The early bird not only catches the worm, it also takes the best photographs. Find out how to illuminate your smartphone shots with these 5 expert lighting tips…

If you’ve read the first in our Picture Perfect series, you’ll now know the importance of composition in mobile photography. But it’s not the only aspect to consider in creating the perfect shot. From shooting selfies in the shade to adjusting the exposure, it’s time to shine a light on lighting with expert tips from Andy Butler, founder and editor of and the Mobiography digital magazine…

1. Shoot at sunrise

First up, Andy says good light is essential and natural light is ideal. There’s a reason they say ‘bright and early’ – the best light comes at dawn:

“If you don’t mind getting up early, try shooting during the golden hour at sunrise (or sunset if you’re not an early riser),” Andy says. “At these times of day, the light is warm and soft with long shadows – perfect for landscape photography.”

Sunrise over Windermere, Lake District

A post shared by Andy Butler (@caravananders) on

When it comes to the golden hour, the word ‘hour’ is figurative. The length of time varies depending on where you are, the time of year and weather conditions. But generally, the time just after sunrise and just before sunset produces the glowing conditions and reddish light that makes scenes look more like magical memories than actual locations. To make the most of your time, arrive at your location before the light is just right. This will allow you to set-up and scope out the best vantage points without wasting precious light.

2. Expose for highlights

According to Andy, when shooting towards the sun your smartphone camera often struggles with the light and dark dynamic:

“One of the main points I’d say about lighting is to set your focus and exposure to the brightest part of the scene. This will most likely darken the rest of the image, but it will mean you can lighten any of the dark areas of the photos in post-production using an app like Snapseed or Lightroom Mobile,” he explains.

“If the bright areas of the photo are overexposed then you will lose any detail in those areas. If you want to get technical, you may want to consider shooting in a RAW file format using apps like Procamera or Camera+.”

To achieve balanced exposure using your native iPhone camera app simply tap the screen at a point where you want to focus. A yellow square will appear on the screen next to a vertical slider. You’ll then need to move the sun icon up or down to make the image lighter or darker. Andy says you want to expose the image so detail is retained in the highlights while ensuring the image isn’t too dark overall. If you’re using Android, tap the sun icon and adjust the slider to achieve the same effect, or tap settings in camera mode on Windows Phone and select the level of brightness.

Framed by the beauty of contemporary design

A post shared by Andy Butler (@caravananders) on

3. Avoid the flash

If shooting indoors, Andy recommends positioning your subject near a window or natural light source rather than using the flash:

“I would avoid using your smartphone’s built in flash as it can be too harsh or unflattering. However, there are accessories you can buy such as the Nova or Lumecube – these are external flashes that can be placed to one side of your subject and triggered via Bluetooth. The lighting can also be adjusted so the results are a lot more flattering.”

Shooting near a window can also be a great way to create a sense of mood, as shadows cast on surrounding objects create interesting patterns and compositions.

4. Diffused light is best for portraits

Much like the golden hour produces soft, warm light, shooting in diffused light evens out any shadows on your subject’s face to create more flattering portraits.

“Seek out natural shade such as that of a tree, building or covered canopy,” Andy says. “This way skin tones are more natural and your subject won’t be squinting into the sunlight or have harsh shadows cast across their face.”

See no evil, hear no evil ~ Shot with Procamera in RAW then edited in Snapseed

A post shared by Andy Butler (@caravananders) on

5. Try to position your light source behind or to one side

Wherever possible Andy says he tries to position his light source behind or to one side of his subject.

While avoiding shadows in flat lay (top-down) photography is a matter of personal taste (think of your favourite food or wellness Instagrammer), Andy says having some sort of side lighting will add depth and interest. Generally, the greater the angle of the light to the subject, the more the texture is revealed.

The very word ‘photography’ comes from the Greek words ‘pho’ meaning light and ‘graphis’ meaning drawing, so it should come as no surprise that lighting plays a vital role. With a good understanding of light and how it changes, you can really level up your photos; a few minor alterations can make all the difference.

Feeling enlightened? Now you’ve got a good grip on lighting, it’s time to line up your smartphone shots. Master composition with the first in our Picture Perfect series.