A complete guide to smartphone photography

A complete guide to smartphone photography

Have you been getting very so-so photographic results when using your smartphone’s camera? Have you wondered how the pro’s get such great results?

Well maybe it’s time you read our complete guide to smartphone photography.

Begin with Camera settings explained or jump to Post production photo editing
or Basic photography principles

Camera settings explained

First off we are going to take a look at the camera settings that you have manual control over. 


HDR (High Dynamic Range) is one of the most useful tricks that your smartphone’s camera can employ and one you should seriously consider using as your default setting. 

Update: Google launches PhotoScan app for digitising old photos

The setting is used when a scene has both light and dark elements within it. Under this scenario your camera will produce a result where the detail has been lost in either the light or dark element.

<p> Written by: <a title="Michael Brown" href="https://plus.google.com/+MichaelBrownUK?rel=author">Michael Brown</a></p>

HDR overcomes this by taking several photos at different exposure levels. It then merges the best element from each frame to create a picture with great detail in both the light and dark areas of your photograph. 


The ISO setting increases or decreases your cameras sensitivity to light. This is a useful setting that can help you achieve good results in low light scenarios such as at an indoor sporting event or during dusk.


White Balance

White balance is used to get the colours in the image reproduced as accurately as possible. You may notice blue, orange or yellow tints on you photos yet to the eye everything looks okay.

This is due to the colour of the light source known as the temperature. The human eye cleverly adjusts this for us so that we don’t even notice it but your smartphone camera doesn’t. This can leave a yellow tint to photos lit by a light bulb or a blueish tint to photos lit by fluorescent lighting.

White Balance

To combat this for cooler light sources such as from a blue sky you can tell your camera to warm up the lighting and under warm light sources like from a candle you can cool down the result.

Top tip: One of the easiest ways to set the white balance is to hold a sheet of white paper in the shot, then adjust your white balance until the paper looks white. Now remove the paper and take your photo.

Read our LG G3 camera review

Exposure Value

The exposure value is needed to overcome incorrect assumptions that your camera makes about lighting. Your camera is calibrated to correctly expose scenes that have a mix of light and dark in them.

With Auto Exposure the camera sets the brightness based on a mid-point between the lightest and darkest element in the shot. But, problems occur if the scene is all light or all dark.


For light scenes this tends to have a greying effect and it is commonly experienced when photographing the sky, beach or snow. You can overcome this easily though by setting a higher EV number for light scenes or by choosing a negative value for dark scenes.


You will find this feature on some of the more advanced smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy range. There is usually of choice of 3 settings:

  • Spot metering - In this mode the camera calculates the amount of light in the centre of the shot. This is useful when a there is a stong backlight behind your subject, which usually results in a dark silhouette effect. The camera adjusts for this to ensure good exposure of you subject.
  • Centre-weighted metering - This works similar to spot metering but the phone uses a broader area making it a good choice for group shots.
  • Multi metering - This adjusts the results by calculating the amount of light in multiple areas.



It is true to say that you only have the flash that is fitted to your camera smartphone but you can still work with its limits. You may find that you getter better results by distancing yourself from your subject and then use your flash and zoom in conjunction with each other.

If you have a dual LED flash then two colours are used to help capture more natural colours and reduce the possibility of a washed out look. Dual flashes also project more light so you can capture subjects that are 1.4 times further away. 

Read our Samsung Galaxy Note 4 camera review

Burst Mode

There is little to be said here other than there is safety in numbers. Use burst mode to capture a portfolio of photos and choose the best one to keep where no-one is blinking and everyone is smiling. 

Post production photo editing

Here we take a look at how you can improve the look of your photos after they have been taken on your smartphone’s camera.


Saturation refers to the amount of grey that is in the reproduced colours. More grey will darken or tone down the images whilst less grey makes the colours more vivid.

Increase the saturation on natural images such as wildlife or portraits to make the colours breathtaking but be careful not go too far and create unnatural results.


You may have a selective saturation tool but if not send your images to your computer and use the magic wand found in a variety of free paint programs. Now you can do really cool things like making the background black and white by decreasing the saturation while increasing the saturation of the remaining coloured items.

This sets the difference between light and dark and dictates the contrast created by colour, tone and texture. Increasing the contrast will give you a lively vivid look while lowering the contrast creates a more monotone look.

Read our Sony Xperia Z3 camera review

Basic photography principles

Next we take a look at two of the most important photography principles that will transform your results.

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds principle suggests that your should consider splitting your viewfinder into 3 segments both horizontally and vertically. In fact many smartphone cameras will have a setting that lets you turn on these guidelines.

You should now align your subjects or points of interest at the intersections of the lines. Tests have shown that our eyes are naturally drawn to these intersections as apposed to the centre of the photo.

Rule of thirds

Always ask yourself what are the points of interest and don’t forget to remember the rule thirds when editing and cropping you photos.


Digital cameras were made for shooting in landscape / horizontal and for a larger degree this is the best way to capture your surroundings. The smartphone however has been designed for use in portrait / vertical so don’t forget to correctly consider your scene as the results can be dramatic.

Written by: Michael Brown

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