How to Take Great Pictures with a Smartphone

  • March 22, 2021

By Caroline Morgan
JRN 217: Journalistic Reporting and Writing

For Stony Brook University sophomore Millie Elangbam, photography is an active part of life–she’s a professional photographer and vice president of the university’s photography club. But you don’t have to be an expert to take good photographs.    

“That’s just the best part about photography,” Elangbam said. “It’s not an exclusive thing.”

When taking up photography, you don’t need a professional camera. Smartphones are convenient, mamy people have them, and they can do much the same job at a lower cost. 

Photography isn’t just an inclusive art. It’s also a rewarding one.  

Patricia Maurides, a photography lecturer at Stony Brook, said photography is about more than just capturing the best photo.

“Sometimes, it’s just a quick memory that can sort of tell a whole story in just one shot,” Maurides said. “It can make visible things that are often hidden or forgotten or missed … That’s so important, to be able to give voice to others or situations that are often overlooked or forgotten in our culture.”  

Photography does that by documenting the past and present.      

“Everyone has a story to tell,” Maurides said. “It’s a record of our history, of our stories, of memory, and it’s a form of self expression.” 

Isak Berbic, university associate photography professor and studio art graduate program director, said photography has a lasting presence in society. 

“The idea of the image–I mean, that’s just eternal,” he said.      

Berbic stressed looking inward at your personal creativity before picking up a camera. After discovering your creative intentions, then find something inspirational in the community around you to show in a photograph, he said. 

Once you have that something, you can focus on technique. 

Maurides specified two important things to remember.  

“A good photograph is an awareness of light and composition,” she said. “Watch the light” for “harsh” or “soft” lighting.     

Soft lighting is preferred when photographing people because it is “very flattering to the subject,” Maurides said. 

In composition, she emphasized organization. 

“Check your backgrounds,” she said. “By moving to the side, or up, or down, you can strengthen your image” by eliminating distracting background elements.

Objects like trees, telephone poles, or vehicles in the background compete with the subject in the image, so try to avoid them, Maurides said. 

Organization includes different angles, she added. The composition of the photo isn’t just about what is physically in it. It’s also about how you take the photo itself. 

“Change your vantage point,” Maurides said. “Instead of just standing your height and shooting straight on … get down low, go above.”

And certain features on smartphone cameras make taking good photographs easier, Elangbam said. 

Settings such as portrait mode, which blurs the background and focuses on the subject; the photo grid, which shows lines on screen to align the photo; or aspect ratios, which are pre-set photo sizes, help improve pictures on the smartphone, she said. 

The internet is an advantage when learning photography as well, especially with social media sites.  

Berbic said that social media makes it “much more possible” for people to get into photography today.    

Elangbam began photographing at 12 years old and became a professional with the help of the internet.  

“The biggest resource is YouTube,” she said. “I learned through YouTube and just playing around with a camera.” 

Photography makes important moments last. Though it captures the best and worst times, they are all moments to remember.     

“When I was younger, I would always look at my family’s photo albums,” Elangbam said. “You don’t even realize how much time goes by … I try to capture moments of my family while I can.”