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Easy Tips for Taking Awesome Smartphone Photos

A woman takes a photo of a Christmas tree with her iPhone

If you always yearn for great photos to commemorate your family’s milestones, keep reading. We’ve got easy tips for taking awesome smartphone photos this holiday season.

I like to think I have a pretty good eye for taking photos. It’s probably the result of spending my career working in magazines, which often means working with art directors and photographers. But just because I have a decent eye doesn’t mean I can always get the snap. In fact, so many times I take what I think is going to be the perfect shot only for it to fall flat in execution.

With the holiday season approaching, I decided to take matters into my own hands and take a free smartphone photography course in my community (check your local libraries and community centres—they might have similar offerings!). I was blown away by what I learned about the capability of my phone’s camera. I knew the basics, but once you really spend time learning about the features, your smartphone can rival some DSLRs. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few of the pointers I picked up, as well as tips for taking awesome smartphone photos from Montreal photographer Karolina Jez, in order to help you capture your holiday memories better than ever this year.

First things first: Research your phone make and model

I feel like most of us chose a brand years ago and we’ve stuck with it ever since. I’m an iPhone girl. I’m not someone who has to have the latest and greatest model, but I do upgrade every few years. This was one of those years, so I was working with an iPhone 15 in the course. The instructor had one-pagers for some of the more common phone brands, which was super helpful, but if you’re doing your own research, a quick Google search will definitely unearth product specs, YouTube tutorials, phone photography influencers and more. (Hot tip for other iPhone disciples: The best thing I learned was that I no longer have to be in portrait mode in order to take a portrait-style shot; you can now apply portrait mode after the fact to a standard mode photo on iPhone. Game-changer for me, who constantly takes a picture and goes, “Dammit! I meant to be in portrait mode!”)

Perspective is everything

Your teenager definitely knows this to be true. When taking a picture, use all the space available to you to get different angles. “Move closer, shoot from below, try different ways to capture the same image,” says Jez. For example, if you’re trying to take a pic of your child opening a gift on Christmas morning, try one from above where you see (and snap!) what’s inside the gift at the exact moment they do. You can also try lying on the floor on your belly and taking one on their level, or using a different focal length (most smartphones have this capability) to get a more unique shot.

Look for the light

Everyone knows about golden hour (the hours after sunrise and before sunset), but you can find  (or make!) lovely light all day long. Natural light is usually preferred, so if you’re indoors, open the blinds and let as much in as you can. If it’s too bright, you can always partially close curtains. If you want soft, cozy lighting, fairy lights and candles can go a long way.

Tips for Taking Awesome Smartphone Photos

Try continuous shooting mode 

This is called burst mode on a iPhone, but other brands have similar options. This allows you to take a bunch of pictures in quick succession, so you have many stills in the same sequence to choose from. Try this when you’re watching your child do something exciting or surprising—you’ll be able to capture the moment they register what’s going on, and the joy on their face. “This feature is my best friend on a shoot, because I can capture photos full of movement, like jumping and dancing. It can be challenging to press the shutter at the exact moment you need it,” says Jez.

Don’t be afraid to play with exposure

I have spent so much time experimenting with exposure since the instructor pointed out where to find it on my phone. This is essentially the amount of light that reach’s your phone camera’s sensor. (If you’ve ever taken a photo that was too light or too dark, you can blame the exposure setting.) “I love playing around with exposure to make bright, textured outfits really pop,” says Jez. Most phones have a default exposure setting, but if you adjust it manually, the results can be really fun.

Don’t make anyone pose or “say cheese”

Okay, this one isn’t a hard and fast rule. If you want to take more formal family shots, where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling, go for it. But in my experience, the best shots are the ones you capture when people aren’t looking, or when you take a quick snap without giving someone time to set up and arrange their smile. The real, authentic photographs tend to be the ones we cherish, so focus on capturing moments instead of perfect smiles.

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