7 tips to master smartphone photography

Mikkel Westphal Stephensen

7 tips to master smartphone photography

There's only one true rule in photography: “The best camera is the one that’s with you”, as Chase Jarvis said. That camera is almost always in your smartphone. Here are 7 tricks to master smartphone photography.

Simon Fals is a professional and award winning Danish News Photographer who was featured on The New York Times Portofolio in 2016. Simon obeys 7 rules of photography. Once you know them and master them, you can do whatever you like (that means you can ignore them as well)

1. Use the grid and know the rule of thirds

All decent camera apps have a grid function (ohh snap, Snapchat). Take a look at this photo. The screen is divided in 9 even squares — 3x3. Usually, it’s weird to look at a photo when the motive is fully centered. The best way for framing it is by making sure that the motive and the focus point touch four intersections of the grid.

"What works in this photo is the composition. I've made sure that the two hunters are in different sections of the photo. The deer, which is key to this story about female hunters, is clearly in the right intersection." Photo: Simon Fals

2. Less is more

Less is more is often a stupid saying. When it comes to photography it’s not. Especially in news photography you want to keep it simple. If there is too much going on in your photo it seems unfocused and the story is hard to understand. Focus on few, important details.

How to keep it simple"How do you tell a story that happened weeks ago? This one is about a farmer who had his house destroyed. There is no action, the squatters are long gone, but the chaos remains. This image is an interpretation of chaos in a very simplistic way." Photo: Simon Fals

Looking for video tips? Check out 5 tips for shooting great video on iPhone

3. Negative space

That’s right. Negative space is great for letting your motive break through. In short, negative space is all the space surrounding your main subject. The right use of negative space will make your motive or subject pop but using it in a wrong way will make your subject vanish.

How to use negative space
"When you just have a small camera or a smartphone it's harder to make a subject stand out in the photo. Negative space is a great workaround. Here at the Mens Volley Euro Cup I simply focused on the least interesting background. That's how the only thing to pull focus are the two subjects. The man and the volleyball." Photo: Simon Fals

4. Zoom with your feet

Only  few smartphones have optical zoom so often zooming is done digitally. Meaning that, you´re just making all the pixels bigger and that’s not pretty. Instead zoom with  your feet. Get close (not in harms way though) to what you´d like to capture. It’s great exercise and the photos will look so much better. That’s a promise!

I got close by using my feet - not the zoom. As a spectator you can almost feel the saliva coming at you. So could I by the way. - Simon Fals


How to zoom with your feet"The best photos are often shot from a close distance. In this from a left wing demonstration the subject is very clear and outstanding, but it's still fairly obvious to anyone that there is a huge crowd. I got close by using my feet - not the zoom. As a spectator you can almost feel the saliva coming at you. So could I by the way." Photo: Simon Fals

5. Use flash with caution

Taking great photos by using internal flash is very hard, but sometimes the circumstances don't give you any other option. Nowadays, smartphones have much better built-in flashes than they used to. Still, use flash only if you have to. When you use it, be aware of the distance between you and your subject. You have to stay pretty close to your subject to make it work. But don't get too close, because that'll make the subject over exposed.

How to use flash

"In this particular photo it wouldn't be one without using a flash. I was in the middle of field at a festival covered in darkness so I had to make due. When using the flash accept the light leaks and have fun with them.  Make the circumstances shine through the image by emphazising them." Photo: Simon Fals

6. Keep shooting and use burst mode

When doing news photography it’s hard to know when the right moment strikes. You can’t prepare in advance or cheat. What you can do is improve  your chances for capturing that right moment by taking multiple photos using burst mode.

How to use burst mode

"Burst mode is great for fast moving subjects. Paul Pogba is one of the faster ones, I've captured. The key here is to keep up with your subject and hopefully something magical will appear" Photo: Simon Fals

7. Become credible and stay credible

The more you mess with your photos, by constantly editing and changing them, the less credible they get. We’ve all seen over edited photos. The difference between a good photographer and a decent photographer is not just having a better technique but also credibility. Change as little as possible. Don’t use HDR, panorama-mode or any of that mumbo jumbo. Your efforts will pay off and you´ll take better and more authentic photos. If your goal is to make some money as a photographer, you should strive to be as credible as possible.

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"Horrible, horrible. The left part of the photo is just enhanced a bit. On the right is an over-saturated Instagram-feed version of how colorgrading often is done. It's has no resemblance to reality and it's not pretty." - Simon Fals

Alright, that's it for now. Thanks for reading. If you have any comments or questions, send me an email or find us  on facebook and on twitter.

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