Phone Shots – Better Phone Shots

Here are a few basic rules should make taking better watch shots only marginally more complex than what you may be currently doing.

I’m going to put this caveat on the front-end: If you know enough to critique this guide, or think it needs to go into further technical detail, feel free to skip over it and go straight to the more advanced stuff in our other guides. If you know that much already, this isn’t written with you in mind.

The goal for this guide is to allow you to start taking more direct control of the adjustments and settings that your smartphone camera makes automatically.

These auto settings often do things that result in blurry, grainy, or washed out photos. But if you have a new enough phone you can manipulate 3 basic settings to allow for the best possible picture your phone can take.

Because there is so much variation with android, and I personally use an iPhone.

The 3 settings we want to control are Shutter Speed, Focus, and ISO.

I’ll give a brief explanation of each, but for more detail on how these interact (as well as a 4th one that most phones can’t control called Aperture) take a look at our more advanced guides. As I said before, HOW you get control of these settings will vary phone to phone, and app to app. I highly recommend VSCO Cam for iOS as the best all in one app.

It is also available for Android, but they have not released the advanced control functions for Android yet so you’ll need to use something else for now.

Before we get started on adjusting settings, it helps to have an understanding of the goal of these adjustments.

Smartphone cameras photo quality degrades significantly as ISO is INCREASED, and shutter speed is DECREASED. Because of the limitations of using a tiny camera stuck in your phone, it will do both of these things ALL THE TIME, in order to take what it thinks is a good picture. I’ll explain the technical reasons briefly in the next section, but feel free to skip to the instructions if you don’t care about this. The reason a smartphone camera will be prone to increasing ISO and decreasing shutter speed is it takes more light for a smartphone to take a good picture than a regular camera and increasing ISO and decreasing shutter speed give you more light. Doing both of these things also adds the following negatives at the expense of getting more light.

Increasing ISO adds noise (graininess) to the image, decreasing shutter speed, makes it much more likely the photo will be blurry, you have to hold the camera even more still when taking a picture at a low shutter speed, more on that later though.


Because of how we’re going to be adjusting our other settings, we will need some natural (outside) light.

This doesn’t have to be direct sunlight, just standing by a window is all you need. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy outside, as long as it’s daytime and your light source is a window, the sun, or just being outdoors, you’ll be getting enough light. Indoor lighting will not give enough light. So step one is get close to a window or get outside.

Light from a cloudy window is more useful to us than sitting directly under some florescents or trying to use a table lamp.


This is probably the most critical setting that will affect your overall image quality.

Like focus, in auto modes your phone will be constantly raising and lowering this in response to how bright the subject of the photo is. Remember step 1, because we’re using natural light, we can set our ISO very low.

You want to set it at ISO 50 for the best image quality if you can’t go lower than something like ISO 100-200 that’s fine, whatever is your phone’s lowest setting is probably the one you want.

Setting your ISO low is the primary reason we want to be using natural light, it will be difficult to use an ISO setting this low with only artificial light.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed in simple terms, is how long it takes for your phone to take a picture.

Now it takes it pretty wicked fast, but even then, the human hand can only be so steady, your twitchy caffeine craving limbs can only hold still for so long. Unfortunately, not long enough to make sure your picture comes out clear and crisp, unless you adjust your shutter speed.

For hand held shooting, a general rule of thumb is you need at least a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, however, we want to set it, as high as we can, while still getting enough light that our picture turns out the way we want it.

It helps to adjust the other settings, and know where you’re taking your picture, before setting this one.


Your camera when using auto-focus will constantly be adjusting what it is focusing on, most phone cameras made baby steps towards improving this by adding a focus lock feature, but true manual focus is what we’re looking for.

Most camera apps use a slider to adjust the focus, if you adjust the slider (in whatever app you’re using) left or right, you should see that at one extreme end, things that are closer are in focus, and at the other end, things that are further away are in focus. Set it so things that are closer to you are in focus. This will make close-ups of the dial easier, and when holding the phone, make it easier to rest the hand holding the phone on some surface to steady it. With the focus set in this way, you can now move the phone closer to, or further from your wrist to adjust what is in focus on your watch.

This more hands on method of focusing gives you a lot more control, instead of the phone constantly changing what it thinks should be in focus.

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