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8 Tips for Better Photos on your Phone

Sometimes, you're in nature and all you have for capturing moments is your phone tucked away in your pocket. Some wildlife stumbles along, you catch an epic sunset, or maybe you're in front of Shiprock trying to take a selfie.

By: Mountain Standard + Save to a List

Taking spectacular photos doesn’t require thousands of dollars worth of lenses and DSLR’s. In the past few years, smartphone cameras have evolved into powerful tools, which while not up to the processing power of their large bodied brothers, supply the common outdoorsman with immense photographic ability. Field Agent, Michael Restivo, offers six tips to make the best of smartphone photography.


Hold The Phone Like a Real Camera

Instead of awkwardly shooting in portrait mode (vertically) and fumbling to hit the little red circle in the middle, hold the phone in landscape mode (horizontally) and shoot with the volume button. Not only will this make taking the photo less awkward, but it’ll help stabilize the shot and provide a greater field of view.



Turn On The Grid

Instead of centering the subject at the center of the photo, use the grid to utilize the rule of thirds and lead the eye to the subject. If shooting a climbing scene on a ridge for example, set the climbers in the lower right quadrant and let the ridge lead out into the distance. It makes for a more visually appealing photo. To turn on your grid, go into your Settings menu and find it under "Photos & Camera." 

Meter For Relevant Light and Focus

When shooting in macro, tap the screen to adjust the focus and the light. Smartphone cameras can sense where light and focus is placed and they adjust accordingly. Play with different light settings and focal distances to find interesting contrasts of light and shadow. 

Turn Off The Flash and the Zoom 

While it’s slowly evolving, smartphone flash is still very little more than a simple LED bulb, which brightens a wide area with very little control over intensity. Use a natural or strategically placed light source to illuminate the subject and shoot in favorable lighting conditions at dawn and dusk. The smartphone zoom is a digital zoom, which heavily pixilates the photo the closer it gets. For the right effect, forgo the stock zoom function, measure distance optically and stand closer to your subject.

Use Burst Mode for Action Shots

Skier hucking off a cliff? Climber sending the dyno? Instead of timing the right second to take the shot, hold down the shutter button and let it shoot in burst-mode or multiple photos in one take. When you find the one you like best, save it and delete the rest.

Don’t Trust Black and White Filters

Prepackaged black and white filters, while easy to apply, only set a certain grayscale tone that may not work in all photos. Instead of using the standard filter, lower the saturation and manually edit the contrast, highlights, and shadow for the right desired effect.

Tap to Focus 

Phones have a pretty remarkable ability to pull off shallow depth of field. For a detailed photo, get close enough and tap on the part of the image you want in full focus. 

Download Photo Editing Apps

We recommend:


2. Darkroom

3. Snapseed

All of these apps are free and have the ability to give average photos an edge. Be careful to not overdo it, subtle changes make a big difference. Each have filters that can be adjusted to your taste but also feature a number of highly-effective adjustment tools. 

Remember to tag #mountainstandard and #rimby in your backyard adventures! 

Michael is an adventure writer, climber, skier and outdoor enthusiast based in Boulder, CO. Find him on Instagram or take a gander at his blog, Mike Off the Map. For information on how to become a Mountain Standard Field Agent, click here.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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