How To

4 easy ways to level up your phone photography skills

Grace Sweeney


Do you suck at Instagram? Are your Facebook albums a bit of a bummer? Some of us just don’t have a knack for taking the pictures that get likes and impress your followers.

Look, anyone can pick up a smartphone and snap a few selfies and sunsets. But, without a few basics under your belt, your website, feeds, and personal albums won’t live up to their potential.

It takes more than filters to create a great image—you need to get the hang of things like focus, exposure, editing, and composition.

If you want to step up your Insta-game, it’s time to master a few key principles the pros already know. Here’s a look at some ways to get more out of your camera phone.

1. Getting set up

Before we dive into actually taking photos, you’ll want to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. A few things to check out before you dive in:

  • Clean your phone’s lens—use a lens cloth and some cleaner to gently wipe dust, dirt, and finger print smudges from your phone’s lens. Chances are it’s pretty dirty.
  • Set phone to the highest resolution—If you take a shot you love, you want it looking its best.
  • Set white balance—Many phones come with the option to adjust white balance. The reason you’ll want to do this is, while the human eye adjusts for lighting—allowing white to appear white in most settings, cameras do not.
  • Turn off any effects—You can add these in later if you want. When you’re taking the photo, you want to start with a clean slate.

2. Compositional tips

Use the grid

One of the easiest ways to level up your photo skills is to take advantage of grid lines. Your smartphone has a setting that allows you to turn this feature on:

The benefit of the grid is, it allows you to intuitively follow the rule of thirds.

The rule is a compositional technique that involves dividing an image into thirds and positioning your subject within one of those areas.


Use leading lines

Adding lines to your composition is a great way to lead the eye through the image, creating visual interest. Easy choices include things like train tracks, rivers, and roads.

As you can see, the photo below directs you to the people in the background. Because the lines converge, there’s a bit more interest than if the composition were to just have one line leading to the people.

leading lines example

Frame your subject

Framing means you’re arranging your photo in a way that allows you to outline your subject with something in the environment. The frame helps to highlight your subject and draws the viewer into the image.

frame your subject

Take advantage of negative space

Negative spacer is a term that refers to the areas around the subject of an image. The empty space, like in the photo below, makes your subject stand out. Things like a wide, open sky, a large body of water, and so on, can elicit a powerful reaction for viewers.

3. Lighting stuff

Lighting is the main thing to consider when you’re snapping shots for the gram or otherwise. While you can crop your way into a better composition, add filters, and special effects, you can’t edit away a poorly lit photo.

You’ll want to avoid low lighting and areas with super bright reflections. If you’re shooting on a phone, you don’t have the advantage of high ISO speeds, which allow cameras to take indoor photos without a flash.

Instead, take advantage of natural light. Smartphone photos that use flash don’t always look so hot. Instead, they may negatively alter colors or wash out your subject. In the daytime—indoor photos work best near a window, without any additional sources of artificial light, which can make your photos look yellow.

When shooting outdoors, the golden hour is your BFF.

The golden hour, or the period just before sunset or right after sunrise, is responsible for those dreamy, sun-kissed shots. During this time, the sun is closest to the horizon, and light must travel through more atmosphere—which softens the light. Thus creating a more flattering effect.

4. Editing your pics

Okay, beyond things like nailing the lighting and composition from your phone, there’s a trick to turning your social feeds into an influencer level curation.


Filters are kind of divisive in the realm of digital photography. Used correctly, they enhance an image and add some cool effects. If you’re using your iPhone or Instagram’s built-in filters, you’re using the same preset options that millions of other people are using.


Lightroom rules because while it’s a professional-grade tool, it’s also super easy to understand. The app comes with a wide range of features from lighting adjustments to gradients, allowing you to tweak your photos into something truly amazing.

You can even create your own filters and apply them to your next round of pics for a more customized appearance.


VSCO is an easy-to-use app that many Instagrammers swear by. The app comes equipped with a selection of pre-set filters. You can use the built-in options, of course, but our recommendation is finding one you like and making custom tweaks. You can save your favorite filters, too. This way, you can use your favorite settings over and over again—saving time and allowing you to create a cohesive look on social media.

What’s more, the VSCO community is a great source of inspiration for those just starting out.



Snapseed is another option that makes it easy to take your photos and turn them into something more aesthetically pleasing. What we like about this app is, the developers have made it super easy to edit photos within a matter of clicks.

This option is simple, best for those who don’t want to take the time to learn Lightroom and it’s many nuances.


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