3 Tips for Taking Better Camera Phone Pics

Taking great photos doesn’t require a lot of special equipment. In fact, chances are you already own a pretty amazing digital camera — your smartphone! Some of my best images have been taken with my cell phone, without any fancy add-ons or attachments. 

Here are my top three tips for taking stunning photos with your cell phone:

  1. Turn on gridlines – Composition is often the difference between a good photo and a great one. One of the easiest ways to improve your composition is to use the gridlines in your phone’s camera app. The points where the gridlines intersect correspond with where the viewer’s eye will be drawn. Having those points visible when taking a photo will help you frame your best shot on the spot and cut down on editing time later.
Taken with a Google Pixel 3a
  1. Resist using the built-in zoom – The built-in zoom feature in your mobile phone camera app operates differently than zooming in with a film or DSLR camera. Your mobile phone uses digital zoom, while a film camera or DSLR camera uses optical zoom. Digital zooming often results in grainy, pixelated or blurry photos. Try stepping closer to your subject instead of tapping on the zoom button. You can and should use the “tap to focus” feature in your camera app, though! It will help make sure your phone’s lens is focused on what you’ve chosed as your subject.
  1. Experiment – One of the best ways to create amazing shots is to experiment with the features in your phone’s camera app. These features include different lighting effects and modes, such as portrait or nighttime modes. Play with these settings and use them in unexpected ways. For example, the portrait mode on my phone’s camera is intended to be used primarily when taking photos of people or pets, because it softens the background and highlights the subject. However, I’ve found that it works great for landscape photography, creating a soft zoom effect that can’t be easily achieved in other modes or with editing. Similarly, night mode can be used at other times of day to create cool effects.

I hope you find these tips useful. Let me know if you try any of them, or if you’ve discovered any cameraphone tricks of your own!

The Great Outdoors

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

I have a confession to make: I’m not really an outdoorsy person. Odd, I know, considering I’m a landscape photographer. But, up until I started taking nature photos in 2019, I was much more comfortable in the cozy, temperature-controlled indoors. I’d take occasional walks with my family and friends, and enjoy a few beach days here and there. However, if given the choice between spending time inside or outdoors, I could always find a reason to stay inside. 

In the summer, it’s too hot out there, I’d say. Alternatively, in the winter, my excuse was “I don’t own a coat.” The fall months always seemed too busy, while spring was written off as too pollen-y.

Over the last few years, I’ve realized how much I was missing out on by staying inside. The beauty of sunrises and sunsets are the most obvious things I wasn’t experiencing regularly. I was also missing out on endlessly interesting cloud formations. On butterflies dancing among wildflowers. On how a great blue heron presides over different spots at a local lake. On the way their unique bark patterns make each tree seem like it has its own personality.

Learning to love and enjoy time outside and in nature has been one of the greatest rewards of becoming a landscape photographer. I’ve replaced my excuses with photos of thousands of these wonderful moments — so many that a quick scroll through my phone would make you wonder if I actually live in a forest.

What has been the most unexpected reward for you as an artist?

Adventures of a Soccer Mom

In addition to being Flash Mama, I am a soccer mom. Watching my daughter play goalie is one of my favorite things to do.

As much as I relish seeing her on the field, long practices, half-time breaks in the action, and odd windows of time between games also mean there are long stretches with nothing to do.

Shortly after rediscovering my passion for photography, I began filling this downtime with taking pictures. Whether it be oddly shaped trees in the parking lot, flowers along the field, or the field lights at nighttime games, I enjoy challenging myself to find something interesting to photograph.

This image was taken during halftime on a shadeless turf field located in an industrial park. With no trees, flowers, or vegetation of any kind, I was struggling to find anything interesting to photograph. I looked up to see if there were any clouds in the sky (there weren’t). But, then I saw an airplane flying pretty low overhead. 

It turned out that we were near the airport. Soon, several planes started to fly by. I managed to capture this image of one of the planes appearing to soar above the sun. 

With a pretty inexpensive zoom lens, harsh sunlight and no tripod, the image isn’t perfect. Still, it reminds me that sometimes you can create something lovely out of less than ideal circumstances!

Sunday Scene: Falling for photography

This autumn sunset scene is one of my all-time favorite landscape shots. I captured this image at a local lake that I visit at least once a week to capture a sunrise or sunset.

There are many shots I’ve taken at this location over the years that are better technically than this one. Even so, there are so many reasons why I will always love it. 

For starters, I took it during my first autumn as a landscape photographer. I’ve grown a lot as a photographer since then, and this is one of the few from those early days that doesn’t make me cringe.

I also love it because it was a throw-away shot. Like Hail Mary shots in basketball, throw-aways are what I call the last image you take out of desperation when nothing else seems to be working. In this case, I had packed up my “real” camera and was starting to walk away. I happened to glance over my shoulder and saw the geese flying overhead, and half-heartedly snapped this image with my cell phone. With a little editing, this lovely image was the result. I have it on my desk to serve as a daily reminder to “take one last shot” whenever I’m ready to give up.

Finally, even though my style has evolved since the beginning, this image still represents who I am as a photographer. With its bold, reflective colors and touch of whimsy, I hope seeing this image makes your day just a teeny bit brighter.

Shot on iPhone X

Sunday Scene: Love Where You Live

A sunset view of a small lake through the trees.
The best sunset spot in my city

While books are the primary focus of this blog, I promised I would also share a bit about my other passion — photography. Every Sunday, I will share one of my favorite scenes and tell you about the shot.

This week’s image is from the absolute best place in my city  to go watch the sunset. The thing about this spot is that I have driven by it almost every day for 20 years, but I had NEVER visited until I started taking photos.

Discovering this place has been one of many things I’ve learned since I started doing landscape photography about two and half years ago. Since then, I’ve found countless other parks, public gardens, museums, and historic sites that I wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for photography. I even discovered interesting things in my own backyard that I never knew were there. 

Fully exploring places, both the familiar and previously undiscovered, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my journey to becoming a better photographer.

What new discoveries have you made through your passion projects?

Photo taken with Canon Rebel T7i, ISO 400, f/11