February 15, 2021
Phone Photography for Social Media: How to Take Photos Like a Pro
A few simple tricks will go a long way to make your photos get lots of likes.

Woman takes photo of her dog using phone photography for social media

Using your phone to take photos for social media can be a tricky business — even though phone cameras have gotten better and better, it’s still easy to take bad photos.

Luckily there are some super simple ways you can boost your skills to take your photos up a notch.

Ready? Here are my favorite secrets to killer phone photography for social media!

Wipe Your Lens!

I know you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, duh.” But not doing this is probably the #1 mistake people make when taking photos with their phones.

If you’ve ever taken pictures only to look back on them later and notice weird halos and blurry distortion around your subjects, it’s probably because your lens wasn’t clean.

Your hands are constantly touching your phone throughout the day, leaving fingerprints and smudge marks all over it. A smudgy lens means smudgy pictures, so do yourself a favor and make it a habit to do a quick lens wipe before you start snapping!

You can use fancy lens cleaners, but honestly… I just use a corner of whatever soft, clean cloth is within closest reach.

Look for the Light

portrait of a cat in a sunny room to show how to use phone photography for social mediaThe best kind of light is natural light, so use that whenever possible. Preferably, you want an overcast day instead of bright sunlight for the best pictures.

If indoors, turn off any artificial light sources and open your blinds to let the light in. If it’s a super sunny day (you may notice your photos have a yellow or red hue), you can use curtains to help filter the sunlight.

The most important tip: Don’t put your subject directly in front of the light source (in this case, your window). Doing so will cast the subject into shadows.

If you’re shooting near a window, have the window to the side or front of what you’re shooting (just keep an eye on your shadows to make sure you’re not blocking the light yourself!).

Learn Your Camera’s Features

Every smart phone these days has tons of features you can use to optimize your photos. I’ll speak specifically to the iPhone 8 since that’s what I have, but it’s likely your phone has similar options:

Portrait mode

If you’re an iPhone user, you’re probably familiar with their long-touted portrait mode. This creates depth on your subjects by finding a specific object to focus on and blurring everything else, so you’ll want to make sure the subject of your photo is clearly framed. It usually works best by having some physical depth between your subject and the background (ie. holding a book a few inches in front of the wall behind it), but you can get away with putting your subject directly on the background surface if your lighting is good.

A few notes with portrait mode:

  • It works best with really good light, and you’ll know it’s working because the box that says “Natural Light” at the bottom of the screen will turn yellow. If it’s not yellow, you can snap away as much as you want but it won’t capture the photos in portrait mode. If you’re working with okay to not great light, I’d recommend just sticking with regular photo mode. Otherwise your portraits may come out looking grainy.
  • They may have improved this with newer phones, but mine has trouble sometimes figuring out where the edges of the subject are — Especially when photographing objects that have words or images on them (art, books, etc.). Take a look at your photos right after taking them to make sure parts of the subject aren’t blurred out; it’s tragic to call it a day on a photo shoot only to look at the photos later and realize they’re all blurry!

Focus

With the iPhone, you can tap on the part of the image you want to focus on. This will help keep your subjects from blurring and also tell the camera where to focus on the light! If your subject looks dark, try tapping on different parts of the screen to change up the light.

Exposure

You can also trick your iPhone into lightening photos while you’re taking them. With the camera open, tap on the screen and you’ll see a yellow square with a sun next to it. Hold down the sun and it turns into a slider — Slide up for more light, slide down for less.

Personally, I prefer to take photos in whatever light they’re in and edit that part later. But I’ll get to that in the next section!

portrait of a cat in a sunny room to show how to use the rule of thirds for phone photography for social media

Technically, this cat’s body is dead-center on the photo. But as we know, our eyes gravitate towards faces in photos — And his face is lined up with the grid!

Grid

On iPhone, you can go into your phone settings and click on the camera settings. There you’ll see an option to enable the grid, which will create a checkerboard of white lines across your camera screen.

If you’re not sure why this would be helpful, you might want to read up on the “rule of thirds,” which I wrote about briefly in my guidelines for better website photos. The rule of thirds is a guideline for framing your photos: Break up the image you’re framing into nine equal squares. Then, center the points of interest along those lines or the intersections of those lines.

Doing this creates visual interest and energy in your photos, as opposed to photos where you have your subject dead-center, which can be a little stiff, expected, or even boring.

Post-Production is Key

It’s a common joke among visual artists/creators when they can’t get something to work the way they want to that they’ll just “fix it in post-production,” which used to mean dumping the burden of fixing photos or videos on the editors.

These days, you can be your own production and post-production department thanks to a plethora of photo editing software options (which could be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it).

You’re probably familiar with Photoshop or Canva, but there are plenty of apps available to edit photos right on your phone. One I love — that’s totally free! — is A Color Story, from the A Beautiful Mess bloggers, who are known for some of the prettiest images around the internet.

While nothing beats good lighting and framing, a great editor can take any photo and make it pop. Sometimes even the best photographed images need a little tune-up in post.

There are hundreds of filters you can browse through in the app, but I usually go right into the hands-on editor and fiddle with the settings until the photo looks the way I want it to. With enough adjusting, you can even take a photo with bad lighting or framing and make it look good!

Take Lots of Photos

This advice is twofold:

  • The more you practice, the better you’ll get. But be smart with your time by reading up on best practices for taking photos (here are some general photography tips).
  • Having more photos gives you more options. Of course, this can be a setback when you have a zillion photos to choose from or edit, so again, be smart with your strategy by trying different angles or poses. Don’t take a whole bunch of photos without moving anything around — most people are viewing social media photos on their phones, which means the images will be small! If a couple of details aren’t perfect, it’s not likely they’ll notice.

Lastly, try to have fun with it! Yeah, managing social media for your business is technically work, but it’s a creative side of your business you might not get to engage in regularly. And the more fun you’re having, the more it’ll come through in your images!

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