Create Your Best Smartphone Photo in 15 Steps

Create Your Best Smartphone Photo in 15 Steps

Famed photographer Elliot Erwitt once said, "Photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." This quote rings especially true with respect to smartphone photography.

While anyone can whip out their cell phone and snap a shot, with just a little bit of forethought and a couple of alterations, you can substantially elevate an otherwise garden-variety picture. To find out how to start creating your best smartphone photos in 15 steps, continue reading below and take your smartphone photography from common to captivating.

1. Determine Your Intention

As with most endeavors, the first step to taking better pictures is proper planning. Before opening the camera on your cell phone, take a moment to think about your intention for taking a photograph. Need help determining your intent? Try asking yourself a couple of questions like:

  • What is your motivation for taking this photo?
  • What action or stimulus is prompting you?
  • What is your ultimate goal or desired result?
2. Consider Your Story

Keeping with your pre-photography planning, prior to taking a photo with your smartphone, consider the story (if any) that you're attempting to tell with your photography. Are you taking a photo simply to capture a beautiful scene, or is there a narrative you'd like to communicate to your viewer?

Taking elements of photography like context, setting, and subject into account allows you to take better photos by granting the opportunity to engage in storytelling, effectively crafting a distinct narrative that your audience can easily interpret.

3. Prepare Your Location

Moving forward, let's get into the first of your compositional elements and get to preparing your setting. More than just being aware of the location that you're taking pictures in or of, getting your setting ready for a photoshoot requires attention to lighting and positioning, as well.

Quick tip: First, assess the height, angle, and direction of your light source; make a point to be mindful of its effect on elements like background and foreground. Then, position yourself and your camera accordingly.

4. Set Up Your Subject & Space

Setting up your subject and space is essential to the overall arrangement of your photograph, and there's really no 'right' or specific way to do it. Try orienting your subject in various ways to see how it changes other elements in the frame, and you may find that it plays on the framing in and of itself.

Remember, when capturing your subject, you can take advantage of the space around your subject, as well. Utilize the negative space, the non-busy, typically neutral, areas, to emphasize and draw the viewer's eye to your active space, the area the viewer is first drawn to, most often, the main subject.

5. Position Your Elements

Once your subject is in place and ready to go, you can start the process of positioning the other elements in your photo. Use this step to align your leading lines, ensure your sense of scale is accurate, and see if you can find any fresh or unique ways to heighten elements like colour, depth, texture, etc.

Take notice of how different contextual elements interact with one another to enrich the composition of your picture. For a more compelling shot, think about integrating additional elements to complement and enhance your subject (i.e., introducing a person into an otherwise inanimate photo or a pop of color in a monochromatic scene).

6. Accessorise Your Camera

Depending on the type of photograph you're taking, you may also want to try out different lens accessories to intensify your photo's mood or highlight other aspects of your picture.

Need to focus on a subject that's within 7cm of your camera for a close-up? Try taking the shot with a macro lens. Do you want to take a wide-angle or panoramic photo? Use a lens attachment on your smartphone's camera rather than using the factory default, lesser equipped 2xlens option in your smartphone.

If you need extra zoom on your built-in phone zoom lens, you can attach a telephoto lens attachment (for this option, you'll need to use the Adobe Lightroom Mobile app to select the built-in zoom lens).

7. Adjust Your Camera Settings

With your smartphone camera accessories in place, it's time to adjust the camera settings on your phone. In most native camera apps, you can tap to focus your lens and swipe to adjust the brightness. You may also be able to access other settings depending on the type of software the camera on your phone uses.

Personally, I enjoy testing out different camera replacement apps when taking photos. Adobe Lightroom Mobile, in particular, is one of my favourites as it provides complete manual control over a broad range of settings such as focus, balance, ISO, and shutter speed.

8. Clean Your Lens

It sounds silly, but there isn't a photographer dead or alive that hasn't accidentally ruined a beautiful shot with a dirty lens. It only takes a couple of seconds to do, and I promise you'll be thankful you did.

To remove dust, fingerprints, and any debris that might be on your lens, just use a lens wipe or folded microfiber cloth. Never use harsh chemicals to clean your camera lenses.

9. Stabilise Your Phone

Though most smartphone cameras have some form of preprogrammed OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) system, you can better your photography by stabilizing your phone physically. One way to do this is to take up a sure-footed stance and tuck your elbows in against your body while shooting.

If you're taking pictures at night, in low light, or indoors, your phone's low light mode will most likely activate automatically. However, you can also rest your body or your phone on solid structures to prevent any shaking or skewing in your pictures.

10. Take Your Shot, Again

After you've stabilised your camera, your next step is to take your first picture. Then, the best thing that you can do is to take another shot, and another, and another.

Capture several photos and sort through the lot to find the pictures with the most creative composition, interesting gestures, best timing, sharpest rendering, etc. You can also use burst mode on your smartphone camera to take multiple photos at a time in rapid succession. It may take more time than taking a single image, but it's a sure-fire way to take better photos, improve your photography, and hone your skills as a photographer.

11. Start Your Photo Editing

Once you've cleared your photoshoot and finished taking your pictures, you can get going on the photo editing process. Start by straightening and correcting the existing perspective, or try introducing an entirely new one.

To trim any unwanted or distracting content from the edges of the frame or achieve your desired aspect ratio, crop your photo.

12. Modify Your Tones

You can modify your tones to increase the tonal range of a photo or make your image appear warmer or cooler.

Edit your tones using the Snapseed app by tapping on 'Tune Image' to access tools or, you can also preview your image in black and white for an entirely different look. For photo editing in Adobe Lightroom Mobile, you can adjust your tones by using the Light panel.

13. Adjust Your Colours

Continuing with editing your photography, let's move on to adjust your colours with colour correction and colour grading.

When photo editing with Snapseed, you can use the White Balance and Curves tools to adjust the colours. Or, for more advanced colour adjustment options, try using the Mix and Grading options in the Colour panel on Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

14. Tune Your Details

You can reduce image noise and artifacts quickly by using the Details tool on Adobe Lightroom Mobile. For a more advanced approach, tune the fine details using the Adobe Lightroom Mobile app by tapping the Noise Reduction tool in the Details panel and the Texture tool inside the Effects panel.

Check out this article on How to sharpen photos and enhance details using Lightroom mobile app or this post with Powerful mobile photo sharpening secrets using Snapseed to find out even more about how you can sharpen your photography.

15. Make Your Local (Area-Specific) Adjustments

Last, though certainly not least, apply any desired area-specific adjustments to improve your photo. Unlike the previous global adjustments in photo editing discussed thus far, area-specific adjustments only affect parts of the image specified by you.

On the Snapseed mobile app, you can use the Selective and Brush tools to clean up any unsightly areas and refine the areas that require blending.

If you're currently on a subscription plan for Adobe Lightroom Mobile, access the Selective tools to make any local adjustments necessary.

Bonus Step: Remove Unwanted Objects From Your Photos

Do you have a photo that would be perfect if it weren't for that one particular unsightly item or thing that ruins it? Well, there's actually a way you can fix it. Using one of my favourite photo editing apps, TouchRetouch, you can remove unwanted objects with either of their tool options: the Healing tool or, my preferred option, the Clone Stamp tool.

Let's Look At This Photo Example 
create best photo in 15 steps

1. The intention was to capture these wood ducks.
2. The story created in the second capture is more evident. Instead of simply capturing a duck, I captured the context of a pair of ducks in front of a pond.
3. The site preparation was angling myself to have the pond behind the ducks.
4. Setting up the subject and space involved refining my positioning to have one duck in front of the other.
5. The extra consideration of elements to complete the composition is the angle of the foreground to create asymmetrical balance.
6. Being in close proximity to the ducks, I did not need any lens attachment. 
7. I chose to shoot this photo using the iPhone Portrait mode and take advantage of the upgrade in iOS 16 that additionally blurs the foreground. 
8. This is a muscle memory thing. You should wipe your lens every time you take a photo.
9. Having sufficient light, the iPhone did not need extra stabilisation. Tapping on the information icon, this photo was captured at ISO 125 and shutter speed 1/121s. 
10. I took a number of photos until the angles of the ducks and their interaction with the environment were achieved. This took a few minutes! 
11. I started the editing process in the iPhone Photos app to adjust the background blur to the desired amount. I really like the bokeh in the background. Next, I used LIghtroom mobile and finished in TouchRetouch app.
12. IN this particular photo, I made subtle adjustments to the mid tones.
13. The next step in editing was some extra vibrance in the front duck using the mask tool.
14. Further isolating the editing to the front duck, I pushed the details and sharpened the feathers.
15. The last step of the process was brightening the duck's face and eye to become the visual anchor of the photo. 
To finish off the photo, I removed the stick poking out of the ducks' behind!

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