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5 Steps To Taking Better Photos On Your Phone (As Told By A Seasoned Photographer)

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The future is wild, and we’re living in it. Most of us have these insanely high powered little computers in our hands at all times, and they do 1 billion different things – they order hot food right to your door, they access instant messages sent from all over the world, and allow us to binge “Next In Fashion” without ever leaving our beds. But what’s my favorite thing to use my pocket computer (aka phone) for? Taking photos of my cats. Can you believe that I paid some insane amount for this thing and its primary function is cat photography? THE FUTURE IS AMAZING!

But I also happen to take a lot of photos of interiors. Mainly because it’s my job (wait, hire me to photograph your cats), but also because I just love interiors. Even when I’m “off duty” I’m still snapping interior photographs with my phone all the time – Pretty ones I see when I’m out and about, shots of my own home for Instagram, or truly inspiring spaces that I want to remember and share with the rest of the EHD team. Anyone else?

And while most of us have smartphones, not all of us have professional DSLR cameras at our disposal (or, you know, the energy to take it out, set it up, shoot, edit, and export photos on a Sunday afternoon). Luckily, these days you can get pretty good photos right on your own phone.

So whether you’re an interior enthusiast who just doesn’t have the funds for a DSLR camera, or you’re an up and coming interior designer who can’t afford to hire a professional to shoot your work quite yet, here are 5 tips for taking better interior photos using JUST your phone.

#1 – Clean Things Up

Before you start snapping, just stare at the space for a second. Look at it. LOOK. What is making the area look cluttered? What can you eliminate to give the shot more breathing room? There are so many times I’ll snap a phone photo only to realize later that there’s a wastebasket or pair of shoes I could have easily moved out of the way to make the shot just that much better.

#2 – Not Too High, Not Too Low…

When you take a photo you always want your viewers to feel like they’re “in” the space, or they can at least imagine themselves in it. Strangely enough, a lot of that has to do with the height you take a photo at. If you’re aiming your camera too low when you take a photo it makes the viewer feel like an ant, looking up at everything from low the ground.

But the most common issue I notice is photos taken from too high up. Eye-level through a lens is not the same as eye level for your eyes. I’ll often see someone photographing a room by holding their phone right up by their face, where their eyes are, which usually leads to the phone being tilted down in order to get all of the space in the frame. This causes the viewer to feel like a giant looking down on the room (or is this just how tall people experience the world?).

Instead, I usually take most of my photos from around mid-chest or waist height. This way I can keep my phone completely straight on to a space, and avoid the dreaded ant or giant distortions.

#3 – Get A Little More Intimate

It can be difficult to decide how much or little of a space you want to show off. For the purposes of Instagram specifically, I like to stick to medium shots. I feel that they give just the right amount of context, without feeling too pulled back. A super wide shot can serve many a purpose, but going a little tighter always make a shot feel more intimate and brings your viewer “into” the space more. Going a bit tighter with your images also helps you avoid too much ceiling or floor.

Hot Tip

If you have to choose between getting more floor or more ceiling in a shot, I generally go for more ceiling. It'll help a room feel bigger, whereas more floor can make a room feel squashed.

#4 – Go Au Natural

Lighting can make or break a photo, I believe this to my core. Your lighting is really going to set the tone for your photograph – Dark shadows and rich tones will feel moody, blown out windows and bright light will feel happy. And unless you’re using an incredible lighting set-up, taking interior photos at night, with no natural light, can be incredibly hard.

Natural light is your friend, and what a stunning friend she is! I always shoot interior phone photos during the day, with a majority of electric lights off, and as much natural light as possible. It’s going to make photos feel more natural and warm.

Hot Tip

Overcast days can be great for shooting interiors, as the clouds naturally soften light. But I love a warm sun dapple coming through a window if you can catch one.

“But Sara, my photos are blowing out!” Well, that’s TOO BAD. Just kidding, we can fix that (or at least most of it). If you’re using an iPhone, you can control how bright your photo is before you take a photo. While in “camera mode” on your phone, just tap on the brightest part of the shot, and your phone will auto adjust the lightness of the photo to compensate for the brightness. And once that little sun icon is up on your screen you can slide the sun up and down to manually adjust the brightness.

My preference is always to underexpose (shoot darker, so my lights aren’t blowing out), because I can bring up the dark parts a bit when editing 🙂

#5 – Take The Time To Edit

There are hundreds of editing apps out there, but our favorites are VSCO (Veronica’s favorite), AfterLight (my personal favorite), Tezza (Mallory’s favorite), or ole trusty Instagram. No Photoshop needed (though there is a free app version of that too). And to be totally fair, iPhones have really great editing capabilities now too.

My favorite editing app is AfterLight (which, I think, also happens to be Emily’s favorite). Here are a few of things I like to edit: Brightness (how light the overall image is), contrast (how black the blacks are, and how white the whites are), saturation (how saturated or desaturated all the colors in the photo are), warmth (how blue or yellow the photo is), tint (how green or magenta the photo is), spot lightening, skew (how tilted forward, back, or side to side the photos feels), straightening, and cropping.

Let’s take a closer look at two of my favorite editing capabilities in AfterLight . . . .

Say you happen to take a photo a little high, a little low, or a little too much to one side. Listen, it happens to the best of us (basically it happens to me all the time). Luckily there’s a feature called “Skew” in most photo apps which can help you adjust. If you look carefully at the window frame on the left side of the photo above you can see it angles in a bit, because I was a little too high when I took the photo. I adjusted my “skew” slightly and was able to straighten that out. The best way to understand how this tool works is to practice with it 😉

This is another subtle, yet impactful one. Afterlight has a set of “touch” tools, which are tools you can apply to selective parts of the photos with your finger (like a brush), versus having the edit applied to the whole photo. I love the “Lighten” touch tool, as it helps me bring up dark areas in an underexposed photo. If you look at the blanket area in both photos above you can see what a difference it makes.

Here are a few examples of photos I took on my phone, and then edited on my phone using Afterlight.

But if you want to keep things simple and remove the step of using an in-between editing app, Instagram has great editing tools. Here’s the full editing process I went through in Instagram:

What a difference just 2 minutes of editing can do…

Alright folks, that’s my knowledge laid bare. BUT, I’m ready and willing to answer all your phone photo and editing questions in the comments below. And if you’ve got any tips of your own, share ’em!

Fin Mark

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Seriously SO HELPFUL! Loved the step by step editing!

Molly

Outstanding tips! Thank you so much Sara!

Sara

Fantastic tips and loved that you showed us through your gorgeous living room! I’ll take any chance to study that space a little more. That wooden chain — swoon — even such a fantastic addition in these photos.

Lisa

Such a cool post – thank you for sharing all you tips!!! (and more pics of your beautiful home and cat ;)) I’ll definitely go out and explore in them apps later… 😛 best wishes to all of you!

This is very helpful, but I’m wondering if there is there an order to the editing steps that you like to use? i.e. brightness first, sharpness last… etc. Thank you!

Patricia

Best tip: declutter! But I will try to learn all the other editing tips too. I used to edit my photos when I shot on a camera and got pretty okay at it.

Leigh

THANK YOU!! This is exactly what I needed right now. Your explanation and tips are easy to understand and execute. I just downloaded Afterlight and can’t wait to get started.

Great tips!!! And thanks for the advice on what to spend time on when editing photos!

guada

I owned an iphone for many years and NEVER knew about touching the little sun when taking pictures!!

All tips are great, thanks!

Rusty

Sara!!!
What a fantastico post!
Really easy to understand for we plebs and such great examples.
You’re a star…no editing required.
Truly 10/10 post! ?

I bucked the trend and have a Google phone, that I lurve. It has heaps of fab photo features (very similar to iPhone). Doing Art and Design as my minor at uni, I was always interested in photography, but never had the chance. Then, I was scared of wasting money on printing experimental photos back in the day.
Now, with digital and especially smart phones….I’ve found out I’m a great photographer (not expert like you though, ha!) and I take loads of photos of my house, dog, garden, out on walks along the river (snapping dozing owls in overhead branches, swans, dolphins…).

Rusty

LA people, we’re about 1 week behind you guys in Coronavirus Life, here in Australia. Major new laws brought down tonight, because the “sheeple” are being stupid and not self-isolating when they’ve returned from overseas and still partying in large groups. Not anymore! Police are going to reinforce it and if people still don’t listen, in Western Australia, the Govt will enforce they do in specially designated, empty, hotels! They’ve even looked at using a small holiday island off the coast, if required.
You Aussies … Do wot you’re told or we’ll be the next Italy!!

Rusty

They’ve cleared the island and are moving people from cruize ships (where most of our cases in Western Australia have come from!) onto the island.
There are more cruize shops forced to sit out to see, because their countries of origin will not accept them.
If this is a type of war, we have to be hard. It’s heart wrenching, but necessary.

Thanks Sara! This is SO helpful! I end up taking more photos with my phone than DSLR, just out of convenience, and I’ve been trying to get better at editing them. I knew about 75% of this starting out, and I’ve learned some great new tips from you! THANK YOU.

Jenms

This was SUCH a helpful post!!! thank you!

Livia Lima

Best post EVER. For me the most difficulty thing is to arrange the elements. I have figured out dark coloured objects often don’t photograph well….and also those tiny ones….
I prefer the bigger e bright colored ones. What do you think?

rachelle

Just want to say this was my favorite post in a long time. 🙂

Jen

Wow what a fantastic tutorial! Thank you!

Kai

Wow, thank you, Sara! You made today feel like a normal day and I so appreciate that!

Edith

Thanks Sara! It turns out I’ve been making shots from “too high”. This clears that up, so obvious, how did I never think of that!? Also, thanks for the editing app tips! Downloading Afterlight right now 🙂
(Also, the apartment looks gorgeous!!!! Well done!)

Maria

Thanks Sara! So many helpful tips…and I was very excited to wake up and see your beautiful living room again! What an amazing transformation! Quick question – I actually have a DSLR camera but don’t really know how to use it. Can you recommend any online resources that would be a good place to start? Thanks!

Kristina

These tips are so good, thank you for sharing them!

I would really love to see pet photography tips for the iPhone/smart phone, if you wrote it similarly to how you did this how-to guide. Working from home means I’m taking even more cat photos every day!

Thank you! This is incredibly helpful!

JULIE BEUERLEIN

Thank you so much!!! I am just starting my interior styling business (great timing!) and I am desperate need of content – aka my own home. I wanted to buy a new camera since but cannot afford that now, so this came at THE PERFECT TIME! Thank you so, so much!

Katy Colbert

Wow! What a great article! I always read the interior photo articles because I need all the help I can get here, and this one had soooo much practical info! Thanks!

Thanks! Sara is SO talented. I also read every last word and learned SO MUCH.

Heather O’Brien

The EHD “How to……” posts are always my favorites!!! Love learning from the professionals that I admire and trust to make it simple and easy for amateurs like me!

thanks, Heather!! love to hear that we can help 🙂

Kristi

Soooooo helpful! XO

bettie

This. Bookmarking this page and screenshooting (shooting?) much of this content for the next time I take and edit photos. Thanks you for the practical, easy-to-follow pointers.

Karyn

This is just incredibly generous and incredibly smart! Thank you!!!

Julie P

Loved this guys! Keep it coming!!! I miss my old “normal” and really interesting posts like this totally help ?

Hilary

Great post! My favorite iPhone photo tip is to zoom after you take the shot, by cropping the shot during editing, rather than by zooming before you take the shot. Apparently you get a crisper final image by doing it in that order.

bettie

good to know!

Amber

Great tips! I also always start by wiping off the iphone camera lens to get a clear picture 🙂

Roberta Davis

Wow! Thanks for the tips! I usually just use the iphone editor but I may try Afterlight. Not that my shots will ever look as good as yours, but I do take a lot of pictures. Don’t have a cat. Flowers are my babies, evidently. And interiors.

You showed us some subtle things that make the image look so much better. I have noticed that in most interiors shots, no lights are turned on in the picture.

It will be fun to play around with these tips!

indygirl

Great topic! And cat/dog/kid photography is not to be sniffed at. Thanks for this post. And I’m very curious, I like your roller(?) shade above your nice green sofa. Did you make it and could you point me to a link for that? I’m trying to make roller shades for some windows in my nest and really like those. Thanks! : )

indygirl

And one other comment about snapping pix of your own rooms, especially when they’re tidy(!), gives you a kind of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ experience of seeing your own space from a very different perspective. I’m pretty sure Emily has mentioned that at some point, too, but I’m always amazed whenever I look back at pictures I’ve taken and think, “My, that picked up, tidy room looks put together. Oh, it’s my house!! Guess I should do some cleaning now…!” : )

Claire

LOVE this post!!!

Thank you for this. Really it is so so helpful. I didn’t know the Afterlight app, but I’ll definitely go have a look at it.

Have a nice day.

Renaud
http://blogbyrenaud.wordpress.com/

Edith

Hey Sara! Amazing post, thanks so much for sharing 🙂
I have a bit of a trouble finding the spot lightening tool in Afterlight, could you please give me a hand with that if that’s not a big bother to ask of course? Thank you so much!!

Edith

Never mind. I knew i just have to ask you and I found it right away. Murphy’s law, haha!

I’ve been looking for some tips exactly like this! Thank you for providing a fantastic starting place. Now maybe we can update our website.

Mary Ann

this is GREAT.

Stacie Glenn

Any suggestions on apps for photo editing on an android phone?

Andrea Lanyi

So informative and well explained!!! Especially holding the camera lower than eye level!!

Amanda

I hope you haven’t already answered this in the comments anywhere, I didn’t see it– where is that wooden chain from?! I am swooning

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