3 Easy Tips for Great Mobile Phone Photos

What benefit can you get by reading this article?

You can improve the quality of your mobile phone photos if you:

  • Know your device’s capabilities and limitations
  • Follow basic mobile photography principles
  • Use apps to enhance your photos.

As a serious photography enthusiast, I have been the owner of several DSLR cameras over the years, most recently the Canon 5D Mark II which was at the time one of the top professional cameras on the market.

Neatly packed with several lenses and accessories in my photographer’s bag, it was always ready for action. The problem? I hardly ever used it. Although I loved using my DSLR for proper photo shoots, when I wanted to capture discreet on-the-spot images it felt heavy and cumbersome.

I grew increasingly frustrated with the countless opportunities missed because by the time I had my camera out of the bag and ready to shoot, the moment had passed.

So for my first trip to India I decided to leave my professional gear at home and use my mobile phone instead (a Samsung Galaxy S5). India being a photographer’s dream, this was a risky move. Would I regret it? Would I miss my expensive equipment? As it turns out, since then many of my all-time favorite shots have been taken using my mobile phone camera and I haven’t looked back.


Easy to carry: Mobile phones are conveniently light and easy to handle; no need for a neck strap or bulky camera bag.

Unobtrusive: Since almost everyone has a smartphone, using it in public is not likely to attract attention; most people already have their eyes glued to their own device.  For those who enjoy taking spontaneous photos unnoticed, this is a clear advantage.

Indispensable: Most smartphone owners would never leave home without their device, which guarantees that it will be within reach (or already in hand) whenever a photo opportunity presents itself.


Although mobile phones cannot compete with DSLRs as far as image quality, there are ways to leverage your device to create some memorable and beautiful images. The key lies in knowing what it can and cannot do, and using its strengths to your advantage.

Wide Angle Lens: Mobile phone lenses capture a wide visual area well suited for landscape photos. However, this can be a challenge for other kinds of shots such as portraits or wildlife photography because it means that the device must be quite close to the subject to capture its details*.

Zoom Function: Using the zoom function is usually not a good option because unlike zoom lenses on DSLRs, smartphone zooms do not really allow you to capture a more detailed image. Instead, it simply crops the photo to keep only the zoomed-in area and does not improve the quality of the image.

Lens Distortion: Depending on how close the subject is, its position in the frame, or if the phone is tilted one way or another, your smartphone camera’s lens can distort images. That explains why you can look great on a photo but terrible on another taken only a few seconds later #.


Position your subjects properly. Especially when taking photos of people, make sure that your subject is near the center of the screen and leave some space on each side to make sure that nothing is near the edge of the photo. Try to keep the phone as straight as possible, as tilting it can warp the image. For portraits, make sure the camera is at least a few feet away from the subject’s face to avoid distortion.

Don’t zoom in. Even if your subject appears small in the photo, zooming in will not improve the quality of your shot and you will lose the chance to frame your image differently. Rather, get closer to your subject to capture as much detail as possible with your device’s full camera angle.

Crop and enhance using apps. Use apps to crop and enhance your photos. Experiment with framing options by zooming in at various levels and try different cropping sizes and shapes. You can also manually enhance colors, sharpness and contrast or apply predefined filters.


Although I have not reviewed everything available on the app market, I have had good results with the following apps when using my smartphone (Xiaomi Redmi Note 4) for photo enhancement:

Snapseed: This app is an excellent choice to crop and enhance photos. Brightness, contrast, saturation (and more) can be adjusted manually. It also offers preset filters, frames and several other image enhancing tools.

Instagram: Very easy to use, Instagram allows you to quickly enhance your shot with a good selection of preset filters. Tip: If you want to experiment with filters without posting the photos to your Instagram feed, put your phone into Airplane mode, then delete your unpublished posts. The photos will be automatically saved into your camera’s Instagram folder.

Prisma: Although not technically a photo editing app, I love Prisma for the only reason that it turns my sometimes dull photos into a work of art. It is regularly updated with new themes which makes it fun to experiment with.


First and foremost, a photographer is someone who sees the potential of a moment in reality and uses whatever tool available to capture it. Although technical knowledge and high end equipment are vital to the practice of professional photography, it is still possible to capture beautiful moments with the simple tools we have at hand.

* Most smartphones also have a front-facing camera optimized for selfies which has a narrower field of view. However, since it is not typically used for photography other than selfies, this article focuses on the rear-facing camera.

# For a examples of lens distortion: http://gizmodo.com/5857279/this-is-how-lenses-beautify-or-uglify-your-pretty-face

Original Redmi Note 4 Photo: Wide angle, framing is not very interesting, colors are washed out.
Edited with Snapseed: Cropped to frame a more interesting subject, colors enhanced.
Instagram (Filter: Crema)
Edited with Prisma, to transform the photo into a painting.
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