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5 tips for getting better photos from your smartphone camera

Smartphone cameras just keep getting better and better. The time was you wouldn’t get anything out of them that wasn’t grainy, unfocused, washed out, or indeed all three of the above. However, these days the snappers on the likes of the iPhone 5S, Galaxy S4, and of course Nokia’s Lumia 1020 offer some very impressive mobile photography results.

Of course, even these models aren’t up to par with dedicated digital cameras – and not every smartphone camera around these days has made such leaps and bounds. Still, whatever phone you’re shooting with, here are some basic tips which can help ensure you get the best results possible from your mobile.

Shoot at high quality

By default, many digital cameras aren't set to shoot in high-quality mode, and this can be the case with smartphones, too. Go into your camera settings and check to make sure you’re shooting at maximum resolution, and also that picture or image quality is set at the highest setting.

Reduce the chance of blur

Blurry images are often the result of slow shutter speeds. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the sensor is exposed and then even the steadiest hands will still inject a little blur in the photo. Some of the better camera phones have image stabilisation to counter this – such as Nokia’s Lumia 1020.

However, even without image stabilisation, there are two ways to decrease the chances of taking a blurry photo. The first is to shoot in a well-lit environment (even if it means turning on the flash). The more light you have, the less time you have to expose the image sensor, which will decrease the amount of movement the sensor will experience. (That's why the pictures you take outdoors are typically sharp). Another way to reduce blur is by resting the camera on something steady like a ledge or a table, or you could even try fashioning a makeshift tripod.

Turn off digital zoom

Only true optical zoom can get you closer to your subject, and I've never seen a mobile phone with optical zoom. Digital zoom might make you feel like you're getting closer to your subject, but all that feature really does is crop your resolution and expand the image. You're better off shooting the photo at full resolution (by turning digital zoom off) and cropping it later.

Shoot in landscape mode

Cameras are horizontal devices. Virtually every camera on the market is built to compose and shoot images in landscape mode, and only on occasion will you shoot in portrait mode by turning the camera on its side. Phones are the exact opposite – they're almost always meant to be used in portrait mode. The camera in a phone will not shoot in landscape mode unless you physically turn the phone on its side – you should do exactly that. Figure out which way to hold your phone in order to shoot in landscape mode, and shoot that way whenever you can. This will bring you one step closer to replicating the compact camera shooting experience.

Make use of apps

There are tons of apps that can add effects to your photos or give you more control over your phone's camera. Android's stock camera application is good, but free apps like Camera360 Ultimate offer access to more controls like ISO sensitivity and a timer. The iPhone, too, has a seemingly endless supply of camera apps that can jazz up your photos with fun effects. And of course Instagram is a popular and free app that infuses your photos with a retro or antique look – this is a good way to disguise a not-so-great quality photo as something better.

Bonus tip: Hide or share your location

Whether you know it or not, you may be broadcasting your location every time you share a photo taken with your phone. Virtually every current smartphone includes a GPS, and most phones offer the option to geotag your photos, which means your current location is included in the photo's information file. Programs like iPhoto or Picasa can read that data, and plot your images on Google Maps. You might love the idea of geotagging (it's great when travelling, for instance), or you might hate it; either way, make sure your camera's settings are adjusted according to your privacy preferences.