Introduction to Smartphone Photography

This guide is dedicated to helping you with the nitty gritty of smartphone photography  – how to take a great shot on your phone, what editing apps to use, how to share and print your images and keep them safe.

Whether you're totally new to photography, or a seasoned pro, there's a lot to be gained. Let's get into it. 

Note: This is a super extensive guide. Use this navigation below to jump around to different sections on this page. You can also press the back button on  your browser to jump back to this navigation.

Why You Need to Be Shooting
with Your Phone

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Unless you're one of those admirable people who carries their favourite camera with them at all times, at the ready, chances are that you often watch great photographic opportunities pass by you. (Not quite there yet? Start taking photos with your phone regularly, and in no time, the world will be full of photographic potential!)

But nowadays, most of us keep our phones with us all the time, which means most of us have a camera with us all the time too. And because of the advances in smartphone design, that camera does a pretty decent job! Awesome shots are now within your reach, every where you go. You can easily practice your craft – and add to your visual record – every single day. 

Build fundamental skills

Smartphone cameras are nowhere near as powerful as DSLRs, and even some point-and-shoots. The megapixel count is low, and they lack the manual controls that let you achieve shallow depth of field and super-crisp shots of subjects in motion. And the editing apps are nothing compared to programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. 

So, what's the plus?

When you can't rely on your technical or editing powers to create a great shot, you have to go back to the basics: Composition. You need to think more about the light, the colors, the lines, the placement of your subject. Being forced to focus on those fundamentals will do amazing things for your photography.


If you're taking photos on a smartphone, chances are you'll want to share them at some point too. Plug into a photo-sharing community like Instagram or Flickr, and get ready to reap the benefits: you'll connect with friends and other photographers, gain valuable feedback, and get inspired. There are even stories of people gaining new clients, lucrative sponsorships and entire careers thanks to their participation in those communities! 

My Experience with
Smartphone Photography

First up, introductions! I'm Stephanie.

I'm Lauren's younger sister, and a part-time ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I'll be guiding you through the exciting world of smartphone photography!

Until just two years ago, my cell phone was just that – a phone. I took fewer than 20 photos with it over the four years I owned it!

If I wanted to use my camera, which I'd been doing regularly for three years at that point, I used a DSLR.

And then it was time to upgrade. I bought a new shiny smartphone.

The day it arrived, Lauren challenged me to share a photo once a day for a year. I accepted and signed up for Instagram that afternoon. And over the past year, things for me have changed.

I've taken over 8,000 photos on my phone. I've captured big moments – adventures, birthdays, holidays – moments that, as usual, were also recorded on my DSLR. More importantly, I've captured the small moments that tend to go unrecorded and so are easily forgotten, but that ultimately form the bulk of our lives: bike rides, dinner parties, afternoons at the playground with my nephew. 

I've shared over 450 photos on Instagram and looked at thousands of images shared by other people.

I've connected – even if only in a small way – with people I haven't seen in years.

I've made acquaintances with photographers I've never met and been inspired (and intimidated) by their incredible work.

Photography was exciting again. I started running more often, running further, in search of a great shot, getting to know my hometown better in the process. I got up for sunrises, I stayed up for northern lights. I learned more about the technical stuff and experimented with new styles. I saw more, I experienced more. 

There was a cost, too.

I've spent hours editing and captioning (and re-editing and re-captioning) photos. I've battled little insecurities about what I say and share online. But those costs are so small, compared to the record I have: The photos of family, friends and adventures, and the emotions and lessons attached to those images.

Sometimes, I look back on those photos and wish I'd taken them with a better camera, but I know too that if I had only used my DSLR, so many of those photos simply wouldn't exist. So until the day arrives where I bring myself to tote around multiple devices, always at the ready, it's me and my smartphone. And I'm so excited to see where it takes me.

A Note on the Photos in this Post

Essentially all of the photos you'll see in this guide were taken with and edited on my smartphone, a Nexus 5. Scroll through, and you'll get an idea of what you can (and, in some cases, can't) do with a camera phone. 

When I used a different camera or edited a shot on my computer, you'll see a note saying so. 

Choosing a Phone

If you're in the market for a new smartphone, we unfortunately can't tell you exactly what to buy. For one, we don't know everything there is to know about every smartphone out there! But even if we did, we couldn't say what's right for you, because we don't know you as well as you do! You'll need to think about what's available to you, what you want out of a phone, how much you're willing to pay and so on.

But we won't leave you totally in the dark here. We can, at least, tell you a bit about what to look for in a smartphone from a photographic sense.

In the box below, you'll find some of the main points you may want to consider from a photography perspective. Don't think that every phone needs to be a winner on all of these fronts – we simply want to open your eyes to some of the features that are out there and relevant to photographers. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how to prioritize the things below!

A few things to consider
from a photography perspective

Image quality
What do the photos coming out of the camera look like? Check for things like sharpness, contrast, saturation and color (white balance and tint). Online reviews with photo examples are a great help here!

If you're looking to share or print your images at larger sizes, as a very general rule more megapixels on a phone is better.

Consider things like screen size, resolution, and the quality of the contrast. These'll all make a difference in how easy it is to use your camera, especially in tricky lighting conditions, like low light and direct sun. They'll also influence how similar the image on your phone looks to that same image when it's posted online or printed out. 

Image stabilization
These days, some smartphone cameras come equipped with image stabilization – a function that reduces blurriness caused by movement of the camera. This can make a big difference in the quality of your photos and videos, especially in low-light conditions!

Video quality
Almost all camera phones can shoot HD video (1080P). But some camera phones support shooting at faster frame rates (for slow motion video). And a few cutting edge smartphone cameras can shoot at an ultra high definition (4K) resolution.

As a general rule, if you choose a more popular phone you'll have more options when it comes to apps and accessories, and you'll have an easier time tracking down replacement parts (like USB cables and chargers).

Operating systems & device compatibility
If you're used to working with a particular operating system or want your phone to be compatible with your other devices, you may want to choose a phone from the same brand.

Storage space
If you plan to take a lot of photos (and/or use a lot of apps) you may want to opt for a phone with lots of storage space. Our current phones have 32 GB of space, and we wouldn't want any less. 

Battery life
Your battery life will depend on a lot of things (like how much you use your phone and what apps you run in the background), but it's worth getting an idea of what the maximum battery life is.

Other camera features
Do you care about having burst mode, exposure control, panorama capabilities, etc.? If so, do your research and see whether the phone you're eyeing comes with those features (or a relevant app). 

As a general rule, the better the camera features, the more expensive the phone will be. If you're serious about smartphone photography, it may be worth it to pay the premium. But don't lose sight of the fact that smartphones still