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Nine tips for taking better photos with a smartphone

Not interested in carrying a second device for snapshots? Here's how to take the best photos with the device you carry almost everywhere.

Nicole Cozma
Nicole Cozma has an affinity for Android apps and devices, but loves technology in general. Based out of the Tampa Bay Area, she enjoys being a spectator to both sunsets and lightning storms.
Nicole Cozma
3 min read

Photo by Nicole Cozma/CNET

I'm definitely not a professional photographer, but I can still appreciate a beautiful picture. Now that many smartphone cameras have caught up with or passed the lower end of digital cameras, I see no point in carrying two devices everywhere I go. So if you're like me and want to just use your smartphone for photos, here's a list of tips to keep in mind when trying to snag the perfect shot:

Clean your lens
Smartphones spend a lot of time in hands, pockets and purses which all present opportunities for oils and lint to collect on the surface of the lens. Take a moment to remove any "extras" from overlapping your next photo.

Steady your shot
Shaky hands? Windy environment? While not all of us want to drag around a tripod to steady our snapshots, there's a cheap and lightweight solution to this issue. Find out how to make a "stringpod" with CNET's Sharon Vaknin. You can also lean against a sturdy object when taking a photo (to lessen your own movement) or balance your phone across an object to act as a "fauxpod" (like a water glass).

Light is (usually) your friend
Natural lighting is amazing for photos but can sometimes cast shadows on other objects due to the intensity. You can use your flash in the daytime to help remove these extra shadows. Additionally, you should give the camera app a second to adapt to the current lighting conditions when you open it; that will fix some of your white balance issues.

Try different angles
When there's nothing you can do about the lighting or you just can't get the shot you want, move around! As a general rule, if you have the opportunity to take several photos of the same scene or subject, you should do it from as many angles as you can. This can be a relief when the photo you thought was perfect actually came out blurry or with too many shadows and you have several backup angles to pick from!

Increase your resolution
If your smartphone has an option for picture sizes, the largest one is your best bet. Generally, the larger the picture, the more detail you'll be able to capture. This is especially true when resizing photos later and having them remain clear and crisp.

Avoid digital zoom
Digital zoom is a great idea in theory, but in practice it can really ruin some of your best shots. As an alternative, just zoom by getting closer to your subject and maybe even try the next tip if you really need a close shot of something small to come out clearer.

Check out specialty shooting modes
When attempting to capture smaller objects with great clarity, Macro mode is your new best friend. The setting can usually be found in the camera app itself. Also, remember to turn this off for other landscape and portrait shots or they will come out very blurry. Some camera apps will turn it off automatically, but it's a good idea to double check the setting after the first time you use it. Aside from macro mode, there will likely be options for daylight, fluorescent, and even landscapes.

Learn the response time
There's usually a delay between the time you press the digital shutter button to the time the actual photo is taken. Yes, it's a very small delay, but staying still for that brief moment can be the difference between a beautiful photo and a blurry one. Get a feel for the delay by taking a few sample shots.

Get help from apps
When a photo doesn't meet your expectations -- and especially when the moment has passed -- turn to one of the many camera apps available for smartphones. Android and iPhone are likely to have the most options, but there are apps available for other platforms, too. These apps can adjust colors and angles, or add artistic filters to make the best of your less-than-perfect photo.

Anything that was missed in this list? Share your own tips for smartphone photography in the comments.