How to get better images out of your smartphone

Purists disagree but a smartphone can (sometimes) replace your compact or SLR. Emily Jupp asks the experts how to get it right

Summer is here and more of us are taking snaps as we're out and about, especially holiday snaps designed to cause envy among our less fortunate friends still stuck at home. It's likely that many of us are leaving our compact camera packed away in our day sacks and beach bags, and snapping away with our smartphones instead. Most phones are now made with reasonably powerful front and rear cameras, and the picture quality keeps getting better as mobile manufacturers fight to capitalise on our summertime photo-phone fever.

The new Nokia Lumia 1020, HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia S have meaty camera specs and, with 41, 8, 13 and 12.1 megapixels respectively, they are powerful enough to compete with a basic pocket digital camera. Small, covert and always close at hand, mobile phones even offer advantages over point-and-click pocket cameras.

Even professional photographers are turning to smartphone technology, one advantage being the anonymity it can offer; a camera phone makes a professional indistinguishable from a regular tourist. For example, Ben Lowy, a contributor to The New York Times, used his camera phone to document the Arab Spring. He writes on his Tumblr that using an iPhone to take photos is "a liberating experience" – and the results are stunning.

Michael Christopher Brown, the photography co-operative Magnum's latest nominee, is another convert to smartphone photography, using his iPhone to document the effects of the mineral trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But if you're not an expert photographer and your interest in photo-sharing is more limited to collecting a virtual scrapbook on Pinterest of beaches you've visited or tweeting pictures of your lunch with the hashtag "#foodenvy" than documenting worldwide injustice or political dissent, here are some tips for getting better images out of your smartphone.

Get tooled up

Possibly the most important tip is to having as many apps at your disposal as possible. Robert Clark, National Geographic photographer and the author of Making the Most of Your Smartphone, says that, in the world of digital photography, apps are a must-have. "I've had a good run with mobile imaging and I think social-media apps have really helped," he says. He recommends investing in a selection of apps to create different visual effects.

Camera Plus

This an iPhone app that lets you do basic sharpening and adjusting of the exposure. It's being hailed as the next evolution in social multimedia sharing. "It's fun to play with because there are 20 to 25 different choices you can make, like bring the highlights up or make it look like 1970," Clark says. He also recommends Brabble, a relatively new app (free, iOS) that lets you "share life's moments" across video, pictures, audio and text. Users can also reply to your posts in any of those four mediums.

"The photo option on Brabble is like Instagram," Clark says. "Brabble is a good option for me because because I don't want my photos to be sold on." Camera360 (Free, iOS/Android) is another quick and easy-to-use camera app with a full suite of pre- and post-editing tricks. Shooting modes include self-portrait and tilt-shift (where landscapes look miniature and objects look like toys – useful for views out of the aircraft window).

It also lets you layer on special effects after the photo is taken and you can assemble your photos to create montages. And it lets you change the tones of a picture; maybe your Instagram of cocktails on the beach is looking less glamorous than you hoped due to an overcast day. Simply change the setting to "fashion" or "passion" et voilà – a sunny beach scene.

Your settings menu is your best friend

"Most camera phones allow you to override the white balance and exposure manually," says travel and wedding photographer Ryan Li, who won a Guardian award for his portrayal of the Sars crisis in Hong Kong. "This is really useful for tricky lighting situations. Also, if there are people in your photos, turn on the 'face detection' or 'facial recognition' tool – this can help a lot by making focusing dramatically faster, but also accurate exposure based on your subject's skin tone.

On an overcast day, you might find a blue or purple tint to your photos if you used auto-white balance. Changing this to the 'cloudy' setting would result in much warmer and more natural colours. For bright beach scenes and snow scenes, you're much more likely to encounter underexposed (too dark and dull) images. The solution is to increase the exposure; +1.0 is a good starting point for beach and snow."

Turn the sound off

A simple thing like having the sound on can ruin your shot in several ways. Clark says that having the sound on can cause blur with some models, but on top of that, you want as few distractions as possible when you're taking that picture. Also, if you've got the vibrate function on, it could ruin your image at that crucial moment.

Be patient

"Patience is key," says Joseph Fox, a London-based freelance photographer. Imagine you want to take a shot of a nice monument or statue but for some reason it just doesn't look great in your pictures. "If you spot something you want to photograph but it doesn't quite look right then wait for 10 minutes, see how the light changes, until it's exactly how you want it. Also try different angles; people have a tendency to take pictures from eye level but sometimes if you kneel or stand on a bench you might get the better shot."

If in doubt, make it black and white

"A lot of what makes a good photo is the quality of the light," Clark says. "It's best to wait for good light at the beginning of the day or late evening. If I shoot something in the middle of the day when the light is kind of bad, I end up doing a lot of post-production compensation. If you have to take your shot in the middle of the day, just turn it to black and white – it looks instantly better."

The most important camera is the one you have with you

"You don't use a camera phone any differently than you would do a normal compact camera," says Tom Bradley, whose work on epilepsy in Sierra Leone was published in The New York Times. He is also working on a photo-documentary on the effects of leprosy. "If the subject is interesting, the moment is right and the composition is good, then you can get a great photo whether you're using a camera phone or a £20,000 Leica."

Get to know your phone's quirks

The delay between pressing the button and taking the picture varies between phones. For example, on the iPhone it only takes the picture a second or two after you release the camera button but on the Samsung Galaxy Note having lots of apps running will slow the speed down from being almost instant to a few seconds.

Take a lot of pictures of the same thing

Gone are the days of being constrained by a 24-exposure film. Now you can get snap happy. "A lot of people shoot once and then walk off," Clark says. "That was fine back in the day but now you can shoot several pictures of something and move around. It works – I've been doing that for 38 years." When you look back over your pictures, select one or two that you think work and then try to analyse why they work. With practise, you'll find that you need to take fewer snaps to get that perfect shot.

Shoot what you love

"Don't be nervous. The one thing to do is just shoot," Clark says. "On Instagram, people often shoot what they love and I think that will make a big difference to how you feel about your photographs. The most important thing is how you feel about your own photography. If I walk away happy from a job then generally the client is happy."

Keep a photo diary

The more you use your phone to take photos, the better you'll get. Clark takes 30 photos a day on his phone. "The smartphone has become a diary of my life. I take pictures of my daughter or my life and I take pictures of my documents as backup for everything."

Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
Life & Style
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    C# .NET Developer (SQL, Algorithms, Data Algorithms, Artificial

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Develo...

    C# CTRM Commodities Developer (C#, MVC, SQL, ASP.NET, JavaScrip

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C# CTRM ...

    Development Manager (PHP, MySQL, Agile, SCRUM)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Developm...

    Lead Landscape Architect

    Competitive DOE: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green R...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players