Do you want to take stunningly sharp images with your smartphone? Do you struggle to capture sharp smartphone photography?
Don’t worry. Because there are actually several tricks you can use–to make sure that your smartphone photos are pretty much always sharp.
In this article, you’ll discover lots of tricks for sharp smartphone images. And you’ll come away with the ability to take amazingly sharp photos, no matter the situation.
Let’s jump right in.
How to Hold Your Phone for Sharp Smartphone Photography
First things first:
If you want to take consistently sharp smartphone photography…
…you need to hold your smartphone properly.
Because one of the biggest culprits of blurry photos is camera shake.
That is, the smartphone moves when you take the photo, either because you’re not holding the smartphone steady, or because you press the shutter button too aggressively.
Fortunately, it’s easy to make sure you’re keeping your smartphone still–so that camera shake is no longer an issue. You just have to hold it carefully!
Here’s what I recommend:
Whenever you go to take a photo with your smartphone, tuck in your elbows. This will keep your body more centered and stable.
Then make sure you cup the smartphone in one hand, so that your fingers are curled around the back, the way you’d grip a coffee mug. And place your other hand underneath the smartphone with your fingers curled upward, the way you’d cup an egg. This should place your thumb directly above the shutter button.
Finally, use your thumb to take a photo. But don’t jab at the shutter button. Instead, press it gently.
Now, if you find that you’re in a situation where your body is less stable (e.g., out on a windy day), don’t just tuck in your elbows to create stability. Instead, try getting on your knees, or leaning against a heavy object, such as a tree or a wall. The object will stabilize your body, which will, in turn, stabilize your smartphone.
It’s also worth noting that different smartphone models allow you to trigger the shutter button in several unique ways–which can help eliminate camera shake. This is especially useful when you’re shooting from an uncomfortable position, and can’t do a gentle press of the shutter button.
Here are these useful features:
Take a Photo With the Volume Buttons
On most smartphones, you can take a photo by pressing the Volume Up or Volume Down buttons. However, you must make sure you’re already in the camera app before trying this.
I like to use the volume buttons when I need to shoot with my smartphone near the ground. In such a situation, I can’t see the shutter button–so I gently press a volume button, instead.
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Take a Photo With the Self-Timer
Most smartphones include a self-timer feature. This allows you to set your camera to shoot on a delay. So when you tap the shutter button, your smartphone won’t actually take the photo for the specified increment of time.
You can generally activate the self-timer feature in the main camera menu (next to features such as HDR). When you tap to activate the self-timer, it will give you a few options: 3s and 10s are fairly common.
The self-timer is useful for situations where you can’t easily press the shutter button. Perhaps you need to hold your smartphone close to the ground, but you can’t see to tap the button (and trying to tap it causes the phone to shake). In such a case, you could set the timer for ten seconds, press the shutter button from a comfortable position, and then lower it to the ground. Ten seconds later, you’d have your sharp photo.
The self-timer is also useful for capturing sharp images in unstable conditions. If it’s a very windy day, you can set the self-timer, then place the smartphone against something, such as a rock or a shoe. That way, you don’t have to worry about blur due to camera shake.
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Take a Photo With Apple Headphones
If you have an iPhone, you can take advantage of this useful little trick. All you have to do is press the Volume Up or Volume Down button on your pair of Apple headphones, and you’ll trigger the iPhone shutter.
If you’re struggling to press the shutter button without causing the iPhone to shake, then this is the perfect way to do it. You can hold your iPhone steady, and use the headphones to trigger the shutter. Or you can place your iPhone against a rock, a wall, or a shoe, and then use the headphones to take the shot.
Take a Photo With Burst Mode
Most smartphones have a burst mode of some kind. This allows you to take a series of photos (a burst) in a short period of time–usually about ten photos per second.
Most photographers use burst mode to capture action shots. But it’s actually great for ensuring sharp photos of any kind.
To trigger burst mode, all you have to do is press and hold the shutter button. Your smartphone camera will start firing off photos, and it won’t stop until you lift your finger off the shutter button.
Now, when your finger first presses the shutter button, it might cause a bit of a vibration. But by the time the camera has taken 10 pictures, the vibrations will have faded. And you won’t have to worry about camera shake.
Instead, you’ll have dozens of sharp photos.
How to Focus Your Phone for Sharp Smartphone Photography
Camera shake is one of the biggest culprits of blurry photos.
But another culprit…
…is missed focus.
If your smartphone camera doesn’t correctly identify the object you want in focus, the image will look badly blurred. For instance, if you’re photographing a person in front of a tree, you want the person to be in focus. But your camera might focus on the tree, resulting in a sharp tree–but a blurry person.
Which is not what you want!
Fortunately, smartphones have a way to deal with this, too. And you should use it every single time you take a photo.
All you have to do is tap on the object you want in focus.
Your smartphone’s autofocus will do the rest–locking onto the object and focusing the camera. Then you can press the shutter button, and you’ll capture a perfectly sharp photo.
So if you’re photographing a person in front of a tree, you’d simply tap on the person. Your smartphone would then focus on that person (and not the tree). And you’d get a sharp photo.
To refocus elsewhere, you can generally tap anywhere on the screen, and the focus point will change. But note that smartphones don’t necessarily focus for long. If you tap to focus but your point of focus moves, or you move your smartphone, the focus may change. So you have to be quick:
Tap to focus. And then immediately snap the photo.
Now, many smartphone models come with a bonus feature to ensure perfect sharpness:
Tap and Hold on Your Smartphone to Activate the Focus Lock
Remember how I said you must take the photo quickly, otherwise you’ll lose focus?
Unless you use the focus lock feature.
You see, most smartphones offer a focus lock of some sort. (On iPhones, it’s called the AE/AF Lock.)
Here’s how it works:
Instead of tapping to focus, tap–and hold. This will generally activate the focus lock.
When the focus lock is activated, your smartphone’s autofocus will lock. No matter where you point your smartphone, the focus will remain in the exact same place.
Note that on a Google Pixel, you’ll need to tap to focus, and then tap the small lock icon above the exposure slider. Your focus will then be locked in place.
The focus lock is especially useful when you have a stationary subject somewhere in the frame–but you want to recompose your photo.
You can lock focus on your subject, then move the phone around, trying different smartphone compositions. Your subject will remain sharp, no matter where you put it within the photo!
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The Ultimate Guide to Sharp Smartphone Photography: Conclusion
You should now have a sense of the power of your smartphone camera.
And you should also realize that you can capture sharp smartphone photography all the time–no matter the situation.
Just hold your smartphone steady.
Carefully press the shutter button.
Tap to focus.
And your photos will be tack-sharp!
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.