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As a part of my resolutions for last year, I embarked on a project to take 52 photos in 2014. Since the best camera is the one that’s with you, my iPhone served as my primary tool for completing the project, and that worked remarkably well. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your own smartphone camera, based on what I learned during that journey:

1. Learn the fundamentals

One of the easiest ways to take better pictures comes from a better understanding of photography fundamentals. Here are some tips in that regard:

An example of the rule of thirds in action.
An example of the rule of thirds in action.

Use the rule of thirds. You can often create a more dynamic image by placing the focal point on one of the lines that appears when you divide the frame in thirds. Smartphone camera apps usually have a way to turn on a grid that shows you the breakdown. On iOS, go to Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid (you’ll have to scroll down a bit). On Android…consult Google for the instructions for your particular model.

Zoom by moving your body. The built-in camera apps on every smartphone let users “zoom” the image that they’re shooting, but using that feature is almost never the right call. That’s because the zoom only crops down what your camera sees, resulting in a lower-quality image.

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Set the focal point of the image. The camera software we have now does its best to focus on what’s important in the frame and adjust the lighting accordingly, but there are times when you have to set things manually. It’s surprisingly simple: tap on whatever you want to focus on, and the camera will do its best to comply. That can be the difference between a blurry mess and a sharp masterpiece.

IMG_02482. Up your app game

I find that the default camera apps on smartphones that have come out in the past few years are usually good enough for everyday use. Once you’ve shot an image, though, there’s a universe of great tools for improving it.

Instagram actually offers a surprisingly good suite of image editing tools for people who don’t want to spend a cent, and primarily share images through the Facebook-owned image-sharing service.

If you think that you’re going to be doing a lot of photography, I can’t recommend VSCO Cam highly enough. It’s a free, cross-platform app that offers a massive selection of filters for purchase, along with a suite of editing tools including exposure tweaks, vignetting, fading, saturation and more.

Almost every image I shoot on my iPhone gets run through VSCO Cam before it’s posted to the web – that’s how much I love it. If you’re looking for presets to try, I use S2 for most of the photos I shoot in color, plus X4 and X6 for black and white images.

moment-lenses3. Beef up your hardware

For truly hardcore smartphone photographers, there’s a ton of hardware out there to up your game. The Glif tripod mount allows you to connect just about any smartphone to a tripod for image stabilization, setting up time-lapse shots, and the like.

Moment, a Seattle-based startup founded by Marc Barros, sells a pair of lenses that clip onto a smartphone’s camera with the help of a special mount. Their telephoto lens will zoom an image while maintaining fidelity – unlike a camera app’s zoom function – while the wide-angle lens offers people a chance to include more of a scene in their image.

So there you have it: three steps to take better photos with your smartphone. Now go out there and take some!

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