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How to Take Cell Phone Photos

Updated on March 6, 2015

Cell Phone Photography?

Think you need a great digital camera to take good photographs? You probably already have one in your purse or pocket!

That's right - today's cell phones have advanced so much in recent years that you can take some really great photos no matter where you are. The newest smart phones on the market are so technologically advanced that you can take photographs and film video and then upload your creations to Flickr, YouTube or Facebook within seconds. No need for a USB cable or even a computer.

With digital image editing software available for download through a variety of cell phone applications, you can create stunning, artistic photos that will have your friends asking, "what kind of camera did you use?"

So, let's have some fun with the ubiquitous device! Here's how to take cell phone photos that rival any image you can create with more expensive digital cameras.

Cell phone photo altered with Lightbox app for Android
Cell phone photo altered with Lightbox app for Android | Source

Photograph Capabilities of Cell Phones

Today's cell phones have evolved greatly over the past decade. Smart phones, and many other cell phone models now include the most, if not all, of the same capabilities of point and shoot digital cameras:

  • Zoom in or out
  • Turn flash on or off
  • Auto focus
  • Adjust focus and exposure
  • Set white balance
  • High megapixels (fine resolution)
  • Ability to change resolution (to reduce image file size if desired)
  • Effects (distortion, solarize, negative, grayscale, vintage, dots, distortion and more)
  • Ability to choose between front-facing camera and rear-facing (allows you to take self portraits or photos of scenes behind you)
  • Self-timer
  • Video capabilities

Unlike digital cameras, smart phones are mini computers and can do much more. With certain applications, you can immediately to edit your images on the fly to add filters, boost color, change to black and white, sepia tone, or antique, and even stretch or distort the photo. Not only that, but you can instantly share your photographs via Facebook or other photo sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa without waiting until you get back to your computer.

Taking photographs with your cell phone is just as easy as using a point and shoot digital camera. Just go to your camera settings and click. Now, if you want to change any of the settings (set forth above), do so. Most cell phones, even older models, at least have an auto-focus feature and built-in flash. Pressing the shutter release is either done on the side of the cell phone, or on a small icon on the face of the screen.

Like any other digital image, you can delete photos that do not turn out as you wish. Many cell phones have a bit of delay between pressing the shutter release and capturing the image. Keep this in mind and try to anticipate your shot. More recent/expensive models have a setting that allows you take photos without the shutter release delay.

Digital Photography with Your iPhone

Sunset over a soccer game - no filter/application used
Sunset over a soccer game - no filter/application used | Source
Early morning light on the ocean coast: Image captured with Android cell phone
Early morning light on the ocean coast: Image captured with Android cell phone | Source

Advantages of Cell Phone Photography

Many photographers who own expensive camera equipment still enjoy advantages of cell phone photography. Among other things, using a cell phone is less intrusive than holding up a camera. Often, subjects can remain more at ease and will act naturally while images are captured. When a camera goes up to a photographer's face, it can be a red flag that changes expressions (think of kids' faces with those "cheesy" grins) or causes the subject to perform in a non-natural manner.

Because cell phone photos are made without the photographer looking through a viewfinder, the broader viewpoint that is afforded can allow the photographer to make adjustments within the frame to capture elements of a photograph that might otherwise be missed. Think of it as having your range of vision widened, rather than narrowly focused through a lens at your subject.

The easy portability of a cell phone means that you'll probably always have it when a photo-taking opportunity presents itself. I've often found myself at one of my kids' soccer games or gymnastics meets without my regular camera. My cell phone is a handy substitute for a camera. Plus, as mentioned above, I can instantly email grandma and grandpa with the cute images captured at the game. Its practically real-time!

Finally, if you are not ready to invest in a digital camera, you can try your hand at photography with your cell phone. Just like other digital cameras, no film is required, and you can delete images you don't like. Once you learn how to take cell phone photos, you can decide whether and how much to invest in a stand-alone digital camera.

An unedited photograph taken with my Android cell phone - much easier to haul up the 9 mile round trip hike
An unedited photograph taken with my Android cell phone - much easier to haul up the 9 mile round trip hike | Source

Cell Phone Photography Applications

If you own an iPhone, Droid, Casio Kyocera, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sanyo, Sony Ericcson, etc., you may want to consider cell phone photography applications.* Smart phones allow you you to download apps for free, or at a minimal cost. This can allow you greater flexibility in digital image editing right on your cell phone.

Alternatively, you can offload your photos from your cell phone to your computer and then use applications such as iPhoto to enhance or change the images that have been downloaded onto your laptop or tablet computer.

Among the various photography applications for cell phones, I've tried Lightbox Photos for Android, which is said to rival the Instagram application for iPhone. Lightbox automatically connects with social networking sites, including Facebook, so you can share your photos and view friends' photography. But I prefer using Lightbox for its photo effects. The application includes ten different filters that can slightly or dramatically change the images you capture on your phone.

There are a number of additional smart phone applications for photography, which include the following, among others:

  • PicSay Photo Editor (regular or Pro versions)
  • Adobe Photography Express
  • PhotoFunia
  • QuickPix (allows quicker shutter speeds and can snap stills while you are shooting video)
  • Pho.to Lab
  • Camera+ (includes a stabilization feature that doesn't fire the shutter until the phone's motion sensor detects that you're holding it still)
  • QuickPic
  • PicSin
  • Pro Camera (adds independent focus and exposure points with full color-correction tools)
  • Old Photo
  • SmileCamera

*Note that I have not sampled all of the applications listed here. A review and comparison of various cell phone photography applications may be the subject of a future Hub.

Visiting Grandma - image captured with Android cell phone
Visiting Grandma - image captured with Android cell phone | Source
Swan by the Deschutes River (shot during a marathon training run with my Android cell phone)
Swan by the Deschutes River (shot during a marathon training run with my Android cell phone) | Source

Ready to Take Cell Phone Photos?

Its time for you to start considering your cell phone as more than just a device for phone calls or texts. Today's smart phones have some serious photography capabilities. And, the applications you can download will help take your cell phone photographs to artistic levels.

Take a new look at your cell phone and think about some of the great photos/art you can make with it!

Do you use your cell phone to take photographs?

See results

© 2011 Stephanie Hicks

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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      I think cell phone photos are pretty good. My brother has one and I want one someday. It would make life easier for me. I would keep your tips in mind for the future. Voted up for useful!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks! I love how cell phones are now marketed by their ability to take amazing photos, too

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image

      FullOfLoveSites 

      5 years ago from United States

      Really fun hub, as I also love to take pictures from my cellphone. The fun part is to apply filters! I'll try the apps you've listed. Thanks. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good luck! Thanks, Steph

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi Steph. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll visit it and see how it works for me.

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi jpcmc - I'm with you on the memory. I use an application called "Drop Box." You can upload your photos from your cell phone, and then they are all accessible from your own account - from any computer, anywhere. The small drawback with Drop Box is that the free application is limited on memory. I pay $9.99 a month for extra, unlimited storage capabilities. I use it for word documents, videos, and more too.

      Best, Steph

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Cell phones have become really useful. They're all around tools. With camera phones, I can take snap shots of my daughter anytime. The only draw back is the memory. I just can't seem to choose which ones to upload into my computer and which ones will remain in my phone. The end result, i keep almost all in my phone. lol

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Brian,

      I have found the same thing with my "other" point and shoot camera. Read an article today about how the cell phone is slowly making a number of gadgets obsolete, including some cameras, and how well-known photographers are incorporating photography from their phones into their work. Thanks for the comment, Steph

    • Brian Burton profile image

      Brian Burton 

      7 years ago

      Very nice hub. Thank you for waking me up to the power of the camera within the phone. It does take amazing pictures, but I forgot it has the capability to zoom in and out and the high resolution. I dug out an old camera from the garage only to realize after reading this hub, that the phone is the better camera. Good information!

    • stephhicks68 profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Hicks 

      7 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Stephanie, Amy and Susan - thanks! I was reading more about cell phone photography a few weeks ago. I loved writing this from my personal experience and researching some of the many apps out there. You really can take photos to a professional level with some of the filters you can "put on" your cell phone/smartphone. Thanks for the comments! Cheers, Steph

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      7 years ago from USA

      I often forget that my cell phone is a camera, too. After seeing some of the beautiful photographs you've taken with your cell phone, I'm inspired to learn more about my cell phone camera and use it more often! Good hub, useful and interesting with beautiful pictures! Voted up!

    • amy jane profile image

      amy jane 

      7 years ago from Connecticut

      Great info Steph! I have struggled with the camera on my Blackberry for so long - I always grab my husbands iPhone when I want to take a pic instead. :) I'm getting better, but can always use some help. I'll definitely try out some of the photo editors you recommend!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I like using my iPhone for taking pictures. I have a digital camera, and old style 35 mm camera but I find with the iPhone camera it so much simpler to use. I have downloaded a few camera apps but have not had the chance to play around with them yet. Enjoyed your hub.

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