How to shoot better photos and videos on your smartphone

While serious “shutterbugs” might look down their nose at those who take photos with their smartphone, it may be the one device you always have with you this summer.

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Thankfully, today’s phones have much better cameras than they did even just a few years ago, plus they’re ideal for on-the-spot editing, adding fun filters, and easy sharing over social media.

Many are waterproof, too, if you bring them to a pool, lake or ocean on vacation.

To ensure you’re getting the most out of capturing your time with friends and family, the following are eight simple “phonography” tips and tricks, whether you’re on iPhone or Android.

Get up close and personal: Get closer by walking up to your subject with your smartphone rather than pinching and expanding the screen with your fingers to digitally zoom in as people may look more pixelated. Unless you’re also trying to capture the scenery — like the family standing in front of a mountain in B.C. — fill the whole frame up with your subjects. Try your phone’s portrait mode, as it cleverly blurs the background behind your subject for a professional-looking “bokeh” effect.

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Go left (or right): Memorable photos need great composition. Instead of always placing your subjects in the centre of the frame — what most amateur photographers do — move them to the left or right to make your photos instantly become more powerful and beautiful. You may hear pro photographers refer to a “rule of thirds,” which refers to breaking up a scene into various lines.

Appreciate cloudy days: When outside, try to resist using the flash if you can, as natural light is way better. Cloudy days are perfect as they diffuse the sun. If it is sunny, ensure your back is to the sun — and not your subjects — or else they’ll look like silhouettes. (Same goes with taking an indoor shot near a window, which can make your subjects look too dark.) Sometimes I take indoor photos with and without a flash to see what I like best. Review what you took afterwards and redo, if needed.

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Turn the phone sideways: Unless you’re trying to capture a tall structure like the CN Tower in Toronto or you’re capturing for a vertical social media format like Instagram or TikTok, always use the “landscape” orientation when taking photos and shooting videos to get more in, especially with group shots. Holding your phone horizontally will also create photos that look better when viewed on a widescreen computer or television (no vertical black bars on each side).

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Don’t forget about audio: Don’t underestimate the importance of loud and clear audio when shooting videos. Hearing what the kids say when you’re at a park or a beach this summer is just as important as the image. Per above, get closer to your subject to capture good audio or consider investing in an external microphone (wired or wireless).

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Hold your phone steady: Ever hold your camera at arm’s length to get a shot? Try to avoid this as your hands might shake a tad. To get a good, sharp photo or video, hold the camera with both hands and pull your arms into your chest or stomach to steady the shot (like a “human tripod”).

You can also pick up an inexpensive tripod, selfie stick, or rest your phone on a table and set a timer.

Angle is everything: When shooting photos or videos, try to match the height of the subject, such as kneeling on the ground to snap a picture of a baby’s first steps or a video of toddlers chasing each other. You’ll get better shots when at eye level rather than angling the phone up or down, which can look awkward when reviewing the images later.

Candid shots are keepers: My favourite tip? Don’t always take photos of people posing for the camera as their expression can look forced and predictable. Some of the best photos of subjects are when they don’t realize they’re being photographed — but be sure to get their permission before uploading to social media.

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App it up!

Play around with your smartphone’s camera options, such as creating a time-lapse video of a setting sun against a city skyline or shooting a slow-motion video of kids spraying water from a hose.

Plus, there are many free apps to help you easily edit photos and videos, and share them with friends and family. Instagram and Snapchat, for example, can add fun filters, too, like a brownish sepia tone finish or a retro ‘70s look.

Some phones now have integrated AI tools, so it’s easy to move or remove unwanted subjects, like Billy ruining a family photo by giving grandma the “rabbit ears” behind her.

Experiment away, but always keep the original image and don’t overwrite it with your edited photos or videos.

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