Yellow Brick Home has over 11 years of archives, so from time to time, we’ll be sharing our favorites from posts past. This tutorial was originally published in October 2019. Enjoy!
By far, the most requested photography topic I receive is all about the smartphone – how to use it, how to edit, and are there any shortcuts I should know about? This makes sense; many of us are toting around a high quality camera in the palm of our hands at all times! So today, I’m going to jump right in to my simple tips and tricks for taking awesome photos with that powerful tool, whether you’re looking to brush up on your skills to capture The Perfect Shot of your child, cat or self(ie).
Most Requested Topics: 6 Things You Can Do for Better Interior Photos | The ABCs of Using Your DSLR | A Look Inside My Camera Bag | Reader Q + A
Tip 1| Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens!
Imagine me saying (shouting?) the above in the same manner that Phoebe asks Judy to pick up the sock. Guys, I mean it! It’s a seemingly insignificant task that will elevate any photo you take to the next level. I use nothing more than the underside of my t-shirt; all it takes is a 3 second wipe, and you’ll be light years ahead of most. Note: Don’t neglect the front lens if you’re going for a selfie!
Tip 2| Get down to their level
Second only to wiping the lens is getting down to the same level as your subject. Remember how I suggested that you shoot just above hip-height when shooting interiors? Just as shooting ‘down’ on your sofa will dwarf the scale, you should expect those same less-than-stellar results with tiny humans and pets! By getting down to their level – taking a knee or sitting on the ground – you’re able to better capture their larger-than-life personality. Unless you’re looking to creatively push the boundaries of scale (which is totally valid!), you’ll notice how this small step will drastically change the look and feel of your final photo. Here are two very different examples:
Tip 3| Try shooting a short video for the perfect ‘still’
Do you have a wiggly subject (aka: a toddler on the run or an excitable pup)? Try shooting a short video! While the video is paused, use your finger to slowly track the perfect single moment you were hoping for. Once you have it, tap your screen lightly, and the ‘play’ symbol will disappear. Take a screenshot of your winning image! Note: The file size of your screenshot won’t be up to snuff for prints, but it’ll do the trick for sharing through texts with grandparents, social media and your phone wallpaper!
Tip 4| Take advantage of the features available to you
Smartphones are seriously, well, smart! So take advantage of the features available to you to frame up the best photo through the lens of your phone. Here are some of my favorite shortcuts to achieving share-worthy images with an iPhone:
- Focus and exposure control: Tap on the part of the image that you’d like in focus, and you may notice a small box with a sunshine symbol appear. With your finger still pressed to the screen, scroll up to increase the image brightness or down to decrease it.
- Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds is a fancy way of saying that the subject of your photo is off to the side of a photo (i.e., not centered). It’s a pleasing and more interesting way to compose a photo, and the camera app can easily guide you through this! Go to Settings > Camera > Grid, and turn on the Grid function. Now when you take a photo, you’ll notice a grid on the screen. Ensure that the subject of your photo intersects with the lines on the grid, and snap!
- Portrait mode: iPhone’s portrait mode creates a soft bokeh effect behind the subject by opening up the f-stop automatically. (More about f-stop and bokeh in this post.) But did you know that you can adjust the depth of field even after the photo has been taken? Try tapping the Edit button on the next portrait you take, and play around with the depth of field by opening and closing the f-stop. You’ll notice that the smaller the f-stop number, the softer (or more shallow) the depth of field is. The larger the f-stop number, the more in focus (or larger) the depth of field is. Give it a go!
Tip 5| Save to favorites and delete the rest
Yes, really. Surely you’ve taken 10 photos to get the 1 photo you really want, so save that 1 photo to your favorites and delete the rest. I talked about why I do this here, but get into the habit of doing this for your sanity. A reader suggested using the Flic app to make this process painless, and I am a fan! I loved it enough to upgrade to the pro version, which allows me to save photos from my camera roll into my favorites directly through the app:
While this app/tip doesn’t directly enhance the photos you take, it does make cultivating a beautiful camera roll a painless process. Because who likes to spend 15 minutes scrolling through their roll to find that 1 good photo you took that one time? (No one. Seriously, no one.)
My favorite smartphone apps for editing
I consider editing to be the final step for an awesome photo – so much so, that I don’t think I’ve even texted a Lucy photo to one of the grandmas without running it through an app first! That said, there are a lot of photo editing apps for your phone, and I have tried at least half of them. However, there’s a small handful that I return to over and over again, and they are:
Lightroom | Photo App
As a photographer, Lightroom is my favorite photo editing app on my phone. (Click here for Android.) Lightroom presets allow one-tap photo editing, although I always tweak the image after the tap – usually to turn down the exposure or adjust saturation levels. Presets are like photo filters, but you have more control over each and ever level in a preset. You can make your own presets, or you can purchase them! My favorite presets to use are from Gigi Lennon and Studio Mcgee.
If you’re a photo geek like me, you probably already have this app on your phone! If not, I’m here to assure you that you can learn this app, and in the process, you’ll pick up photography lingo as an added bonus. And yes, it’s free, even if you don’t have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription!
A Color Story | Photo + Video App
I use A Color Story on my phone for the awesome assortment of filter collections. There’s also a desktop version, although I’ve never used it, so I can’t speak directly to that. After pulling a photo into the app, the first thing I do is go to Tools and adjust my curves, temperature and tint. From there, I run through a handful of my favorite filters, and I adjust the strength of each filter to my liking. I almost never, ever run a filter at full strength! Here’s a quick screen recording I put together of a photo of Lucy in the park:
Most of my favorite filters are from the Essentials pack, which is a freebie that comes with the app, but I also enjoy the Organic and Fawn packs, too. My go-to filters within those packs are Lite Bright, Ice Ice, Hot Toddy (all from the Essentials pack), Comfort and Hazy (from the Organic pack), and Cashmere, Tweed, Silk (from the Fawn pack).
TouchRetouch | Photo App
When I’m happy with my final color edits and corrections, sometimes I’ll follow up with the TouchRetouch app. I use this mainly to remove dirt or unsightly objects from the background (such as a fire hydrant or rogue piece of litter), and then I save the original with the retouched version. In the photo below, I touched out specks of black gum on the concrete (blech!).
If you’re familiar with Photoshop, this app will come naturally to you. If you’re not, there may be a slight learning curve, but the app does a great job of making it fairly intuitive.
InShot | Video App
I enjoy using InShot to create mini videos for our Instagram Stories! It’s the app that I used to document our Minneapolis trip, and I received so. many. questions. It was recommended to me by my girl Ashley at The Gold Hive (who is a video wizard, seriously), so I knew it’d be good – and it didn’t disappoint. InShot has really fun graphics to overlay, which is one of my favorite features.
Here’s an example of a video I made using Inshot. Sound on to hear how I utilized the microphone feature!
Filmm | Video App
The Filmm app is a video editing app brought to us by the same team that created A Color Story! I use InShot more for personal videos, but I tend to use Filmm when created content for sponsors. The reason for this is their music selection! Filmm has several free songs you can overlay, or you can upgrade to a paid plan and have access to a pretty great list of background tracks. There are a lot more filters to choose from than InShot, but both apps allow you to adjust the levels of filters, add text, effects and more. It’s really a lot of fun to play around with!
Here’s an example of a video I made using the Filmm app. Sound on to hear one of the available tracks, ‘Keep Warm.’
Here’s how I use Filmm and InShot to create slice of life videos, in a nutshell: I take little 10-15 second videos throughout the course of our day. At the end of the day, I pull those snippets into a new video draft and trim down the length of each clip within the app. Both Filmm and InShot also have some really great filters built right in, and you can apply them to each individual clip or to the entire length of the video, which I really like! After exporting the video, I upload it to my Instagram Stories and add music from within Instagram. I did this to avoid copyright issues, but if you’re using these apps to create your own personal family videos, you can add your own music from within Filmm or InShot before exporting!
So, In Conclusion…
… Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens. Wipe the lens! Only then should you get to your subject’s level, snap away, delete the junk and filter your favorite snap through a photo editing app on your smartphone. When it really comes down to it, we’re whipping out our phones to create a memory, a tangible moment that we can look back on.
Happy phone shooting!
Thanks Kim, great tips (I never think to wipe the lens!) I’ve been using A Color Story for a while but didn’t realise you could set multiple points on the curve (*embarrassed emoji*). Also InShot looks great, I’ve really enjoyed the little movies you’ve been sharing on Insta. I’m trying it out on Android now. Thanks & happy clicking!
Aw, yay! And GIRL. Wipe that lens, lol! xx
Me too! I’ve just been using the Color Story preset filters– holy moly, that curve feature is a game-changer! Kim, thank you for taking the time to compile such helpful tips– I feel like a pro with my iphone now!
These are all great tips! I usually use the Lightroom app (and desktop) since it’s what I know, but I’ll have to check out A Color Story as well.
This may be a silly question, but if you have a long video that you upload to Instagram, and you add music to the first clip, does it automatically trim the music to seamlessly fit the other clips?
Not a silly question – I’ve been trying to find a way around this for ages, haha! The short answer? No. Not that I know of. I have to add the music to each 15 second clip, and move it to the position in the song where it seamlessly flows from one clip to the next. It’s frustrating, BUT if I were to put music on top of the clip first and then add it to Instagram, it would get flagged for copyright.
This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! Thanks for the great tips and app recommendations.
Thanks so much for these helpful tips! I definitely don’t use my phone to the best of its ability for photos – and wow the before and after from the color story video was impressive! I’ll definitely start using that app! Thanks again! =)
Happy to help!
I love using the lightroom app but want to try the inshot for videos! I also love the apple live feature and getting the perfect picture from that short video.
I can never get my photo still to look good from the Apple live feature. Is there a trick to this?!
Thanks Kim – I’ve just installed InShot and had a quick play around…I love it!
Yay, happy to hear it!
This was extremely helpful! I’m excited to have learned some tips I can use right away! Thank you for writing this post!
How do you play around with the f stop after taking a picture in portrait mode? I can’t figure it out after hitting the edit button!
I just found out that the ‘edit’ feature is only available on iPhone XS or later! What model phone do you have? But if you can see the edit button, all you have to do is scroll the f-stop to the right or left, and you’ll see the depth of field change instantly.
a few days ago I tried a mobile app for photo retouching. Is it available on an android phone? Maybe this will help me, thanks for the video tutorial tips.