5 Simple Tricks : Take great pictures of your family with your smart phone!

naked baby sits in grass watching family do yardwork in the yard beyond

Anyone can take a bad photograph with an expensive camera, but not all of us can make a beautiful image with a cheap camera. There’s an art to it! I’m here to share some great tips to make you a better cell phone photographer. No special gear or photography degree required! 

Here are 5 simple tricks you can use to take better photos of your kids TODAY, using just your cell phone…

1. Use burst mode. 

Let’s say you’re photographing a really active scene. You’re not sure you’ll press the button at the right moment, and want to hedge your bets? Try Burst Mode. Burst mode tells your camera to very quickly take picture after picture after picture, pretty much ensuring that you nail at least one.  

Here’s how to do it:

    1. Instead of just pressing the shutter button, HOLD it down for an extended period of time. Your camera continuously takes photos for as long as you’re holding down the button! 
    2. Hit SELECT to pick your favorite of the bunch, select your favorite by clicking on the circle, then hit DONE. Pick “Keep Only 1 Favorite,” then the rest will be removed.

Ta da! Super easy way to up your chance of nailing the shot. Just don’t skip step 2! If you don’t delete all those extra photos, they will potentially clog up your phone’s storage.

little boy and baby crawl up on bench and watch their big brother leave for school on the bus. they hug each other as they watch the bus drive by.

2. Consider your composition. 

Instead of centering your kids in the frame, try using the Rule of Thirds to create a more interesting composition. Picture a tic tac toe board across the scene, and place your subject at the intersection of one of the lines. This works because people’s eyes naturally gravitate toward one of those points of interest rather than to the center of the shot.

Many phones offer an optional photo grid that you can place onto the camera screen, to help you place your subject at those points of interest. To add in the grid on your iPhone, go to Settings > Camera and then turn on Grid.

(For more about the Rule of Thirds, get my Free Photography Guide for Parents by joining my email list.)

3. Get in close and on their level.

Your pictures should make people feel like they are IN the action, not just looking AT it. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to get in close! I think sometimes people forget that kids are shorter than they are, and parents often are standing and shooting down at them. But if you just squat down and fill the camera’s frame with your kids, you suddenly have a brand new perspective! 

grandma holds crying baby in a loud basketball gym at st. vincent college, holding his ears

4. Turn off the flash. 

Your camera’s flash is weak, and cell phones these days don’t generally do a good job of deciding when the flash should go off or not. And since 95% of your photos don’t require flash, you might as well turn it off! 

By default your flash is usually set to AUTO, but you can change this. On the iPhone, just click the little icon that looks like a lightning bolt, then select Off. Remember that you can always set it back to On when the situation requires it.

Here are some situations when you should feel free to turn on the flash: 

    • Your kids are standing in front of the sunset and you don’t want them in silhouette.
    • You’re inside a dim building without great window light in your subjects’ eyes, and you want a simple smiling snapshot of people looking at the camera. 

cell phone photograph of little boy sitting in a chair in pajamas, moody light across his eyes and a pensive mood, with hands by his mouth.

5. Consider the light. 

Pay attention to the light at different times of day! Light can be hard or soft, direct or ambient, warm or cool. Different types of light project different moods into your photos. For example, what kind of mood does the lighting create in the photo above?

Also think about the direction of the light… Is the light in front of your subject? Behind? Above? Keep in mind that if the primary light source (outside, usually the sun!) is behind your subject, then your camera will expose your image so that your subject is in silhouette. This is because your camera’s internal meter picks an exposure based on averaging the scene to gray. (More on that in a later post!)

Understanding lighting is the toughest part of photography, and the most important! I recommend you start slowly, paying attention to the quality and direction of light even when you’re not taking pictures. It will all come with practice!


The Photographer > The Camera

All of the photos above were taken with my iPhone. Which just goes to show that the camera is just the tool. PEOPLE make the pictures, not the camera! The key is to learn how to use your tool really well. Which takes practice!

Happy practicing. 🙂


PS I use an iPhone, so my technical directions above will not apply to other brands… though for the Android users I’m guessing a quick google may help!

PPS Did my 5 tips help? What else do you want to learn from me? I’m hoping to post more tips and tricks for parents, and would love to respond directly to your feedback! You can use the contact form below to let me know!

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Pamela Anticole

Serving PA OH & Beyond

Pamela Anticole is a Pittsburgh based newborn and family photographer. Her award winning style is thoughtful and emotional, and your client experience is both relaxed and fun!


Pamela will photograph your baptism, birthday party, anniversary, bar/bat mitzvah, or wedding in a documentary style learned as a newspaper photojournalist. It is her focus on real, natural relationships and ability to anticipate emotional candid moments that bring sensitivity to her work as a documentary photographer. Pamela is located in the Wexford area of Pittsburgh, PA and available for family photography within 45 miles of downtown Pittsburgh. She also offers photography education for parents both online and on location in person in the Pittsburgh area.