You Don’t Need Expensive Cameras: Take Great Photos With a Smartphone

Photography as much as it takes skill, is more of an art. Anybody can take and share photos now with the smartphone revolution, but not many can take breath-taking or thought-provoking photos. Do you need expensive equipment to take great photos? Other than the technical advantage you have over simpler equipment, you may have heard of the saying “a bad craftsman blames his tools”. That applies to photography as well.

In this age of social media, people clamour for more likes, exposure and attention through posting photos, besides sharing memories with others. That is not a bad thing, as we can get closer to others through understanding their lives and what they share. Why do some photos get more attention and likes?

So what do we need to concern ourselves about when taking a quick selfie or smartphone shot? They can be broken down to a few important points:

  1. Uniqueness: Be different! Don’t take a photo for the sake of looking “standard”. Art is not meant to be following strict rules (unless, of course, you are mocking the act of doing so or something)
  2. Focus: Understand what you want to focus on in every picture and present it strongly. Is it the person? The food? The cat’s paws? The baby’s smile? If you do not understand yourself, you cannot expect your viewers to understand either.
  3. Theme/Meaning: What story do you want to tell with that photo? Is it just an experiment with angles and colours or how happy your baby cousin is playing with broccoli but not eating them?

With these in mind, how do we apply to different cases? Abstract theories and ideas makes no sense unless there are some applications, right?

Let’s look at 3 categories of photos many like to take – Loved ones, Scenery and Pets!

1) Loved ones – they deserve beautiful photos!


Focus on the eyes.

Eyes are said to be windows into one’s soul not without reason. They’re the first things people see when looking at another person. Usually a focus on the eyes will enhance the photo a lot more.

A trick some professional photographers do is to take more than one photo of a subject and choose the one with the best-looking eyes. Our eyes are very sensitive to subtle changes in shape and position of others’ eyes. It is an inborn “skill” that just takes a bit more attention to detail than normal!


Any photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that a key to a good image is the lighting. Here’s an easy way to remember: Light and Dark!


  • Avoid direct sunlight in your subject’s face: the harsh sunlight can cause harsh shadows which are not very attractive (eg raccoon eyes). If the sun is in front of them, how do they even open their eyes?
  • Ensure there is enough light to capture your subject’s focus properly


  • Do not let shadows obscure important parts of the subject: For example, their face and eyes
  • Use shadows to your advantage! Interesting shadows can create interesting patterns on your subjects
  • Taking photos in shadow can help the subjects keep their make-up in good condition longer too, so you can experiment with more ideas

Interesting Location

Location is important too! Not just as a background but what they provide:

  • Interactive elements: Does it have interesting trees/doors/furniture/signs/animals/passers-by?
  • Lighting: lighting can be interesting in certain places too! Imagine the difference between a cave with a skylight and one without – they can tell totally different stories!
  • Focus: If you want to focus on the subject more, choose a less attention-grabbing location, and vice versa
  • Complement: Does the place complement or contrast the subject? You will have to determine that based on what you want to achieve!

Be daring to try! Take from different angles and try different locations – you never know what you can end up getting from “random shots”

2) Sceneries – Take your own wallpaper-esque photos


Again? You may ask. However this is as important as when you are taking human subjects. A good scenery must be complemented by good lighting – you’ll want to see clearly what is in your frame as well as capture interesting lighting effects like sun rays, shadows and reflections to name a few!

Check out the same location at different times of the day and you can be surprised how different they look throughout the day.

What goes into the picture: Rule of Thirds + Wide angle lenses

Some of you may be familiar with the rule of thirds, but for those who aren’t, it simply means dividing a frame into thirds and putting the focus or subjects into the intersections:

Rule of Thirds by DPS

The red crosses are where you should be putting your subjects and focal points! This is a simple and effective way to frame your photos for a start, but of course this is not a hard rule: you can experiment and even come up with your own style of framing!

Wide angle lenses: There are many available for smartphones that don’t cost much and breathe new life into what your smartphones can do! Basically the lenses attach onto the phone camera and allow capturing a wider angle (hence that name). Ever taken a group photo but there were too many people and some were outside the left and right edges of the camera? Wide angle lenses can solve this problem by extending the range!


Do you need an expensive tripod? No! There are many tripods that can hold a smartphone stably, and do not cost an arm or a leg.

Hint: check out the $2/₤1 shops or equivalent – sometimes they do stock up on these! Or the bargain bin at the local hardware/phone store.

What can tripods do? They can help you capture photos without accidental blurring due to movement. To be even more stable, you can consider getting a cable or bluetooth camera shutter remote – there are many choices for smartphones!

3) Cute Pets – probably the best way to gather likes/+1’s/retweets

The biggest problem all pet owners/animal enthusiasts encounter is that animals do not stay still (usually) because they have no idea what you are doing with the cold slab of plastic/metal in your hands, waving it in front of their faces.

Other than taking photos 24/7, So how do people take awesome and cute pet photos?

Have treats ready at all times

Just like all training regimes, the best motivation for most animals boil down to food! All you require is a packet of treats to bribe these unpredictable friends into letting you take photos of them.

Treat them when you are trying to take photos, so they associate your phone with positive rewards. Train them to stay still whenever your phone is pointing at them, or even do a trick in front of the camera! Alternatively, just hold the treat near the camera lenses or at something you want them to look at.

Slow motion or high shutter speed

Some pets are just active, and their owners love them as much. Active pets make great photo subjects too, as the vibrancy and energy can brighten up someone’s day.

On newer phones that support in-depth adjustments, you can set the camera to Shutter Priority or Continuous Focus for the focus to maintain on the moving subject.

Alternatively for older devices, you can use Burst Mode to rapidly take many photos at one go and select the ones that are not blurred from movement, and discard the blurred ones.

If your phone supports slow-motion video, one trick is to use slow-motion to capture the motion then extract the frames you like on a PC movie editor or something similar. The resolution will be lower, but the trade-off is that you can slowly choose the best moment to save as a photo. For example, a 120fps slow-motion video provides you 120 frames to choose from!

Include people

How about combining what you have learned above? Include a human subject! Photos of the pet interacting with its owner make great photo subjects too. The owner can be cuddling, playing, chilling and even napping with the pet and that is something that can easily captivate the hearts of others. Depending on the individuals, the photos can either show the differences and/or similarities between the pet and the owner, opening a lot of possibilities!

Now that you have taken great photos, you definitely do not just want to post them on social media and forget about them. As smartphone photography enthusiasts ourselves, we love to look at our photos as much as possible (sorry, that may sound a bit narcissistic but we really do), so we made a Live Wallpaper app that can display an animated collage of our favorite photos – Photo Wall FX!

And hey, it’s free, because we just want to share the love of photos (and maybe narcissism – what’s wrong with that!?).

Photo Wall LogoPhoto Wall FX – The Live Wallpaper + Gallery + Photo Collage

How do we like to use the app? Here are some suggestions to make full use of the Live Wallpaper:

Quick tips!

  • Double-tap on any picture to view it full-screen! It’s not a gallery for no reason.
  • You can set the layouts for portrait and landscape to your liking

Have a theme – make custom folders!


How does a Sundae-themed Live Wallpaper sound to you?

We added the function to create custom sets of photos in Photo Wall FX which does not affect how you organize your photos in your device, so you can create custom photo sets depending on mood, occasion or theme as you like!

  • Subject – have a set with the same subject! For example, your pet, a type of food (like the above!), a certain place, a certain type of photo composition
  • Color – a photo set with similar colours look great too! Be it cerulean blue, mossy green, cool black, sunset orange – try putting photos of similar colours together as a set and you can be surprised how well it looks!
  • Style – if you took photos with different styles, for example a set with tile-shift landscapes, a set with fish-eye lenses, they make an interesting set too!
  • Event – probably the simplest of all. Simply keep a set of your photos of a specific event, like a birthday party or halloween celebration to re-live those happy moments

Here’s where to find the custom albums feature:

PWFX Custom Albums

Apply live filters

We went a bit overboard here, and included lots of live filters for you to play with! Filters are great to give your Live Wallpaper a consistent look even if the photos are very different.

Some of the live filters we included are: Sepia, Mono, Oil Painting, Invert, Tint, Engrave, Emboss and many more!

There is even a random mode. Try it out!

Dim Settings

PWFX-Filters and Dim

Sometimes our photos are just too vibrant and gorgeous, but we end up being unable to read our apps’ names on the home screen!

We added a dim setting as a slider, so you can choose how much dim to apply onto the Live Wallpaper – from no dim to very very dim. Practical and beauty can go together!

A simple and much-requested feature which many of our users end up not being able to live without!

A little wrap-up

We hope you enjoyed the little tips we shared! If you have more tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

If you would like to try out Photo Wall FX, it’s a free download from Google Play Store, and do share your creations with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram! Show us something awesome and we may even share it with other users!


This article is brought to you by the team behind Photo Wall FX who have too much obsession taking photos with their smartphones but are never bothered by that. When not taking photos they can be seen customizing their Home Screens compulsively.
Photo Wall FX: Free Live Wallpaper on Google Play Store

This article is partly contributed to by our guest writer Kenneth. Thank you Kenneth! If you would like to contribute an article to our blog, contact us through any of our communication channels!

Handy Apps specializes in developing high value apps for the Android platform. Our line of innovative products includes our latest finance manager app Expense IQ.

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Posted in Blog, Lifestyle, News, Photo Wall FX

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