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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

Smartphone photography may seem easy, but it does have its own set of challenges. If you’re struggling to take photos using your device, then there might be a few common phone photography mistakes you need to address.

In this article, we are going to take a look at a few beginner photography mistakes, and we’ll show you ways to correct them.

1. Wrong Settings

One of the most common photography mistakes you’re probably guilty of doing is failing to check your settings before the shoot. This is true regardless of whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or your phone.

If your device is in the wrong shooting mode, then the result is inevitably going to be different and that can have disastrous consequences.

To avoid this problem, make sure to check everything on your screen before pressing the shutter. Are you sure that you chose photo and not video?

As for the image size, did you select photo (rectangular) square, or pano (panograph)? Furthermore, did you want to turn on HDR (High Dynamic Range) or just shoot with normal colors?

A photograph of a yellow leaved tree against a blue sky. Smartphone photography mistakes.

Know what type of photo you’d like to take and create a checklist in your head. If you want to take a regular portrait, then perhaps it’s best to choose either square or rectangular photo.

For landscapes, you may consider turning on HDR to capture stunning, realistic colours, and use pano so you can capture a sweeping view of the scene.

2. No Subject

Some people like to take photos of everything without realising the importance of including a good subject.

Without a focal point, your viewer won’t be able to lock their eyes into your image. They’ll wonder what your photo is all about in the first place.

Before taking a photo, think about what your audience might like about the view. Don’t just shoot blank spaces, but include a point of interest that would attract them to the image.

Even if the beach you’ve just visited looks like paradise, people wouldn’t be interested in it if you just take photos of the sand and water.

Try to incorporate some palm trees, people, or even a hut or a lifeguard station. It’s always helpful to have at least one subject to show your viewer where to look.

A photography of the beach with lifeguard hut and beach chairs. Smartphone photography mistakes.

To make your subject pop, it has to offer unique qualities from the rest of the scene. It could be a different colour, shape, or anything that breaks the patterns in the scene.

Furthermore, you can also use your point of interest to tell a story or provide context to your image.

3. Not Properly Exposed

Another issue you have to worry about is not exposing your image properly. Sometimes when you take photos quickly, you don’t give the phone enough time to adjust the settings automatically.

The resulting image could end up too bright or too dark.

To ensure your photo is properly exposed, give your phone a few seconds to adjust before you shoot. Sometimes, you can even see the screen brighten or darken as you hold up your device before taking a picture.

Once the display stops flickering and the lighting appears uniform, feel free to press the shutter.

A photograph of an alpaca in a mountainous landscape. Smartphone photography mistakes.

However, pictures could still look off even when you let the cell phone camera adjust the settings automatically. To prevent this from happening, you can choose your image’s brightness levels yourself.

Tap on your subject to make a box appear and simply drag your finger up or down to change the exposure.

To make sure your adjustment doesn’t change, tap the screen and hold until you see the AE/AF Lock on the screen. What this feature does is lock your setting so the phone doesn’t automatically change it while you’re shooting.

4. Image is out of focus

Just like with exposure, you can easily end up with an image that’s out of focus if you don’t allow the camera enough time to adjust. When it comes to smartphone photography, you have to adjust everything, including your focus, through the display.

Therefore, when you find a scene to photograph, tap the subject which you want to be sharp on your screen. Once it’s focused, then take the photo.

Of course, you can also use the AE/AF lock to make sure your subject stays in focus. Again, all you have to do is tap and hold until the AE/AF lock appears.

Once it’s activated, your phone will follow that subject and keep it sharp as you take photos.

Photograph of a landscape view finder against a seascape background. Smartphone photography mistakes.

Remember that when you don’t have enough light, your camera might take longer than usual to focus. So when the area you’re photographing is quite dark, just give it more time to get everything sharp.

Alternatively, you can look for a better-lit area to help your phone adjust quicker.

5. Motion Blur

Another issue you might encounter when there isn’t enough light is motion blur. In order to compensate for inadequate lighting, your camera opens your shutter longer than usual to gather more light.

Any movement that occurs while the shutter is still open will become blurry.

To avoid this from happening, just look for a place that’s well lit. Alternatively, you can also ask your subject to stay stationary while you’re taking the photo.

Remember that they have to be absolutely still until the aperture has closed and the image has already been taken.

Low light photograph of a beautiful fountain at night with silhouettes of people in the foreground.Smartphone photography mistakes.

When there isn’t enough light, even shaky hands can cause blur. Therefore, it would also help a lot if you set up your camera on a tripod or a stable surface.

Additionally, you should also use your camera’s timer so you can take the photo hands-free, and consequently blur-free.

6. Using Flash

A lot of people tend to think that using flash is a sensible solution when shooting in dimly lit conditions.

Unfortunately, flash actually often turns a bad photo even worse. It looks unnatural, it’s too bright, it causes red eyes, and it makes the image look flat and unappealing.

Photograph of a girl posing for the camera against a seascape background.Smartphone photography mistakes.

Avoid using flash at all cost when it comes to cell phone photography. Just look for a place with better lighting and your problem’s solved.

It doesn’t even matter if it’s a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, as long as it’s bright enough for you to not to use light from your phone.

7. Poor Composition

You’d be surprised how many people have no idea how to compose an image. Sometimes, it’s simply difficult for beginners to figure out where to place their subject in the frame.

In fact, some of them aren’t even aware that rules in composition even exist.

Learning the basic concept of composition is essential to produce quality images consistently. There are a few rules out there, but perhaps among the most important one is the Rule of Thirds.

To use it, you’ll need to activate your phone’s grid. Once it’s on your screen, all you have to do is place your subject in any of the spots where the lines intersect.

When you’re familiar enough with the concept, you wouldn’t even need to turn it on because eventually, you’ll know where to put your subjects.

Photograph of funfair rides on a clear blue skies day. Smartphone photography mistakes.

You’ve probably heard from others (even photography teachers) that placing your subject in the centre can ruin your composition. However, this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes, positioning your main point of interest right in the centre provides balance to your image. It may seem ill-advised, but it actually works.

8. Busy Background

You can easily ruin an image by using a busy background. Unlike DSLRs that can blur out anything that’s behind the main subject, your phone’s lens has deep focus.

That means everything in the image your device takes–from the foreground to the background–is considerably sharp.

Since you don’t have any way of blurring out the background with your phone, then the best solution is to pick a plain backdrop to isolate your subject. Anything that offers enough negative space (such as a wall or even the sky) would work.

When there aren’t any distractions behind the subject (such as crazy artwork or lamp posts), your viewer can easily identify the main point of interest.

Photograph of a girl in sunglasses against a white wall. Smartphone photography mistakes.

If you have a phone with a dual camera, you can also try using the portrait mode to isolate your subject. By combining the images from the two cameras, your phone creates a depth map that consequently creates a blurry background.

This method isn’t perfect yet as it sometimes blurs parts of the images that should be in focus. However, it works well enough to do the job in most situations.

But just to be safe, only use the Portrait Mode if absolutely necessary.

9. Using Zoom

Mobile photography has become so advanced in the last few years that many smartphones now even feature optical zoom.

Unlike digital zoom that crops the image to magnify a scene, optical zoom magnifies an image using the lens itself. The images are much sharper now than years ago.

Unfortunately, a lot of people now use the zoom a little too much because they’re simply too lazy to get closer to the scene they’re photographing.

What they don’t realise is that images still look rather unappealing when they’re zoomed in whether it was done optically or digitally. The results often look flat, cut-off, and even detached.

To best way to avoid these smartphone photography mistakes and make your image appear closer and more intimate is by simply getting close to your subject.

If you look at some of the best photographs ever taken, they’re usually really close that you almost feel like you can touch them.

So if you want to take your photography to the next level, don’t take photos when you’re too far away.

Photograph of a pelican perched on a wooden fence against a seascape background.Smartphone photography mistakes.

If you absolutely can’t physically get any closer to your subject and zooming in may be necessary, then consider setting up your phone on a tripod.

When you zoom in, even the smallest movements can cause your photo to turn out blurry. Using a tripod would keep your camera stable and prevent images that are out of focus.

10. Bad Editing

Filters are both a curse and a blessing in smartphone photography. Although they make editing so much easier, they’re also overused to the point that they destroy otherwise decent images.

To make matters worse, many of them use Instagram filters that just make photos look over-processed.

The best editing programs to use on your mobile phone right now are VSCO and Adobe Photoshop. VSCO is best for applying quality presets (filters) and for changing exposure settings.

If you want to use more complicated tools such as spot removal, then Photoshop would be the perfect app to use.

Photograph of a bicycle with flowers in the basket on a countryside road. Smartphone photography mistakes.

Although the editing process varies from one picture to another, always keep everything balanced. If you want to make your images look professional, never underexpose or overexpose an image.

Additionally, you shouldn’t apply too much contrast because it makes everything look blown out.

Conclusion

All of these potential smartphone photography mistakes are quite easy to fix. As long as you stick to the smartphone photography tips we provided, the quality of your images will improve significantly.

It’s really a matter of knowing how to use your phone properly and applying a bit of creativity to create photos that are worth sharing.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Chad Verzosa