Smartphone FUN-tography: How to use your phone as a camera

As the old adage goes, “the best camera in the world is the one you have with you!” Fortunately, as optical and technological capabilities of smartphone cameras improve, the tradeoff of quality for convenience grows less and less. Ultimately, whether you make metal prints, slideshows, calendars, or just regular ol’ prints, the important thing is that you, personally, like your results. Here are a few important suggestions and gear recommendations to maximize your phone’s capabilities

First, a few tips—these are free!


After years of interacting with customers as well as working in the lab to make the images look as good as possible, I’ve put together a list of things many people don’t think of which can make a huge difference in their mobile images.

  • Clean your lens! Because it’s usually made unobtrusive by design and it goes everywhere in a pocket or purse, it’s easy to let your phone’s lens get smudgy. Before you shoot, give it a quick check or wipe with a soft cloth.
  • Familiarize yourself with your camera app. It’s very simple to just open the app and click the button, but most camera apps offer a host of other features which will let you get much more satisfactory results with just a few moments of experimentation. At the very least, determine how to tap to focus and how to adjust your exposure value (e.g., on a Samsung or iPhone, slide your finger up or down to go brighter or darker). Many phones also have great panorama modes.
  • On that note, pick the right camera app. The ability to shoot directly into a post (common in various social media apps) can be very handy, but note that they often shoot lower-resolution photos than your phone is capable of. To maximize quality, you’re better off shooting with the fully-fledged camera functionality, then uploading into the social app of your choice.
  • Understand that your phone’s display is not calibrated. Most phones’ screens are bright and highly saturated, so when you print, be prepared for the images to come out a little less vibrant.
  • Use burst mode to nail at least one in-focus picture. Remember that your phone’s sensor is going to have a significantly higher light threshold for maximum performance than a larger sensor would, so the rules for “night photography” are going to kick in sooner.
  • Experiment with angles to make available light work for you. Try hiding especially bright sources of light behind natural obstructions so they don’t completely blow out the image.
  • Take advantage of your phone’s physical features. Waterproofing, volume-button shutter shortcuts, and ease of using accessories like selfie sticks can all work to your benefit. Phones usually have very short macro distances, too, which can help blur the background even on such a tiny sensor. Would you believe the photo at the top was taken on a phone?
  • Use a lock screen shortcut if you can. Being able to go from locked immediately into shooting-ready is a major boon, especially since we often use our phones when we don’t have time to get the “real camera” prepared.

Now, the gear! Let’s start with lenses

The easiest, most dramatic way to immediately expand the abilities of your phone’s camera is to get an auxiliary lens kit, like these:

ProMaster Mobile Les Kit 2.0: 180° fisheye lens, 2x zoom, .65 wide-angle, polarizer, universal mounts, and case.
RØDEGrip+: Tripod mount for iPhone with fisheye, ex zoom, and wide angle/macro lens attachments.
These lenses won’t perform like the manipulated-image ads you may have seen on social media claim (“1000x zoom! Replace your DSLR!”), but they do perform very well within the scope of the laws of physics.


There are many different mounts available to attach your phone to a variety of places. We’ll get into some of those on Tuesday, when we talk about using your phone in conjunction with your dedicated camera, but as far as using your phone as a camera, here are a couple great options to eliminate the dreaded hand-shake from your photos. Note that phones are especially susceptible to body movement, because they rarely have a form factor that allows for a stable grip.

Joby GripTight ONE Micro Stand: The GripTight, a little tiny tripod, is one of my favorites. I leave one screwed into the bottom of my mirrorless camera all the time, and never notice it until I need it. This kit comes with a universal grip for smartphones, which will allow you to mount your phone on anything with a standard 1/4″ mount as well as the carry-everywhere GripTight! Multiple sizes available as well.
Joby GorillaPod Stand For Smartphones: If you have a little more room to spare in exchange for much greater adaptability, the GorillaPod made for smartphones will let you mount your phone from anything around which you can wrap its arms. The GorillaPod is many-segmented for maximum flexibility and each segment has a rubberized ring to safely grip the tree/pole/whatever you may have found. This kit includes the same universal phone mount for 1/4″ tripod screws.

Video stabilization

The little tripods mentioned above work wonderfully for still photos, and in a pinch something like the GorillaPod could be used as a sort of pistol grip to slightly smooth out your motion, but if you want really smooth video, greater stabilization is needed. Manufacturers recognize that people want to be able to create great, instantly-shareable video content on their phones, and the selection of stabilizers continues to increase. Check these out!

Glide Gear Stabilizer: First off, a simple weight-based stabilizer. No batteries to charge, nothing to calibrate, just simple physics. A great entry-level solution.
ProMaster Axis: Dust and light-splash-proof with a rechargeable batter that works as a mobile charger as well, the Axis is a capable, affordable entry into motorized stabilization. Read more here. Psst: a little birdie told me these are on sale right now (mid-June 2018). Hurry and you might snag a deal!
Zhiyun-Tech Smooth Q: A relative newcomer on the market, the Smooth Q is a very capable motorized stabilizer for smartphones with comfortable controls on the handle.
DJI Osmo Mobile: The luxury gimbal, this motorized stabilizer includes high-end features like motion timelapse.
Dot Line Corp. Pico Dolly: This unique little kit allows you to wheel your smartphone (or even compact mirrorless camera) rather than handhold, for maximum steadiness. A motion tripod, if you will!
One more note: Don’t forget that your phone microphone is probably not going to be great. Upgrade your microphone for best results!

Hey, buddy, got a light?

Photography is, of course, a game we play with light. Stack the deck in your favor with a small, portable way to add light to dim scenes when you’re shooting mobilely. I would NOT recommend using your phone’s built in flash. Those little LEDs are very useful as carry-everywhere flashlights and for photos whose function matters more than form, but if you’re at all interested in the aesthetic outcome of your shots, the blown-out subject with immediate fall-off into darkness behind is unlikely to satisfy.

ProMaster Mobile Rechargeable LED: This USB-rechargeable LED array is much more powerful than any built into a phone and mounts into a standard 3.5mm audio jack, if your phone has one of those.
Similarly, the ProMaster Bright Mount is a rechargeable light built into a grippy mount for smartphones. This can also be used as an adapter for the standard 1/4″ tripod screw, and includes a little tabletop tripod to boot!
The LitraTorch is a precision-machined rechargeable light that provides up to 800 lumens of light with a face only 1.5″ square. Combined with a smartphone mount and filter set, you couldn’t get more creative lighting options into a smaller package!

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