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#NoFilter: How to take the best photos with your phone

By Hannah Massen + Photos by Lucy Rosen

Lucy is a iPhone 11Pro owner (primarily for its photo capability)

Before the age of smartphones, taking a decent photo was a labor-intensive process. You needed expensive camera equipment and fancy editing software, which could take months – if not years – to learn. You also were limited by the kinds of shots you could take. Spur of the moment photos? Not without a camera on-hand. Group shots taken with a camera timer? You’d need that dreaded shutter release cord. Selfies? Nearly impossible.

Thanks to our smartphones and the editing apps that come with them (and that you can buy from 99 cents to $29 for pre-set bundles), we now have everything we need to take top-quality photos on the thing that is either in your hand or handbag (or back pocket) all day long. But there’s more to taking a great photo with your smartphone than simply pointing and shooting. The basic rules of photography still apply, and there are a few phone-specific tricks that make capturing a moment much easier.

Tip to capture people

The sun should be behind you. It makes it hard for the subject, but makes for a much better photo. Anything that is spontaneous and fun always makes for a good photo. Photos where the person isn’t looking directly into the camera (grip and grin) are always better. Use portrait mode for a softer background. Again, get down to their level. If your subject is sitting, you need to be, too.

Use these 11 tips to take better photos with your smartphone

1. Remember the rule of thirds. This classic principle of photography suggests that your photo should be broken down into thirds – both vertically and horizontally – so you have nine parts total. If the points of interest in your photo run along these lines, you’ll have a visually appealing shot. Try enabling the grid feature on your camera app so you can see these lines while positioning your phone.

2. Choose your shooting mode wisely. The iPhone camera app comes with a variety of shooting modes, including photo, panorama, and square. Shooting in the mode you plan to publish for will save you a lot of editing time after the fact. For example, if you plan to publish the photo on Instagram, it may make sense to shoot in square.

3. Avoid zooming in. It’s always better to get as close to the subject of your photo as you can without zooming in. Otherwise, your photo may come out blurry, grainy, or pixilated. This also will allow you to capture delicate details that keep the photo interesting.

4. Lighting is everything. The flash from your phone is created by a small LED light which is located less than an inch away from the lens, making for blurry, strangely lit subjects, and red “devil eyes.” And whereas iPhone filters were cool five years ago, they’re now considered gimmicky. Take photos using natural light whenever possible, and try your hand at editing the photos yourself. You can download professional editing apps like Snapseed and VSCO for free.

5. Set your camera app’s exposure manually. Tapping the screen when your phone’s camera is in use doesn’t just allow you to refocus the lens on a new subject, it automatically adjusts how much light the camera lens lets in. Your phone will do this automatically, but if you want that #nofilter look, it’s best to adjust the exposure by hand. When you tap the screen and see the lens refocus, you’ll also see a small sun icon and vertical scale. Drag your finger up and down this scale to adjust the light level. Pretty cool, right?

6. Turn your phone on its side. The web is a horizontal medium, meaning that most digital platforms lend themselves to landscape-style photos. Turning your phone on its side will allow you to take photos that fill up your entire screen, not just a sliver of it.

7. Use the volume button. Now that you’ve flipped your phone 90 degrees, you can use the “volume up” button to control your shutter. Reaching for the standard shutter button may throw off your perfectly balanced photo.

8. Taking photos of things smaller than you? Whether it’s kids, flowers, or birds at the beach, get down with it – literally. Lie down or kneel down. It makes a difference.

9. Work the angles. One benefit of taking photos on such a small, light device is that it gives you a huge range of mobility and, therefore, more freedom in terms of positioning. Whether you get low to the ground, stand on a chair, or turn the camera to the side, creative angles are one of the best ways to put a creative twist on otherwise expected shots.

10. Embrace the negative space. Negative space is defined by the areas between and around the subjects of your photos. But don’t be tempted to fill the void, because your subject will stand out and evoke a stronger reaction from viewers.

11. Clean your phone’s lens. Before and after taking photos, gently wipe off your phone’s lens with a technology-safe wipe or tissue. That way, your next photos will come out crystal clear.