Using your Smartphone Camera for Photography

Most of the time, blogs and articles like this talk about using a DSLR camera.  It is the most used device for ‘serious’ photography and if you want to really improve and develop your camera skills, it still is the camera to use.

But the technology behind cameras in recent smartphones has improved so much that your phone can be seen as a useful tool for your kitbag.  Unlike just a few years ago when they were only really good enough for basic snapshots, you can take high resolution shots in good quality.  No, I’m not suggesting you sell your DSLR and the lenses you’ve saved up for; but you can certainly make use of your smartphone as a back-up and/or extra camera.

Photo taking with a smartphone
Your phone can be a useful addition to your photography kit

The latest iPhones, Samsung Galaxies, Motorola and Sony smartphones boast impressive 12M and better and the new Google Pixels also have great cameras.  But previous generations also give superb results such as the Samsung S6 (12M at 4:3 ratio) and the iPhone 6S which also has a 12M phone.

Here are a few things to consider when using your phone for photography:

  • With most phones, the picture is taken when you release the button (either on-screen or a physical button like the volume) so you can sometimes find you’ve moved the phone as the picture is being taken resulting in blur!
  • Don’t be tempted to zoom in very much – most cameras have digital zoom, which simply crops your image. This actually reduces its resolution and quality. If you want to get closer to your subject, try putting one foot in front of the other to move – it’s an effective and little used technique!!
  • It’s become very common for people taking photos (and videos) on phones to hold it in portrait mode whatever the subject. Don’t fall into this habit.  Use portrait and landscape modes appropriately as you would with your DSLR.  In particular, the trend of portrait videos is REALLY annoying isn’t it!
  • The potential quality of pictures taken with your phone is now very good; however it is still not the most natural shape and size to hold securely and to get sharp images. It’s very easy to move the phone when you tap the screen, so concentrate on holding the phone still and stable during and for a second after you’ve taken the shot.

At this graduation picture, I was involved in the organisation and running of the event so wasn’t there as the main photographer.  There were two other snappers there with pro DSLRs, but this one taken with my Galaxy S6 was probably the best of the cap throwing shots!

Smartphone photo of graduates throwing their caps
The obligatory cap throwing shot at a graduation – taken with Samsung S6 smartphone

If nothing else, having your phone with you means never having to miss that opportunistic shot when you don’t have your main camera to hand.  This fabulous cloud colour appeared when picking up my son from football training, but I didn’t have my camera with me.  My Samsung S6 did a decent enough job of capturing it.

Smartphone photo of yellow clouds just before sunset
Yellow cloud formation taken with Samsung phone

And sometimes, you just don’t want to lug a big heavy camera around – a family trip to London during the Christmas period was such an occasion and the phone was up to the job of getting one or two shots like this one in Oxford Street.

Smartphone shot of Christmas lights in London
Smartphone shot of Christmas lights in London

So, don’t under-estimate your phone for taking photos.  There are limitations, but you can employ it as a very usable second camera, for when unexpected opportunities arise or for when you really don’t want to carry around your DSLR.

Have you managed any top shots with your phone?  Tell us about them in the comments below…

Paul Wilson

I am a freelance photographer, video-maker and blogger based in Surrey, UK. I've been taking photos for years - you know those days you've heard about when you actually used to put film in your camera then waited for your photos to come back from the developer!

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