17 Easy Hacks to Transform Your Cell Phone Snaps from Drab to Fab

Learn the essentials of photography in Photography Basics, the initial segment of a three-part guide aimed at improving your picture-taking skills. As an award-winning professional travel photographer with over a decade of experience, I adhere to the KISS principle and the 80/20 Rule.

These lessons emphasize quick and straightforward techniques for enhancing your photos, applicable even when using just a cell phone. The focus is on mastering composition rules and incorporating simple tricks and tips.

Clean Your Dang Lens

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

You’d think this would go without saying, but this world has a dirty lens epidemic. Your cell phone is used for so many things besides photography, and many of these applications have you touching the lens. Maybe it’s just because phones go into grungy pockets, purses, and who knows what. Either way, clean your lens before shooting, whether you think you need to or not.

If you’re shooting with a higher-resolution camera, you might be more careful about what touches your glass. Still, those high-megapixel sensors can pick up every smudge and particle of dust.

Portrait vs Landscape

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Most images are rectangles, not squares. Tall is a portrait, and wide is a landscape. Ready to take it to the next level? You use portrait (orientation, not setting) to take pictures of tall things, like people and landscape to take pictures of wide things, like landscapes.

Really, it’s not rocket science, so why do we keep seeing pictures of sunsets shot in portrait and people shot in landscape? If your answer is because you’re taking a square picture with a single object in the frame so it doesn’t matter; hold that thought. We’ll get there in a little bit.

Aspect Ratio

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Aspect Ratio is the generalization of portrait and landscape mode. It’s a proportional relationship between an image’s width and height, essentially the shape, if you don’t like math.

Why does this matter? Your device has all kinds of settings, but you want to stay around 4×6 or 5×7 for most applications and 8×10 for larger prints. If you shoot a stretched photo, it will not only feel awkward, but you will get increased distortion from the edges of your crop sensor.

Another thing to check is that all your devices have the same aspect ratio. That’s not only your phone and DSLR but also your phone’s front and back camera.

Forget the Flash

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Let’s make this easy. There’s a flash setting. It should be turned off. Cell phone flashes are notoriously bad, generally annoying, and sometimes prohibited. There are a couple of problems because the light is on the camera body and has no diffusers like red-eye and reflections. Also, colors tend to wash out with the wavelength of light coming from a cell phone. They’re too blue, too cool, and make skin look unhealthy.

Frame First, Shoot Second

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

As a rule of thumb, you want to compose your shot and see it in your view screen before hitting the shutter. There are exceptions, like opening to a maximum field of view before shooting blind, but it’s a good rule that does many good things:

Allows automatic features like focus and light balance to function as designed
Permits selection of the proper lens (if your camera has multiple options)
Verifies your composition in real time
Keeps you from corrupting your aspect ratio with digital cuts

Rule of Thirds

Photo Credit: Coleman Concierge.

The Rule of Thirds is heavily overloaded in photography circles with multiple interpretations, so we’ll build it up slowly and take it one step at a time. Try to divide your scene into three equal parts, either vertically or horizontally. An easy application of this is photographing a beach at sunset. Make 1/3 of your picture sand, 1/3 water, and 1/3 sky. The same trick works inland with grass, trees, and sky. Whatever you do, don’t put the horizon in the middle of the picture.

Creating vertical compositions is harder but still possible. Imagine a waterfall with trees on one side and blue sky on the other or perhaps a person, tree, and skyscraper in the city.

Use “The Grid” to Avoid “Mugshots”

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The Rule of Thirds can be applied vertically and horizontally at the same time to create a grid. Compositional elements placed along these lines or their intersections create more tension, energy, and interest than simply centering the subject (like a mugshot).

Even if you only have one element, putting it in an intersection evolves your photograph from being a single element to a more robust composition.

Balance Your Composition

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

If you have multiple elements, you can evolve beyond the grid if you imagine a pivot at the center of your picture balances every element on an imaginary beam. The larger the feature, be it positive or negative space, the shorter the beam, like kids on a teeter-totter. The older kids sit closer to the middle.

This idea expands into using odd numbers of different size features to balance them with complex but rational geometry. Even numbers and sizes tend to collapse into simple symmetric patterns.

Capturing Motion

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

When objects are out of balance, there’s an illusion of motion. This can work to your advantage, especially with things that are supposed to move, like vehicles and animals. Try to put these elements on the grid, moving into the picture instead of leaving the frame.

Love Leading Lines

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Lines allow the artist to direct the eye of the viewer. Leading lines create depth and linear perspective. They can be created from literal lines such as telephone and power cables or rigging on boats or derived from the borders of different colors or contrast. You can even create leading lines with a sequence of discrete elements at varying depths in the picture.

Other lines create a variety of effects in visual composition, including:

Curved lines convey a sense of movement
Angular lines create tension
Horizontal lines increase calm
Vertical lines create an illusion of height

Don’t Forget to Frame

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Compositional lines help the artist direct the viewer’s eye to the focal point of a picture. The easiest way to do this is to put your subject in a frame.

Framing occurs naturally in many places, like looking out of doorways and windows to gaps in trees and hedges. The foreground or background of your composition often creates the framing, which brings us to the next trick.

Consider the Foreground and Background

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Cluttering the foreground is one of the most egregious sins of composition, from putting your finger in the shot to having too many people cluttering the scene. A cluttered background is a close second, especially in selfies and food photography. A messy scene is not only chaotic and distracting, but it obscures natural lines.

The best way to avoid this is to consider your composition before you shoot. There are tricks with aperture settings and post-processing that we’ll cover in future lessons, but avoiding the issue in the first place goes a long way.

Get Perspective

Photo Credit: Flickr.

Objects in the foreground look bigger than objects in the background because they have a larger specular size. That is to say, they’re actually bigger in the image. Photographers can use this to their advantage by changing the perspective of a shot.

If you want something to look bigger, like a superhero or a hamburger, take it from a low perspective looking up. You can try flipping your phone upside down to make a hamburger look giant or laying on the ground to make your friends look like superheroes on their bikes.

Shooting from the top down has the opposite effect of slimming the subject. There’s a reason that so many teenage girls hold their phones above their heads to take those selfies.

Crop Carefully

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

You have to crop every shot you take, whether it’s intentional or a happy accident. Your eyes see more than most lenses. Where you place that crop can make or break a photo.

Don’t leave little bits of things in the picture. Either place enough in to see it or take it out altogether. A good rule of thumb is to include either the head or 2/3rds of an inanimate object. Also, don’t cut off people’s heads. Headshots are okay, but a headless torso is creeptastic.

Beware of Hot Spots and Dark Patches

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

There are words for hot spots and dark patches, like over/under exposed or burned out. In general, they’re bad. Like objects in the scene, you can fix some things with settings and post-processing. You can even layer shots if you have a tripod and good post-processing skills, but the easiest way is to avoid hotspots in the first place.

Be aware of sun angles and try to shoot when it’s overcast or during Golden Hour.

Golden Hour is Your Friend

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

Golden Hour is the hour after sunrise or before sunset. Not only aren’t there as many hot spots, but the light is more red at this time, which naturally warms your subject. As an added bonus, generally, there are fewer people to clutter your scene, and water features become smooth and glossy with calm winds. Plus, there’s a whole sunrise and sunrise photography genre to explore. There’s also a purple hour after the sun goes down, but that’s hard to capture without specialized camera equipment.

Shadows Aren’t All Bad

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

We warned you to be aware of dark spots a couple of entries ago, but shadows aren’t always bad. The shadows during Golden Hour enhance the natural texture of the landscape. This effect can be replicated with food photography if you bring a ring light (or use a friend’s cell phone flashlight) and place it to the side of your subject. Also, shadows are a natural source of lines that, as you remember, can be used to create all kinds of effects in visual composition. You can also create interesting illusions and ambiguities by using shadows as primary visual elements in your design.

Wrapping Up Photo Basics

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

These basic photography tricks aren’t set in stone gospel. They’re ideas to play with and concepts to develop. When you look at visual art, be it photography, painting, or movies, try to see these elements, particularly in your own work. If you have a photo you enjoy, ask yourself why you like it. Conversely, if something is off, try to identify what is going wrong. More often than not, you’ll find it on this list.

Read More From Coleman Concierge:

Photo Credit: Canva.

What are the most romantic getaways in Southern California? For active couples, SoCal offers a little bit of everything from luxurious beach hotels to cozy mountain cabins. From the bright lights of Los Angeles to the starlight of the open desert, we’ll show you the best couples vacations or romantic California staycation.

21 Spectacular Romantic Getaways in Southern California for Active Couples

Levi Husky Park – A Photo Essay of Finnish Lapland’s Animal Stars

Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Do you want to get close to some furry film stars, visit local wildlife, and learn what it takes to be a champion sled dog? Levi Husky Park invites you to see their foxes, wolf dogs, reindeer, huskies, and more. Since words wouldn’t do the visit justice, we put together this photo essay to tell the story (and share all the cuteness!!).

Levi Husky Park – A Photo Essay of Finnish Lapland’s Animal Stars

Best Places To View Alaskan Wildlife – Wild Side of the Last Frontier

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The last frontier, Alaska, is a place of untamed wildness and rocky beauty where the majesty of nature knows no boundaries.

Going on a wildlife-watching expedition is amongst the most exciting ways to enjoy this wonderful state. Alaska offers it all, whether you’re a serious birder, a wildlife enthusiast, or just want to connect with nature.

Join us as we explore the top viewing locations for Alaskan wildlife in this breathtaking region of North America.

Best Places To View Alaskan Wildlife – Wild Side of the Last Frontier

A Dozen Stunningly Beautiful Florida Springs You Must Visit

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

The enchanted waters of Florida springs are a wonderland for swimmers, anglers, paddlers, and boaters, with unique spots for everyone to enjoy. The abundant spring water forms a vibrant network of rivers that leads to the warm Gulf of Mexico. Join us as we explore Florida’s best springs and see which one you want to visit next!