How to take professional looking photos on your phone

23 October 2017

Siobhan Hancock

Not everyone has access to a DSLR camera, but we still want to take website worthy photos. That’s okay! In this guide we look at embracing what you DO have access to – and that’s your phone’s camera. It is possible to create fantastic usable photographs for your blog, so follow these tips to get started:

Lighting up your subject

Artificial flash is made to complement natural light. It’s not a replacement for natural light and should never be relied upon. In addition to that, your phone’s flash will fire a very harsh, very flat light that will almost definitely remove detail and cause unintended shadowing. Always find a great source of natural light.

Indoors lighting

  • Stand your subject close to a window.
  • Choose a room that will reflect light, eg. white walls and ceilings.
  • Utilise your surroundings. Before I could afford reflectors I used white sheets and white umbrellas and hung them over cupboards. I’d take the mirror off the wall and stand it up adjacent to the window.
  • Stand directly facing the window, the light could be strong enough to remove detail from the photo. Stand at an angle and reflect the light.
  • Have your room lighting switched on. Getting rid of yellow lighting in processing is hard to do, get it right on the camera.
  • Choose a room with brightly coloured walls. Natural light will reflect that colour onto your subject’s face.


Outdoors lighting

  • On a bright day you get a free pass on your phones in built flash! Yes, that may sound odd. The flash will fill in any face shadowing and give your subject a more even tone.
  • At night, TRY to find a separate light source. Street lamps, security lights, neon shop signs. Night portraits are hard to get right and most of time look dramatic when you don’t want to be.
  • Turn to TV for help! Lighting is an art form, so look at how the pros do it. Next time you are watching your favourite TV series take notice of the lighting they use and attempt to replicate it. For example, Stranger Things very cleverly uses lighting to affect your mood. In an intense scene they make use of artificial light mostly to light up the side of the face the character is looking away from. This diverts your attention to the shadowed portion of the face which is the same direction the characters are looking towards. They’ll also harshly light up the back of the head. In a softer scene like this one Stranger Things make use of existing shop lights and street lamps for a more relaxed mood.

Stranger Things used a fill in light to brighten up the darker portion of Will’s face

  • Use your camera phone’s flash where possible. Photos without character won’t help. Night time shots take practice but when you start perfecting it you’ll never look back.
  • Up your ISO more than one or two notches. Most smart phones come with a manual mode now. Play around with the settings, opt for a tripod and a longer exposure before you whack the ISO up. The more you raise the ISO the more grainy your photo will be.
  • Settle for low light surroundings. Move around and find a place with a little more light.


Frame your subject

Don’t be afraid to move your subject around and make your surroundings work for you. A wall, a doorway, or a set of trees; use these to your advantage. Certain backgrounds detract from the subject and won’t work unless you are purposefully going for that style.

  • Choose a darker background than the subject where possible.
  • Pick a plain background or a simple non invasive pattern such as railings or a brick wall.
  • Use the rule of thirds, especially when the subject is not looking directly at the camera. Make sure the eyes (the focal point) remain as close to the intersection as possible.
rule of thirds

Courtesy of

  • Position the subject with a bright sky or sun behind the head. Your focal point should always be the brighter part of the photo.
  • Do head and shoulder shots. Get the subject to express the intended mood or message through body language.
  • Be afraid to correct your subject’s posture. We’re pretty awkward when someone takes our photo, don’t be afraid to ask your subject to drop their shoulders back and lower the chin. Lowering the chin can encourage the subject to widen their eyes naturally for a better photo.


Don’t look at your phone between photos

It’s really easy snap a shot and then look at it on your phone especially when you are trying to get the right one. It’s also really easy to get a few photos and delete the ones on your phone that don’t look good. DON’T do that. When you are taking photos on your phone treat it as you would an old film camera. Take photos, try different things and just keep snapping away. No matter how good your phone screen is, your photos will display slightly differently than they will on a desktop. The photo you like on your phone may look different when you transfer it over.

Colour correct

The colours on your phone tend to be more vibrant than a desktop. Whilst I quite like Instagram filters they come last in the editing process. Don’t edit your photos on your phone, take them off and colour correct them somewhere else. If you can’t afford Adobe Photoshop there are FREE photo editors you can use like Pixlr (web), Pixelmator (Mac) or (Windows & Mac).

Never miss an opportunity

Every minute wasted looking at the photos on your phone is another shot you’ve missed. Whether it’s a small smile or laugh or random facial expression, it could be the perfect shot!


Are my photos on my phone good enough?

In terms of quality, the bigger the image the better which is where your camera phone can be quite lacking. For blog posts it’s more than fine and even as a small photo in print. For the hero image on your website or a cover photo it is best to choose something else instead like a graphic, or try and get access to a better camera for the important stuff!

Why do I tell you to resort to a graphic over buying a stock photograph? One word: Personality. It’s easy to buy a professional looking stock photograph and it will look smart, but is it really you? Is it your brand? Using stock photography takes away from the personality your website has and generalises it. In an online world saturated with blogs and stores how will you stand out without personality? Even if the photos you take aren’t perfect, that’s okay. Your photos relate more to your reader than a stock image ever could.

Are there any apps or free photo editing software that you use? Share them in the comments and help your fellow readers 🙂

-Siobhan @SiobhanLHancock