Mastering the Art of Cellphone Photography

Are you a photography enthusiast but do not wish to burn a hole in your pocket by opting for a super-expensive SLR? Or perhaps you like to shoot weird signboards, views from bus windows and other random things — naturally, you wouldn’t want to carry a heavy camera 24/7, would you?

If the above description applies to you, you can probably use a common device that almost everyone has nowadays.

Microwave oven? No.

Television? No.

Air conditioner? Please, no!

Cellphone? YES!

In this article, we take a look at some tips and tricks that can be used to get great pictures out of cellphone cameras.

To begin with, do not expect to create a full-time career using cellphones as your primary camera (just in case you manage to do so, please write a book about it — I’d love to be inspired).

Jokes apart, many cellphones nowadays come with features that can put the average camera to shame — Flash, Face Detection, Night Mode, Image Enhance, Control over ISO and whatnot! Since such features are device-specific, we won’t delve miles deeper into each. You can always look up your phone itself to get a hang of its features. Instead, we are going to concentrate on some neat tips that you can use, regardless of the model that you have — if your phone is an average to mid-range device (not even a smartphone), you can use most of these tips. Of course, the better the phone, the better the experience!

Also, just in case you are looking for awesome photography effects, don’t worry — we got you covered!

Get the Lights in Place

Regardless of what the television commercials tell you, many camera phones are just not meant for every shooting scenario. If you attempt to shoot the night sky or a rock concert using your camera phone, you’ll probably get dark images with spots of light. Truth be told, night photography is not the forte of most camera phones — they are primarily meant for shooting in places with good lighting. Of course, there are exceptional phones with Xenon and LED Flash, but even in that case, the sensors inside the phones are tiny compared to those of an SLR. Thus, it is a good idea to have a proper amount of light while shooting. However, try not to get direct light into the camera lens to avoid over-exposed images.

Cellphone and Camera

Image Credit

Furthermore, many phones come with presets such as ‘night landscape’, ‘portrait’, ‘sports’, ‘fireworks’, etc. which can automatically choose the proper shooting options for the given setting. For instance, certain phones have an option called Slow Sync Flash which allows the camera to shoot with a slightly longer exposure time, and gives the Flash an enhanced duration of exposure (which lessens the darkness). Experiment with your phone’s camera settings, and see if your device has these presets!

The Grid of Awesomeness!

Most modern camera phones come with a Grid or ‘Guidelines’. When activated, you will see grids or intersecting lines on the shooting area. Try to place the subject of your photo appropriately with respect to the grids. Thus, the prime focus of the photo is better placed in the grid, while the unnecessary elements can be at the corner of the grid. This trick is ideal if you commit the mistake of keeping the subject too close or too far from the center of the frame in your photos.

Camera Grids in iPhone

Image Credit

Rule of thirds: A good idea is NOT to place your subject bang in the center of the frame, but a third of the way in.

Be Steady

Are you getting blurry images with your phone? Don’t blame yourself. Generally, phones’ cameras have slow shutter speeds and you can’t do much to vary the exposure settings. The cure is to hold the phone steadily, with both hands, while shooting.

Photography article

Image Credit

If your hands still keep betraying you, try holding the phone closer to your body. Matter of practice, to be honest!

Keep Track of the Shutter Release

By shutter release, we mean the time it takes for the camera to shoot the image after you press the shoot button. If the shoot button is on a touch screen, the shutter will probably get tripped after you lift your finger. More often than not, such ‘tripping’ can be cured by keeping your hands as steady as possible.

Tweaking the Settings

When it comes to settings and tweaks, most camera phones are now imitating the same feature set as that of high-end pro cameras. Of course, the effectiveness and prowess varies.

Let’s take the ISO setting, for example. By default, your phone will have it set to Auto. When shooting in broad daylight, you can set the ISO to the lowest value (to avoid grainy or noisy images). But in poor light, take the ISO higher.

Phone used: Sony Ericsson Cyber-Shot C510

Phone used: Sony Ericsson Cyber-Shot C510

Take a look at the above image — shot at around 4:30 PM, using Sony Ericsson C510, the backyard of my home in the country. The ISO is 200, as there already was a decent level of sunlight.

Say No to Digital Zoom

If your phone has a decent optical zoom (such as Samsung Pixon or Nokia N8), use it! But be warned: if all you have is digital zoom, don’t bother considering it.

Phone used: LG Optimus Pro

Phone used: LG Optimus Pro

In the above photo (taken on a foggy winter afternoon, again in my country house’s backyard), my phone LG Optimus Pro  had digital zoom, but I avoided it. Even though the sun now seems like a small speck of white, the image overall is pretty decent.


Panorama, Macro and other Awesome Lingo

If your phone has a Panorama shooting mode (any decent phone should have it), use it for shooting landscapes and those scenic views. Panoramas are when you take a series of photos and your phone stitches them together to create a wide photo (okay, that’s too simple an explanation, but I guess it’ll do). :-)


If you have a Galaxy S2 or iPhone 4S, you can try your hand at macro photography too. Macro photography is one in which you blur a background and shoot a really neat close-up of the subject. Saw those spider webs’ photos with the background all blurry and you can even see the water droplets on the web? Yes, that’s macro for you!

Editing your Photos and Applications Galore!

If you have a smartphone, you can find several apps that can help you edit your images easily.

Plus, your phone may also give you some editing abilities over your photos. Word of caution: unless absolutely necessary, don’t play with the image compression. Always opt for the highest quality of images — saving a few KBs is just not worth losing the charm of your photos. You can always rely on proper compression and editing tools from the app market or on your computer.

Both Google Play and Apple App Store have many photo editing apps

Software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or even Google’s Picasaweb can be used to retouch your photos. If you are an Android user, you can find useful apps here. Similarly, for iOS users, there are many useful options as well — including this handy video.

Making Use of Social Networks and Mobility Apps

What exactly is the purpose of a cellphone camera? Well, the answers may be many, but inarguably, its foremost use is to take pictures on the go! You find something interesting, you shoot it, and you’re good to share! And when it comes to sharing, even the most mundane phone nowadays refuses to lag behind — almost all mobile devices come with terrific integration with social networks such as Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and other similar sharing sites like Tumblr and Youtube (for videos made using your phone’s camera). In fact, most phones now allow you to share your clicks directly from the camera itself!

Sharing on social networks via phone

Image Credit

Still need more? You can employ Instagram to add further awesomeness to your photos — Android users, check out this guide. Not sure what Instagram is? Well, with over 7 million users, Instagram is an awesome way to edit and share your photos. You can upload your photos, and apply one of the many effects available at your disposal — thereby transforming your clicks into instant works of art. Plus, you can also browse the awesome work produced by creative minds all around the world. And if that doesn’t make you happy, you can also share your photos directly to Facebook, Twitter, Posterous and Tumblr.


In fact, mobility is the primary reason why you’d prefer shooting from your phone rather than a full-fledged camera.

And to Sum it Up…

We shall now have a recap of what we learned above (along with certain other minor tricks that you should bear in mind).

  1. When shooting from a cell phone camera, ensure that there is proper lighting and the subject is not in a poorly lit environment.
  2. Keep the phone steady to avoid blurry images.
  3. Prefer optical zoom over digital zoom.
  4. When shooting images at a low resolution, instead of zooming, consider moving closer to your subject.
  5. If your time permits (and if your memory card has the required space), try taking a ‘rough’ shot or two, before you settle on the final one. This applies especially to landscapes and other scenic photos.
  6. Feel free to experiment with white balance — adjust it the way you like, but do not overdo it.
  7. Keep the camera lens clean — especially free from fingerprints.
  8. Make use of the social networking features in your phone to share your clicks instantly!
  9. Plus, don’t miss out on the awesome photo editing apps that are available for free or a nominal price.
  10. Do not abuse camera phones — no sneaking on strangers, no voyeuristic photography.


With that, we come to the end of this article. If you choose to incorporate the above mentioned ideas in your photos, feel free to share your experiences with us. Also, if you have certain tips and tricks of your own, do share them in the comments below!

Sufyan bin Uzayr

Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of several books. He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.

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    • says

      “I think the key of a good photography by mobiles is to be patient and find the best place” — that’s the key to success with almost all forms of art, Armin. :-)
      Awesome photos… I haven’t tried N97 much, but if this is the output it can produce, it is one amazing device. Was this photo edited after being taken, either in Photoshop or on phone itself? Curious. :)

    • says

      Those are impressive photos! Cannot believe those are made by mobile, nice! And agreed about lighting..usually it’s the key.. In bright daylight it’s so much easier to create good photos even with crappy mobile camera!

  1. says

    Pretty conclusive stuff. Got to say the camera in the iPhone 4S is pretty amazing. When you bring the shots into Photoshop the quality is right up there with my Leica! (In low light it’s poor, as you would expect.) Also recently been playing around with Instagram – some brilliant effects which can make even the most lack-lustre shot shine.

    • says

      iPhone 4S has an awesome camera….unarguably one of the best ones in cellphones at the moment. Nice to hear that you’re having fun with Instagram.

  2. says

    As someone who likes to take photos, when ever I am in front of a perfect shot I never have my camera with me. But cell phones give you an opportunity to get a good enough shot but nothing will replace a real camera.

    • says

      Exactly, nothing beats the power of an awesome camera. Even though cellphones are now coming with features that can compete with many entry-level devices, at the end of the day, if you are serious about photography as a profession, get a proper camera.
      For hobby and those ‘random’ shots, cellphones will suffice, of course.