Smartphone Photography 101 with Dru Kennedy

A trip to Newfoundland and Labrador is a special experience you will want to capture forever. Whether it’s a 10,000-year old iceberg bobbing in the Atlantic, a humpback whale putting on a show, or the serenity of an outport community, there is no shortage of photo opportunities. When you take out your smartphone, get in position, and start snapping photos, it is important to get the shot you want to not miss capturing the moment in front of you.

No need to worry. With the innovation of technology inside of today’s smartphones, everyone is now a photographer. The camera sensor and storage space are comparable to top line digital cameras of only a decade ago. With all of this available at your fingertips, you only need a little instruction and practice to take your photos to the next level.

Here some advice from local pro photographer and friend of the brand, Dru Kennedy, on the steps he takes each time he’s snapping photos. But first, some inspiration of what he’s been capturing lately.

Incredible. Let’s get to work!

Clean & Clear

“Before I shoot anything, I turn the brightness up on the screen and double check/clean the lenses. Smudge free is the way to be.”

Next time you’re out shooting, you’ll surely have that stuck in your head. Not only a fantastic photographer, also a poet.

Camera Settings

Use the native camera app in the phone as opposed to downloading another. “3rd party apps that run through your camera don’t provide you with the same quality”, says Dru. We take his word for it. Next, familiarize yourself with the settings and what they can do. There’s excellent tools built in to expand your photo creativity.

  • Live Photos: Captures image and sound 1.5s before and after your photo to create a short 3s video of your subject.
  • Exposure: The amount of light reaching your camera’s sensor. If what you’re seeing on the screen doesn’t match what you’re seeing in person, adjust the exposure to match the light of your scene. If the photo is too dark, increase exposure. If photo is too light, decrease exposure.
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range): Your phone will take multiple photos at different exposure levels to merge into one photo to create a high-quality image with no loss of detail from clipped highlights and shadows. Generally there is one photo underexposed to capture the highlights, one at the correct exposure, and one overexposed to capture the shadows.
  • Crop Ratios: Select the size of the image your phone will capture. Each has different purposes especially across social platforms, such as 9:16 for story format or 1:1 and 4:5 for feed posts.
  • Grid: Overlay a 3x3 grid over your screen to divide your screen into nine equal zones created from two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. This is the “Rule of Thirds” grid which you will read more on below. This is accessed in the Camera folder in the main Settings app.


Composition can’t be stressed enough. Take it from Dru, “This is one of the most important factors related to making better images.” Defined as how your subject sits within the photo, composition is a crucial element to creating pleasing photography. While it’s common to center your subject in the middle of the frame and snap away, try experimenting with other compositions using the grid overlay, such as Rule of Thirds.

Rule of Thirds is a standard rule in the photography world achieved by placing the subject in one of the four corners of the central square of the grid where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect. The subject is then aligned in one-third of the image leaving the other two-thirds open, such as in the image below with the subject in the bottom right. Experiment with your subject in one of these four intersection points, or try all four and see how they compare to each other. Important tip: Make sure the horizon is level in the background. Nothing ruins a potential great picture like a skewed horizon line.

For Rule of Thirds, place your subject near one of the four gridline intersection points.

Analyze the Area

Camera cleaned? Check.
Settings chosen? Check.
Subject framed? Check.

Next, the scene. Before you snap the shutter, remember to consider the lighting. Natural light will always be the best, however too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily good. For example, shooting an iceberg on a bright sunny day can cause the harsh white highlights in the iceberg to clip. Note: “clipping” means the light is too bright or too dark causing the camera sensor to read the pixels as pure white (too light) or pure black (too dark), showing no additional detail and texture from shadowing. Try positioning the camera out of the sun, keeping it slightly out of view from the screen but close enough to allow that beautiful natural light to illuminate your subject. As Dru says, “Every situation will be different and this is where the fun and creativity begins.”

The sun is slightly out of view in the top right, but close enough to light up the beautiful landscape.

Click and hold on the subject on your screen and slide your finger up and down. You should see the brightness adjusting, this is adjusting the exposure. If it’s too bright, slide your finger down; if it’s too dark, slide your finger up. Tune it to your liking then firmly touch the screen to lock in your settings. This will lock your focus as well onto the area of the photo you clicked in on. Make sure it is your subject that is in focus.

It's Time!

Now that you have your subject, composition, and focus set, it’s time to shoot! Dru recommends using the "volume up and/or down" button on the side of your phone to capture the photo as it keeps your hands still and avoids contact with the screen where settings may be changed accidentally. Also you can try leaning on a wall, sitting on the ground, or propping your phone up against an object to keep it steady and eliminate camera shake caused by unsteady hands.

Tune Up

Once the image is taken, there are many options to further develop the data and alter the look of the photo. Your phone’s Photos library may have built-in options for editing the photo or you can choose from many third-party apps. Play around with the sliders to see what each adjustment does or apply your favourite preset to create a cohesive look and feel to all your images.


Look at you go. You learned how to capture an image using your smartphone, taught by a professional photographer. Keep practicing and before you know it your photos may even end up alongside Dru’s! 

General Tips from Dru

  • Never, ever zoom. Unless you have a dedicated zoom lens, don’t use your fingers to zoom in on the screen. The quality loss is not worth the gained distance perspective.
  • Never screenshot your image. Make sure you’re working with the original copy of the image to maintain the highest quality, especially when uploading to social media or sending to family and friends.
  • Shoot more than you think. Experiment with different compositions, angles, and exposures. You can always delete later what you don’t like!
  • Shoot in both horizontal and vertical formats. Both capture very different perspectives on your scene to tell its story.
  • Shoot with a finished image in mind. Imagine the type of photo you’d like to create and try to create it rather than taking photos with no end goal.
  • Keep an eye on the sun. Soft morning/evening light is always better and more pleasing for photography than harsh midday light. If the lighting isn’t right, spend the time to scope out a plan for the area and come back later when the lighting is to your pleasing.

We would love to see your wonderful images! Share them with us on Instagram @newfoundlandlabrador and by using the hashtag #ExploreNL 

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