mobile photography technology, culture and community

10 tips for better mobile photography

Photographers are showcasing what the smartphone can do on iStockphoto.

Like many stock photography services, iStockphoto has realized it can no longer ignore mobile photography. The service officially began allowing smartphone images last August, joining the ranks of FoapPocketstock and other more mobile microstocks.

Now iStockphoto is spreading the word about how to make your mobile photography better with its own list of Ten Tips for Better Mobile Photographs. The tips, which actually number 11 in all, maybe 10 just sounds better, are nearly all applicable to any photographer using any equipment. Though slightly oversimplified, some remind us of the basics like composition and framing, while others call out specific advice for mobilographers. We found them worth repeating here (with the addition of some useful DPReview Connect links to past stories and reviews): 

1. Know Your Gear

Understand how your mobile phone camera works and get familiar with its limitations. Yes, it has limitations. Typically these cameras have a limited shutter-speed range and a fixed aperture, so major in-camera exposure adjustments are made by adapting the ISO. The good news is that there are apps to help get around or hack your mobile camera's limitations.

2. Know Your Apps

The right apps can help you overcome the limitations of your device.

Camera+ and Camera Awesome, both for Apple iOS only,  have grid tools, levels, image editing and great controls for exposure and focus. They give you robust filters and interfaces for quickly uploading and sharing your images to social media sites. 

Also worth looking at: 645 Pro calls itself the 'photography professional's iPhone camera' and aims to offer DSLR-style control for your iPhone.

Slow Shutter can create dreamy long-exposure effects like flowing streams and evening hour light trails, while keeping the high ISO noise to a minimum. (See our review of Slow Shutter and other similar apps.) Editing apps like Adobe Photoshop Express, PhotoForge 2, and NIK Software's SnapSeed (for iOS and Android) give great control and effects. (We also suggest iPhoto for iOS, Pixlr-o-matic and Photo Editor by Aviary.  

Always save your images at the highest possible resolution and make copies before you apply any filters. Some apps won't let you go back. Don't lose good shots to impulsive filter decisions.

3. Get the Exposure Right

Your final image will always be better if you get the exposure right in-camera: this is just as true with a mobile camera as a DSLR. Even with all the great editing apps and filters available, exposure fundamentals remain the same. Get it right in-camera, then play with it afterwards.

Small sensor cameras need light! Use the sun, get in the shade, use a piece of paper to bounce light, wait for the right light, use a flashlight or another mobile phone screen as a light source — make use of your existing knowledge to get the best light. Be patient. Use smartphone flash only as a last resort.

4. Composition is (Still) King

Mobile photographs are well-composed for the same reasons as any other photographs:

  • Get level — keep those horizons and verticals in check. (Many camera apps have horizon levels and grids.)
  • The rule of thirds — is still the rule. Don't always centre your subject.
  • Use curves and converging lines.
  • Use positive and negative space.
  • Make use of complementary colors. Use color patterns and shapes to add compositional interest.
  • Watch your backgrounds. Poles growing out of people's heads or lines cutting through them ruin mobile shots just like they ruin any other shots.
  • Direct — Don't wait around for the perfect composition to happen (or settle for what you've got). Move things and people. Arrange your frame so that is makes you happy.
  • Break the rules! But know why and when to break them.

5. Frame your Shots

Use objects in the foreground to frame the main subject and give depth to your shots. Shoot through windows, mirrors, other objects — framing provides context and adds interest.

6. Change your Perspective

Look for different angles and viewpoints to add interest to your composition. Don't be afraid to get down on the ground or climb a ledge for a bird's eye view. Your camera is way smaller now — take it places.

Get close and focus on the small details, or go wide and give more context and sense of place.

Play with Apps: tilt-shift effects, distortion, and selective focus/blur can add cool variety.

7. Black & White

Black and white compositions work in mobile for the same reasons they do in other photography:

  • Removing color can add impact by distilling the image down to its essence.
  • Eliminate competing colors.
  • Take advantage of backlighting and silhouette.
  • Save a noisy or poorly-exposed image.

8. Crop It

Sometimes things happen quickly and you need to react instantly to get the shot — without getting quite enough time to compose. So shoot wider than you need and crop. The resolution of phone cameras gets higher and higher with each generation. There are a lot of pixels, so focus on getting the shot using a full-frame app like Camera+, then edit later.

When you have the time for careful composition, the right crop can change or enhance the context of an image.

Try cropping to a square (like Hipstamatic / Instagram) to add focus to the main subject. 

Don't miss DPReview Connect's Simple Photo Tips: Square format images.

9. Accessorize

If you are a gear-head, there are more than enough gadgets out there to make you happy:

  • Get a little mobile tripod with clips for that steady shot.
  • There are all kinds of clip-on and magnetic lenses out there: fisheyes, macros, telephotos. Avoid the digital zoom if you can.
  • Save money with a little ingenuity and what you have on hand. Shoot through the lens or viewfinder of your SLR or pocket camera — or even a pair of reading glasses
Check our our recent reviews to see how mobile photography accessories we've tested measure up.

10. Take More Pictures (Or, Shoot, Upload, Repeat)

The advantage of digital photography is that we have unlimited film and instant feedback. The advantage of mobile digital photography is that the camera fits in your pocket. Just shoot it — happy accidents and defining moments happen all the time.

11. Keep an Open Mind

It is your eye, mind, and skill that make you a professional, not your gear. What we're saying is: your mobile device can be a tool for stock production. It isn't necessarily going to replace any of your other tools, but it is an option.

Play, experiment, and see what kinds of images these tools lend themselves to. Take advantage of the intimacy and spontaneity of your mobile device. Have fun taking pictures.

Let's hear from you: Share your own tips for better mobile photography in the comments section below or via our forums


Total comments: 15

I do agree that composition is the king, also an important thing is to follow the photography trends for photo post processing. I do love the current photo trends the center of which is mostly the artsitic expression or artistic composition, maybe even artistic photo editing. in order to get the best out of these all, I use PicsArt photo editor. The best I love in the photo editor is the abillity to compose fantastic double exposures. I follow many artists in the art community of PicsArt to learn and see amazing techniques in modern editing directions.


Can we make a case on #10 to curate? Often the best images are drowned out in the flood of bulk-uploaded attempts, and should be somehow identified, IMO.


iStock has ALWAYS accepted mobile-generated images. The only difference is that they began actively soliciting them. A small group of us at Getty had been submitting mobile images for about a year prior - which I believe they used as a test run to gather data on potential sales. My sales of mobile images have been terrific.




Take a picture through the viewfinder of your dslr.......

Really dpreview?

Looks like istock has jumped the shark too. Stock photography is officially dead. Hope their clients like all those noisy low res cell phone photos. So much for quality!

1 upvote

Lol.. yeah I agree.. and they didn't say DSLR (that would be to with the times...) they said SLR - so get out your old Nikon N90s and your iphone and HAVE AT iT!


DPreview, I love you and this is great info but did you actually license istockphoto's content? This is at best worth a link.


well, i like "7. Black and white"


``The rule of thirds — is still the rule. Don't always centre your subject.``

well, the rule of the thirds applies to square format, but `out of center` in square composition is not so good.

otherwise, excellent news :)

Edited 3 minutes after posting

I've submitted iphone photography to stockphoto. Looking forward to getting the iphone5 though because my camera lens is causing a bit of a blur in the right bottom of the frame that is driving me nuts. Its either replace the camera or replace the phone.

Laura Kronen


what are "complimentary colors"?

1 upvote
Erin Lodi

Thanks for catching that press release typo!


Colors that tell you how good a job you're doing. "Wow, great photo!"


Great post, very instructive and interesting! Would you allow me to translate it with a backlink to your site on my french mobile photography blog?

Erin Lodi

Sure thing.

Total comments: 15
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