These 5 phone camera tricks will add some flair to your Instagram

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It’s not as hard as you might think.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

When it comes to taking photos for social media, you can never go wrong with a nice selfie or a quirky group portrait. But why not spice things up with some artistic phone photography from time to time? You don’t need to be a professional photographer to get the creative juices flowing. You can work wonders with your phone alone. (We’ve also got tips for better night mode photos, how to use portrait mode, long exposure shots, landscapes and macro photography, all using a smartphone.)

Best of all, these photo tricks don’t require you to leave the house — so whether you’re snowed in or locked down, you can access a world of creativity without stepping out the door. If nothing else, these photography challenges might just stave off boredom a bit longer.

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1. Make a creative composite

Composite photography means blending different photographic elements from multiple images into one finished shot. At a basic level, it can be used to simply replace a sky on a landscape image, but with some experimentation it can offer endless opportunities for creativity.

In my instance, I wanted to composite myself into the same scene multiple times — almost as though it’s showing all the different things I could be up to throughout the day in one image.

Putting it together was pretty straightforward. Here’s how:

1. Put the phone on a tripod.

2. Frame your shot as required using the lens options, if available.

3. Either set your phone on a 10-second timer, or use a Bluetooth remote.

4. Get into your scene and take an image.

5. Move into multiple positions, taking an image each time. Make sure the camera doesn’t move at all between shots.

6. Blend the images together in Photoshop by layering them on top of each other and erasing the areas you don’t want.

2. Practice portraits

Whether you’re taking a photo of a partner, a family member, a flatmate, or even your pet, taking portraits can be a great creative outlet. Live alone? No problem, flip that camera and use the selfie mode, or even put your phone on a tripod if you have one and start mugging for the camera.

Look around your house and see where you think could make for an interesting scene. Perhaps you have an old leather chair that someone could pose in. Maybe you have an unusual rug that you could have your subject lie on so you can shoot from above. You can also try some shots looking wistfully out of the window.

Experiment with the lighting too. Natural light coming in from windows is your best bet, so doing shots near them is a good place to start. But maybe there’s a cool lamp you could use as a single, moody light source to lend some artistic drama to the shot. You could also grab an LED light panel from Amazon and try adding your own lighting.

3. Still life scenes

Still life could include lots of different types of shots — from bright and airy top-down shots of a lovely salad or freezer meal you’ve made, to product photos of your laptop, games controller, new shoes or indeed anything you think could photograph well. You could even just grab a nice selection of things from around your house that, when artfully arranged, could make for a nice image.

The lighting principles are much the same as with your portraits. Use windows where possible as these likely provide the biggest, brightest light sources in your house. Food photographers regularly use natural light in their imagery to keep that realistic lifestyle look to their shots. Play around with where you’re positioning your subjects and try shooting from different angles to get the light in just the right place.

4. Make a short film

Making a short film can be great fun as you have to think about multiple different elements of production. First, of course, is what your film should be about. Maybe you want to try and film a gritty crime drama with your family as the cast. Perhaps it’s about your pet cat and the things they get up to during the day.

My short film was all about the process of making a lovely cup of tea. After deciding on what film I wanted to make, I then thought about what steps would be involved in filming the process. For your crime drama, this would be when you’re writing a script and working out what shots you need to get to put it all together.

Making a cup of tea is a very formulaic process, so knowing what to film was easy: filling the kettle with water, waiting for it to boil, pouring the water and so on. I added some extra scene-setting footage at the beginning and an ending shot of me enjoying the tea I’d made.

It was shot entirely on my iPhone 11 Pro, using an Edelkrone slider that lets you create smooth, sliding motion to your shots and an anamorphic lens by Moment, to give that cinematic wide aspect ratio look. I edited it in Adobe Premiere on my MacBook Pro, but you could easily edit your own film in iMovie directly on your iPhone or using Adobe Premiere Rush on your Android phone.

I really enjoyed the process as it forced me to think not only about angles and lighting as I would in my normal photography, but also about how to visually tell a story that made sense to someone watching. It was great fun trying to be more experimental with my shooting and editing style, too, so it was definitely a great way to spend a few hours at home on a quiet afternoon.

5. Work on your editing

You might not be able to go out and shoot a whole series of new images, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make great use of images you’ve already taken.

Both the Android and iOS app stores are full of apps that offer a wealth of creative editing options for your images, with a seemingly infinite number of filters, frames and funky flair you can apply.

Snapseed is a favorite of mine and it’s free on both platforms. It has a variety of color filters available (including ones that give your scene a punchy “HDR” look as well as more vintage tone options) but it also provides more in-depth editing tools such as the ability to selectively paint brightness into just the areas you want. You can also get more creative with apps like Photofox and Bazaart, both of which I used to create the self portrait at the top of this article.

My advice is to have a browse through your gallery on your phone, looking back at the weeks, months or years of shots you’ve taken. Mark the ones that really stand out as your favorites, then settle down onto your sofa with your drink of choice, fire up some editing apps and go to town on your shots.

Not only might you breathe some creative new life into photos you’d long since forgotten about, but you may also learn some valuable new techniques to put into action when you’re finally able to get out shooting again.

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