Linda Holt, photographer and designer, spoke at the January 2022 Atlanta Market.

Professional photographer, designer and owner of Linda Holt CreativeLinda Holt knows a thing or two about taking quality photos. One look at her portfolio or her Instagram feed and one would imagine she has bags of camera gear to aid her endeavours; but the truth is, she uses her smartphone for most of her photos these days.

During January’s Atlanta market, Holt held a seminar called “Five Smartphone Photo Tips to Elevate Your Brand.” In it, she explains how retailers and manufacturers can elevate their social media channels and digital brand with quality photography, all taken from their smartphone. The best part is that the tips are simple and can be used right away.

Tip #1: Use your smartphone like a professional DSLR

To get the most out of your smartphone camera, Holt recommends using some of its more professional features. For starters, did you know that you can manually adjust your exposure (i.e. control how bright or dark your photo is) before taking a shot? If you’re an iPhone user, tap your finger on the screen where you want the “light meter” to set exposure, then hold your finger on the screen until a yellow box with a sun appears . Slide your finger up the screen to brighten the image or down to darken it.

“Zoom with your feet, not your fingers!” –Linda Holt, Linda Holt Creative

If you are a Samsung user, tap the screen until you see a yellow circle. At the bottom of the screen, drag the small circle on the line left or right to control the brightness.

Another pro feature is to adjust the focus manually. Tap and hold the screen until AF/AE lock appears on your screen. This will help avoid blurry or “soft” images.

For a professional style, don’t forget the Portrait mode if your phone offers it. This will allow you to blur the background behind the focus of your photo. This is especially important if you are taking a photo in a busy store or showroom.

If your phone has multiple optical lenses, be sure to use those as well. A key rule when taking photos with your smartphone, Holt pointed out, is to never use your fingers to zoom in on a photo. This is not a true “zoom” and will only blur the image. When you use your fingers to “zoom in” on an image by “pinching” on the screen, it causes the pixels to explode, rather than close together. If your phone has multiple optical lenses, select your “1x lens”, “3x lens” or “2.5 telephoto lens” to take a closer shot. If you don’t have multiple lenses on your smartphone, Holt says, “Zoom with your feet, not your fingers!”

Tip #2:

While many of us are used to taking selfies from a flattering downward angle, it’s not the most appealing angle for products or other subjects. Always take a photo at the same level as what you are photographing. Got a new bar cart? Shoot him at waist level, not from above. This gives a straighter and more attractive image and does not distort the true lines or features of the product.

Most smartphones also have a photo grid to make sure your alignment is straight. You can enable your camera grid through your camera settings.

Tip #3: Master the lighting

If you are able to control the timing of your photo shoot, choose a time when the lighting is ideal. For example, if you’re taking a picture of a new storefront or a thumbnail in front of your main window, don’t take pictures when the light is strong and shining directly through the window. Choose a time when the natural light is pleasant and uniform.

Also pay attention to your artificial lights. Avoid capturing lamps, tin can lights, spotlights, or any other shop or showroom lighting in the image itself, and where possible, simply turn them off. Lighting can cause blown out “hot spots” or bright halos in your image that cannot be changed later. If the image looks too dark, use your manual exposure settings to brighten the image rather than using real light.

Tip #4: Photograph people like a pro

When photographing models, pay attention to detail. First, make sure there is nothing in the background; you don’t want a plant or a lamp to seem to pop out of their head! A quick look at your journey can make all the difference. Also pay attention to the lighting and avoid harsh shadows on your model’s face. Usually, photos look best when the model is facing a natural light source. Always avoid harsh light directly behind your model.

Holt suggests that if you see unflattering shadows and aren’t sure what the best angle is, just ask your models to turn around in a circle while you follow them with your camera. Stop when the lighting is best.

Tip #5: Use these photo editing apps

Holt’s two favorite photo editing apps are Snapseed, which is a free application, and Touch retouching, which costs about $2. With these two apps in your toolbox, Holt says you can fix the three most common issues with smartphone photos. Snapseed improves photo quality by fixing brightness, darkness, saturation, and contrast issues, as well as perspective issues. At the seminar, Holt showed an image she took of a house. Because it was pulling upwards from the ground, the house seemed to get smaller upwards and was not properly aligned. With Snapseed she was able to “tilt” the house forward and fix the weird angle and perspective issues!

Touch Retouch’s only job is to remove unwanted objects from an image. Is there an unsightly stain on the floor or on the shelf where you photograph the products? Use Touch Retouch to remove it!

Holt has been a professional photographer for 25 years and a smartphone photographer since 2014. She founded Linda Holt Creative in 2011 and created the Smartphone Photography for Interior Designers and Home Professionals course. For a new tip every Tuesday, follow her on Facebook or Instagram at @lindaholtcreative.