Tag Archives: Digital noise

Tips for Better Smartphone Photography

This article contributed by Liz Pekler(Bio).

SmartPhone Photography is on an up-trend

Smartphone photography is the source of millions of images per day worldwide. It is not only an important aspect of social interaction, it is also a way to express yourself. Find out how to improve your shots and make the best of your smartphone photography.


Smartphone Photography is attracting more and more people. The number of images made on mobile devices exceeds the number taken on compact or DSLR cameras. Who could blame these keen users? Smartphones are easier to carry, cheaper to maintain, and are more user-friendly than the DSLR. And, with the constantly evolving smartphone camera apps and accessories, the future of smartphone photography seems assured. Indeed, smartphones and tablets are used in conventional photography too.

Is smartphone photography the new norm?

There’s no denying that DSLRs or mirrorless cameras are still the best types of cameras to have despite their larger size and weight. They have powerful sensors that offer the most megapixels. They allow complete user control over camera settings. However, more than that, they provide flexibility and freedom to use a range of accessories, like interchangeable lenses. The flexibility and control provided by a fully functioned DSLR can help you achieve the highest quality output.

Smartphone photography provides well for general image needs, like social media sharing and family records. Using mobile devices has become standard practice in recent years. Their hardware will need time to catch up on the quality and functions of more advanced cameras. However, there are many smartphone photography accessories available. These add-ons can enable your mobile device to get quite close to the high standard of DSLRs.

As long as smartphone manufacturers continue to develop higher specs and more powerful sensors smartphone photography will be likely to trend upward. However, no matter how good these mobile devices become, using the camera will require some user skill. The best photographs are not the product of the camera. They are a reflection of the vision and skill of the photographer – no matter what the device. Smartphone photography can be artistic, can be beautiful, can return great images.

You can get the best out of the built-in camera in your phones by practicing these helpful tips below:

Tips for Better Smartphone Photography

1. Pay Attention to the light levels

As with DSLRs, think, and make sure everything is good before touching the shutter button. Make sure the image is well-lit. One way to do so is to tap your subject on your phone’s display screen. In the smartphone camera on Auto mode, tapping on your subject will command the camera to focus on the area of the tap. Then the camera will make the exposure adjustment. That will ensure your subject is lit to its best advantage. The camera adjusts the overall image in proportion to the exposure. This shows the subject to its best advantage.

To manually adjust the scene’s brightness, swipe the ‘sun’ or ‘bulb icon’ after tapping on your subject. If you want to revert back to the default value, tapping anywhere on the screen of your smartphone usually does the trick.

Brightness changes are not the best way to lighten your scene. You can over-whiten highlights – leading to distracting white burnouts. Instead, try manually adjusting your ISO levels. Higher ISO means the sensor is more sensitive to light. A high ISO number gives a brighter scene in proportion to the ambient light in the rest of the picture. This helps you adjust your image to avoid burnt out highlights.

Raising the ISO has a penalty. High sensitivity to light levels can make your photos look grainy. It is called digital noise. Dimly lit areas brightened by higher ISO are especially likely to show noise if you boost the ISO too high. Practice with ISO a bit to get a feel for the way to use it.

The best way to avoid digital noise is to add light sources or work with natural light. Camera sensors work well with good light levels. So, think about how you can enhance the light rather than rely on high ISO, if you can.

2. Apply the Principles of Composition

Another thing to significantly improve your smartphone photography is to compose your image. This means taking photos to create a more visually appealing image. Try not to “shoot from the hip”. The quick snap often leads to poor shots.

It helps to keep these basic rules of composition in mind when taking photos:

  • The Rule of Thirds – Mentally divide the screen into a grid with 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines. Then, align your subject with any of the guide lines or intersecting points to achieve a more natural-looking and attractive image.
  • The Golden Ratio Smartphone Photography | External link - opens new tab/page – When you compose your photo, leave 1.6 bits of empty space for every 1 bit of occupied space to achieve a balanced image.
  • Leading Lines – Using lines in your composition will help influence viewing behavior, draw your audience’s eyes across an image or towards a subject, and adds motion and dynamism.
  • Three-Layer Image – Having a foreground, a subject in the middle, and a background adds a sense of depth and interest to your photo. See “River Scene” below.
  • Rule of odds – multiple subjects in an image are more attractive if they are an odd number. The most famous case is to have three of something, but five and seven are often used too.

Smartphone photo showing three compositional layers

:: River Scene ::
This smartphone photograph shows three compositional layers. Introducing clear layers into your image helps to bring out a three dimensional depth and structure. Try to use foreground, mid-ground and distance layers in your images.
(Taken on a Galaxy S6 – Android phone)
(Click here to view large)


There are many ways you can use composition to improve your images. There is a whole page of composition links for you learn more here: Composition resources on Photokonnexion

3. Move as Close to your Subject as Possible

When using a smartphone to take photos, opt to move closer to your subject instead of using its zoom feature. Smartphone camera lenses usually have fixed focal lengths so they can’t zoom optically. Instead, it zooms digitally, which visibly distorts, pixelates, and lowers the quality of your images when overdone. Alternatively, you can use a compatible lens attachment that offers optical zoom capabilities.

4. Use Natural Light

The built-in flash on smartphones can sometimes be unflattering as it can wash out your subjects and produce harsh shadows. Harsh shadows with sharp lines create an angular appearance. This is particularly unflattering on faces.

To produce the best results, go for natural lighting. Natural light has an attractive quality for our eyes. We are naturally tuned to it. If you really need a flash there are some good attachments. You can use an attachable pocket spotlight or ring flash. Better still, use a more diffused light. An attractive diffused light provides just enough light for your subjects and creates flattering soft light with shadows. Shadows from soft light helps to create depth – giving a three dimensional feeling in the image.

5. Use A Third-Party Camera App

Your smartphone’s dedicated camera app can get the job done. However, third party apps allow you to do more with your phone’s built-in camera. Some of them offer better exposure adjustments, manual focus and camera settings (like shutter speed and aperture), or even integrated photo editing features so you can touch up captured photos instantly. If your interest is in better smartphone photography then use better editing too. Work to ensure you can navigate within the app and help you optimize its features for better photos.

Also familiarize yourself with the menu, settings, and features of your chosen camera app. If you’re a beginner, spend time and effort on learning photography basics. Think particularly about the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Also, think about how they relate to each other to create the exposure. Do some reading of this blog or other photography sites. Watch a YouTube tutorial on manual camera settings. Help yourself to develop a rounded approach to understanding both exposure and how best to take photos. Smartphone photography is as good for producing images as a DSLR. That is only true, providing, you know your tools and how to use them to produce a great image.

6. Take Advantage of the HDR Mode

The HDR mode on your camera phone allows it to take multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures, and then blend them together to create an image that pleases the eye. HDR mode blends the shots to create deeper contrasts in the image. This is particularly useful when shooting landscapes or high contrast scenes where there are obviously uneven highlights and dark areas. However, it must be used sparingly, as it can leave your images looking odd and overly edited. Don’t overuse it – try to work the editor so that your eye sees reality in the results. Trust your eye.

As a safety measure, also leave HDR on Auto. Then, you can manually pick out a better photo from the bunch of shots that were initially taken, in case the HDR blend goes badly. Apply the final result afterwards.

7. Post-Process Your Images

Post-processing can never replace good photography techniques. The best images stand alone for their beautiful content. However, it is also helpful to have editing skills. You can work to enhance a great image, or to work for the overall improvement of your photos. Take out spots, noise, or other irritations. Clean the image up so you show the beauty without distractions.

Photo editing apps like Instagram, VSCO, and Snapseed can be very helpful in making basic photo adjustments that will give you your desired result. Their photo filters are also great for setting or altering the mood of your images.

However, keep your edits at a minimum – especially processing ‘filters’. Instead, strive to make naturally beautiful images. This way, you don’t have to make too many adjustments later. After all, viewers can tell when you “cheat” your way to a good-looking image. Over-editing lowers the quality of your photos.

8. Keep Your Lens Clean and unscratched

This is something that is often overlooked by smartphone owners. It may not seem to be such a big deal for a small camera. However, a lens having oil, dirt, and moisture on it can slowly damage the glass. Leaving the lens on a tabletop can lead to scratching and marking. These ultimately affect image quality. Make sure you wipe the lens before use and use a protector or case, especially when doing a lot of outdoor shoots.

Can smartphone photography ever replace the DSLR?

Not all smartphones are capable of the more complex camera functions. However, many of the models some models currently on the market already have capabilities that mimic those found in DSLRs. In fact, many of them already allow control over the important camera settings, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These controls are native to some of the phones without having to use a third-party camera app.

Some of the latest smartphones, like the brand new iPhone and the latest Google Pixel, have more powerful and versatile cameras with more megapixels and other advanced features. Optical image stabilization for sharper photos and smoother videos is appearing, for example. The LG G6, released earlier this year, has great built in features. It carries a wide-angle lens that covers a larger area and is ideal for capturing group shots, magnificent architecture, and stunning landscapes. Many smartphone cameras from other brands offer other impressive features too. These advances are appearing just a few years after we thought such innovations wouldn’t be possible.

Smartphone photography is progressing fast. In a few years time, smartphone cameras are going to become even more sophisticated. For now, it’s safe to say that smartphones are definitely catching up, but whether they will ever surpass the DSLR remains to be seen. One thing is sure, the smartphone camera and DSLR are converging on each other. Furthermore, emergent technologies could take us anywhere. Camera technology still has a long way to go. Enjoy the ride!

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Post contributed by :: Liz Pekler

I am a travel photographer with several years of experience in the field. Being a freelance blogger enables me to help photography beginners and enthusiasts to tell wonderful stories of their travels as seen through their lenses. It also allows me to share my thoughts about another advocacy of mine: social equality and change.
Connect with Liz Pekler: Linkedin :: Twitter: @liz_pekler

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Review your own photographs

Low flying aircraft

• Low flying aircraft •
Click image to view large
• Low flying aircraft • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page
Every picture has its merits. However is there enough in the picture to interest and invigorate the attention of your viewers? Sometimes, like this picture, if you don’t have a point worth making then you should not really bother with it.

A picture is a wonderful communication.

But like speech if there’s no point there is no impact. To help you see if you have made a great picture here are some guiding points.

We are going to consider…
• What you are communicating:
• Presentation:
• Camera technique:
• Technical Quality:
• Visual Awareness, Visualisation, Seeing and aesthetics:

Looking critically at your own picture

When you make a picture your previsualisation of what you want to achieve is critical to the outcome. If you don’t know what you are trying to make how can you make it convincing? So try to have a mental image of what your picture it going to look like when you make it. If you can see the image before you make it you should have a good point in mind – a reason for making it. All too often snappers see something and just ‘snap’. That being the case, few of the images will have real meaning or impact.

When looking at your own picture you must see if there is really something there. Are you really saying anything? Are you really communicating with the viewer of your picture? Or, is what you have just made only a simple picture? To have real impact is to create in the viewers mind an image. An image that means something to them. So look at your picture and honestly ask yourself what is the viewer going to get from it? What will it mean to them? If you find that you have really said something in the picture then the first criteria for success has been passed.

To this end you should consider how successfully each of these things has contributed to the success of the image…

  • Personal input: have you understood and connected with the subject
  • Appropriate communication the message, mood, ideas, and information you want to pass to your viewer
  • Complementary use of the photographic media (mounting, projection, printing, texture of print etc.)
  • Appropriate imagination and creativity / suitable timing for the shot
What about the other things?

• Presentation: It is important to have a good presentation for your picture. Have you edited out distractions and sensor/lens spots, removed the errant sweet rapper littering the foreground etc. In other words, have you done the little tidying up tasks that make the image stand up as clean representation of your original vision for it? If it is a print, is it well mounted in a non-distracting way. Is the printing immaculate or are there streaks and spots; over-run and smear.

• Camera technique: Is the sharpness the way you want it – deliberate softness is fine as long as that is making an artistic point in a way you intended. Is the depth of field right for the composition? Have you emphasised the point or simply missed the point. Is the digital noise too high, or the contrast too low. What you are looking for here is to see if your prowess with the camera has come through. Did your technique work or were there any errors or mistakes that detract from the delivery of your point? Some of the other things to consider are…

  • Viewpoint to the subject – exciting, interesting, different, right?
  • Choice of lighting – does it complement or complete the subject or is it at odds with your point?
  • Accurate focusing – accurate choice of focus for the subject.
  • Appropriate quality and choice of exposure.
  • Suitable use of depth of field (aperture).
  • Appropriate shutter speed for the subject (and shot timing).
  • Highlights and shadows (ensuring detail is retained)
  • Appropriate quality and choice of exposure – does the balance of light and dark complement or detract from the subject?
  • Is the quality of the light effective or bland; does is make a statement or is it of little consequence?

• Technical Quality:
In this category you should consider exposure, colour and tonal control…

  • Absence of processing faults (dust, spots, hairs, processing artefacts, image damage by sharpening etc.)
  • Appropriate adjustments of colour temperature; hue, saturation, colour balance etc.
  • Appropriate tonal use and control of the range of tones.
  • Good image finishing: removal of distractions, removal of abrupt or discordant features.
  • Appropriate use of levels, curves, colour management, filters, overlays etc (post processing)

In this category you are looking to make sure that the image is digitally developed properly. Is the exposure even or has it been obviously enhanced and changed. Is the light effective to make the point or has the exposure not been fine tuned. It is easy to take a picture, but all these thing go into making an image. Think about what you are trying to achieve and does this picture achieve it with its colour and technical delivery/

• Visual Awareness, Visualisation, Seeing and aesthetics:
Do you think that your shot, the one you have in front of you sees anything different? Are you reporting what you saw or expressing a point, message, communication, feeling… does this picture have IMPACT?

  • Is the composition, design and cropping of the image an effective aesthetic construction?
  • Appropriate simplification (minimising complexity and clutter)
  • Distractions / intrusions should not divert the viewers eye
  • Good use of light, mood, texture and colour
  • Good use of masking/manipulation where appropriate
What you are doing…

Each time you want others to look at your picture you want to impress them, to lift them, to… well, get out your message or point for the picture. The type of questions I have asked above are aimed at getting you looking at your images with a critical eye. If you are honest, you will find that none of your pictures will be satisfactory in all of the above. But if you find you are gradually improving your standard of delivery you will see that the above get closer to ideal with every new picture. Critically reviewing each picture before you publish print or show it to other people helps make sure you are producing something worth showing.

You won’t be right every time. But you will see as you develop, your comments will begin matching those of other people. You will than have a benchmark that tells you if your work is measuring up to peoples view of it. Or, more importantly to see if your picture is measuring up to your original vision of how you wanted the shot.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.