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How to take better photos with your Android phone

Update: New tips added!

Authored by: Scott Adam Gordon — 4 months ago

It's easy to take better photos with your Android smartphone, you just need to break out of the comfort zone that is Auto mode. Here are AndroidPIT's best tips and tricks for taking better pictures with Android, which we've updated following some great suggestions in our comments. 

Clean your lens

As AndroidPIT reader Jim Davidson pointed out, the first place to start when trying to take a good picture is to clean your smartphone's camera lens. These frequently become dirty and the results will be a blurry image. Every time you go to take a picture, give the lens a quick wipe on your T-shirt first to sweep away any grime. 

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Step one: clean your device's camera lens. / © ANDROIDPIT

Shoot in landscape

We have become accustomed to a 16:9 media format and as a consequence, pictures shot in portrait just tend to look awkward now. Unless there is an important reason that you would need a taller shot (like, say, shooting a picture of the Fernsehturm from a close distance), pictures are almost always better in landscape. Thanks to Sean Stockemer for the suggestion.

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Some things require a portrait shot, but it's usually better to take them in landscape, from further away. / © ANDROIDPIT

Avoid using the flash (most of the time)

Even on a DSLR camera, the flash function is generally best saved for emergencies. If you can use natural light to illuminate your picture, you always should, because you want your pictures to look natural, don't you?  

There is a time and a place for the LED flash on smartphone cameras, but because it tends to be located very close to the lens, it can have a nasty glaring effect. If natural light isn't quite enough, increase the exposure value (EV) and ISO on your camera. Bear in mind that increasing ISO will also increase the graininess or 'noise' in your pictures.

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Natural light is the best light for photos: avoid using flash (like in the picture above) when you can. / © ANDROIDPIT

The exception to this rule, as suggested by BruinGuy, is when taking pictures in daylight when the sun is behind the subject of your picture. Of course, where you can help it, the sun should be behind your camera, but when you can't avoid this, try using the flash to illuminate the faces or details that would otherwise be in shadow.

Don't use digital zoom – EVER!

Digital zoom is notorious for destroying smartphone photos. Unless your camera has an optical zoom, where the camera lens actually protrudes out of your device (like the actually-not-great Samsung Galaxy K Zoom), all zooming does is enlarge and crop the picture.

"Can't I just do that after I've taken the photo?" I hear you ask. Well, yes, you can – that's the point! Digital zoom merely narrows the editing options for your picture. Take fully zoomed-out photos, then crop them manually if you want to. 

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Digital zoom on the Moto E (2015) is disastrous, but it's not much better on high-end handsets. / © ANDROIDPIT

Check details of your best, worst and Auto photos

We all have some photos that come out incredibly well and others that are pretty awful. Whenever you take either a great or terrible photo, check the 'Details' of the photo to see what ISO, exposure time and aperture it had.

This way, you'll slowly learn which settings on your smartphone work best with which light conditions. This is particularly useful for 'Auto' photos, so you can get a feel for the settings your camera resorts to by default and adjust them accordingly.

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Check the details of your photos so you can find out which settings work best with which lighting conditions. / © ANDROIDPIT

Use HDR mode

HDR is a great mode for taking photos of stationary objects, as long as you have steady hands. HDR (high dynamic range) mode ensures that the lighting and shadows in the photo are evenly exposed. This is particularly useful for photos with high contrast.

HDR mode takes two or more pictures of varying exposures almost simultaneously, then combines the best and brightest bits of both into one photo. You need to keep the camera super-steady, otherwise, your photo will come out blurred.

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Some flowers without HDR. / © ANDROIDPIT
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The same flowers with HDR – see the difference?/ © ANDROIDPIT

Use the post-processing filters

There are plenty of people out there who pour scorn onto all the lovely filters you can enhance your photos with. But for casual smartphone photographers, those retro, black-and-white, Windmere, Islandia, and other hipster filters can really add character to a photo. Most Android smartphones come with a great selection of filters, but if you're running a bit short, try Pixlr (formerly Pixlr Express) for a great selection.

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Those hipster filter names may be irritating, but they can look fantastic. / © ANDROIDPIT

The 'reflective sunglasses' trick

If you have a pair of sunglasses with a reflective coating on the lens, you can use them to capture a good perspective for your shots, like in the example below. The light source should always be reflected off the lens to help you better capture the scene or action that's in your view.

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A reflection in a pair of mirrored sunglasses can create some pretty cool perspective shots. / © ANDROIDPIT

Make one subject appear several times in a Panorama shot

The Google Camera app has been available in the Play Store for some time now, so anyone running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher can grab it for their Android device. In the app, you can use the Panorama function to pan horizontally across a scene and capture an entire landscape.

For a spooky effect, get the subject of your panorama shot to move with the camera so that they appear more than once in the image. The key to making this work is holding the camera steady while you're also moving the subject, so it's good to have someone helping you.

Google Camera Install on Google Play
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Capturing the same subject twice in a panoramic photo. / © ANDROIDPIT

The rule of thirds

This is one of the simplest rules for photography, yet it's invaluable for making your photo compositions look great. 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 you achieve this, most smartphone cameras let you use a grid of two horizontal and two vertical lines when taking photos. The subject of your photo should be at one of the four intersections of these lines to theoretically get the most visually pleasing photo. Give it a go!

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Use the simple 'rule of thirds' to improve your photo compositions. / © ANDROIDPIT

Augmented color reality

Colorify Augmented Reality is a fairly unknown app in the Google Play Store. With it, you can change the color of a garment or object to anything you want. The more contrast in the photo, the better it works.

It's also worth noting that Colorify will replace the color on all objects in the photo from the same palette, as can be seen in our example photo below, where the app changed the color of the denim as well as the trainer.

Colorify Augmented Reality Install on Google Play
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Changing the color of an object, with a little help from an app. / © ANDROIDPIT

Tiny Planet

This is one of the cooler photo-editing tricks. You can turn your panoramic photos into globes, in an effect known as Tiny Planet. We recommend two apps that you can use to accomplish this effect.

The first one, Tiny Planet FX, isn’t free, but has some spectacular options for customizing the effect. The second app, Small Planet, is free. It takes a little fiddling around in order to get used to it, but once you do, you can create some truly spectacular snaps.

Tiny Planet FX Pro Install on Google Play Small Planet Install on Google Play
tiny planet
The Tiny Planet effect truly is extraordinary. / © Lyrebird Studio

There are hundreds of ways to boost your smartphone photography. Which are your favorites? If you have a tip on how to take better photos with your Android phone that you'd like to share, let us know in the comments below.

Originally from the UK, Scott graduated in Popular Music Studies at Newcastle University and attributes most of his success there to his beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. A dedicated Android fan, Scott has never owned an Apple device, of any kind, and doesn't see this changing anytime soon.

21 comments

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  • Is there a similar feature to Microsoft's "Rich Capture" mode? That combines two photos, one with and one without the flash, and lets the user adjust the intensity after the shot. It'd be a pretty cool thing to have especially on something like the S7 or G5, but so far I haven't found an app that does that yet.

    • That's called High Dynamic Range (HDR) in common language. Rich Capture is just business technique , that's why Mr. Bill Gates is the best Businessman in the world. In HDR high ISO+low ISO are combined. Budget Phones too have these.

  • As a photographer for scrapbook purposes, I have learned to take photos in both landscape and portrait mode.

    As far as less movement, I have found that keeping my elbows close to my side and taking a deep breath right before clicking the shutter decreases movement.

  • rooter 4 months ago Link to comment

    Thank you so much for your sharing. It's very helpful. If you lost your photos from Android phone, you can get them back with this way: http://goo.gl/Diq62E

  • Yeah, it's helpful. Thank you. I can take beautiful photos~

  • Thanks!

  • Superb thank u sooo much...my passion is photography...and this newses are tooo much of help full for me thank u soo much..muahhh

  • Frank 4 months ago Link to comment

    A mistake I see a lot of new photographers make is not holding their camera level. I always have my grid lines turned on - not only for the Rule of Thirds, but also to make sure the horizon, tall objects, people, etc. are vertical.

  • helpful

  • Hi,
    I have a Android based smartphone and wanted to take various beautiful images form my phone. I hope by following these tips i can do it easily and specially when i pore my phone into the glass cup same as you did here.

  • Lyn G 7 months ago Link to comment

    Thanks for the tips. I do enjoy taking pictures with the note 5 but don't know much about photography. Every tip helps me out. Although I still don't know when to adjust shutter speed or to what number it should be adjusted too.... But that's what Google is for.

  • You didn't mention the single most important factor in getting good cell phone pictures. CLEAN YOUR LENS. Every time you pull your phone out of your pocket for a photo. No exceptions!

  • Mark G. 7 months ago Link to comment

    I've been playing around with the selective focus on the Samsung Galaxy S5. When it works it's great. Though trying to get my dog to stand still on the beach on my hands and knees whilst the tide is coming in is not the easiest.

  • Junaid Q. 7 months ago Link to comment

    Thanks

  • tell my wife to turn her camera to landscape format...

  • One of the basic tips you need to care about while photographing from your Smartphone is to hold it steady. Try to have good grip on your Smartphone when taking photos. Since most of the Smartphone we use now are touch based, our hands often tremble when we touch the shutter button; focus and be still.

    • Mark G. 7 months ago Link to comment

      I have found that using a tripod with a phone holder helps with shaky hands (hold the legs of the tripod Rather than holding the phone)

  • BruinGuy Mar 11, 2015 Link to comment

    "Avoid using the flash"
    While there is some merit to that statement, it's not a good general rule. In fact, there is a time to almost always use the flash: When shooting photos of people outdoors in daylight. It's not advisable to shoot portraits with the subjects looking into the sun as they will squint or frown during the shot. However, if the light is to their back or side their face will be dark or have dark shadows. This is the ideal time to turn the flash on. Force it on for any people shots when you're outside during the daylight. You'll be glad you did.

  • I mostly use a professional camera, but when i dont have it on me, my Android is there to save the day..

    Most DSLRs have settings to change 'more advanced' settings like ISO, exposure, shutter, aperture. Smartphones arent as advanced

    BUT some apps do have settings you can play with like exposure, contrast and so on. My stock HTC camera app had quite a bit, most other apps have only a few. It truely makes a difference.

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