Mom Life

How to Take Better Pictures with Your Phone

If you’re like me, you see tons of beautiful pictures on social media and think, “how the heck do they take such great pictures!?” While many people DO invest in an actual DSLR camera for high quality, high resolution beautiful shots, I found this just wasn’t always practical. Real life means your fancy camera isn’t always going to be ready, and that leaves you with a mobile photography as the means of capturing your favorite moments. 

So I’ve spent a lot of time researching how people achieve that DSLR look with their phone camera. I’m definitely not an expert, and I still have a lot to learn too – but here’s what’s been working for me.

Photography is 90% capturing and 10% editing

If you start with a really great raw (unedited) picture, you shouldn’t need to over-edit, filter, etc. The more you edit a picture, the more artificial it’s going to appear, so really put the bulk of your effort into capturing a great raw shot. This means it meets the following:

  1. Great lighting – phones automatically calculate your exposure, shutter speed, and ISO based on the light in your image. For a crisp, clean image, you need light and LOTS of it (this reduces the ISO and increases shutter speed). If you’re trying to photograph in low-light, there are some editing options that can assist – but for the BEST quality, make sure you have light! And no – that doesn’t mean flash. Flashes on cell phone cameras are often way too harsh and create bad glare and uneven lighting. Try to avoid flash at all costs!
  2. Rule of thirds – think of a picture as a grid divided into 9 equal parts:

    Photo credit PhotographyMad and Prem Anandh

    You want your pictures to have focal points along the intersections of this grid. Until you’re good at eyeballing – you can add gridlines to your camera preview in your phone settings. (Read more on rule of thirds here)

  3. Go candid – make your pictures interesting and candid. Everyone loves a cute posed picture, but some of the best pictures I have are completely candid. People enjoy seeing real-life. 

Know your post-processing tools

Improving your Instagram Photos - Tips and Tricks by Growing Up Zee

So you captured a great shot, and you’re ready to post it on Instagram. Post-processing can help you edit a picture to take it to that next level. I’m not just talking instagram filters here – you need to get in there and really adjust the picture. The good news is there’s plenty of great tools available for phones. 

For editing on my phone, I use a combo of the following apps:

  1. Facetune ($3.99) – Facetune is great for patching, smoothing skin, detailing the iris, and adding focal blur. Be careful not to overdo it though – a lot of their settings are unable to adjust the intensity (so especially when detailing eyes/smoothing skin, don’t overdo it or your subject might look like a cyborg)
  2. VSCO (free, unless you want additional filters) – VSCO has great filters that can give you that dreamy, jewel-toned muted look you see all over instagram. They also have way better b+w filters than the standard instagram filters. You can adjust the intensity of the filter, too. 
  3. Instagram (free) – I prefer adjusting exposure, contrast, sharpness, and warmth in Instagram directly right before I post the picture. So once I’ve cleaned it up in Facetune, and added a filter in VSCO, I use Instagram to put on the final touches

Edit, edit, edit

Take your time using these tools to really pull out the best in your raw image. My editing process (generally) is:

  1. Remove blemishes/smooth skin (facetune) – Don’t overdo it. 
  2. Defocus/Blur background (facetune) – when appropriate. Sometimes doing this compromises the integrity of the picture, so not always necessary, but great for a busy background. 
  3. Add a filter (VSCO) – my favorite VSCO filters are the B, C, F, and S series (I paid for some of these but I’m not totally sure which ones). In general, I like crisp filters with cool colors. Some pictures, especially those taken in low light or where the clarity might be compromised, look great in black and white.  
  4. Straighten (Instagram) – Take a look at the background, make sure it’s STRAIGHT! If you have a crooked horizon, the whole picture looks off. There are of course exceptions to this but for the most part, your subject should be straight. 
  5. Crop (Instagram) – if your subject doesn’t meet the rule of thirds in the raw image, crop within Instagram to make sure your focal point hits close to a gridline intersection
  6. Adjust exposure (Instagram) – bump up your overall exposure a hair if your subject is too dark. If you’re trying to remove shadows from a face, try tweaking using the shadows tool in Instagram instead of only bumping up the overall exposure.
  7. Adjust warmth (Instagram) – Over-warm pictures are just not as pretty as correctly color adjusted ones. Make sure your whites look WHITE. Temperature adjustment can really make/break and image
  8. Adjust clarity (Instagram) – A little sharpness to the picture can really go a long way
  9. Adjust contrast (Instagram) – Darkens your darks and lightens your lights. Too much will look overdone, so just adjust enough to make the image pop. 
  10. Step away. Save the picture and come back to it in five minutes before posting. This pause gives you a fresh eye and you can make sure you really love everything about your picture before actually posting. 

Follow the looks you love

Improving your Instagram Photos - Tips and Tricks by Growing Up Zee

Finally, the best way to keep motivated and inspired is to follow great photography spotlight accounts (like Candid Childhood, Pixel Kids, JJ Community, etc.). These highlight particular pictures throughout the day from accounts all over the world. Camera Mama is another excellent account to follow because they often ask the photographer to describe exactly how they got the shot they’re featuring. 

So there you have it. I still have a ways to go in perfecting my technique, so I’m always open to learning new tricks. You can check out my instagram here, and feel free to share any of your tips and tricks below!

For great tips on how to GAIN followers – check out this post on Living For Naptime!

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  • Reply Emily September 5, 2018 at 12:48 pm

    Love the tips! You have to be really in the moment to capture great candid photos otherwise it feels too “set up” right?

  • Reply Anne - Just Only Home September 20, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    What amazing information! Thanks so much~ ❤

  • Reply kikiinteriors August 14, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for these tips – I’m working on my editing skills on IG and these tips will really come in handy!

  • Reply Making the Most of Your Family Photos - Growing Up Zee February 19, 2017 at 12:01 am

    […] Mobile photography has come SO far in recent years. Top of the line cellphones make it easy to take great pictures without having to invest in a DSLR. If you’re looking for tips on how to make the most of your mobile photos – be sure to check out my How-To Guide to Mobile Photography here.  […]

  • Reply Peta February 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Excellent.. that was really helpful

  • Reply nsalama1 January 31, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    Great tips. I really need to work on my photography so this is such a helpful post. Lighting is one of my biggest issues especially in winter where there’s not much sun to begin with. I’ll have to try the apps you mention.

    Nicole | The Professional Mom Project

  • Reply Mama got a new camera... Now what? - Growing Up Zee January 4, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    […] Not quite ready for a DSLR? Check out my similar article on Mobile Photography! […]

  • Reply craftyorganizedmom December 16, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! I haven’t been able to invest in a DSLR picture yet and was thrilled to find your advice to make pictures I take with my phone better.

    • Reply Megan Z December 16, 2016 at 5:30 pm

      awesome glad you found it useful!

  • Reply lisabenavidez November 28, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Super helpful!!!

  • Reply My Daily She November 9, 2016 at 9:42 am

    This was SO useful! I even printed it (and I hardly ever print anything)!

  • Reply leli November 8, 2016 at 10:44 am

    I need this for sure thanks for sharing. I consider myself a horrible IG photographer. Strange since Im a great with lightroom and a real camera.

  • Reply Laura November 3, 2016 at 9:33 am

    These are great tips! I love vsco cam app! I had never heard of the thirds thing so I definitely learned something new. Thank you!

  • Reply Susannah November 2, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    These are fantastic tips! I’m trying to up my blogging game!

  • Reply jackiemenglish7 November 2, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Love these tips! I’m going to try them this week.

  • Reply Jazz November 1, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    These are great tips! I like the editing tools in IG as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Bria | Tendril Wild Blog November 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Wow, that before and after photo is incredible!

    I’ve definitely found it to be true that if you start with a great photo, it’s much easier to edit, and the end result will look much more professional and high quality. I’ve tried editing poor quality pictures before (that were grainy with a bad light source), and it just doesn’t work!

    Using quality photo-editing apps really helps, too. I also love VSCO and use it first to add a filter. I like using the same filter on all my Instagram photos to build a feed that looks cohesive. I also really like Pic-Tap-Go (paid) if some of my whites need an added boost!

    These are great tips, Megan!

  • Reply Ash @ Spit Up and Sit Ups November 1, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    I had no idea I could edit so much just using Instagram. Game changer!

  • Reply Belle November 1, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Love all these tips! Thanks for sharing!

    One Awesome Momma

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