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How to take better photos with your Android phone

Authored by: Robert Zak — 3 months ago

Sticking to the safety of Auto mode is all well and good, but if you want to branch out, here are some tips and tricks and how to take better photos with your Android phone. All of these can be accomplished with most Android smartphones, and will raise your photography results at no (or at the most very little) cost.

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How to take better photos with your Android phone. / © ANDROIDPIT

Avoid using the flash

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

While there is a time and a place for it, the LED flash on smartphone cameras tends to be located very close to the lens, which has a nasty glaring effect. If natural light isn't quite enough, then 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. / © ANDROIDPIT

Don't use digital zoom - EVER

An even more overused and photo-destroying feature on smartphone cameras is the notorious digital zoom. Unless your camera has an optical zoom where the camera lens can actually protract out of your device (like the not-great Samsung Galaxy K Zoom), then all digital zooming does is enlarge and crop the picture. "Can't I just do that after I've taken a photo anyway?" I hear you ask. Well, yes you can - that's the point! All digital zoom does is narrow the editing options for your picture. Take fully zoomed-out photos, then crop them manually if you want them to be closer up. 

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The disastrous digital zoom on the Moto E (2015), 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 to do for 'Auto' photos, so you can get a feel for what 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

If you've got stable hands and are taking photos of stationary objects, then you should use HDR (high dynamic range) mode if you want lighting and shadows in the photo evenly exposed. This is particularly useful if it's picture with high contrast – lots of particularly dark and particularly light bits. HDR mode takes two or more pictures of varying exposures almost simultaneously, then combines the best and brightest bits of both into one photo. Keep the camera super-steady when you use HDR mode, otherwise your photo will come out blurred.

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Some flowers without HDR. / © ANDROIDPIT
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Some flowers with HDR - see the difference?/ © ANDROIDPIT

Use those post-processing filters

There are plenty of people out their who pour scorn onto all the lovely filters you can enhance your photos with. Sure, if you're a professional photographer then you may consider them bogus, but then what are you doing using an all-digital smartphone camera anyway? For the casual smartphone photographer, those retro, black-and-while, Windmere, Islandia, and other hipster filters can really add character to a photo. These days, 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
Autodesk Pixlr – photo editor Install on Google Play

The 'reflective sunglasses' trick

If you’ve got a pair of sunglasses with a reflective coating on the lens, you can capture a good perspective on some shots. A good tip for this is that you should always have the light source being reflected off the lens so that you can better capture whatever scene or action 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, letting anyone running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher 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, making them appear more than once in the image. The key thing to making this work is holding the camera steady when you're moving the subject if it's inanimate, so it's good to have someone helping you with this.

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, easiest rules to remember about photography, and yet it's invaluable to making your photo compositions look great. The idea is that our eyes are naturally attracted to images that are divided into thirds, and the subject of the photo looking off-centre slightly. 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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Learn the simple 'rule of thirds' to improve your photo compositions. / © ANDROIDPIT

Augmented color reality

Colorify Augmented Reality is a fairly unknown app available on the Google Play Store. With it, you can just pick and choose a garment or object and change the color to anything you want. Just a point of advice when using this app, 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 with 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 do - combining your panoramic photos into a globe effect called 'Tiny Planets'. We’ve got two apps that you can use to accomplish this effect. The first one, Tiny Planet FX, isn’t free but has some spectacular options to customize the effect. The second app, Small Planet, is free. It requires 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
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The Tiny Planet effect truly is extraordinary. / © Lyrebird Studio

We know there are hundreds more ways to boost your smartphone photography out there, and that you probably know most of them. If you have any tips on how to take better photos with your Android phone that you'd like to share, let us know in the comments below.

A tech aficionado since he first picked up a NES controller, Robert has written about technology, videogames, and film across a range of sites and magazines, including Den of Geek, Gamasutra, and Computeractive. At AndroidPIT, he'll be bringing you the latest Android news and reviews from the front line in the UK.

6 comments

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  • John Johnson 1 month ago Link to comment

    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.

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  • BruinGuy 3 months ago 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.

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  • Pushkar Dua 9 months ago Link to comment

    Awesome Smartphone Lifehacks
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNI_0K26XmA

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    • Paisan NYC 9 months ago Link to comment

      Hands down, the WORST Android video I have seen to date. The ideas are horrible. 1. Who still has cassette tapes? 2. Glass tripod? Your rubberband is covering the lens! 3. Pen spring on a charging cable? You didnt even finish wrapping the spring around the cable. With your example, anyone can cut or scratch themself on the spring pretty badly. I stopped watching after losing those 90 seconds of my life.

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  • Angus P. 9 months ago Link to comment

    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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  • Amat Mulisha 9 months ago Link to comment

    I am addicted taking beautiful various scene using my android phone. Sunset, late evening car on high flyover and also many of statue.

    Thanks for this tips. At least i know new editing app, the tiny planet, and absolutely adding to my editing app list.

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