10 Great Smartphone Pro Photography Tips for the New Year

We all know how to click the shutter button on our phone and get a basic shot. But how to take it to the next level?

As the host of the YouTube PhotowalksTV series, I get asked the question all the time, and with a new year upon us, what a great time to up our game, right? Here are 10 of what I think are the most essential hacks for shooting like a pro with your smartphone. Please watch the video above for examples, and read on below.

The best photos are taken early in the morning and during the last hour of the day, known as the “magic” or “blue” hour. Check out any brochure, magazine, poster or whatever, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The colors of our world are soft and muted at dawn and dusk. Get your shots in there and you can nap for the rest of the day.

A pro trick is to always clean your lenses before a shoot. We’re putting phones in our pockets and purses, and they get dirty. Bring a cloth to wipe it off, or just use your shirt or blouse.

In the pro category, this is my most important tip. I, like Joni Mitchell, now see the world from both sides. How is my topic covered? It may not be as good from the front, but the light from the back, or from the side, can make a difference. You’ll see in the video that I produced my pal Rich Demoro from every angle until we got it right. Keep going until you get it right, and as a bonus, shoot from every angle, vertical, horizontal, down, up….you get the idea, right?

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Cloudy skies are what I call “photographer weather,” when there’s beautiful, even, people-pleasing light, without the harsh shadows of the afternoon sun on faces. Wet weather is even better in that it creates beautiful colorful reflections, especially in the morning and evening. Most recent phones are “water resistant”, meaning you can easily shoot in the rain without any problems. There’s just one problem – the touchscreen becomes unresponsive when wet, and thus, the shutter is difficult to pull. Which leads to the next hack!

The volume up and down buttons on your phone can also snap the shutter for you. So if you’re in the rain, or underwater (watch my episode on doing just that) you can snap the shutter with the volume button and not have to worry about an unresponsive touchscreen. Secondly, the iPhone will do double duty by putting you on burst mode. This will stop the process and give you a bunch of photos to choose from. (On Galaxy phones, you go to the menu to access Burst Mode.)

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If you’ve skipped a morning shoot and need to get a nice portrait in the afternoon sun (we’ve all been there) I have a great hack for you, the magazine trick. Most urban areas usually have real estate listings or a local calendar magazine. Pick one up, and get a friend to hold the magazine over the subjects head. This will cover the harsh sun and let you see your subject without the raccoon’s eyes.

When shooting a sunset, how do you make it interesting? Paste something in the foreground. In Pismo Beach, as I showed in the video, we used a cool tree branch. In Manhattan Beach, there is a pier or lifeguard tower. Place a person there, preferably a silhouette. (Click the answer if you need instructions on how to do this on your phone.) Be creative, but remember, there’s nothing more boring than a large body of water.

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Sometimes subjects move so fast that it’s hard to get a good shot, so when in doubt, play video and know you’ve captured everything. Better yet—you can take pictures and video at the same time on iPhones. When you’re in video mode, after you press record for video, a white shutter button appears at the top of the screen. Hit it with your best photos and get the best of both worlds.

No photo leaves my phone that hasn’t been “enhanced” in the Photos app. My first go-to is the plain vanilla Photos app on the iPhone, which has fantastic tools for darkening skies and boosting colors a bit. (I show how in the accompanying video.) From there. My next level up is the free Adobe Lightroom mobile app, and there are two key sliders that I show in the video. When I want to be crazy, I reach for the Snapseed app from Google.

With Lightroom, see the difference below before and after? What is your preference?

iPhone shot in Palm Desert, unedited

iPhone shot in Palm Desert, edited in Lightroom Mobile.


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