6 Photography Hacks for Taking Photos with Your Smartphone

Liz Pekler

It’s 2016 and artistic photography is no longer limited to high-end, costly DSLR cameras. Most smartphones are now equipped with high-quality cameras, and while they still have a long way to go before they can truly compete with professional cameras, they can definitely get the job done.

Your smartphone is very often the most convenient tool you have at your disposal, and with the help of some innovative app or two, you can turn your ordinary smartphone snaps into something much more creative.

There are also a few smartphone tools you can use to take your smartphone photos to a whole new level.

However, if you want to go ‘old school’ and make your photos as unique as possible without using apps or spending money on expensive smartphone add-ons, below are a few hacks you may want to try:

1. Use your sunglasses as a polarizing filter.

Polarizing filters are fitted onto the lens of a DSLR camera to help cut down on glare, remove distracting reflections, and influence exposure. When using a smartphone, an easy and inexpensive hack is to shoot through your sunglasses. This offers the same benefits as a polarizing filter, as well as lend beautifully colored gradient effects on your images (depending on the color of your sunglasses).

2. Place your phone in a glass or mason jar for underwater photos.

Starfish photographed underwater

Want to take underwater photos with your smartphone? No need to spend on expensive waterproof cases when you can just grab something from the kitchen!

Place your phone in a drinking glass, wide-mouthed mason jar, a glass pitcher, or any deep glass container to take underwater photos without getting your phone wet. Make sure to keep the top part of the vessel above the water to keep it from accidentally flooding your phone.

This hack is also great for taking over-under (also known as split-shot) photos, which are basically underwater photos that also show half of whatever’s above the water.

3. Punch a hole in cardboard and fasten it to your camera lens

Go vintage by turning your phone into a makeshift pinhole camera. Just take a small piece of cardboard, punch a small, neat hole into it; and tape it to the back of your camera (directly over your lens). Remember: the hole needs to be much smaller than your smartphone camera’s lens to take advantage of the effect.

4. Use glow sticks for cool, colorful effects.

Glow sticks are a fun, inexpensive (100 glow sticks in assorted colors go for just $10) way to add some interest to your photos. For this hack, all you need to do is hold the glow sticks in front of your camera’s lens to put them in the foreground of your photo. This will also make them photograph slightly out of focus for that blurry, glowing effect.

You can also try light painting or capturing random streaks of light, but this technique will require a bit more effort and experimentation. This involves long exposures, which is not possible on smartphones unless you use an app (like Slow Shutter Cam) and a tripod.

5. Use a magnifying glass as a makeshift macro lens.

Nokia N8 with improvised macros lens

Nokia N8 with improvised macros lens.

The average smartphone is notorious for having terrible digital zoom capabilities, which is why most photography buffs advise just cropping your images instead of zooming in. But if you enjoy taking macro photos, this can be a problem.

One hack you may find useful is using a small magnifying glass as a “macro lens” for your smartphone. Dan Chiriac demonstrates this technique in this quick video. It’s a cheaper alternative to buying a dedicated smartphone macro lens, which will usually cost between $20 and $70.

6. Experiment with crystal prisms to create abstract compositions.

A crystal prism available on EBay.

Remember those crystal prisms your science teacher used to teach you about light spectrums? Apparently, they also make great tools for abstract photography.

Whether you’re using a DSLR or a smartphone, these handy little glass instruments can transform an otherwise drab and boring photo into an abstract work of art.

You can purchase prisms online (for as little as $6) or at your local hobby or science shop.