4 secrets: How to take professional photos with your smartphone

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Smartphone cameras continue to get better year after year, which makes it easier than ever to use them for taking professional photos, from marketing shots to headshots for your corporate directory to documenting your business processes to photos for your website and social media.

But whether you're shooting with an iPhone or an Android, you need to take sharp, clear images that will people will love to look at and will represent your company in a professional way.

SEE: 25 iPhone photos that show off what a smartphone camera can do

I've been using a smartphone as my primary camera since 2009, when the iPhone 3GS got good enough to replace my Canon ELPH 300. While today I sometimes use DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and even experiment with drone cameras, I still use my phone to snap more photos than anything else, including a lot of business photos. And you can see that if you look at my Instagram account (@jason.hiner) because I always try to hashtag the camera I used to take the shot.

I'm going to share the secrets to making your smartphone photos a lot more professional in four tips.

1. Paint with light

Always remember that photography is fundamentally just a process of capturing the way light falls on a subject. A great subject in poor light will always look bad. Smartphones do best in natural light and struggle in low light. And using the built-in flash almost always creates bad images. Avoid it.

If you're outside, the best light is during what photographers call "golden hour"—an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. If you have to take a photo outside during the harsh light in the middle of day, look for open shade. Always pay close attention to where the light and the shadows fall, because they will be accentuated in your photo.

The biggest things you can control when you take a picture are the light you shoot in and the angle you shoot it from. Once you understand that, even a smartphone can be used to do what the great photographers do: paint with light.

2. Find the unique angle

This is where you can make your shot look different than countless other photos that may have been taken of the same thing or from a similar spot. It's what photographers call "composition" and it's about using all of the elements in your photo to tell a story.

To help you do this, go into the settings of your camera app and turn on gridlines. This is called the "the rule of thirds" but all you need to know for now is that our eyes naturally fall on the places where these gridlines are. So before you take your shot, look to position the camera so that the elements in the frame are sitting along these lines.

Next, in order to get a unique angle, look to position yourself down low or up high when taking your shot, rather than just standing with the camera straight in front of you like everyone else. Finally, pay close attention to what's in the foreground or background of your shot to add more visual interest, and to avoid ruining a good shot with something distracting that you don't want in your picture.

Image: Derek Poore/TechRepublic

3. Use smart tools to help

While smartphone cameras themselves have gotten much better, there are also some tools you can use to help take stronger photos. The first, is something you already have—your headphones. On most modern smartphones you can use the volume up or down button to snap a photo instead of tapping the screen.

You can also plug in your headphones and use the volume buttons on the headphones to snap a photo. Photographers call this a remote shutter release, and you can use it to get a steadier, sharper shot. It's especially helpful when you pair it with a tripod, and that's something you can now do with a smartphone tripod mount, like the ones from MeFoto.

You may also be tempted to try some of those external camera lenses you can mount to your phone. Don't do it. I've tried a lot of them and in most cases they're more trouble than they're worth and they can make your photos blurry and less professional. Instead, just focus on composing good shots with the camera on your phone.

4. Edit like an artist

One of the things that most people who take smartphone photos don't realize is that the difference between a good photo and a great one is usually the processing that happens after the shot. The world got an inkling of this with Instagram, which skyrocketed to popularity by using filters to quickly make decent photos look a lot more interesting.

But if you want to use smartphone photos for professional shots, you need more control. You need to use an editing app. There are a ton of apps out there, but the best app to start with is Snapseed, because Google bought it and made it available for free on Android and iOS, and new features are always being added to the app. Use Snapseed to crop, bring out the full color, bring up the shadows or dark spots, add the natural warmth back to a scene, sharpen the image, and more. Apps like ProCamera, Manual, Camera+, ProCam, Lightroom, Polarr, and Pixelmator are all excellent editing apps, too.

Final word

If you use the four tips we've talked about today, you'll be on your way to taking much more professional smartphone photos. If you'd like to see examples of some of the smartphone photos I've taken—like the panorama below taken in Florence, Italy—you can take a look at more of my photos on Instagram at @jason.hiner.

florence-panorama.jpg

florence-panorama.jpg

This panorama of Florence, Italy was taken in November 2012 with an iPhone 5.

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