How To Take Great Pictures with Your Phone [Tutorial]

Let’s face it, we are living in a digital age. Just about everyone has an iPhone or an Android or a Blackberry or a [insert any other smartphone brand here]. And with photo editing apps GALORE, you can easily document your day or month or life with just a few clicks.

So how can you get the most out of your phone camera?

1. Treat your phone as if it were a $2,000 DSLR.

Keep your lens and screen clean. Use a case to protect it from dropping or sticky fingers or drool. Try not to drop it into the toilet.


Also? Clean your mirrors every once in a while. Ha.

2. Frame your shot on your phone just as you would frame it on your camera.

Remember the the rule of thirds, compose your shot, get down on children’s levels, eliminate background clutter … consider the things that you think about when you are behind your “good” camera.

Photo Feb 02, 7 17 08 PM


3. Take just as many pictures from just as many angles.

When I’m shooting with my Canon, I’m always thinking of how to capture one moment in several different ways so I can see my children’s lives from many different perspectives. I don’t want to miss anything! I treat my phone camera the same way.


4. Utilize natural light and shadows just as you would with your DSLR.

While taking your picture, touch the screen area that you want to focus on and expose for … let your phone do the rest.

For this photo, I was sitting in Lucy’s room trying to get her to come in and take a nap. I touched the screen at the spot where she was standing, so my phone exposed for the natural light in the hallway, putting the rest of the room in semi-darkness. And after editing a little in Lightbox, I ended up with a more dramatic photo.


5. Take advantage of the ability to take your phone with you anywhere.

There are so many moments I would have missed because I wasn’t able to have my Canon with me, and I am so thankful for these moments on “film.”

sunrise and sunset as seen on different days back when I was training for a half-marathon – all I had with me was my iPod shuffle and my phone for GPS mileage tracking


the Oscar Mayer weiner truck was in a hotel parking lot, so we were able to pull in and get these shots


a mall bungee jump activity that Emma wanted to do – I didn’t have my “good” camera with me


amazing light on a morning run – I obviously don’t take my big camera on runs


6. Download and use photo editing apps.

All photos in this post were edited in either Instagram [my phone is an Android, so I use Dropbox to put all of my photos onto my iPad so I can use Instagram] or Lightbox for Android.

I know, great photographers take great pictures without editing, but when you can download most apps for free and have fun pictures in seconds? Why not?


lightbox app

7. Don’t use the digital zoom.

Digital zoom on a phone will ruin your photo, because it doesn’t actually zoom in – it just enlarges what you are seeing through your lens. Either try to get as close to your subject as possible or take a more wide-angle approach when composing your shot.



8. Get to know your phone camera and it’s capabilities.

I know that my phone takes horrible flash pictures, so I don’t use my flash often. I also know that it doesn’t do well with artificial light, so I try to use natural light as much as possible. But it’s very good at isolating light and shadows, so I work that angle as often as I can.



9. Don’t hesitate to get artistic with your phone.

I think many of us just assume that our phones aren’t really meant for the more artistic images, but we would be totally wrong.





10. Embrace the ability to take self portraits without needing a special lens.

I never take self-portraits with my Canon unless I’m using a mirror or a tripod, because I don’t currently have any wide-angle lenses in my arsenal. It’s nice to be able to take the occasional self-portrait with my phone, though.




Phones aren’t just for calling people anymore.

Favorite Android photo editing apps: Lightbox, Vignette, Pixlr-o-matic

Favorite iPad/iPhone photo editing apps: Instagram, Camera+

Feel free to share your favorite apps for editing photos on your phone!

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21 Comment

  1. julie says:

    If anyone has any suggestions for good iphone editing, I’m totally up for suggestions! I use camera+ at at the moment. I got the 100 Cameras app at the suggestion of someone and it is SO NOT what it is cracked up to be.

    Also? That shot you took of Lucy in the doorway totally looks like one of these:

    1. keli says:

      if you mean simple crops and stuff, the plain old Photoshop app works great. I use it on both my phone and my iPad.

  2. Liza says:

    This was great advice, especially the digital zoom bit. I never knew that!

  3. Sarah says:

    Weeeee! I’m so glad you posted this. I know you do a lot on your phone, photo-wise, and for some reason I’ve been too much of a dummy to ask you what you use for your Android since we’re STILL instagram-less. :)

    1. keli says:

      they have GOT to release IG for the android very soon. i love the community and easy-to-use format, so I use it, but it’s a huge pain to have to wait until I’m home on my iPad, lol. i’ve heard it is being released very very soon. *fingers crossed*

  4. Elaine says:

    That last line is so true!! I love the. Amera on my phone!! Great tips, girl!

  5. You are a great giver of tips.
    : ) I have about 800 pictures on my phone. I keep meaning to do something with them.

  6. Robin Troxell says:

    i just downloaded the free magic hour app on my android, may actually pay the 1.99 for the full app soon. i don’t have an i-anything for editing so just do the editing on my phone. lots of fun things on this app.

    so far my fave has been vintage however the picture taking is SOOOOO SLOOOWWW so I just use the regular camera for that and then open it in an app to edit.

    1. keli says:

      I have that one, too! I just tend to lean towards either Lightbox or Vignette most often. poor Magic Hour doesn’t get much action anymore.

  7. I love this post! I would not have photos of the first 6-8 weeks of my son’s life if it weren’t for my iPhone! It was finding your blog that inspired me to get out my proper camera, but still I take 100s of photos with my phone because I have it on me always.
    I haven’t explored any of the photography aps yet though, so think that is the next step. Thank you for continuing to inspire :-)

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Kelli, this is such a useful post…thank you. I love playing around with filters on my phone – PhotoToaster is my latest addiction. Also love any app that had Dropbox integration.

  9. Julia says:

    Thanks! Question… I take pics now mostly with my iPad… I don’t have a phone that takes good pics.
    1. I mostly use instagram to take pics and I love it. But the quality seems grainy. Maybe it’s my photos skills, but I actually tried having some of those pics printed and they are grainy and bad. Ideas??
    2. Also,what do u use on your iPad to have iCal printed?? Do u order through an online processing site? Is there an app or site that will easily take my iPad pics, upload so I can order and print them???

  10. Jess says:

    now I want a camera phone to practice!

  11. I LOVE IT!
    phones aren’t just for calling people anymore, funny you say that, because i NEVER and I mean NEVER use my phone for calling. only texting, emailing, facebook, pinterest, instagram lol!
    so funny! I probably use 3-5 calls per month! we have MANY minutes rolled over, like in the thousands, too bad they couldn’t take money off of our bill for the extra minutes!
    LOVE all of these shots!

  12. stacey says:

    Calling people? You mean that’s what a phone is for?

    I adore your iPhone photos. In fact, I think your instagram feed is what led me to your blog.

  13. Sandra says:

    Ahhh…This is going to be good to refer back to when I *finally* upgrade to a smart phone next month. I’m thinking iPhone, and I’m excited to have a small camera to always have on hand. Instagram looks like a ton of fun, too!

  14. emily says:

    I love your phone pics. I need to give my iphone some more love.

  15. […] do that. Plus there are tons of great phone photography tutorials out there – I’ve seen this one and this one most […]

  16. Great tips… I’ll be using lightbox. I like the price :-)
    I do remember when we used a phone for making calls. ~ and it was attached to the wall with a super-long springy cord!

  17. Alyssa S. says:

    I’ve fallen in love with my ITouch’s camera. Yes, I love my Canon, but I’m at work all day during the week and I can hardly lug that on the bus and/or train with me every day. My iPod goes everywhere with me and I catch a lot of fun shots with it. I have sooo much fun with the camera apps. I have Camera+, Instagram, Lo Mob, Hipstamatic. Pici Booth and Grid Lens. Lo Mob and Hipstamatic let you do so much fun editing. Pici Booth is just fun for taking those Photo Booth style pics and Grid Lens is another fun way to take an image and do something completely wild with it.

  18. Nori says:

    I love my DSLR, but there’s something so wonderful about my phone camera, and with this said, Ive began to use it for everything! I sometimes use Vignette, and Pixlr-o-matic, but I prefer BFunky (on Android). And yes, Im an Android user, patiently waiting for InstaGram (its coming soon I hear). I tried Mobli, and although its pretty cool, its really not my cup of tea. It seems like too much work… But thanks to you Ive discovered LightBox, and I dig it! I like that its saved as a photo blog. How great! I dont follow anyone yet, and Id love to follow you Kelli, what’s your Lighbox name? Im NDuran

    PS: Thanks again!

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