5 Must-Know Tips For Phone Photos You’ll Love to Share

I love looking at my feed on Instagram. Seriously love it because I follow a lot of amazing people who have gorgeous photos and feeds. Yet, when it comes to posting I’m always hesitant. Hesitant because I’m unsure of my art, my own photos, and if each photo meshes with my style so my feed looks great.

I’ll be the first to admit Instagram is overwhelming with prettiness. The thing is, its quite simple to get to the style and prettiness that you want with some practice and well placed tips. You’ll be whipping out your phone more confidently and excitedly you’ll share what you capture. So, let’s get on with the tips!!

These 5 tiny tips and tricks are examples of the quick tips I offer in my weekly newsletter to my email subscribers. And if you sign up for it, you’ll get 5 more tips along with these 5 in a mini-eBook. Each week I give a quick tip to improve photography or processing so you can quickly and easily implement it.

Click the link below to go ahead and download the full guide on phone photography tips!

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5 Quick Phone Photography Tips

Tiny Tips for your phone photography so you'll love to share your photos

Soft Light

Right now I am practicing with hard light, and it’s difficult to work with but is really dramatic. Not for the faint of heart for sure.

Soft light is easy to manipulate and is easier to work with so you get great looking photos with it. And this is true no matter what type of camera you use – phone, point and shoot, film or dslr.

Let me quickly explain; hard light is when you see a hard line between shadow and highlight. Soft light is a gradual falling away from highlight to shadow with more grey in between.

The image below is an example of hard light. I shot it in my office/playroom. (It’s gonna get real below on the pullback – just preparing you).
I have sheer white curtains in there that cover the windows. You know, the cheap kind from Ikea (gotta love them!). Those curtains are the best diffusers.

hard light on the face

I shot the image above with the curtains open, and you can see the blown highlights on my daughter’s cheek. It’s there because the light wasn’t soft enough, so there’s hard light hitting her. It’s ok, and I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but by simply closing the curtains (2 seconds later – below), I have beautiful soft light. The image below is a soft light image taken with the curtains drawn.

soft light falling on her face

It is much easier to work with soft light and a photo taken in soft light like above doesn’t need much work in post-processing. Soft light makes things quick, easy and pretty. Now for the dirty – ahem – I usually have a much cleaner organized space (right now – it’s organized chaos). I have to show you the pull back with the curtains open and the curtains themselves in question:


Above is the shot of the type of curtains I mean – sheer white cotton (though any type of material as long as it’s thin would work). They don’t have to be anything special. Anything that softens the light works.

Of course this was all a lesson on indoor lighting, but when outdoors for softer light, find open shade! Or if you can’t find it, place the sun behind your subject, even on overcast days. Simple as that.

Think simply – look for soft light!

Turn off the Overheads

I shoot mostly in natural light but of course if I’m shooting at night or in a low light situation, it’s nearly impossible to get natural light and I have to rely on the artificial lights in a room. We all do. But here’s the thing: if you are shooting photos of people, then you’ll want to turn off all the overhead lights and leave any lights that are lower on.

Reason for this? Light coming from the side creates shadows that are nicer on a person’s face than lights coming from below or above. Here’s my examples – both taken within seconds of each other with the same camera and same settings (SOOC):

Shot with the overhead lights on:

a shot with the overhead lights on

If you notice, the lights give her raccoon eyes, making the deep dark circles under and around her eyes more prevalent. The highlights on her nose also emphasize it since it is a bright spot.

Shot with the overhead lights off:

A shot with the overhead lights off

The raccoon eyes are gone and the shadows that fall on her face are more desirable.

Now if you can imagine what you used to do as a kid to scare other kids (or maybe you were the one being scared?) when you turned a flashlight up under your face – that eerie, creepy look it gives your face – that’s what lighting from below does. Not great lighting.

This is true no matter what type of camera or phone you use. I have to remind myself sometimes to turn off the those overhead lights!

Warm Up the Shadows

Not a typical tip, but sometimes when we take a photo, white balance can be all wonky – giving us overly orange photos or deathly blue photos. Many times when I shoot, I find I want to warm up my photo a little even though the white balance might be spot on. To get a warmer look that is subtle, warm up the shadows.

Warming up a photo creates a feeling of literal warmth or happiness. Warming up a photo means using warm colors to create that warmth. The warm colors typically are yellows to reds and you can use those colors in the shadows to subtly create a warmer photo.

You can do this in Lightroom or even in the VSCO app (it’s free!) for your phone photos! I recorded a video for instructions on how to do it in Lightroom and below is a snapshot of what it looks like in VSCO.

VSCO Warm Up

First, choose the drop with the S on it – this tool tints your shadows. You’ll be given choices of colors. Tap on one and you’ll get the color full strength. Tap again to adjust how much color is used. Simple! Each step above is subtle but that is all you want.


If you like to work in Lightroom, then here’s the quick explanation: In the Split Toning panel on the right, click on the color box for shadows then choose your color and adjust the saturation. You can see where I pointed it out above. But if you like a good 3 minute video here you go!

Lightroom Warm Up the Shadows from Kathleen Scott on Vimeo.

Overexpose a Little

No matter what your camera is, including your phone to get a better photo that has the least amount of grain and noise possible, overexpose a little. That is the little pixellated dots that make your photo look off especially on skin and if the photo is underexposed.

On your phone camera if you use a camera app like Camera + then manually set your ISO and shutter speed until the frame looks brighter. Or even more simply place your exposure square on the darkest part of your frame then take the shot!

If you know how to expose on a dslr, then go over by 1/3 to 2/3 stops, making sure you still don’t blow highlights. Or if you spot meter, then choose a darker area of your photo to get a light reading.

Consider Your Vision

I don’t mean your eyesight, instead what you intend to say with your photo.

I titled this one different from what the tip actually is because if your vision comes first, then you’ll create photos closer to what you want. For every photo, you should consider your initial vision and what that means.

The tip I leave you with is to first decide the mood you want to depict for the photo. Do you want a moody, quiet, or contemplative photo? Then, expose for the highlights. If instead, you want a bright, cheery or playful photo then expose for the shadows.

Here’s the difference in what I mean from two photos taken with my phone with no other work done to them.

2 photos showing difference between light and mood

I took the photos within seconds of each other. The only thing I did was move my exposure lock from a place of shadow (bottom right corner of the frame in the first photo) to a place of highlight (the window in the second photo) with a simple tap of my finger on the screen. I got lucky because her expressions in each reflected the mood.

When you expose for the highlights, it tells your camera’s sensor that you want those exposed correctly, not blown. It dims everything else so the brightest parts are a correct exposure.

When you expose for the shadows, it tells your camera’s sensor that you want those exposed correctly, not dark. It brightens up everything else so the darkest parts are a correct exposure.

With a black and white processing you can feel the difference even more.

2nd pair

Summed up! For bright and cheery photos, expose for the shadows (tap your finger on the darkest part of the frame). For moody and somber photos, expose for the highlights (tap your finger on the brightest part of the frame.

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