Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners

Have you ever taken a photo using your smartphone only to look at it afterwards thinking, “UGH!”? I used to do the same thing. But then, I learned some great smartphone photography tips from a professional photographer. Now, my photos are amazing! So, I’m going to show what I learned and pass those awesome helpful tips onto you so you can take great photos too!

Always On Liberty - Smartphone Photography-3

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I admit, I’ve taken a ton of lousy photographs that left me incredibly disappointed because they were in places I will never visit or events I’ll never experience again. In fact, about 99% of the photos I’ve taken ended up in the trash folder. That was until I sat in on a 2-hour photography workshop. Now, I’m turning that 99% of useless photos into just 1%.

I took a 2-hour workshop put on by friend and professional photographer, Bill Trinkle of Trinkle Photography. He has taken absolutely fabulous photos in places most only dream about and I wanted to know his secrets to success. So, I asked him if he could help me write this blog to share some smartphone photography tips with our readers.

With his permission, I’ve used a few of his photos to show examples of how to acquire great shots.

Photo courtesy of Trinkle Photography

But until you can forage up enough time or money to take impressive and detailed photography workshops, this will get you started. These simple photography tips are easy to understand and can be be applied to any camera OR your smartphone.

So, let’s break out your smartphone and get busy.

Simple Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners

Clean your smartphone camera lens

Have you ever taken a photo and wondered why it’s murky or blurry even though you held your smartphone steady?

It’s because your smartphone’s camera lens (or any camera for that matter) is smudged, fingerprinted or has residue on it from the beach or just being in your pocket. It happens when you grab your cellphone out of your pocket or backpack after eating something that left a little oil on your fingertips. Even oil transferred from your skin will leave a residue that transfers to your smartphone camera lens.

So, before taking any photo, get into the habit of polish your phone’s camera lens with a lens cloth that you keep in your pocket. Also, if you’re going to take a selfie, don’t forget to also clean your screen where the screen lens is located.

Be aware, napkins, Kleenex and your shirt fabric may scratch your smartphone lens, so it’s better to have a designated lens cloth for this sole purpose.

Just taking that extra second to buff off your smartphone lens could mean the difference between an awesome shot and another photo ending up in your trash folder.

Straighten you horizon

I admit, when viewing photos taken by others, one of the first things I notice is the crooked horizon. It detracts from appreciating the actual subject in your photos. Unless you purposely set up a creative shot that supercedes the need for a straight and even horizon, keep that in mind.

Unfortunately, that happens when you hand your  smartphone to someone who was unfamiliar with basic photography. Even though you set up your shot (where to stand and camera placement), the person taking your photo still won’t take the photo correctly. They won’t even think about lining up the horizon.

Aside from handing our phone over to someone who knows a little more about photography, there’s a couple easy fixes.

Go into your camera settings and enable gridlines. Once you’ve enabled them, each time you take a photo, you’ll get a 9-square grid (3×3) on your viewer that allows you to line up objects horizontally and vertically.

See? This photo below is much better.

However, you may have another issue to contend with when dealing with far away landscapes. There may have a little curvature from the ground (slight inclines or hills) which is okay.

In that case, while you’re concentrating on lining up your horizon, you’ll also need to be cognitive about lining up your subjects or points of interest vertically (the lighthouse in the above photo).

That particular photo was taken on a bright sunny day making the lines on the photo viewer difficult to line up. Really though, the photographer should have lined up the lighthouse comparatively with the closest vertical line. Do realize that lighthouses are conical (coming to a near point at the top) so they aren’t going to perfectly line up vertically.

The photo below is great example of how my friend, Bill, considered the horizon placement. In this photo, he used his grid lines to line the horizon.

Bill Trinkle Photography - Horseshoe Bend
Photo contributed by Trinkle Photography

Here’s another way to use your smartphone photography grid lines by using the rule of thirds.

Rule of thirds

When using your photo viewer’s grid lines, you’re also going to use them by placing your subjects, points of interest or objects, not in the center, but a tad off to the side.

Photos are more interesting when the object or subject is slightly off center; creating a more balanced image and offers greater visual sense of motion. The rule of thirds is an artistic rule that when put to good use will help make your photos more visually appealing.

When using the rule of thirds, try placing your main subject into a horizontal AND vertical third of the photograph where the grid lines intersect. Your subject or point of interest could be a person, animal, the horizon, the sun, the mountains or anything that you want the focal point of the photograph.

This is an artistic guideline and can be the deciding point in the viewers opinion on what a good shot vs. bad shot is. Unless you’re purposely trying for a perfectly symetrical shot, you’ll want your subject off center.

Another good photography tip using the rule of thirds is place your subject or object in the far third opposite of where they are either pointing or looking. 

If your subject is looking to the right or left of your photo, leave more space in front of them to show the direction they are looking or action is headed.

In other words, if you are capturing a photo of your subject running left to right, position them in your viewer in the left third with the space they are running towards takes the right side two-thirds.

So, in the photo above, you’ll see that I’ve accomplished three things using the rule of thirds.

First, I wanted the entire mountain view as the sun is beaming on them. I placed my subject (Dan) in the left third for interest.

Second, the right two thirds show perspective and imagination leading the viewer to wonder what he may be looking at. Was it a bear? Was it the river below? Or was he just enjoying the sunshine on his face?

Third, his face is more visible because of his placement in relation to the sun’s direction. I didn’t have to worry about his squinting because he is a distant subject. 

Now, in the photo below, I placed the first fence post in the left to middle third that leads your eye along the fence to the left. This provides leading perspective. Instead of taking a photo of the fence line straight on, I wanted to give a distance perspective of how far the fence went.

Also, look how I aligned the horizon with the top third of my photo.

One thing you don’t want to do is split a photo in half. Many amateur photographers do this when taking photos of the sunset. Often, they will place the sun directly in the center of the photo. This will result in your photo being cut in half; top half will be the sky and bottom half being the water.

A good way to rectify that is, before taking your shot, look at what your eye is attracted to? Is it the beautiful colorful evening sky or the rippling water below? Again though, think about your perspective. What is it that you want your viewer to see and feel from your photograph.

In the photo below, you can see how Bill applied both of those photography elements; horizon and rule of thirds.

Horizontally, the lower ledge of the sand is aligned along the bottom third grid line and the mountaintops are in or near the top third grid line. The sunset sky is in the top third of the photo creating one photo point of interest.

Vertically, Bill lined up the large plant near the left third vertical grid line.

So, as you can see, the rule of thirds was his helper in achieving a beautiful and thought-provoking photograph. 

Bill Trinkle Photography - White Sands
Photo contributed by Trinkle Photography

Never zoom in smartphone photography

I cringe every time I watch an amateur photographer zooming in on their subject or point of interest. So, get out of the habit of taking your fingers and drawing them out to zoom in.

Why should you never use the zoom feature in smartphone photography? Because, manually zooming in on your subject or point of interest in your photo will only pixelate and deteriorate the image quality.

So, the remedy to that is to move closer to your subject or point of interest. Remember your rule of thirds when doing so.

If, after taking a photo, you want to see your subject or point of interest up close, simply enlarge the image using your photo editing software. That won’t sacrifice your photo quality (within reason) by enlarging or cropping. Whatever you do though, avoid stretching your image horizontally or vertically. That will only distort your image and scene.

Bill Trinkle Photography - Mountain River
Photo contributed by Trinkle Photography

Save yourzoom feature only for your DSLR cameras.


Lighting and knowing how to utilize the sun or lighting is another important smartphone photography tip.

When photographing outdoors, remember that the light in the middle of the day can be too bright and harsh. So, if you have a choice, opt for the softer light either in the early morning at dawn when the sun is just making it’s appearance or at dusk when the sun is going down or already over the horizon. In other words, the best light, will be the soft sun in the morning and evening.

If you are photographing a subject or point of interest, placing yourself (and camera) with the sun behind you will give a much better well lit shot. But remember, if taking photos in the brightest part of the day, you chance facial squinting or shadows from hat bills or brims that may cover their eyes.

Try to move the person into the shade or pose your person in part shade with the sun off to their side.

Watch for shadows

Shadows in your camera shot can mean the difference between a great shot and a crappy shot. There’s an easy fix to keeping unwanted shadows out of your shot.

You may not be able to avoid time of day or relation of light on your subject or point of interest. All you have to do is move your smartphone to the opposite side where nothing creates shadows in your shot. You can always rotate your shot in your editing software.

So, let’s take a look at the photo below. What would you have done to keep that shadow out of the shot?

The answer is, I should have taken the photo from the top of the marker where the shadow would have been behind me.  While I may actually be taking the photo upside down, I can later edit it by rotating the image 180 degrees.

Smartphone Photography Gear we use:

Smartphone Selfie Stick Tripod with Remote
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Cellphone Tripod and Bag
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DJI Osmo Mobile 3
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Smartphone Flex Tripod
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Wrapping up on our smartphone photography tips

So, what did you think about those basic smartphone photography tips? You don’t have to be a pro to score awesome shots during your travels or important events in your life.

Using these simple smartphone photography tips, you’ll have near perfect photos!

Special thanks to my photography mentor and nomad friend, Bill! Capturing moments, beautiful landscapes and subjects on camera have become easier and more fun.

Take these smartphone photography tips on your next National Park visit

32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience

Touring a specific area? 

Travel Essentials to Pack in your Sightseeing Bag

Always On Liberty - Smartphone Photography-2

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4 Replies to “Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners”

    1. Isn’t that feature cool, Kristi? Also, don’t be afraid to try different angles in taking photographs. Get on the ground or high above for different perspective shots. Oh, and don’t forget to keep your camera lens clean at all times!! You never know when you’ll get that wonderful shot unexpectedly! -Lisa

    1. Barbie, you’re welcome! We hope these tips improve your photography skills and your photographs come out award winning! -Dan & Lisa

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