5 Tips for High Quality Smartphone Photos from a Professional Photographer

So, I’m a professional photographer with a secret to confess:

I don’t always travel with my big, bulky DSLR camera.

Why? Blame it on the extra stuff we need to pack for the kids or just the unwillingness (or laziness) to lug a giant brick on a string everywhere we go, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered to make room for a “proper” camera.

I do, of course, have my phone close at hand 100% of the time.  Many of the travel photos I take (and many you’ll see on this blog) have been taken with my humble smartphone. 

So how do you take good quality photos on a phone? 

Let’s find out. Smartphone photography tips

I’ve since switched phones, but for this post I’ve only used photos taken with my 5+ year old device, an iPhone 6.  Why? 

To prove a point:  it really doesn’t matter what tool you are using, especially when you are just starting out in photography, YOU CAN STILL TAKE GREAT PHOTOS! 

In fact, I wouldn’t advise going straight out and buying an expensive DSLR, especially when you are just learning or when your budget is tight.

The machine you use really, truly does not matter as much as you might think when just getting started in photography.

You know what matters?  It’s what you see. It’s how you see.  Then it’s practice and experimentation.  And progress can be supercharged by the inspiration of others.

So with that in mind, here are five photos I’ve taken with my five year old smartphone along with some tips and tricks:

1.  Street seamstress in Bangkok, Thailand.

What makes this photo interesting? 


I set up across the street and waited for a good moment to take the shot.  It wasn’t long before I heard a tuk tuk approaching.  Perfect!  

You’ll hear a lot about the proper composition/framing of a photo (we’ll get to composition on #3).  Using the tuk tuk itself as the frame makes this photo both unique and iconic and a perfect snapshot of an everyday life scene in bustling Bangkok. 

And the smartphone graininess actually adds to the feel of the photo, giving it an authentic, gritty feel.

2.  Flower vendor in Jaipur, India.

What makes this shot special?

A couple of things.  First, the vantage point, looking straight down from the top.  It takes a second for your brain to figure out what exactly it’s looking at.

Secondly, the decision not to include the entire body of the vendor was intentional and makes this unique.  I’ve given you just enough to help you understand what’s going on, but have preserved a bit of mystery.

And lastly, colors!  Just look at those colors, gorgeous!

3.  Longtail boat in Koh Lipe, Thailand

This shot is a lesson in composition

You’ve probably heard of the famous Rule of Thirds principle in photography.  This approach is basically imagining (or using a setting on your smartphone to overlay) a 3×3 grid while setting up the photo. 

Why bother? 

Centering the subject tends to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the photo and trap them there.  Composing the image according to the Rule of Thirds allows the viewer to explore the entire shot, including the environment around the subject.  The image feels more spacious and alive.

This photo demonstrates the Rule of Thirds both vertically (sky, sea, sand) and horizontally (nothing, nothing, boat).

There’s also a bit of timing involved in the shot of course. I waited until the waves pulled back a bit, just as water was kissing the shore. 

Remember, the Rule of Thirds is more of a rule of thumb – it can (and should) be broken from time to time.

4.  City skyline from Liberty Island, New York, USA

Ah, New York City in springtime.  Beautiful… and photographed to death. 

How do you make your snap of something that’s photographed thousands of times a day stand out, even if you’re only using a smartphone?

I’ll file this one under patience and creativity.

Up at the railing on Liberty Island, every single fellow tourist was taking the exact same shot:  the New York skyline with Ellis Island in the foreground.  I stepped back a few steps and bided my time until everyone was finished. 

Once the coast was clear, I decided to dominate the shot with the cherry blossoms instead of the city.  Overwhelming the photo with the flowers was a creative decision that shows the over-photographed New York in a slightly new light.

5.  Watering can in Kathmandu, Nepal

You don’t always need spectacular scenery to create a memorable photo.  The subject and setting of this iPhone 6 snap, a watering can nozzle in a garden in Kathmandu, is as common as they come.

Turning ordinary into something a bit more special sometimes starts with just noticing your surroundings.  The color contrast of the red nozzle against the green grass caught my eye and when I came closer to investigate, I saw this watering can laying in the garden.  I took a top-down perspective, ditched the Rule of Thirds, and came up with this photo. 

Another thing I’ll mention

Don’t be afraid of empty space in your photo. Remember, less is more. Contrast of colors too.

Let me know if you like me to share more tips on how to use your phone camera to take great photos. Next time I will share free apps that I use to enhance you phone phot

<3 A


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Maria Nuela Alsleben

    A, you are no doubt a PRO photographer! I enjoy your pics immensely….the composition, the colors and subject matter are intriguing and takes me in a journey as if I am there with you. I’ve taken big, fancy cameras with me on trips but find myself resorting to my iPhone for convenience, plus I’ve lost 2 cameras already. These tips confirms that you do not need an expensive, fancy camera to take pro-like pictures. I will certainly keep these tips in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  2. A

    Thank you for such kind words, they’re really heart warming. I’m sorry to hear you lost cameras along the journey, I know how painful that must have feel specially if it contains photos from a trip! I would really advise to practice a lot on an phone camera before buying another expensive one. I remembered doing a project 365, a one photo a day challenge that lasts for a whole year. It really sharpened my photography skills and took my creativity to the next level. That really helped and made me fall in love with photography even more…

Leave a Reply