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Picture Perfect

9 tips for taking great summer photos with your smartphone

You probably haven’t snapped the shutter on an honest-to-goodness camera in some time. Why bother when that smartphone in your pocket can capture sharp images and let you post them right to Facebook? But mastering phone photography can be a challenge without the tactile benefits of buttons and dials. With summer coming up, we asked professional photographers for their best tips.

1. Avoid the zoom

It just crops and enlarges the image, diminishing the quality, says tech writer Jefferson Graham, the author of Video Nation and a journalist for USA Today. Graham says you’re better off moving closer to the subject: “Your best zoom is your feet.” 

2. Turn your phone horizontally 

Though we’re used to holding our phones vertically, the landscape orientation often creates more appealing photos. 

3. Clean your lens 

This is easy to overlook because the lens is so small, but it’s probably pretty grimy after all the time your phone spends in your pocket or purse. Use a soft material like a lens cloth to wipe the surface before taking a photo.

Summer Photos

Seiji Ezawa/Getty Images

Ansel Adams would be envious of this lovely picture.

4. Use the HDR feature 

HDR (high dynamic range) balances out the tonality of a photo when there are varying degrees of light and shadow. Milwaukee photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki says he uses it for every photo he takes. To activate it, tap the HDR option and select the “on” setting.

5. Try ‘lock focus’ 

This is available on the iPhone and many Android phones. Tap and briefly hold your subject’s image on the screen, and the focus and exposure will adjust to fit the subject.

6. Vary your angle 

Try crouching down and shooting upward, or shooting from above, for a more interesting effect. Take lots of shots. Professionals shoot the same image dozens of times to get the one great take. Do the same, and delete the runners-up.

Summer Photos


Take a swing at sports photography.

7. Experiment with black and white

Some photos may look better that way. On an Android phone, one way to do this is to use Google Photos: Download the app, tap on the photo you want edited, tap the editing icon (the pencil) and choose one of the filters. With the iPhone, tap the photos app, tap the photo you want edited, tap “edit” (in the corner), tap the icon with three overlapping circles and choose a filter. 

8. Know the ‘magic hours’

The best times of day for outdoor photography are just after sunrise and nearing dusk. The worst is when bright sun is overhead, creating unflattering shadows. Professional photographers love an overcast day, when the light is even and soft.

9. Keep the phone steady 

If you’ve got shaky hands, consider carrying a pocket tripod on which you can rest the phone while shooting. This is useful, too, if you want to set the timer for a selfie or group shot.

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