How to Take Better Pictures With a Smartphone

While we all use our smartphones to take the odd photo or two, Chad Keyes has been shooting almost exclusively with his iPhone for years:

In this video, Keyes shares how he got started, his inspiration, and the things that he most loves photographing. He even takes us on a short photo tour where he sort of walks-the-talk to show his technique first hand.

Photo of a young woman sitting

Portrait of a Young Woman

Keyes started out as a graphic designer, something that seems to have influenced his photography, as well as his ability to use simple elements and natural light to create strong compositions. He did have some experience in photography while at school. But it was not until he got his first smartphone about two years back, and after he downloaded Instagram, that he got hooked on smartphone photography. Interestingly, he mentions that he did not even use the camera on his smartphone until about three months after he bought it!

Wide shot of a car

Wide Shot of a Car

But when he finally gave it a try, he was sold:

“It changed everything. From that moment on I was like taking pictures all the time with my camera on my phone.”

Getting Hooked On iPhoneography

With Instagram, Keyes realized that he could share his pictures with everyone around the world. From there on the journey began. He acknowledges the fact that his training in graphic design helps him use the small frame of the iPhone and still include all the elements of designing such as color, composition, and communication. He also says that his experience in shooting film encourages him to replicate some of the typical effects that are possible with it: film grain, slow shutter speed, silhouettes, and working in different lighting.

No matter what camera you use you can use the basic rules

No matter what camera you use, you can use the basic rules of photography.

When asked what drives him to create the images that he shares with his followers, Keyes replies,

“I have of course always wanted to put out a quality photo. Anything that I am creating I want it to be associated with something that I care about and that feels quality and that feels good.”

Smartphone Photography Tips

  • Get a vibe for the place. Get an idea of the available light and what’s happening around you, even before you decide to take a shot.
  • Use strong directional elements or strong directional light, if available.
  • Plan your shots, but also take the ones that are ‘accidental’.
  • Ask your subject to pose.
  • Use the background for wider compositions (suitable for iPhones, which have a wider field of view).
Using the background

Use the background.

  • Shoot silhouettes.
  • Use a low-angle, when possible.
  • For steadier shots, use the volume button rather than tapping the shutter button on the screen.
  • Shoot quality photos and share. Don’t think whether others are going to like your photos or hate them.
  • Experiment with smart phone apps. Keyes uses apps such as Camera+, VSCO Cam, Snapz, AfterLight, Cross Process, Hipstamatic
Shooting silhouettes works too!

Shooting silhouettes works, too!

“Shooting on the iPhone is no different. You are dealing with all the same elements, all the same lighting that you would with an SLR.”

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5 responses to “How to Take Better Pictures With a Smartphone”

  1. Debbie says:

    Cant wait until next week. Wish there people like this in Florida to get together and just shoot!! Great video. Thank you

    • Debbie says:

      Mike, I have a Samsung Slll. What better apps are you referring to as third party apps? Is there something similar to the combined meter and focusing app Chad notes he uses? Love to have that app in particular.

  2. Mike Sweeney says:

    I disagree with the idea of using the volume button. Why you might ask? because of the same reason the screen button is not always the best. People tend to push UP and it still moves the camera. A better bet is to use the ear buds and have the volume control of that in one hand so you can “pinch” to shoot. SOme bluetooth headsets work the same way. Most third party camera apps which work better than Apple’s app dont support it anyways. Some apps have a “touch screen” shutter which can work pretty good unless you are like me who wraps their fingers around the camera for gripping. Ultimately for the sharpest image, you need bright light to push the shutter speeds up or use a tripod of some kind which can be anything from a plastic cup upsidedown to mefoto pair of sticks.

    • Debbie says:

      Sorry posted this under my original post.
      Mike, I have a Samsung Slll. What better apps are you referring to as third party apps? Is there something similar to the combined meter and focusing app Chad notes he uses? Love to have that app in particular.

  3. Mike Sweeney says:

    Debbie, Chad and I both are referring to iPhone apps. So far as I know, neither are offered for the android platform. I just got an S5 to test for the next 60 days and I’m shopping around myself for apps for the ‘droid in the house.

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