A Beginner’s Guide To Taking Killer Photos On Your Phone

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Smart phones have the ability to make pro photographers out of almost anyone. The technology has come so far that it’s now easier than ever before to make a snap from your phone look like something you’d expect to see gracing the pages of a glossy magazine. I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy S6 and it takes awesome photos. I’m impressed that I can take shots on the GS6 that I thought were only possible with a DSLR camera. However, the rules for taking a good picture don’t change when you switch between cameras or phones. So to help you make the most of your smartphone camera here are our top tips for shooting like a pro.

GET CLOSE One of the best things about taking pics on your phone is the shots really start to come alive when you bring them in close to your subject. Bigger cameras with larger sensors and expensive lenses require more tech skills to get that detail, but smartphones like the GS6 make short work of this sort of photography. Tight shots also generally give you more control over the lighting which can give you a really dramatic photo.


Above: Shot with Samsung S6 using pin point focus feature.

 CROP, DON’T ZOOM Your smartphone camera will no doubt offer you a whizz bang digital zoom function but I’d recommend not using the zoom if you can help it. The minute you start to zoom in on a subject you start losing quality. The more you zoom the more quality you lose. So the key is to take the shot without zooming and simply crop it to highlight areas in the shot. There is a technical explanation for what happens when you zoom but basically the more you ask your camera to zoom the more pixels you lose in the process which means the more detail you lose. This is why when you crop into a shot that hasn’t been zoomed you will get a much better result.

LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING The rules for taking a good picture are the same whether you’re using a DSLR (pro camera) or your phone. Lighting really is everything when it comes to great photography. To demonstrate this I took both shots below at the same time of the day inside and near a large window. The only variable was the light changing in the room as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. Small changes in lighting can make a huge difference in the end result of your shot. Direct sunlight is almost always too harsh as it casts heavy shadows. So unless you’re after that look then you want to search for a softer more diffused light – in front of a large window is ideal.   


Above: Shot with Samsung S6 in good, natural light.


Above: Shot with Samsung S6 in low lighting without making lighting adjustments.


KEEP YOUR LENS CLEAN It may sound overly simplistic but if your handbag looks anything like mine then it’s important to remember to clean the lens on your phone from time to time. Just think of how many times you shove your phone into your bag or your pocket and pull it out and expect it to take a gorgeous photo. A dirty lens will give you hazy, dark images and no matter how many filters you slap on your pic you still won’t be able to rescue it. Smartphone camera lenses are remarkably tough, so giving it a quick wipe with a soft cloth (and lens cleaner if you’re really keen) from time to time can make a big difference.  

BLURRING YOUR BACKGROUNDS One of the most popular effects in photography is blurring the background while keeping the foreground subject in sharp focus. It’s popular because it forces us to focus our attention on a particular part of a photograph and I think it looks really pretty. This type of photography has generally only been possible with the use of professional camera lenses but it is possible to fake the look with your phone. Most smartphones have a pin point focus feature where you can touch the area on your screen that you want to be in focus. If your lighting is bright enough (like in the top pic below) you’ll be able to use it to create a blurred background effect. The camera lens focuses on the area you want to highlight and the bright light streaming in from the window helps to blow out the background. Whatever you do don’t try and fake it with a photo editing app. It’s never going to look great and is always a dead giveaway you’ve been messing with your pics.  


Above: Shot with Samsung S6 using pin point focus feature.


Above: Shot with a DSLR camera using a 50mm lens. 

EDIT, DON’T FILTER While filters are great for instantly changing the look and feel of your shot, they’re fast becoming overused and if you want your images to be unique then you’ll need to step away from the filters. The editing ability on your smartphone will give you the option of upping the brightness of your image and adjusting the contrast, sharpness and colour temperature which is usually enough to take a pic from zero to hero in an instant. If you really want to up the ante then it’s worth exploring any of the popular photo editing apps like SnapSeed or Photoshop Express as they will give you huge scope for editing. Remember you’re not failing if you need/want to edit your picture. I don’t know any professional photographers that don’t edit their images before submitting them for publication.

DONT FORGET THE BASIC RULES OF PHOTOGRAPHY Professional photographers talk about the golden ratio of photography which is called the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is one of the simplest rules for photography and yet it’s often one of the most important. It’s a rule to help you create a visually appealing composition to your photos. The idea is that our eyes are naturally attracted to images that are divided into thirds, where the subject of the photo is slightly off-centre. To help achieve this, most smartphone cameras give you the option of seeing a grid on your screen, when taking photos, showing two horizontal and two vertical lines. The subject of your photo should be at one of the four intersecting points of these lines to get the most visually pleasing photo.    IMG_3040

Above: Shot using the rule of thirds photography ratio.



Above: Shot with the vase centred.

USE HDR MODE HDR (High Dynamic Range) on your smartphone is great for taking photos of stationary objects because it ensures that the lighting and shadows in the photo are evenly exposed. It does this by taking a couple of pictures of varying exposures at the same time then combining the best bits of both into one photo like magic. It’s a really useful feature but you will have to keep the phone super-still when you take the photo otherwise you’ll end up with a blurry shot. The HDR feature on the Samsung Galaxy S6 is also subtle enough so the photos still look natural.

DITCH THE FLASH Flash photography is the quickest way to make your shots look amateurish. Often the shots end up looking badly lit and poor quality. The key is to hunt out another light source. Sometimes you’ll be surprised where you can actually find them. Even in a dark bar there can be a neon sign or lighting around the actual bar area. Okay your shot won’t be perfect but it will be interesting and that’s what often makes the difference between an okay shot and an awesome shot.



  • This camera has a super fast shutter speed which helps to prevent blurry photos.
  • The auto focus on the camera is really quick which is great for taking fast, accurate photos.
  • The camera is 16 mega pixels which basically means it captures a lot of information resulting in a quality shot.
  • The Pro mode on the camera gives you the ability to manually focus and adjust the settings on the camera which is especially great for creating things like the Bokeh effect.
  • The HDR mode is amazing and this means the clarity and detail in your pics is truly beautiful.
  • The Macro mode is on point and lets you get really close to whatever it is you are shooting so you can capture up-close detail.
  • The camera has a Wide Selfie mode which lets you get more people in the frame – what’s not to love about that?


Above: Shot with Samsung S6.


To inspire you to start snapping like a pro we’re giving away a $100 Warehouse Stationery gift card so you can use their cool new Printicular service to print some of your fab photos. To enter to win simply tell us in the comments below what you most like taking photos of then click HERE to subscribe to our free weekly Insider updates. By the way you can unsubscribe at any time if you change your mind – it just makes it easy for us to contact you if you win. If you’re already a subscriber then great – you only need to comment below.

Everyone who has commented and subscribed automatically goes in the draw to win. A winner will be announced here on Monday 9 May.
Good luck!

All the photographs in the post were shot using the Samsung S6 unless otherwise stated.   Samsung NZ commissioned Leonie Barlow to write this article for The Style Insider