how to edit camera phone pics

5 Ways to Improve your Cell Phone Pictures

So…you grab your cell phone for a quick photograph. You look at it and think “Meh. Not great but let me add a filter.” You scroll through Instagram and choose the Lark or Willow filter, or Lo-Fi if you’re feeling fancy. Did that improve your photo? Possibly. But I want to share with you 5 Ways to improve your cell phone pictures without using a filter.

Yes, I shoot almost all of my photographs on my blog and Instagram with a very fancy, expensive camera. I’ve been a camera/video camera junkie my entire life and I strive to be a better photographer every single year. In a future blog I’ll share tips I’ve learned to improve my photographs and basics to understand your camera settings. However, taking the photo is the first half of what I do. The second half is in the editing process.

However, editing for me, doesn’t always mean fancy software. While I use purchased software, I very often use great photo editing Apps on my phone for ease alone.

There are 5 Ways to Improve your Cell Phone Pictures:

  • Adjust White Balance
  • Adjust Shadows and Highlights
  • Sharpness
  • Exposure
  • App “extras” – different for each one.


Instagram Editing

Chances are, you found my blog by finding me on Instagram. Most of the photos I share on there were taken with a professional camera, though not all. I do use my cell phone in a pinch and edit them before posting to make them look the best they can. Instagram was founded on the idea of filters for photography lovers, and I use and love Instagram like crazy. However, the built in filters don’t work for all photographs. This is especially true if you’re trying to make the cell phone picture not look like a cell phone picture.

Here is a photo I took our our kitty with my cell phone. The left is the original and the right is edited using the tools in Instagram and not a filter.
Tips to take better pictures.



There are 5 ways to improve your cell phone pictures on Instagram. Here is what I did to adjust this photograph:

  • White Balance: I moved the Warmth to -22, and Saturation to -5. This color corrected the image to be less yellow.
  • Shadows and Highlights: I changed the shadow to +26 and Highlights to +11. This let me add softness to the photo and highlight his fluffy white fur.
  • Sharpness: I upped the Sharpness to +70. Sometimes by lightening a photograph I find it lessens some of the details, which is nice in some photos. However, as a general rule, I tend to always up the Sharpening 50% to let you see the clarity of the details better.
  • Exposure and Contrast: This controls how bright the photograph is. In this photograph I lightened it to +40. While all editing is personal preference, I think exposure is among the most personal. Some people like heavy, dark and moody photographs. Some people prefer light and airy ones. For contrast, I took this down to -6. The combination of altering the exposure and contrast will dramatically change a photograph to your mood or preference for a photograph.

So let’s look at Albie again before all of these changes:


  • Warmth -22
  • Saturation -5
  • Shadow +26
  • Highlights +11
  • Sharpness +70
  • Exposure +40
  • Contrast -6

…and voila to photo taken with a cell phone and edited on Instagram.


Let’s look at two Apps that both cost money, both of which I use for different reasons.

The VSCO App

VSCO is sort of the cell phone editing app for photographers. I say that because their interface is a bit less intuitive and more “we know photography so you should know what to do” in style. They do have filters, but they don’t push them as hard as their basic editing tools. While not as intuitive as other Apps, you’ll like it once you get used to it. Let’s take a look at a photograph I took of my daughter’s feet. I took this with my nice camera, but it needs editing. I uploaded the image to my cell phone and edited it with VSCO.  What a difference!

How to take better cell phone pictures.

There are 5 ways to improve your cell phone pictures on VSCO. Here is what I did to adjust this photograph:

  • White Balance: In VSCO they identify White Balance in more correct terms; temperature and tint. I changed the Temperature to +3 and Tint to -.5. This added more green to the photo and more yellow warmth. The original was too blue and cold.
  • Shadows and Highlights: I added +4.0 Shadows and Highlights +2.0 to both soften the photo and make her white shoes pop.
  • Sharpness: Like I always do, I sharpened the photo. I did +7.
  • Exposure and Contrast: I increased the exposure the tiniest bit, using +.5 and then upped the Saturation +1 to add even more warmth.
  • I cropped the photo to work with rule of thirds better.


Let’s look again at the before and after:

A Color Story App

The A Color Story App isn’t where I go to adjust my White Balancing and Contrast! This is Instagram on Steroids. A Color Story is chock full of great filters. Their design is to pop the color in a ton of various ways and their functionality goes way beyond the Instagram standard features. It’s a more expensive App, that allows you to then buy additional packages of filters. This is the App for you if you aren’t looking to adjust an image in a more tedious style like I described above.

Let’s take a look at a photo I took of myself and then edited with A Color Story.

5 Ways to Improve your Cell Phone Pictures

Here is what I did to adjust this photograph

  • Filter: Snow Cone 100%
  • Effect: Flare 49%

What I love about A Color Story is that the playing is infinite. Want to add a pretend pink background? Go ahead. Want to pretend there was a giant sun shining into your photograph? Add it. You may or may not have been in sunshine but nobody else was there to know the difference!

You can add 40% of one filter, add 10% of another, a giant sun flare and a dark blue sky. The creativity is endless. It’s the App that allows your photos to be fun and not so perfect. Let’s take a look again at the before and after:

Are these all the Apps I use? Oh no. I love PicMonkey like crazy, but I think that’s for another post. In the meantime, keep these 5 Ways to Improve your Cell Phone Pictures in mind:

  1. Look at your white balance. Is your photo too green? Too yellow? Too blue? All of that is changeable.
  2. Want it to look softer? Change your contrast, shadows and highlights.
  3. Need detail? Increase your sharpness.
  4. Need more color? Up that saturation!
  5. Want to pretend you’re in Florida instead of the freezing cold? Add a sun flare!

Happy picture taking, all!








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