Photography Advice

A Smartphone Is the Best Camera to Improve Your Photography

Part 1

I want to challenge your way of thinking about camera gear and prove to you that your smartphone is the best and possibly most important camera that you own. Now, I bet you are thinking I’ve lost my mind; that I’ve finally crossed over to the dark side, sold my Nikon gear, skipped Sony completely, and decided to become a full-time iPhoneographer. No way! I still love my Nikons, I have mad respect for Sony and all of the other brands that are out there…even Pentax! Instead, I am going to do my best- in a two part series- to convince you that the most important piece of gear you own is your smartphone.

So, why is the most important camera that you own your smartphone? Simple… it’s the camera that you always have with you – sometimes a little too always – but always.

Why should you use your smartphone camera?

Your smartphone possesses the ability to help you improve your understanding of photography, increase your creativity, and, in the next article on this topic, I will prove to you that it can even dramatically improve the way that you use your DSLR or mirrorless pro cameras… with your smartphone.

Watch the VIDEO…

If you have seen any of my previous videos or read my blog articles, you know that I preach the idea of practice. It is impossible to grow and develop your photography skills to the point where you are capable of turning out consistently great photographs without LOTS and LOTS of practice.

Smartphones allow you to do just that; easily, and without hassle. Of course, I am not saying that you should ditch your pro cameras, and I am not saying that smartphones are going to replace pro cameras. I am saying that the best way to improve your ability to see light, create good compositions, and make interesting photographs is to always be looking for opportunities to create an interesting image – of any kind. And your smartphone makes it easy to do just that.

You know we always hear that phrase that the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s not always the case, but that saying reminds you to work with what you have because the better gear doesn’t make better photos unless you know what you are doing as a photographer.

It has also been argued that photography is not creative. Indeed the act of taking a photo, of pushing the button to close the shutter… that’s not creativity. Creativity is coming up with a unique concept and solving a set of problems to be able to take a photo that is different or unique and stands apart from the crowd.

My Challenge to myself

Smartphone images of a woman's legs and boots on mulch, a closeup of a nut and bolt, and a restaurant through a misted window

During my livestreams on YouTube and on Facebook, I frequently talk about the idea that I take photos practically every single day with my iPhone. Sure, when I was younger I was the camera geek that took my camera to school, to dinner, to the mall, to pretty much anywhere I went, because you never know what amazing photo opportunity could present itself. So I always had a camera handy. But now, who wants to carry that much camera gear around all the time? Hence, the smartphone

Recently I had a few people call me out about these statements and challenge the idea that I actually take photos or even think through photos every single day. So I decided to provide proof and I started a second Instagram account called I hope you will follow me.


I want to make something REALLY CLEAR… I am NOT a fan of doing the 365 day photo challenges. I find these challenges to be the equivalent of New Years Resolutions; when you are celebrating and you’re drunk the resolution sounds wonderful. A few days later when you’ve sobered up you realize just how much work is involved, and now that the fun is gone that also means the creative buzz is squashed.

And honestly, since I have made this commitment to prove this to people and not just think about a photo but shoot a photo -it is work. Fortunately for me, I love my work.

So don’t start out on a 365 day photo challenge to prove something. It will take the fun out and kill the creative joy at the same time. Instead, take or think through photos every day because you are passionate about developing your skills and passionate about the process of making cool photographs.

What makes this fun for me is that I don’t shoot portraits and beauty shots and models with my iPhone. I shoot bright colors, abstracts, and I tend to shoot a lot of macros. In other words, I shoot things that don’t count professionally. There is no client. There is no money. There is no pressure. There is just creative exploration. It actually takes me back to when I was eleven years old and got my first camera and took pictures of pretty much EVERYTHING just because I could and thought that it was so cool.

So how does this help me as a photographer and how can it help you?

Creating a great photograph requires a LOT of skills, regardless of the type or genre of photography. There is the technical side (understanding the gear), the physics side (such as the exposure triangle, the need to understand light, the inverse square law, and depth of field), and finally the creative side (having unique thoughts and ideas and then solving problems to show things in a different or unique way).

That is a pretty long list. And that list frequently overwhelms new and young photographers. Also, just like an athlete, because of all of the skills that are required to create consistently good photographs, great photographers need to practice and master these skills. Then, just like an athlete, they must practice and use the skills daily in order to keep them sharp and readily available.

Smartphone image of a leaf, a child on a swing from behind, and a yellow metal P with paint peeling off it

Now, I’ve had people ask me, “How is doing a macro shot of a leaf with an iPhone going to help you the next time you shoot a portrait in your studio?” If I find an interesting leaf, I will rarely spend more than five minutes photographing it. During that time, though, I am using my skills and considering composition, lighting, depth of field and a list of other photographic techniques. Not to mention that I always shoot raw files with my iPhone so I will have to process that image, and consider brightness, contrast, highlights, shadows, saturation, ambiance, color temperature and, well, a lengthy list of items – ALL of which are things that I have to consider when I shoot that portrait in the studio with my professional camera.

So when do I take all these photos?

Sometimes I take the photos while I am walking my dogs.

Sometimes I take the photos in a restaurant while I am waiting for my meal to be served.

I take pictures from the back seat of a cab, and especially in airplanes. Below is a set of photos that I did while I was particularly bored on a plane.

bright colors and swirls taken with smartphone through a glass on top of an iPad with a colorful background

I photographed an almost empty cup of soda, an iPad with some bright colored designs in the image gallery and I held the cup over the iPad and the phone over the cup. No macro lens – just the iPhone.

When I teach my college course on creativity, I make all of my students photograph an egg with their smartphones. If you don’t know what the big deal about the egg is, be sure to read this article or watch this video.

various shots of an egg in a paper cone taken with smartphone and light behind it

In conclusion

Hopefully, I have your attention and I’ve sparked a few ideas. But the moral here isn’t just to practice and to take photos with your smartphone. I promised you that I could prove to you how your smartphone can improve ALL of your photography, even with your expensive pro cameras…. THAT will be in part II. Along with all the details that I know you want to hear about what my favorite apps are and how I process my smartphone images.

So for now… go and pick up that smartphone – or your Sony or Nikon or Canon, or Olympus, or Fuji, or Panasonic and yes, even that Pentax – and shoot something! Because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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