition is such a huge part of getting better photos, especially if you just don't have a ton of time or interest in spending time learning about the technical aspects of photography.  If you have 15 minutes or 20 minutes to spend on learning how to get better photos, your time will be well spent on learning a bit about composition.  Google the Rule of Thirds if you don't know it yet.  It's a guideline, of course, so it doesn't always need to be followed, but if you live your life trying to keep everything centered in photos this just might rock your world! (Hint: There's a really good chance that your camera in your phone has a grid option that you can turn on or off. The rule of thirds is why it's there, use it to your advantage!)   How you choose to arrange your photos, and the subjects in your photos, plays such a huge part in how appealing it is to the eye. 

Without digging too deep and making your eyes glaze over, there are some other major elements of composition in photography that can really help to make your photos more interesting. Pattern, Symmetry and Texture are all options that you can easily use often without a ton of thought.  I find that a lot of people either love or hate symmetry. I happen to love it:)  If you're also a symmetry-lover, use that to your advantage and you'll see a huge difference. Taking photos of your kids? Stop for an extra second and have them take a step or two to the right or left to make sure they're in a specific spot for catching a photo at the right moment will make a huge difference.  Think before a photo and try to anticipate something they'll be doing so that you can catch it (kids are surprisingly predictable like that.)  This photo of my kids below at the airport could easily just be boring, but catching them at just the right moment of crossing (and I stood and anticipated it while they were going up and down the escalators while we waited for Grandparents to get off the plane and they entertained themselves) adds an element of symmetry and some movement that makes it interesting.  

Want to do just one thing today that will make you love your photos more? Straighten them!   I'm being completely serious.  Even if you don't want to deal with editing and complicating the photos, have an app that straightens photos and just make your photos straight and you'll see a difference in how you feel about your photos.  

Look for Good Light.  Natural, even light is going to give you your best photos and it takes practice to see it.  In my favorite iphone photo blog post ever (the one that almost made me just skip writing this post and send you right there because she said so much more than I can) Jamie says this which sums it up perfectly, 

"If you want sharper, less blurry pictures move to a place with good, natural lighting. Period. Especially with the limited settings on a phone camera it's really the only option you have to instantly improve the quality and combat shutter lag. If you really really need to capture your kid bopping around the living room at 9pm go for it, but know ahead of time that you're going to compromise your picture...Not only does good light help your picture stay in focus it also makes the image more interesting. Finding good light is sometimes more critical than finding something interesting to take a picture of (or even amounts to the same thing)."
You know the light in and around your house better than anyone else.  Our house faces West which means that the back of the house gets the best light in the morning and the front in the afternoon.  Learning and figuring this out in your own house is huge if you're taking pictures of your family in and around your home on a regular basis. 

Editing makes the photo world go 'round.   Any photo you see from me (or just about any other photographer) has been run through some sort of editing process, you all know that, right?? It's not all magic and lights, even the best photos right out of a camera of any kind almost always get some sort of polishing to make them look their best and phone photos are just as much a part of that.  Learning to edit is a whole other can of worms and it's personal and depends a lot on opinions and correct exposure, but you have a ton of options right at your fingertips with free apps for phones!  

The day my Android phone bit the dust and I got my iPhone a few months ago, I cheered a lot, then one of the first things I did was send out a request on Facebook asking for camera app suggestions.  I should have known that Keli would pull through with all of the best suggestions:) I'm not necessarily talking about crazy filters, though they're fun! But editing in general can make a big difference in phone photos, just like regular photos from another camera.  You can choose to just simply brighten up the exposure and increase the contrast a bit on a photo and combine that with making sure it's straight and it'll make a huge difference. 

Apps I use regularly on my phone: 
  • Camera+ to take photos. Always. Use this (or your phone's main camera) and pull the photos into other apps to edit.  Almost all apps compress your photos, so this will ensure that you always have the full-size photo to start with. My biggest love for Camera+ lies in the ability to separate the exposure and focus.  It makes me so happy on a daily basis. 
  • VSCOcam and Afterlight and Snapseed and PicTapGo to edit 99% of the time.  I love Afterlight's separate brightness  exposure and highlights and I love VSCOcam's temperature adjustment and filters. I like Snapseed's straightening tool more than any other and also love Snapseed's white balance, the app can just be a little tricky to figure out how to use at first, so give yourself a bit of a learning curve.  I don't use PicTapGo as much as the others, but I do think it's incredibly easy to use and has awesome previews if you want to play a bit more and I love how it lets you layer different options so easily. 
  • Other apps that I use less, but still have a place: PicStitch for collages, ABeautifulMess and Over for writing on photos.  Instagram kind of goes without saying, but I'll add it here just in case you live under a rock and haven't at least heard of it;) (If that's you, will you please send me an email and say hi?? I want to know you and your simple life so much more:) 
Some great blog posts and resources on phone photography where they said the words so much better than I'll ever be able to!  Reading all of these might take you into complete overwhelm territory, but I still want to share since there are just so many great resources out there.  

How to Take Great Pictures with Your Phone (Tutorial) at Kidnapped by Suburbia: Keli is so good at practical, applicable advice like suggesting that you treat your phone just like you treat your big, expensive camera and good info on why you should never use the zoom option on your phone (ever!) 

Tips for Phone Photography at Under the Sycamore: AWESOME examples of using light, especially indoors.  If you're inside, use your windows and their light like a crazy person! 

iphone Tips, Tricks and Apps and Q&A on Taking Better Pictures With Your Phone at Grumbles and Grunts: Like I said above, I LOVE these posts. I wish I had written them myself, but I'm not nearly as fun or funny;) 

Simple iPhoneography Tips for Photographers by Celeste Jones for ClickinMoms: This is geared toward photographers with a general understanding of light and metering and exposure, but I still think there's tons of great info in there and I especially love the way Celeste explains how she metered with examples of specific photos. She also talks more about some great features, and how she uses them, of specific apps like VSCOcam and SnapSeed. 

How I Shoot with My iPhone from Susannah Conway: A walk through of her process from start to finish that might be super helpful in applying all of these other tips and tricks together! 

Any other favorite resources?  Please share in the comments to help others, too! And if you're on Instagram, I'm @lillianranauro and I'd love to follow you, leave your info below! 

I'm spending 31 days writing and sharing a series about Documenting Your Everyday this month. Click here to see all of the posts as they're added and follow along.  


  1. I just wanted to let you know I'm loving your 31 days of blogging! I look forward to your words and pictures each day. Keep up the great work!

    1. Sorry, the comment was from Maggie :)

  2. wow. so many good tips! Thank you, Lillian!


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