I will be honest: I didn’t want to love taking photos with my phone. But then I fell in love with having a small, portable camera at hand at all times, and I was both shocked and exhilarated by what my photography could become with an extra piece of kit in my pocket.
And you can fall in love with phone photography, too! That’s why, in this article, I’m going to share 12 phone photography ideas – so you can have plenty of fun with your phone camera and start capturing some amazing mobile photos.
(I’ll also share plenty of practical tips along the way!)
Let’s get started.
1. Photograph the light
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
If you ask me what I like to shoot, I will answer: light. Light is the number one subject in all of my photos.
I don’t really care what I am shooting; my eternal search and my greatest passion is light. That is why I am not a genre-specific photographer – I always think of light as my subject.
I love light in all of its formations – the subdued winter light when the cloud cover is thick, which creates a feeling of melancholy. Dappled spring light making shapes on a brick wall, which feels fresh and joyful and fun. The hard light of a summer’s afternoon, creating cutting shadows and making the world look flat.
If I were to offer one piece of advice for phone photography, it would be to get to know light. You may think you already know light, but most people don’t notice the endless variations of light all around them.
Become familiar with how light behaves and what it’s doing to your subject, and your photography will automatically take big leaps forward.
Tip: To make sure your photos aren’t under- or over-exposed (i.e., too dark or too bright), you can manually adjust the exposure (brightness). Most good phone cameras allow you to do this. It’s usually as simple as tapping on the phone where you’d like to focus; an exposure slider will appear, and you can make the image lighter or darker from there.
2. Look for interesting textures
Textures make up the world. They are everywhere, and they can be infinitely fascinating.
Exploring textures can help us find beauty in even the most mundane of subjects. I like to look for textures at my feet, on walls, and around buildings. I look for natural textures, too, such as slick shiny stones or porous old wood.
Textures are all around, so explore them with your phone camera!
For me, the key to getting the best shots is to use the natural qualities of our phones to improve the composition. Specifically, phones are amazingly mobile; I am always bending down and shooting reflections in puddles, or delving into corners or crevasses, finding little tufts of grass or cool patterns.
So use the mobility of your phone camera to help you change perspective. Seek new and interesting angles that reveal cool textures!
Tip: Make sure your subject is in focus. (It’s something people often forget with phone photography.) To set the focus, simply tap the part of the scene you want to stay sharp, and your phone will do the rest of the work!
3. Use the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is one of my favorite compositional rules. It lets you compose interesting shots, and it’s a helpful way to determine where to place key elements in a scene.
So here’s how it works:
Divide the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You’ll end up with a grid of nine equal parts, like this:
Then place your subjects and supporting elements along the different lines and intersection points. This will prevent your photos from becoming too boring – including a subject sitting in the left or right third of the image, with another element in the opposite space, can be a lot more interesting than a centered subject.
Tip: All phones have a built-in camera grid (i.e., a rule of thirds overlay!). This can be super useful when you’re composing with the rule of thirds. So go to the camera settings, find the grid option, turn it on, and compose away!
4. Don’t be afraid to photograph landscapes
In general, landscape photography is considered very technically demanding, and landscape photographers tend to own some of the biggest, priciest gear available. Yet I was astonished by the quality of the landscape photos I captured in Vietnam with my phone. Of course, it helps to have an astonishing landscape in front of you, but it also has to do with phone cameras and their now-impressive capabilities.
So give it a try and experiment with landscape photography.
I recommend shooting landscapes during the early morning or late afternoon/evening golden hours. I’d also recommend heading out during interesting weather – clouds generally add an interesting texture to the sky, for instance.
Try composing your scene with layers – specifically, it helps to find foreground, midground, and background points of interest to create depth. That’s what I did for the photo below:
Tip: I have a tiny tripod that my kids bought for making stop-motion films. It’s super useful for low-light landscapes (you can combine it with your phone’s self-timer to prevent camera shake).
5. Shoot panoramas
Capturing a panorama on your phone is so easy – you simply activate the Pano setting, and your phone does all the work for you. It will either ask you to move the camera across the scene or to take several photos which it then stitches together. Super cool!
I love panoramas because it’s hard to capture the full scale and wonder of a landscape without seeing the vastness of the location. Panos are particularly useful for city shooting, where it’s often tough to capture the expanse of a view in a single frame.
Tip: It may sound obvious, but for the best image quality, clean your lens. Phones sit in pockets and bags attracting all kinds of dust and dirt, and this makes the lens get dirty, fast. Blow the lens to remove any grit, then wipe with a soft cloth.
6. Take selfies
I used to really dislike selfies. But then I realized they’re a great way to record myself in the places I travel to. I don’t know about you, but I am always the photographer in my family or friend group – which means I almost never have my photo taken!
I also think shooting ourselves puts us more in touch with the experience of shooting portraits and helps us empathize with our subjects. Most people don’t mind having their photos taken, but there are people who are reluctant. So experiencing life on the other side of the camera is immensely useful when trying to put portrait subjects at ease.
Tip: Try shooting yourself in reflections. It adds to the playful feeling of a selfie!
7. Look for color
Color is joy. One does not think of joy. One is carried by it.
For me, color is a key language in photography. Color is powerful; it can communicate feelings and atmosphere. It can even tell stories. I love to encourage people to play with color and discover the emotions and meanings different colors bring to their images.
It’s definitely worth investigating what the colors in your photos mean to you!
8. Drop your expectations about what you want to see
One of the greatest enemies of finding interesting photos is your expectations.
This is especially true when you arrive in a famous location. You might expect to capture certain iconic places. You may even have a few specific shots lined up in your head.
Here’s the problem:
When you have expectations, you are essentially focusing your attention on the obvious. You’re limiting your awareness so that you may fail to see what is truly in the location around you.
If you expect to see certain things, your brain focuses on those things and blocks out other visual information. For example, if you’re going to Paris, you may fixate on obtaining a good Eiffel Tower shot. So you fixate on the Eiffel Tower – yet you don’t see all of the interesting subjects surrounding it, which may offer a better shot, better angle, or better elements.
This problem sounds simple, but I see it time and time again on my workshops: people tunnel-visioned by their expectations. Drop the expectations, focus on finding original shots, and you will see so much more.
9. Take your time, wander, and get lost
Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Without a big camera around your neck, when you go out wandering, you could be anyone doing anything. You can blend into the background and nobody will see you as a photographer. It’s a freeing experience, and it lets you capture more honest, authentic moments.
To me, using a camera phone is all about roaming, getting lost, and figuring out how to photograph the place at which you end up. So take your phone, wander, and have fun. Then try to absorb the atmosphere and life of each place you choose to shoot.
Tip: Investigate your phone camera’s hardware and software. Many phones have added lenses and offer more control with every iteration. So check out your phone manual or look up the specs online.
10. Photograph the moments of life
Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.
Did you know that you can use photography to create something extraordinary from your life at any moment? Focusing parts of our life on creating and not just consuming or doing brings so many benefits.
This is where using a phone camera to keep a diary of the interesting moments of your life really comes into play. Personally, I want to savor my life. I want to weave being creative into my everyday activity!
So look around you. Appreciate what’s going on. And photograph moments of interest.
Now, when you always have a camera at hand, it can be tempting to just snap away and record everything you do. I don’t encourage that. Instead, live the moment, be in the moment, and – at times – use your camera to be intentionally creative.
Tip: When I am shooting fast-moving subjects – like my kids! – my phone’s burst mode offers a great way to get the subject in motion. Depending on your phone, you may be able to hold down the shutter button and capture a burst (and if that doesn’t work, check your manual for instructions specific to your phone).
11. Look for emotion
Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.
Admit it: Most photos you see on social media or on your camera roll are boring. But why?
One very common reason is that they lack any type of feeling; they have no emotional impact. The photos are flat and uninteresting because the photographer was so busy focusing on the technical aspects of shooting, or on the subject and composition, that they forgot to include that magical element of emotion.
Humans are emotional beings, and we communicate through our emotions (just think about how adverts play on our emotions and manipulate us into wanting to buy stuff!).
It boils down to this: If you stand in front of your subject and don’t feel anything, it’s unlikely your future viewers will feel anything, either.
So look for subjects, places, people, things that make you feel something. It’s an easy way to figure out what to shoot. And you can feel any emotion: sadness, joy, awe, excitement, or delight.
Tip: Most up-to-date phones now come with a Night mode, and it helps the camera compensate for limited light. With Night mode on, you can do handheld shooting even at night. On most phones, you need to manually activate Night mode (but iPhones will do it automatically when they sense the low-light conditions).
12. Train your eye with mini-seeing projects
To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
There are billions of pieces of visual information around us at all times. But our brains block most of it out – otherwise, instead of getting to the task at hand, we’d be constantly looking around and feeling overwhelmed by all that we see.
While blocking out all this visual noise is helpful for getting things done, it’s not helpful when we are trying to discover interesting shots. We want to see more of what’s around us. We want to open up our awareness.
I recommend using mini-seeing projects to help you do this. Specifically, pick a subject – and take a picture every time you encounter it. Yellow cars, discarded gloves, people with red hair, snail trails; the world is full of items worth noticing!
You’ll soon start to see how much you miss because you are basically just distracted with your life.
I always have something like this going on. I’m currently collecting photos of torn posters, interesting cloud formations, and things crushed in the street. It’s a really fun way to develop your seeing skills.
And of course, phones are a great way to do these mini seeing projects, because you can carry one with you at all times!
12 phone photography ideas: final words
So that’s it for my phone photography ideas! Hopefully, you’ll feel more excited and liberated as you go out and shoot with your phone.
Now over to you:
Do you have any additional phone photography ideas? Do you have any mobile photos you’re proud of? Share your thoughts (and images!) in the comments below.