How to take the best photos with your phone

Freelance photographer Melissa Wilson teaches us how to transform phone camera photos.

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Whether you only use it now and then or you’re an avid Instagrammer, knowing how to make the most out of your phone camera is never a bad thing. Here are a few rules that, with a little practice, can take you from amateur phone photographer to fully-fledged pro.

Let there be light

As with any photography, knowing how to work with available light is arguably the most important skill. Phone cameras just don’t perform well in low light conditions. Instead what you’ll end up with is a less sharp, grainier version of what you see with your eyes. Put your subject in as much natural light as possible and you’ll really notice the difference in sharpness and clarity. Here’s a snap I took of my dinner, one in good natural light and the other in a less well-lit room.

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Know how to use available light

If you were trying to see a person as clearly as possible, you wouldn’t turn on a bright light and then put that light behind them, would you? The same applies to what your camera sees. Don’t stick your subject with your light source behind them (whether that’s the sun or artificial light) because they’re likely to look like a dark silhouette. If direct light is too harsh, try placing your subject on a slight angle to the light to get shadows and definition.

Exposure and focus

These are two things very few good photographers get wrong. Phone cameras allow the exposure and focus to be adjusted with just a touch of the screen (that’s easier than with fancy SLR’s!). If you want something to be the focus of your frame, touch it on your screen before you take the snap and your phone will work out the rest.

Get it straight

This one is simple; get your horizon straight. If you’re taking a photo at the beach (or a desert for that matter) or anywhere where a skyline is visible, get that thing straight in your frame. iPhone and Instagram both have straightening tools built into them to make this easy.

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Lets get editing

Most photo editing apps have contrast, temperature and sharpness tools and when used in moderation, these are all very handy in transforming your photos from flat to fab. The up-to-date Instagram app is well equipped with these features as well as your garden variety filters. In one of my greatest phone editing victories, I transformed this unusable shot of myself on holidays using the shadows tool and a generic filter both found in VSCO Cam.

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Apps: VSCO Cam & Afterlight

These free apps are the real deal – VSCO Cam was even developed by a group of talented photographers. Equipped with dreamy film-like filters that allow you to get a bit creative and add character to your images, both apps also have great tools to tweak and improve your photos. Afterlight even lets you add light leaks to your shots for that realistic filmy feel! Here’s a shot before and after I edited it using Afterlight.

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All images: Melissa Wilson