Your Old Phone Can Still Take Amazing Photos


You can get shots that will impress your Instagram followers even if you have an old iPhone or an Android phone.

Apple’s latest iPhone 13 Pro comes with a suite of cameras capable of taking stunning photos that will impress even the most jaded Instagram followers. However, at $999, it is an expensive piece of equipment that is out of reach for many of us. So what if you’re using an older phone but still want to send beautiful photos to your friends, family, and envious coworkers?

Even 2017’s iPhone X has a camera that wowed us at the time, and while it lacks the features found on today’s models, it can still take great photos. However, the hardware will only take your images so far; you’ll need to put in some effort yourself to elevate your shots from “ho-hum” snaps to “oh wow!” works of art.

So, here are my top tips for getting the best images out of an old iPhone. However, keep in mind that most of these suggestions will only apply if you have an iPhone or an Android phone.

Perfect your composition.

You can use the most advanced camera system on the planet to take a photo, but if your framing is off, you’ll still get a bad photo. After all, if you’re photographing a beautiful church and accidentally cut off the spire, no amount of editing will restore it.

Don’t just start snapping away at your photo location. Instead, take your time, walk around, and think about how the scene in front of you will look in your shot. Taking a landscape photograph? Look for leading lines that snake their way into the scene, such as pathways or old stone walls. Perhaps there are some interesting rocks or flowers in the foreground that could add some interest.

In the settings, you can also enable a “rule of thirds” grid overlay to help line up the various elements in your scene in a visually pleasing manner – or simply to help keep your horizons straight.

Experiment with different options if you have multiple rear cameras that provide a zoomed-in or wide-angle view. Perhaps zooming in will help you eliminate distracting elements, or perhaps the wider view will allow you to capture more of the beautiful scene in front of you.

If you don’t have a wide-angle lens, try using panorama mode to get a wider shot than your standard camera can provide – or use clip-on lenses, as I discuss below.

Tell us a story.

The most memorable, iconic images over the years aren’t necessarily those taken with the best camera, but those that tell a specific story or capture a specific moment in time. And, while you may not be attempting to win a photojournalism award during your summer vacation, thinking like a photojournalist can help you capture images that you’ll want to look back on in the future.

Perhaps you’ll be visiting the lovely Italian coast this year. Of course, you’ll get a nice view of the ocean from your hotel terrace, but remember what else made your trip so memorable: the plates of delicious food, the old, dusty streets, the musician performing in the square, or the vibrant colours of the fruits and flower stands at the local market. When you look back through your photos, you’ll notice that they capture the heart of the location and tell a great visual story.

And it doesn’t have to be limited to a large family vacation. A weekend walk downtown to the street food market will provide ample opportunity for story-telling, from the street art you see along the way to the plates of vibrant cuisine you select upon arrival. And none of these things requires cutting-edge camera technology to capture beautifully.

Make the most of the light.

While today’s top phones, such as the iPhone 13 Pro, Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Pixel 6 Pro, can take excellent night-time photos, older models are unlikely to have night modes. As a result, when it comes to capturing great images, darkness is not your friend. If you’re going to a city viewpoint, try to go during the day, when there’s a lovely blue sky sprinkled with fluffy clouds, rather than at night.

The harsh quality of midday photography is often avoided by landscape photographers, but if you’re exploring city streets, it can offer some great opportunities to look for contrast caused by shadows, which can make for dramatic images.

No multi-camera iPhone? Make use of clip-on lenses.

While older iPhones may lack the multiple lenses found on newer models, you don’t have to settle. Moment and Olloclip, for example, make phone lenses that provide wide-angle, telephoto, and even macro views.

Use editing apps to express your creativity.

Taking the photo is only part of the process; a keen eye in the editing stage can make or break the creation of beautiful photographic art. If you want a more natural-looking photograph, use apps like Lightroom or Google’s Snapseed. These raw image editors allow you to fine-tune your images by giving you control over colours, exposure, and contrast.

You can also take your creativity to the next level with apps like Prisma, which turns your photos into often psychedelic-looking scenes, and Bazaart, which allows you to easily create wild photo collages that can look really cool. More ideas can be found in the roundup of my favourite image editing apps.

The great thing about editing is that there are no right or wrong answers, and you can always return to your original image if you don’t like the changes you made. However, employing some of these techniques can transform an otherwise forgettable shot into something truly memorable. Make a cup of tea, settle into a comfortable chair, and experiment with the sliders in your preferred app to see what you can come up with.

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