10 Great Smartphone Hacks for Pro Photography

We all know how to click the shutter button on our phones and get a basic shot. But how to take it to the next level?

I get asked the question all the time, and with a new year here, what a great time to up our game, right? Here are 10 of what I think are the most essential hacks to shooting like a pro with your smartphone. Please watch the video above for examples, and below, read on.

Jeff in heaven

Timing

The best photos are taken at early morning and in the last hour of the day, called “magic” or “blue” hour. Check any brochure, magazine, poster or whatever, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The colors of our world are soft and muted in the morning and late day. Take your shots there and you can nap the rest of the day.

Treat camera like a pro

What does that mean? Be nice to your phone? Adorn it with fancy accessories? No. How about using tried and true photography methods on your smartphone to get improved shots. Start with timing, and move on to composition, exposure, how you hold the camera and on and on, and you’ll be a pro using a pro camera.

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Bad weather is great

Overcast skies are what I call “photographer weather,” when faces have nice, even, people pleasing light, without the harsh shadows of the mid-day sun. Wet weather is even better in that it produces great colorful reflections, especially in the morning and evening. Most recent phones are “water resistant,” meaning you can easily shoot in the rain without worry. There’s only one problem—the touchscreen gets unresponsive when wet, and thus, it’s hard to snap the shutter. Which leads to the next hack!

Volume shutter: underwater and burst

The volume up and down buttons on your phone can also snap the shutter for you. So if you’re in the rain, or underwater (check out my episode on doing just that) you can snap the shutter with the volume button and not have to worry about an unresponsive touch screen. Secondly, the iPhone will do double duty by getting you to burst mode. This will stop action and give you a bunch of images to choose from. (On Galaxy phones, you go into the menu to access burst mode.)

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The magazine trick

If you skipped the morning shoot and need to get a good portrait in the mid-day sun (we’ve all been there) I have a great hack for you, the magazine trick. There is usually a real estate listings or a local calendar magazine on most urban areas. Pick one up, and get a buddy to hold the magazine over the subjects head. This will cover the harsh sun and let you see your subject without the raccoon eyes.

Sunsets

When shooting a sunset, how do you make it interesting? Stick something in the foreground. In Pismo Beach, as I showed in the video, we used a cool tree branch. In Manhattan Beach, there’s the Pier or Lifeguard tower. Have a person in there, preferably a silhouette. (Be creative, but remember, nothing’s more boring than a large body of water.

Shoot video and photos at same time

Sometimes subjects move so fast it’s hard to snap a good shot, so when in doubt, run video and know that you’ve picked everything up. Better yet—you can take stills and video at the same time on iPhones. When you’re in video mode, after you’ve pressed record for video, a white shutter button appears at the top of the screen. Hit it with your best snaps and get the best of both worlds.

Edit!

No photo leaves my phone that hasn’t been “developed” in a photo app. My first go-to is the plain vanilla Photos app on the iPhone, which has wonderful tools to darken the skies and boost the colors a bit. (I show how in the accompanying video.) From there. my next level up is the free Adobe Lightroom Mobile app, and there are two key sliders I show off in the video. When I want to go crazy, I reach for the Snapseed app from Google. 

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