Tips and Tricks: for Better Smartphone Photography

For many, phones have completely replaced dedicated digital cameras, but even pros reach for their iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones to snap images from time to time. Here’s how to take better pics with your smartphone.


By Jim Fisher of

Your smartphone is always with you, a constant companion that can connect to the web to look up any tiny nugget of trivia, and generally keep you in constant contact with the outside world. It’s one of the key items you grab before leaving the house, and the last time you (probably) turned it off was at the movie theater.

This also makes your phone your take-everywhere, shoot-anything digital camera. Just a few short years ago, making images and video with smartphones was a compromise, with poorer image quality but a heck of a lot more convenience than a good point-and-shoot camera.

But times have changed and phone cameras have gotten better and better. The latest models offer superior imaging and video to budget point-and-shoot cameras, and offer nifty software tricks to blur backgrounds, just like an SLR and f/2 or f/1.4 lens.
Check out these tips to get the best images you can get from your phone. But remember, even with the latest tech, phones aren’t as versatile imaging tools as modern interchangeable lens cameras.

Start With a Good Camera Phone

Smartphone camera quality has enjoyed a big leap forward in quality over the past couple of years. If you’re using an older handset, chances are the camera isn’t up to snuff. If camera quality is a priority when shopping for a new one, make sure you peruse our list of the top camera phones we’ve tested. But remember that you really can’t go wrong with the latest Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy devices.

Look for the Light

Smartphones have very bright lenses—the Samsung Galaxy S9 has one that opens up all the way to f/1.5. But sensors are much smaller than you find in a premium compact camera with a 1-inch sensor like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II. That gives them a distinct disadvantage in image quality in dim lighting. To get the best shots, look for opportunities where your phone’s sensor can shine. If you’re indoors, try to set up your shot so there’s light falling on your subject—some window light will do more to improve your photos than a new phone or camera. It’s always a better option to find good light as opposed to using your phone’s underpowered LED flash.

Adjust Exposure

Smartphones are the modern point-and-shoot, but the apps that run their cameras typically offer some level of manual control. The most basic adjustment you can make is exposure—brightening or darkening a scene—and using it effectively can turn a bland image into a head-turner. Use it to brighten the shot of your fancy dinner to make it perfect for Instagram, or to darken shadows in a portrait for a more dramatic look.

The feature isn’t always labeled the same. On an iPhone you’ll want to drag the sun icon, to the right of the focus confirmation box, up to brighten an image or down to darken it. Android phones typically have the more traditional +/- icon for exposure adjustment.

Turn On Your Grid

Pro SLRs typically have framing grids in the viewfinder window to help you better square up shots and conform to compositional guidelines like the rule of thirds. (For more on composition and other photo basics, read our tips for basic photography, which apply as much to smartphones as they do to pro cameras.)

You can turn on the same thing in your phone’s camera app. Adding a grid line gives you help in keeping the horizon straight and is a big plus for portraits in front of famous landmarks. With the notable exceptions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s generally a good idea to keep upright structures perfectly vertical in your photos.

Learn Your Camera’s Features

The imaging capabilities of modern smartphone cameras are staggering. We’ve seen advances in computational photography that allow you to blur the background of images, mimicking the look of a wide aperture lens and big image sensor, and some handsets can also capture insanely slow-motion video.

Your phone probably has a good burst mode too, and it’s never a bad idea to take a few images in a sequence to get the best one—just make sure not to post all of them. iPhone owners can check out Live Photos, which mix still images and video together.

Try an Add-On Lens

Your phone’s camera certainly has one lens, and some models offer dual rear cameras with the second lens capturing a tighter or wider angle of view than your phone’s main eye. A quality add-on lens will cost you—the bargain-basement ones we’ve reviewed have been universally terrible. Go with a trusted brand like Moment or Olloclip.

Picking the type of add-on lens is important too. I think a macro adds the most versatility to your phone’s camera, but you may prefer an ultra-wide, a fish-eye, or a telephoto conversion lens.

Focus Close

Even without a macro add-on, your phone can focus pretty close. Use it to your advantage. You can snap a shot of your fancy dinner and get close up, but keep the whole frame in focus. That’s something you can’t do with a big camera shooting at f/1.4 or f/2, and one of the areas where small image sensors have a practical advantage over larger ones.

Get a Gimbal

It’s not all about images. Entry-level compact cameras are stuck at 720p, but if you’ve got a recent smartphone you have a 4K-capable video camera in your pocket. Flagship models include optical image stabilization, but that can only go so far. If you want truly smooth, great-looking video, think about a powered gimbal to keep your phone steady. Our favorite is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, a $130 device that steadies video, can track moving subjects, and also supports time-lapse and panoramic stitching.

Add a Microphone

When shooting video, good audio is more important than sharp footage. Your phone’s internal mic is meant for making phone calls—not recording high-quality audio. Headphone jacks may be disappearing from phones, but you can get a microphone that plugs directly into your USB or Lightning port, or one that works with your phone’s audio dongle. Just make sure to read some reviews to make sure the mic is compatible with your particular phone and its operating system.

Edit Your Shots

Your phone is a powerful handheld computer, just as capable of making basic image adjustments as a high-end laptop running Photoshop. You should download some image editing software—my favorite is VSCO, a free download for both Android and iOS—or use the basic image editing tools built into your operating system.

More advanced photographers can enable Raw capture, which will deliver much more leeway in editing. And if you have a dual-lens iPhone, you can add an app like Focos, which allows you to adjust the amount of and quality of background blur in your Portrait Mode shots.

What tips do you have for shooting quality pic on a smart phone? Tell us in the comments below!

Weekly Round Up 8/11



I’m gonna file this under “Doh!”
How to get fired in the tech industry

And the backlash continues…

Tech leaders must stop treating humanity like computer code


I’m ashamed to admit to owning most of the items on this list.

9 tech crazes that made us lose our minds in the ’90s


Everything old is new again.

3 Things Women in Tech Must Do to Get Ahead


Why didn’t they just buy Netflix?

Disney bought baseball’s tech team to take on Netflix


Shouldn’t this guy be in jail already?
Martin Shkreli’s ‘stealthy’ tech start-up has a website and says it’s starting to test products


What the WHAT?!

Wild new microchip tech could grow brain cells on your skin

How to: take photos even when your phone is out of storage




By Molly Sequin of Mashable

We’ve all been there. You get bombarded with “Storage Almost Full” notifications on your phone, but just keep rolling like the problem will magically fix itself. And then you hit that fateful moment: You try to snap a pic of that gorgeous vacation sunset and your phone says it literally can’t take one more picture.

There’s no time to start deleting everything, so you just don’t take the picture. Wrong. You life hack your way into the camera.

If you don’t actually want to pay for more storage and simply can’t get yourself to delete anything, here’s the move: All you have to do is take photos on some of your apps and save them to your phone.



My personal favorite app to use for this trick is Snapchat. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I already like to snap a lot of the things that I’m taking photos of anyway. So really, this method can make you more efficient even if your storage isn’t full. Here’s how you do it.

After you take a snap, there’s a little arrow over a bracket icon in the bottom lefthand corner of the screen. I took a snap at my desk and circled the “save” button in red in case you’re still confused.


When you hit that button, whatever you snapped will instantly be saved to your phone’s library. This works for videos, too, not just photos. I’ve been making Snapchat my undercover camera for quite some time now, and it has saved me during so many vacations, concerts, and big sporting events. The trick is definitely worth trying.

Now that you get the gist, start using almost all of your favorite social media apps to take photos when your camera tries to tell you it’s impossible. Facebook has an in-app camera that lets you save shots to your phone. Slack is another quick fix. Just take a photo within the app and send it in a slack (even if it’s just in a message to yourself). When it loads in the message, just hold it until a menu pops up. Click “save image” and go find it in your library. 

Get in all of your other social apps and scope out how to take a photo in a pickle. Just be sure to allow all of your social apps access to your camera and microphone so you can actually take the photo or video in the first place.

If you actually want to get some storage back and take photos on your actual camera again, there’s a way. Here’s a guide to what you should delete first when looking for some extra room. But no matter what your storage is looking like, godspeed getting those pics!

Do you have a special hack for managing space on your phone? Share it with us in the comments below!

How to: post Google Photo’s awesome animations to Instagram.


By Raymond Wong of Mashable

If you use Google Photos, you know the service is so much more than just the best way to store and back up all your photos and videos into the cloud.
Share Quote

Using advanced machine learning, Google Photos can intelligently identify people, places, and things — and it’s all easily searchable. One of the cooler things in Google Photos is the Assistant (not to be confused with Google’s other Assistant on Android and Google Home).

In the Google Photos app on iOS and Android, the Assistant is a card-based panel that does three things:

1 Shows you the status of your backup.
2 Automatically creates “movies” based on related video clips.
3 Creates “animations” using batches of bursted photos. (You can also create your own animations by manually selecting between 2-50 photos, but the end result is the same — you still get a GIF file.)

I’m constantly amazed by how great the automatically generated animations are, and it sure beats using a separate app like Burstio to convert your burst photos into a video or a GIF.

There’s just one little thing: While you can download and share the animated GIFs online to Twitter, Giphy or wherever using a computer, sharing GIFs natively to Instagram is still impossible without first converting the file into a video.
Here’s how to do that quickly and easily:

For iOS

On iOS, you’ll need to use another app like GifLab (free) to convert the GIF into a video. To find your animations, type “animations” into the Photos search bar in the iOS or Android app. Then, select your animation. (These are animations you’ve saved. Animations that Google Photos created but you didn’t save within 30 days of their creation will not appear and are lost forever, so save them when they’re created.)

Tap the “•••” located in the upper right corner and then tap “Download” to save the GIF. Then, open up GifLab and do the following:
Step 1: Open GifLab and select “GIF to Instagram.”
Step 2: Select your GIF and adjust the playback speed.
Step 3: Tap “Save and share on Instagram.”

For Android

On Android, things are even easier and you can share GIFs directly from Google Photos to Instagram, as the app automatically converts the GIF into a video, no extra app required.

Select your Google Photos animation GIF as outlined above and then tap the share icon in the lower left. Select Instagram as the app (obviously, have it installed and logged in) to share the GIF. Once the GIF’s been auto converted into a video, you’ll be taken Instagram where you can select a filter and add a caption.

Do you use Google’s Photos? Tell us what you think of it in the comments below!

App of the Week – Sprinkles

Microsoft Sprinkles camera app is fun and not at all depressing.


By Chris Burns of

The developers at Microsoft have successfully created another distraction to our everyday massacre of a modern life with an app called Sprinkles. With the app, users will be able to see how old the machine thinks they are – though that’s not a strictly new trick from Microsoft, it’s still wonderful to be able to do, if you look young. Another feature is matching your face with the celebrity that looks most like you.

Those individuals that wish to find out which celebrity they most look like will be able to do so with the Sprinkles app. Microsoft has created an app that guesses your age and matches your face with that of a celebrity. I was a bit disappointed to find that this app does not allow me to usurp cultural inheritance or go forth and swap my face with that of another face.

It’s OK, though. Microsoft has created a smart camera system which can automatically suggest captions for me. I don’t have to think of anything clever anymore. It will no longer look like I’m just showing pictures of my face because I need my face to be seen. Now it will look like I’ve become quite clever.

The icon for Sprinkles looks like a pink donut – but to be clear, this is not the Simpsons donut. That media empire is not connected to Microsoft directly at this time. Unless they’re working on some sort of secret dessert-themed software we’ve yet to hear about.

Users of iPhones and users of iPads can access the Sprinkles app download right this minute. Android users cannot access the app at this moment. Android users should – in my personal opinion – go check out an app like Nova Launcher instead – that’s freedom of device instead of automatic photo captioning. We’ll all be happier with that.

Have you tried Sprinkles? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

WIT: Stopping revenge porn starts with more women in tech.


By Melanie Ehrenkranz of

Nearly three years after dozens of celebrities and actresses were targeted in a massive revenge porn campaign called the Fappening, women are under attack again.

In March, thousands of current and former male Marines were discovered to be sharing a massive stash of explicit nude photos without their subjects’ consent. The same month, someone reportedly leaked more private images of women in Hollywood, and stars like Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried, allegedly targeted in the attack, are taking legal action.

Hacks like these are more than invasions of privacy. They’re serious personal attacks that more often than not fit the description of a sex crime. The distribution of explicit or sensitive images of someone without their consent is a form of revenge porn, or “image-based sexual abuse,” Durham University law professor Clare McGlynn said in an interview with Refinery29. This type of harassment is difficult to both prevent and enforce: When the Marines’ private Facebook group for nude photos was busted, users simply flocked to other, more off-the-radar sites.

As lawmakers have fought for harsher punishments for revenge porn distributors, there’s another way to protect victims: cybersecurity measures that protect users from having their personal images spread around the web. It’s an urgent reason to bring more women, who are disproportionately targeted in these attacks, into cybersecurity — a field with dismal gender parity and an inability to develop a work culture that allows them to thrive.


Revenge porn has millions of victims

Posting someone’s nude images online without their consent isn’t a form of harassment unique to celebrities. As many as 1 in 25 internet users in the United States (approximately 10.4 million people) has been threatened with or actually experienced having their explicit photos or videos posted online, according to a study from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. The study showed that individuals from communities enduring the most harassment online also experienced a higher rate of revenge porn threats.

“Our findings show that particular groups — such as young adults and lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans — are not only much more likely to be victims of nonconsensual pornography, but are more likely to experience a range of online harassment and abuse,” lead researcher Amanda Lenhart said in a statement. “This includes other types of privacy violations, such as having their online or phone activity monitored, or having their passwords stolen or coerced by others.”

But many people still don’t take revenge porn attacks seriously. Brianna Wu, a video game developer and game studio founder, is currently running for Congress on a platform of privacy rights and inclusive technology. She knows the perils of online abuse firsthand. “We’ve seen young girls commit suicide after being violated online without consent,” she said in an email to Mic. “This is causing immense harm, but many men in tech are blind to it.”

“I was really amazed by how many men I knew in tech considered the Fappening on Reddit a fun diversion,” Wu said. But when she “tried to talk to them about it being a sex crime, a light did go off.”

The tech industry isn’t set up to prevent revenge porn

Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law and the legislative and tech policy director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, treats revenge porn as a “war on three fronts: legal, technological and social.” Socially, there’s been progress since 2012, she said, but her organization is still trying to “appeal to the tech industry to get a handle on the problem that they helped create.”

Tech companies rush out new products with lofty dreams of changing the world, but rarely do innovators appear to have considered the possibility of their revolutionary products being weaponized. “What’s particularly missing from that conversation is, ‘How will this affect women?'” Franks said.

“You can see that just in the way that Twitter is designed, you can see that in the way that Facebook” — which she said still hasn’t figured out how to prevent clips of rape and child abuse from popping up — “is designed,” she said. Franks also noted Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s previous creation, 2003’s, a website that allowed users to rank women on attractiveness based on their Harvard ID photos. “It’s not a coincidence that we ended up with the features and products that are heavily male dominated,” she said. 

So when “Facebook says, ‘Oh, we’re trying to figure out ways to get a handle on [violent, abusive content],’ that should be an unacceptable response,” Franks said. “Because if they didn’t have a handle on it before, they shouldn’t have rolled out the product.”

Facebook did recently address abuse issues following the Marines United scandal. New guidelines will address revenge porn by using photo-matching technology to stop the spread of nonconsensual images. 

As Wired notes, this will be helpful in mitigating revenge porn, but not preventing it. And it took a headline-grabbing scandal to nudge Facebook to roll out this protocol, when it should have anticipated the needs of its users before bad press forced its hand.

Another problem: The cybersecurity business is heavily male — and heavily white

According to a new report, women “account for just 11% of all cybersecurity professionals, earn less than their male counterparts across the board and generally feel underappreciated by their employers,” Fortune reported. 

Silicon Valley is notorious for its lack of diversity, its deeply rooted bro culture and, as a result, its pervasive exclusion of both women and people of color from the types of roles that can reshape that culture. It’s unsurprising that this trend persists in the cybersecurity industry, and that it extends beyond the business concerns to affect the internet’s most vulnerable users.

“It is entirely possible that these men never imagined the internet would free us from our earthly limitations,” Jenna Wortham wrote in the New York Times. “Instead they strove to create a world like the one we already know — one that never had equality to begin with.”

Cybersecurity experts have the ability to mitigate online abuse from a technological standpoint: They can create more efficient algorithms that scan the internet for revenge porn and quickly wipe it before it’s visible. Tech companies have the power to more strictly enforce the removal of such content. The Brookings Institution has recommended device manufacturers and internet companies develop webcams that are more easily obscured so that hackers can’t use them as surveillance devices. (In the meantime, you can always stick a Post-it note on yours.) Brookings also suggested that these companies can better encourage users to make sure they have strong passwords with less easy-to-guess security questions.

What women can offer

“Study after study has shown that women are more risk averse,” Tina Gravel, senior vice president of global channels and strategic alliances for Cryptzone, said in an email referencing a Harvard Business Review report. Gravel said that this finding can be an advantage in terms of developing the next generation of infrastructure and tech needed to stave off cybercriminals.

“Women are more likely to build these systems with security and risk reduction in mind and look for increasing ways to decrease risk, which will benefit us all,” she said. 

Franks said that until the tech industry scraps its flawed way of thinking — products exist, therefore they are valuable and should be protected even if they have issues — its products will continue to imperil women and minorities. As it stands, “the welfare of the people most likely to be hurt is always going to be an afterthought,” Franks said. 

And those most likely to endure harassment are going to be able to put those issues on the radar before they come up. That’s why a diverse team is so important.

Legislators need a better grasp of consent in the digital age

Rape culture still permeates our everyday lives — from media to victim blaming to sympathy for convicted rapists. It is also a pattern of behavior that persists among representatives in the legal system, according to Franks, which can contribute to the normalization of online sexual violence.  

“If we’re talking about legislators, the major problem is getting people past really, really outdated ideas and really moralistic ideas about sexual behavior,” Franks said. “When women are sexually assaulted, or they’re catcalled or when they’re harassed at work, we have this tendency to treat them as though it were their fault or as though the things that are happening to them are just not that serious.”

Franks said that the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative believes that the war on revenge porn can’t hinge purely on strong legislative reform and better practices from tech companies. It also requires a society that makes victims of online abuse feel safe speaking up about their experiences. It means people in power, like courts and lawyers, need to fully understand the issue at hand. It means approaching this type of harassment with empathy, not shame. 

“There are so many legislators who will honestly, in front of people, say, ‘Well, I don’t know why people are sending naked pictures to begin with,’ or, ‘If you’ve ever sent a naked picture before, you probably deserve it if they were to distribute it to someone else,'” Franks said. “There’s this really bizarre attitude toward sex that you see on the part of many legislators,” who are not just predominantly white and male, she said, but also “tend to be older.”

And tech companies need to step up

Wortham discussed her conversation with Alice Marwick, a fellow at Data & Society, summarizing Marwick’s point that “Silicon Valley tends to be ruled by a libertarian viewpoint — the notion that the less regulation and political interference in technology, the better.”
But the denizens of Silicon Valley also have a responsibility to regulate the spaces they’ve created, which too often afford their users the ability to discriminate, cyberbully and threaten others with spreading their private information. Franks said Silicon Valley tends to have a hands-off, no-regulation mentality, which has “proven to be pretty disastrous. … Many of the laws being written are not going to be terribly effective because the tech industry has so much immunity,” she said.

Many are hoping the legal system will catch up with tech and more rigorously enforce perpetrators of revenge porn. Until then, as Wired’s

Emma Grey Ellis has written, “tech companies have even fewer excuses for lagging than Congress.”  

Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Bing and Yahoo have all adopted policies, beginning in 2015, that ban revenge porn from their platforms. But these companies can still stand to work toward pre-emptive measures, as Franks noted — like waiting to roll out products or features until teams have deliberated on all of the ways, good and bad, they might affect users. 



Diverse teams build more inclusive products

A diverse team is not only good for a company’s bottom line, but also ensures that its products cater to the needs of a more diverse consumer base.

“The single most obvious reason to push hard for diversity is that promoting diversity means promoting understanding,” journalist and engineer Ipsita Agarwal wrote in a 2016 Medium post. “And that leads to better products that solve problems for those who might’ve otherwise been sidelined.”

Those in power can hire more women into cybersecurity, and also ensure they have female role models or mentorship when they arrive.

They can ensure that both men and women have equal opportunities to rise within the company. They can push recruitment teams to look for candidates in the right places (no, it’s not a “pipeline problem”), foster an inclusive environment and weigh men’s and women’s qualifications equally when considering them for a promotion.

“We need to help break down stereotypes and show young women that the field of cybersecurity is open to them,” Brenda Piazza, director of cybersecurity at CBIZ MHM, LLC, said in an email. “We need more women to enter the field, to demand equal pay and to help other women enter the cybersecurity industry.” 

In this specific instance, hiring more women — women of color, women from the LGBTQ community, women from the trans community — into cybersecurity will not only economically benefit the company itself, but it will lead to products and solutions that better address the privacy issues a larger breadth of consumers face. 

“Without a diverse set of individuals contributing to the industry (be that females, minorities, etc), we simply close the aperture by which we see risk, and that is harmful for everyone,” Gravel said.

Franks agreed: “The more diverse experiences you have in the room, the more likely it is you are going to see problems before they arrive.”

Who better to grasp what vulnerable users might face online than individuals who are disproportionately targeted?

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: