• A sunset photo taken with a cell phone by CanGeo Photo Club member Marni Brost

    You don't have to have expensive camera gear to capture beautiful moments. A member of our Can Geo Photo Club snapped this image using her smartphone. (Photo: Marni Brost/Can Geo Photo Club)

The time for scoffing at onboard smartphone cameras is over. Sure, they might have some features which are “worse” than, say, a DSLR or even a good point-and-shoot, but they also have some features which are arguably better.

For example, smartphones are smaller, lighter and more portable than your average DSLR, which makes them ideal for spontaneous shooting when you're out and about. 

While you won't have the same control over your photographic outcome as you would with a more advanced camera, you can usually compensate for slight technical errors in lighting and colour using a post-processing app like Afterlight, and most onboard cameras will produce a high enough quality image for a standard 4x6 print. 

With these pros/cons in mind, here are five tips to help you get the most out of your smartphone's camera.

1. Stabilize your phone

Phone cameras have a small sensor, which means they aren’t able to take in as much light as DSLRs, so it's important to give the phone as much support and stability as possible in order to capture a sharp shot. Hold the phone with both hands and brace your upper arms against your body when you shoot.

2. Clean your lens

It may seem obvious or silly, but give your lens a wipe down before you start snapping photos with your phone. While most people are pretty good about keeping their fingers away from larger camera lenses, it's not as easily done with smartphones. And if your lens is dirty, none of the other tips here will do you any good.

3. Pay attention to (and seek out) good light

Look for light with direction and color. This type of light happens naturally just before sunrise and at sunset. Window light is also a good bet because it has direction and is often diffused, so it's not harsh on your subjects. With a smartphone, you're stuck with one focal length, and one aperture setting, so light and composition become more important for creating visual interest.

4. Don't use digital zoom

Unless you've invested in a lens kit for your phone's camera, you'll be working with digital zoom as opposed to optical zoom, and in that case, just don't bother. If you need to get closer to a subject, just step closer to them. If you can't, you can always crop the picture later on, which is all digital zoom really does anyway.

5. Look for moments

Maybe it's a kayaker gliding downstream. Maybe it's the neighbour's cat relaxing in the sun. Always be alert to the photo opportunities that pop up in everyday life, and use these moments to practice. After all, the best camera is the one you have with you.