If you’re anything like me, you find yourself reaching for your real camera less and your phone more and more. We can’t deny the convenience of the phone as a way to document our families and capture quick images for sharing on social media, so here are some tips to help you do it well!

1. Lighting

Lighting is the single most important factor in your image. Pay attention to where the light is coming from. If you’re outdoors, see where the sun is. While backlighting is good for your real camera, the phone doesn’t take great pictures that way. Make sure the sun is hitting your subject’s face to get the best lighting. If it’s really bright outside, it might even be better to find some shade. The soft, even light you find there is the best! If you’re inside, it’s likely dark which can cause blurry pictures. Open up the blinds and move closer to the windows to get as much sun as you can on your subject. It’s usually best to turn off your inside lights because they cast awful shadows!

2. Subject

Before you think about taking a picture, first consider what you’re photographing. What is the most important piece of your image? Is it your baby’s toes? Is it the city scene? Whatever it is, make sure that is the focus of your image. Scoot in close to draw the attention to your subject. In this picture below, I wanted to photograph the necklaces that my son wears everyday, so instead of taking a picture of him, I scooted in close to just get his hands holding the necklace. It makes the image so much more dynamic that way! And it makes the subject of the photo sharp and clear. Don’t be afraid to get super close!

3. Composition

Have fun with the composition of your pictures. When you’re composing for a square picture, it’s usually best to put your subject right in the center of the frame. However, if you’re taking a horizontal or vertical picture, there is more freedom to move your subject around to the sides of the image. In the photography world, we call this the “rule of thirds.” Just think of the frame like a tic-tac-toe board and remember that your subject doesn’t always have to go right in the middle. Consider placing your subject along the dissecting lines to change things up and add some variety!

4. Horizon Line

It seems like such a simple thing, but make sure that your horizon line is always perfectly straight. If you’re photographing a sunset over the ocean, keeping the horizon line straight is super important because that line is dominant in your picture. But remember this even when the horizon line isn’t as obvious. This will give your photo a sense of balance and stability. Thank goodness for us, Instagram has an adjust feature that lets us fix this in editing if we get it wrong the first time!

5. Editing

My editing philosophy is to get it right in the camera. That’s the first goal! But if your picture is a little dark or dull, using Instagram’s brightness and contrast options are a great first step. If you want to venture a little further in the editing world, I highly recommend the Color Story app. I use it for pretty much every picture I take on my phone. The filters work just like Instagram’s filters, but they’re more subtle. And you can layer and adjust them until your image is perfect!

I have fully embraced the phone as a way to capture images for sharing quickly, but I encourage you to find a way to print them too. I print ours out at the end of each month and have a special photo album just for phone pictures. The images need to exist in our life and not just disappear in some folder on our phones. Generations after us will look back at our lives through the lens of our phones, so we need to do it well!

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Sarah McAffry is a portrait and commercial photographer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. She started working as a full time photographer in 2009 after making a leap of faith leaving her job as a high school teacher. Her little side job quickly turned into a booming full time career, and she has since retired her husband. Sarah is passionate about photographing graduates and educating photographers. Her work has been published in national print and online publications such as: Debut Magazine, Senior Style Guide, Wedding Chicks, Grey Likes Weddings, Ruffled Blog, Baby Lifestyles and more.