Even the most powerful smartphone will take low-quality pictures if the user isn’t experienced

Q: Our company doesn’t have the budget to hire a professional photographer, but our staff members take loads of smartphone photos for our newsletter and social media pages. The problem is, the pictures aren’t that great — some are blurry, some crop out arms, legs or heads … you get the idea. Are there simple ways to get better smartphone photography results from amateurs?

A: Smartphone cameras can take some amazingly high quality shots — London’s esteemed Saatchi Gallery has even featured several exhibitions of work taken exclusively with camera phones. But even the most expensive camera will produce bad pictures in the hands of an unskilled user.

Hiring a professional is always the best bet, but if you must rely on employees to take company photos, provide them with free or low-cost training options. Apple Stores offer free one-hour iPhone photography workshops, and there are also mini-courses in photography offered by adult evening schools such as Main Line School Night.

In the meantime, here are five basic tips to share with the people who are doing smartphone photography for your small business or nonprofit.

  1. Get set. Your camera has various settings and you need to know how they work – before the day of the shoot. If you’re the type who reads directions only after all else fails, experiment with settings until you figure them out. The rest of you can go to the manufacturer’s website and view or download directions. Click here for the iPhone User Guide or here for a Samsung User Guide.
  2. Get high. Some people lower the photo resolution so that they can take more photos before the phone’s memory fills up. When shooting for a professional purpose, make sure your camera is set to its highest resolution (the default for most models). Zooming in reduces resolution, so when possible, move closer to the subject instead. Also note that on most devices, the back camera (you see your subject on the screen, not yourself) takes higher resolution photos than the front camera (intended for selfies). Finally, when you email photos for company use, select the highest resolution available. On iPhones, that’s the “Actual Size” option.
  3. Lighten up. Most blurry photos are due to poor lighting. The better lit the subject, the more crisp the photo. Natural light (outdoors or from a window) is best, but ensure the subject is facing the light source, not back-lit, as this will make the subject too dark. Most guides suggest avoiding the phone’s flash — it washes out colors. Try to find another light source, but in a pinch, tapping the darkest part of the subject on the phone’s screen before your shot will tell the camera to focus on that spot and adjust the exposure accordingly.
  4. Background check.Be mindful of the area behind and around your subject. Does anything, like a flagpole or phone pole, appear as if it’s sticking out of a subject’s head or body? Is the background cluttered and distracting? If you can’t do anything about the background, can you move or adjust the subject to make it stand out from the background?
  5. Stand still. This is important to avoid blur, especially in a low-light situation. If your camera has a stabilize or anti-shake setting, turn this on. If possible, use a tripod or perch the camera on a handy stationary object, such as a shelf or stack of books. If you must hand-hold the camera, don’t rush. Take a few seconds to steady your body and hands, then slowly breathe out while taking the picture. It can also help to speak up and channel your grandpa when he was trying to snap a shot of you: “Stand still! I’m trying to take a picture!”
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