Life is too short for bad photos.

Let’s get started!

Tip 1


I know this sounds way too easy to be a tip but it’s something very few people do before taking a picture and it can make a world of difference! If your pictures are blurry or looking hazy and you can’t figure out why, start with wiping your camera lens off. Wipe the lens on the back of your phone for regular pictures and wipe the front (where the lens is) if you’re taking a selfie. It’s best to use a microfiber cloth but you can even use the inside of your shirt in a pinch!

Try this: Get in the habit of wiping the lens before every shot and it will just become an easy habit that will give you better results in your image taking.

Tip 2


If you feel like your smartphone pictures still lack sharpness, the solution could be as simple as holding your camera with two hands and standing still.

We’ve all held our phone out in front of us with one hand to take a picture. Sometimes we even do it while walking. Stop! Whether you’re shooting in portrait or landscape mode, holding the phone in two hands and resting your elbows against your torso for stability will give you the best chance at taking a sharp picture.

Try this: The volume + button on the side of the phone can also be used to release the shutter. See what your preference is and which will reduce camera shake more for you.


 Light is king when it comes to photography and with the limited settings on smartphone cameras the amount of available light also plays a part in taking sharp pictures.

The more light there is, the better your smartphone camera will be able to combat shutter lag and freeze motion. It’s difficult to take a sharp picture of a baby crawling in a dim living room but if you move outside during the day, you’ll get a nice sharp image. If you want less blur in your images go somewhere with good, natural light (from sun, not from a lamp or overhead light). You don’t necessarily have to go outside. Move close to a window or an open door.

Good light makes all the difference between a mediocre and a great photo. I would go so far as to say that good light is more important than an interesting background or subject.

If you’re shooting a portrait, avoid sunny and direct light on faces. This kind of light causes harsh shadows and squinting. If this is the kind of light you have to work with, try putting the sun behind your subject. This will give you the opportunity to play with sun flare and create backlit images. When possible, look for open shade along the side of a building or under a tree.

Try this: Put the sun both in front and behind your subject and compare the two images to see what a difference the right lighting can make to an image.


While the flash on smart phones has improved quite a bit over the years, you can’t change the fact that it’s just a small and not very powerful LED light.

Sometimes, using your camera’s flash can improve a photo – but rarely does it do so at night. If you’re shooting at night, use the camera app’s exposure slider to brighten the photo (see tip 7).

Try this: Take a photo in low light and then take the same photo using the exposure slider to compare.

Tip 5


When you turn on the camera’s gridlines a series of lines appear that you can use to line up your subject based on the “rule of thirds.” This is a compositional principle that says an image is more appealing when the points of interest are placed on the intersections of these lines. This leads to a more balanced photo and one that your viewers will more drawn to.

To turn on your camera’s gridlines go to settings, choose “camera,” and switch “Grid” on. On an Android in settings you’ll need to scroll down and turn the “grid lines” option to “on.”

Try this: Take an image without the gridlines. Then take one with the gridlines turned on and try to line up the subject of your image with one of the four intersections. How do you feel about it?

Tip 6


Chances are, at one time or another you’ve had your smartphone camera focus on something other than what you would like to focus on. To prevent this, tap and hold on the spot you want the camera to focus until you see the yellow AE/AF Lock alert. Once that pops up, the automatic exposure metering and automatic focus metering have been locked on your subject. Not only will this give you the best chance at getting a sharp image but it will help get the proper exposure for your subject as well.

Try this: Take one image without locking focus – then try pressing your screen to lock focus. Which image was sharper?

Tip 7


When you point your camera at a subject or scene, it does its best to get you a properly exposed image. You’ve probably noticed though that it works well in some situations but not in others. Sometimes our smartphone cameras want to make our images too dark (underexposed) and sometimes they’re too bright (overexposed). When this happens, you can fix it before taking the picture by adjusting the yellow “sun” exposure slider next to the focus square. Just tap the spot on the phone screen where you want to change the exposure and then slide the sun icon up to increase or down to decrease the exposure. You can see this feature in action by watching the included video below. Just keep reading!

Try this: Take a photo at sunset and adjust the exposure by tapping on the phone and sliding the sun next to where you tapped.

Tip 8


iPhones have a feature called High Dynamic Range, or HDR. Not all Android devices support HDR mode. The best way to check for HDR capability is by looking for the HDR option in your device’s camera app or by doing a quick Google search to find the exact location. The HDR option on some high-end Android devices can be found under the shooting mode or settings menu.

HDR allows you to take pictures that have high contrast light sources (for example, a bright sunset against a dark mountain) and better capture both the light and the dark area of the picture without losing details. The idea is that the resulting image will be truer to what the eye sees. It does this by taking three pictures; low, medium and high contrast in quick succession and then blending them to create a final HDR image. HDR is a good choice for stationary images with interesting lighting. Don’t try to use it for action shots though. There’s a good chance that when it blends the three images together, it won’t be sharp.

You can manually turn HDR on or off from the camera app, but if you have an iPhone 5s or newer, you can just switch it into HDR auto mode. In HDR auto mode, when you point your camera at something, the iPhone’s camera sensor will determine if the image might need HDR correction. For Android users, if your camera doesn’t have the mode, try downloading the app HDR Camera.

Try this: Take a photo without HDR and then take the same image again using HDR. Compare the images side by side to see the difference.

Tip 9


Composition is one of the most important aspects of photography and also, probably one of the most taken for granted. How you frame your subject and compose your shot ultimately determines how memorable and interesting it is.

A lot of times, we see something that we want to take a picture of and take 15 images of the same thing. Moving a few feet to the right or to the left, getting higher and getting lower can totally change an image and make it more memorable instead of dozens that are almost identical.

Changing your perspective can also help eliminate distracting background elements like cars and other people. It’s important to pay attention to the whole scene. Nothing ruins a portrait faster than a lamp post or street sign coming out of the top of your subject’s head! A few steps to the right or left or getting a little higher or lower is sometimes all you have to do to get rid of distracting background elements.

Try this: Take a photo – then move a few steps one way to try and eliminate distractions in the background. Compare the images to see how a few steps makes a big difference.

Tip 10


Sometimes the surroundings are part of the story and we want to include them in the image. Your best friend in front of the Eiffel Tower and your daughter playing in the waves at the beach are some examples of when you want the background to help tell the story.

Sometimes the surroundings aren’t important though and can actually be distracting. Are we looking at the couch? The clutter on the coffee table? Is the car in the background a bright color that draws your eye but you want the story to be about the person in front of it? Getting close to our subjects and filling the frame with them can make the resulting image more intimate and help clearly define them as the focus.

Don’t be tempted to zoom your camera to fill the frame. “Zoom your feet” instead. In other words, walk close to your subject to fill the frame. Zooming the lens on your camera can make the photo appear grainy, blurry, or pixelated.

Try this: Stand where you would normally stand to take a picture and take one. Now take two steps closer. Take another shot. Now try getting as close as your smartphone camera will allow you to get and take a final picture. Look at your shots. Which is your favorite?


Use an editing app to make your photos pop

There are a lot of apps on the market that can be used to edit images on your smartphone. Many people use Instagram or other apps that apply filters to the entire image. While there is nothing wrong with using filters, if you’re putting them on top of an image that is not exposed properly or with incorrect white balance (color) your picture won’t look as good as it could.

Two editing apps I’ve used in the past are PicTapGo and Camera+2. PicTapGo is very simple to understand and use, includes filters that correct exposure, contrast and color. Camera+2 is a bit more robust with more features such as sharpening, straightening, changing the color/tint, adding vignettes and more. The picture here was edited with Camera+2. Check out the video below to see how I did it.

Some phones come with editing software built in. You can crop, add contrast, adjust saturation, fix exposure and apply filters.

Try this: Take your favorite photo and run it through one of the apps above. Share your photo with others to see what they think! Share it in the JCP Storytellers group so I can see it too!


Are you in your family portraits?

The convenience of having a pretty good camera with us at all times truly has changed how we capture the story of our lives. There are moments when handing off your phone to a friend, or taking a selfie will do. But there are other moments when it’s best to hire a professional.

My clients love that I not only capture the milestones in their lives but I create artwork for their home to showcase these moments to enjoy for many years.

Want to learn more?

Let’s grab some coffee and get to know one another! Click the link below to schedule a time.


Julie Collins is an award-winning portrait photographer and the artist behind Julie Collins Photography.  She is based in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  Her images are characterized by bold color and authentic emotion.  Her work has been recognized by the worldwide photography community.  Candid “in the moment” photographs touch her heart deepest and what feeds her passion for storytelling through her lens.


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