How to Take Better Pictures With Your Smartphone

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The best camera is always the one you have with you.

Most of us take the majority of our photos from our smartphones. While many may own dedicated cameras, the best camera is always the one you have with you. As the photo capabilities of smartphones continue to improve, that’s becoming more true than ever. In fact, the dedicated camera market has fallen by 29 percent over the last five years and is expected to fall another five percent in 2013. The only catch? The stock camera app on your phone probably won’t cut it – especially if you’re a photo geek. Want to snap some better pictures this summer? Here are a few tips on how to do it.

Find the Photo App That Works for You

While the stock camera apps on Android and iOS will get the job done, neither produces particularly noteworthy results. Fortunately, there tons of others out there to choose from, so experiment to find one that matches your own personal style. I love CameraZOOM FX for Androids. It’s consistently been the highest-rated camera app in the Play Store for its wealth of features. Camera+ for iPhone or iPad is another great app for Apple fans. Both apps work well for beginners while still offering some cool features. If you’re not interested in a ton of features but want some different effects, check out Instagram. With more than 4 billion photos uploaded, it’s by far the most popular photo-sharing app for either Android or iOS smartphones. (Do you have an iPhone or an Android phone? Find out what your choice says about you here.)

Once you’ve settled on an app (or decided to stay with the stock app), explore your settings options. First, make sure that your resolution is set to the highest quality. Then, if your app permits it, turn on the "stable shot" option. The other settings like exposure and white balance will have to wait until you’re on the scene, but you can keep them on "auto" for fast shooting.

Check Out the Lighting

When it’s time to take photos, be sure to scope out the lighting first. Lighting is the primary element of photography, but when you’re caught up in the moment it can be the first thing you ignore. Make sure faces aren’t in areas of patchy lighting, and move outdoors if lighting is low.

If your phone has a flash, check that it’s doing what you want. If you’re indoors, the flash may be your best bet but in some cases it can make the people in your photos look pale and washed out. If this happens, try covering the flash with a sticker or piece of paper. This will mute the light and produce a softer glow. If you’re outside and there’s a strong back light, however, use the flash to bring the subjects forward and make them brighter. Finally, when trying to capture a photo at night, take advantage of your camera’s night mode (if it has one). It can mean the difference between getting the shot you want and a ending up with a dark photo with no one in it.

Get the Cool Shot

Photography 101: A great photo is all about composition. Try to focus on one subject, rather than the scenery around it, and get up-close and personal when you can. This way, you’ll get a much more detailed photo. Aim to get at least a few pictures on the sly too (you know your friends – and kids! – never want to pose anyway). Your subjects’ demeanor will be a lot less stiff and self-conscious, and you might just catch some really interesting expressions and memories. Shy away from using the digital zoom though. This will allow you to avoid some really blurry pictures, and frankly, that’s what your fancy-schmancy camera with the mega-lens is for. Last but not least, always keep your camera lens clean; you know how dirty cell phones can get.

Don’t Forget to Back it Up

The downside of digital photos is that they can be destroyed without any warning. To prevent this, make sure to back up the photos on your phone. Android phones have an option to automatically upload your photos to your Google Drive/Plus storage in private folders so that you can access them from anywhere. IOS phones automatically back up photos – just check that the feature’s working under settings > iCloud > Backup & Storage. Some people use Facebook to store their pictures. Because Facebook stores the full-resolution version of an image, it’s an easy way to organize, store, and share your photos. Every day, 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook. Just be sure to check your settings when posting. There are some photos you may want to keep to yourself. (Learn more about Facebook privacy in Facebook’s Changing Privacy Policy.)


Of course, the safest way to back up your photos is to make sure you have a copy saved on your backup drive. That way if your computer crashes, your photos won’t disappear into the digital ether.

Say Cheese …

No doubt this summer will be full of great photo ops. Smartphones can now capture these moments quite well, especially if you know how to use yours to your advantage.


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Andrea Eldridge

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Eldridge writes two weekly columns, "Nerd Chick Adventures" in Redding, California's The Record Searchlight, and "Computer Nerds On Call", a nationally syndicated column for the Scripps-Howard News Service. She regularly appears on ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS on shows such as "Good Day Sacramento", "Good Morning Arizona" and "MORE Good Day Portland", offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle and gadgets. Eldridge also works with Demand Media to produce content for and has written a book, "Smartphone101:…