Tips For Improving Your Smartphone Photography

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Tips For Improving Your Smartphone Photography from influential photographer and Instagrammer Dan Rubin

Put your hands up if you love taking photos with your smartphone *raises hand really high*. Now keep your hand up if you would love some tips for improving your smartphone photography, from influential photographer and Instagrammer, Dan Rubin – I’ll wait here while you go and check his Instagram feed out… *whispers* it’s a pretty awesome feed isn’t it? And the photos are ALL taken on a smartphone!

Well, I was invited to attend a smartphone photography workshop recently with Dan, and I walked away with lots of tips, and even more of a love for taking photos with my iPhone6 (my current smartphone), which I’m sharing with you today!

The masterclass was held at Hotel Indigo, IHG’s boutique hotel brand, that has partnered with the prestigious World Photography Organisation and Dan to run a series of intimate smartphone photography masterclasses in the UK. I was invited to this smartphone photography masterclass, but was under no obligation to write about it. I chose to do so as the information I learned was fab!


It is commonplace these days to whip your phone from your pocket and start snapping away – your kids, your family, your friends, a selfie, the food you’re about to eat, a pretty flower, a glorious vista, or to document where you are in the world when travelling… then share those photographs with your friends on social media, like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

I remember when I first joined Instagram (follow me, I’m @MsPurplePumpkin). It was June 2011 and I had not long bought my first smartphone – an iPhone4; here is the very first photograph I shared on Instagram. It was of the light in our bedroom. Not very inspiring but it’s my first, and it’s special! As I scrolled through 3.5K+ photos to get to number 1, I was reminded of times and places and people and things that are but a distant memory, but looking at each photo, I remember them all. And that’s what I love about photography in general – that moment that is captured in time, to preserve for evermore.

I can see how my style has changed, how my smartphone photography has improved, and love that the majority (99% I’d say) of the my photos on Instagram were and are taking with my iPhone, and they will continue to be so. I never understand why bother to take photos with a regular camera, or DSLR and then put them on Instagram… but that’s just me. I feel that the beauty is the instant nature of the app, and what can be achieved with “just a phone”! If I’m going out with a purpose – for a day out, or on holiday, I will always have my bridge camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200) with me, but if I don’t bring it, or I forget, I can always take photographs with my phone. In fact, the photos of our first holiday to Walt Disney World in 2011, were predominantly taken with my iPhone4 (and shared on Instagram along the way!)

Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom, 2011 A photo posted by MsPurplePumpkin (@mspurplepumpkin) on

There can be a lot of snobbery around photography – this camera is better than that; what makes a good photo, post-processing is cheating/not real; the rules of photography, that smartphone photography isn’t real photography. (The same conversation came about when Leica brought out the 35mm in the 1950s.)

My opinion always has been: “The best camera is the one that is in your hand.” And I will always stand by that! What good is your expensive camera sitting at home, when you see that amazing thing that you can’t take a “real photo of” because all you have is your phone?

Dan said that “smartphone photography is just using a different camera”, and that photography really hasn’t changed much since its inception in the 1830s. Photography literally means drawing with light – without light, you can’t take photos. And his word on the use of modern filters with apps? “A regular analogue film is just a filter – it just depends on which film type you choose when loading the camera.

Dan loves travel photography, and exploring the neighbourhood which he finds himself in. He says that “the original image is not the final image”, and he shared some of his favourite apps:

I’m going to throw in my favourite iPhone app, that I’ve been using since 2011: Camera+. I’ve tried lots of others, but this is the one I come back to time and time again. But I’ve downloaded Dan’s suggestions and enjoying seeing the different effects I can get. A lot of my iPhone photos end up with several different edits!

(FYI, even old school photographers processed their images in a dark room with chemicals, dodging and burning areas, and adjusting the final outcome – the same as digital post-processing.)

Project 365 2015 - Day 75

Tips For Improving Your Smartphone Photography

Here are Dan Rubin’s top tips for the perfect smartphone shot (click the infographic to enlarge it):

How to capture stunning photographs with your smartphone!HDR and when you should use it: HDR (High Dynamic Range) is an attempt to mimic the full range of what our eyes see by capturing multiple exposures then merging them together to create a single image. HRD works most effectively when a scene has a lot of contrast. For example, a street with a bright sky peeping over the top of buildings.

Shooting: focus and exposure: Tapping the screen will set the focus on most smartphones, but it also sets the exposure. Tapping on a bright area of the image will expose for that area, making the rest of the image darker, and vice versa. Making sure you have an even exposure in the original image will give you the most room to adjust the image once you start the editing process.

Shooting: street scenes & motion/portraits: To capture life as it happens I’d recommend using the “Burst Mode” which is a feature on most smart phones. Shooting this mode is easy: It’s similar to shooting video, as you point the camera at your subject, and record a series of frames. Practicing with this approach to street photography and other forms of movement will give you a good idea of how and when to use it.

Basic editing: I’d recommend using an app to make the editing process simple and easy! The following apps are two of my favourites – both free and available from iOS and Android: Snapseed and VSCO Cam.

Sharing your images on Instagram: It’s a simple process from VSCO Cam. I’d recommend cropping the image to square first, then select the export menu item and choose “Instagram” which automatically opens the image in Instagram.

It’ll always be called Big Ben to me!!! #london #tourist #bigben #westminster

A photo posted by MsPurplePumpkin (@mspurplepumpkin) on

I scribbled down lots of notes as I listened to Dan speak about smartphone photography, and something he said really resonated with me, because I feel exactly the same these days! “With smartphone photography, you see more all the time, all the exceptional, in their own way, you have to like what you’re shooting to keep doing it” And since I started taking photography a bit more “seriously” back at the start of 2011, with the first year of my Project 365, I am the same. Everywhere I go, every walk I take, every drive I go for, I see things – pretty, interesting, unusual, different; and want to stop, photograph and share them! As part of the masterclass, we were all sent off around the hotel and outside (if we wanted to – dodging the rain!) to take five photographs, and edit them any way we wanted to.

Here are some other tips Dan shared…

  • Pay attention to composition.
  • Be aware of the light – over and under exposure can be hard to fix – get the best possible light you can (remember, you’re drawing with light!)
  • There are no rules!
  • Shoot what is pleasant to you.
  • Think before you shoot, tap the screen to see light and dark.
  • Your first 10K photos are your worst – you can only get better with practise!
  • Favourite the ones you want to work on when you come to editing them.
  • Clean up the original – straighten, tidy up, sharpen, spot repair etc, before applying filters and effects.
  • Play with apps to see what they do.
  • A long tap is usually a before and after in most apps.

I ended up having to leave before the the class was finished (it overran) because my cab was waiting. And I’m gutted I didn’t get a chance to ‘show teacher’ and have a chat about smartphone photography, so here are those photos that I took – the before an the after. And just like me, I take more than was asked!! I’ve also been going through my photo archives on my blog and tagging all of my smartphone photographs. You check out my iPhoneography on by blog, or follow me on Instagram to see them all!

Hotel Indigo also had a smartphone photography competition – this was my entry.

My entry into the @hotelindigo My #Neighbourhood competition A photo posted by MsPurplePumpkin (@mspurplepumpkin) on


I hope you will be able to put Dan’s smartphone photography tips into practise and see your photos improve!

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