The Corel World # 9: The Smartphone Geek’s Guide to Better Photos

There’s an old saying which states that a picture is worth a thousand words. As someone who makes their living with words, that saying actually makes me a little nervous. And when I get nervous, I get a little gassy and trust me, that’s not going to be good for anyone.

All of which might explain why I’ve developed a keen interest in photography over the past year or so. The way I figure it, if someone’s going to replace my thousand words with a picture, I better be the one taking it. Unfortunately, when I first started out, my efforts were a little well… horrible (although I did manage to get some incredible photos which include my thumb, as well as a series of stunning vacation pics that really captured the subtle beauty of my camera’s lens cap). Fortunately, snapping photos is something I really enjoy doing and I actually think I’ve gotten a little better at it. And besides, even if my images do suck at least I’m having fun doing it (hey, don’t judge me!).

A real purdy picture of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa which I took with my iPhone


These days I particularly love taking photos with my iPhone. And since I’m not quite swanky enough to own a six-billion dollar DSLR camera with artificial intelligent holographic projector and built-in margarita mixer, I tend to do my photo editing directly on my iPhone or using a few entry-level programs on my computer.

With that in mind, I thought I might share a couple of tips which I’ve found helpful and which hopefully you will too. I give you…

The Smartphone Geek’s Guide to Better Photography

1. The Rule of Thirds

You might have heard photographers dropping this term around like a carefully guarded trade secret. Turns out it’s actually pretty easy. It involves dividing an image into a nine-square grid and then placing elements where the lines intersect (for example a third of the way from the left or right side of the photo). Your smartphone camera even has the option to bring up a handy grid and using the Rule of Thirds you can create some eye-catching pics, plus sound uber-smart when you use the term in casual conversation. (“Oh this incredible photo of my pet boa constrictor Muffins? It’s nothing, I just used the Rule of Thirds on it.”)

2. Be Ready to Take Anything, Anywhere

Watching your neighbor suddenly getting attacked by a pack of rabid squirrels? Snap it! Your adorable nephew projectile vomiting into the face of a clown at a birthday party? Snap it! Yes, the great thing about smartphones is that having them around means never having to miss a moment. Given how powerful smartphone cameras are, it also means that you can take some incredibly rich images (the iPhone 4S for example has an 8 megapixel camera). I keep my iPhone camera app either opened at all times or on my home screen so I can get it to it quickly if need be. I also have a separate folder of photo-editing apps so I can make quick adjustments on the go. Fingers crossed I get abducted by aliens someday soon, cause those lil’ green suckers are gonna get a snootful of iPhone camera!

3. Get Thyself a Decent Photo-Editing App

If you’re like me, taking photos is only half the battle. You’ll probably want to touch them up to make them really stand out. That’s where having a good app on your smartphone or computer comes in handy. Here are a few of my favs:

  • Instagram: A simple, fun and streamlined photo app (which may explain why Facebook picked them up for a measly $1 billion dollars). Simply take a pic, apply various filters to it and then share it online. Sure some people may complain that Instagram is “dumming down” photography, but for the rest of us, it’s pure smartphone photo gold.
  • camera+: It’s a little bit tricky to use at first, but this versatile app has a lot going on for it. The best thing about it in my opinion, however, is its “Clarity” feature. You just select your photo, apply Clarity and the app uses some kind of Gandalf-style photo magic to make the details pop. There’s also a ton of options for adding frames and filters and making quick adjustments.
  • Snapseed: It’s a bit pricier than most smartphone apps, but Snapseed includes some incredibly deep options. It has all the filters and frames of Instagram, but offers dozens of tweakable settings and features. If you’re willing to spend some time messing around with your photos you can get some amazing results with this bad boy.
  • PaintShop Pro X4: A killer program (and I’m not saying this because I work on it), PaintShop Pro basically has all the power of the Adobe-Product-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named (hint: it rhymes with boat-oh-crop) but is much, MUCH easier to use. That’s not to say you’ll pick up PaintShop Pro in a few seconds, but it’s actually pretty intuitive and with a bit of trial and error you can get up and running pretty quickly. I’ve spent more than a few hours working away on a single photo and discovering new features. Trust me, this thing’s awesome.

Another iPhone photo I took of Corel’s head office here in beautiful Ottawa. Note the magical unicorns and leprechauns frolicking in the background.

4. Experiment

For me, the whole fun of taking photos on my smartphone is experimenting. Professional photographers may complain about apps like Instagram stealing their thunder, but that’s what makes smartphone photography so amazing. Literally anyone can do it. I know nothing about the photographic theory behind Contrast and Saturation effects, but I do know that by moving around doohickeys and making adjustments to them I can make cool things happen to my photos. That’s another great thing about today’s smartphone photo apps: they really distill complex technology into a simplified form so easy, even a complete twit like me can figure it out!

5. Ask People Who Take Awesome Photos

Some of my friends are fantastically talented photographers (including a couple who actually make a living doing it), so for me the best way to learn has simply been by asking. For example, I’ve found out a lot about using HDR (that’s High Dynamic Range, if you want to know it’s fancy full name) from speaking with the amazing PaintShop Pro product marketing manager, Evelyn Watts. And I learned about Snapseed from my friend and Corel designer extraordinaire, Tim Logan. There’s also a whole community of folks out there who can offer you advice and places to showcase your work (PaintShop Pro for example, has a Facebook page where you can find images, advice and connect with other photogs).

So get out there and start snapping with your smartphone already! There’s a ton of great iPhone and Android apps out there that make it easier than ever for amateurs to create pictures so fan-freaking-tastic, a thousand words is just the beginning.

Do you love taking photos with smartphone? What’s your favorite app? Post some of your work in the comments below and let us see!

About Adam Volk

My name is Adam and I'm a copywriter with Corel’s Marketing Department. In a past life, I've been employed as a book editor, journalist and video game screenwriter. I enjoy reading, biking and cheesy 80s action movies. I can neither confirm nor deny rumors that I am a massive nerd.
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One Response to The Corel World # 9: The Smartphone Geek’s Guide to Better Photos

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