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Favorite Phone Camera Apps + Tips

Many of you know that I love me some Instagram (I’m twotwentyone). I often get comments asking about my photos so I thought I’d do a post sharing my favorite phone camera apps and some tips.

Tips and tricks for taking better iPhone photos!

Let’s start with some tips for taking better photos. Then I’ll answer some of my Instagram (IG) friends’ questions. I’m going to include photos I’ve taken with my iPhone 4s and posted to IG to keep things interesting and visual for you guys. I know reading can get boring and what not.

Tip #1
Take your photos with your phone’s camera. Don’t use the IG camera. The resolution isn’t the best. So take the photo with your phone’s camera and import it into IG (at the very least).

Tip #2
Use the focus feature by tapping on what you want to be in focus. By doing this you can also adjust the light in the photo.

pink roses

Tip #3
Find the light. If you’re taking a photo of something that can be moved, move it toward some light. When I take photos of fresh cut flowers in my house, most of the time I move them into my office to get a nice, well lit photo of them because my office is the brightest room in our house. Call it cheating if you want. Or say that’s putting too much effort into it, but I love taking photos with my DSLR camera and my phone’s camera so I’ll do what I can to get a better shot. Even if that means moving a vase of daffodils from my living room to my office. So sue me.

Tip #4
Hold your phone still. Much like with a real camera, you’ll get better photos if you’re not moving your phone when trying to take a photo.


Tip #5
This may sound silly, but make sure your smartphone camera lens is clean. This seems to be a problem for people with children. Of course your photos are going to come out blurry if you have a layer of graham cracker+drool film on the lens. Just sayin’.

Tip #6
Try your best NOT to use the front-facing camera lens on your phone (the lens where if you’re looking at your phone you can see yourself). The front-facing lens has a lower resolution than the back-facing camera lens, thus producing lower-quality, less crisp photos.

indiana state fairgrounds normandy barn

Tip #7
Don’t zoom before you take a photo. The photo will come out pixely and blurry. Either get closer, or take the photo and then zoom and crop as needed.

Tip #8
Use the grid (open camera app > options > grid > on). There’s this thing called the Rule of Thirds. It’s a composition guideline. You can Google it and read all about it, but basically you use your grid– 9 equal segments (2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines). When abiding by the Rule of Thirds, you should position the most important objects in your photo along the lines, or where the lines intersect. Do I always use the Rule of Thirds? No, but it’s a good guideline for taking more dynamic photos.

Tip #9
If you plan to post your photo to Instragram, use the square photo feature. That way you can make sure everything will fit into the frame once you open it in Instagram.

Tip #10
Invest in some photo editing apps. Trust me, if they cost a couple dollars it’s well worth it! See my favorite apps below!

Now, on to the question portion!

Do you use your phone’s camera to take your pics?
Yep. I take all of my IG photos with my iPhone 4s. If it’s not taken with my iPhone I’ll let you know, but I can’t remember the last time I didn’t use my phone to take a pic.

hens and chicks

Do you use any special accessories? What about an additional flash?
Nope. I wouldn’t mind getting my paws on an olloclip 3-in-1 lens but I always use an Otterbox defender case (I’m clumsy) and I’d have to take my case off anytime I wanted to use the olloclip. I never use the flash on my phone to take pics I post on IG.


Do you use the same Instagram filter? If so, which one?
Here’s a graph of my most used filters. As you can see, I use no filter the most, followed by Nashville.

filter usage

If you’re wondering where I got the graphic, it’s from statigram. It’s a website that tells you all of your IG stats. Kind of like Google Analytics but for IG. Pretty cool site.


How do you refrain from posting nonsense on Instagram?
I’m sure I’ve posted plenty of nonsense. I guess it depends on what you consider nonsense. In fact, a lot of the time when I think I’m posting something dumb I get more likes or comments than I was expecting. It’s perplexing. I thought maybe 30 people would like this photo of Jack, but apparently 126 people thought it was great. Sometimes I’ll stop and ask myself if whatever I’m thinking about posting is post-worthy. I will say, I’m not a fan when people post gross things. Here I am, eating my lunch, scrolling through my feed when a photo of your bloody appendage is staring me in the face. Ew. Gross. No thank you.


Now, onto the apps I use most often.

This is my go to app for basic edits. I also like using it if I’m shooting something that’s moving or if I’m moving because it has a faster shutter speed than my iPhone camera.

snowy park

Perfect for landscapes. I’ll also use this app to brighten photos. You can use the app two different ways. You can import a photo you already took with your phone’s camera, or you can use the app’s camera. The app’s camera takes two photos. (Now I’ll let the people from Pro HDR explain the rest.)  “Pro HDR captures an image exposed for the highlights and another exposed for the shadows. It then aligns and merges the images, giving you a gorgeous HDR image…” Pretty cool, eh?

indiana red barn

XnView Fx
Great all around app. Tons of editing features: crop, rotate, straighten, mirror. You can adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, color balance. This app also boasts a bunch of cool filters.

vintage thread spools

Perfect for collages.

snow collage

To give you an idea of how awesome your iPhone can be, I shot the photos for both of these recipe posts with my iPhone (+ some minor photo editing in Photoshop) when my DSLR was in the shop.

Buttery Cream Cheese Bites

Spring Sandwich Cookies

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little phone camera lesson! If you want to learn about more apps and tips visit my iPhone Pinterest board.

I hope you’ll find me on IG (@twotwentyone) and say hi!

How to take better smartphone photos! Up your Instagram game!

Are you an IG lover?
Did you find this post insightful?
Got any additional questions?

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  1. Oh, all of your photos are stunning– I haven’t tried Instagram yet. I have a blackberry because I love the keyboard, but my husband’s iPhone and son’s iPod Touch have nearly converted me. This didn’t help either!

    1. Come to the dark side, Emily! My husband is converting from an Android and getting an iPhone in 8 days. Yes, we’re counting down the days. Hah!

  2. I need to see if some of these apps are for Android. I think I already have Camera+.

    And you really didn’t need to answer my question but it’s funny. Mmm, cottage cheese.

    1. It gave me a reason to address the issue. I forgot about the cottage cheese though. Dang it.

    2. Yes Michelle! Preferably Samsung Galaxy’s have way better camera quality than iphones. I used to have an iphone, but since im a photographer and heard about the galaxy’s phenomenal quality, I made the switch!! Never going back. Google Play has tons of good editing apps, including most of the ones listed here. Also, try out afterlight, vscocam, and aviary!!

      1. Msi Ralte says:

        My Samsung Galaxy’s camera is getting crappier by the day. Is that normal? Has it happened to you?

  3. Great tips Chelsea! And I’ve noticed too that the Insta camera is pretty crappy unless you are in great natural lighting. And I love statigram…discovered it the other day and was so excited about all of the stats (that doesn’t happen very often with me) LOL 🙂

    1. Yeah, I’m just not an IG camera fan. Isn’t statigram the ish? I love it.

      1. It is! I’m not a stats girl AT all but I love it..maybe because I’m addicted to anything and everything Instagram. 🙂

    1. It’s crazy what phone cameras can do. The photos for my post tomorrow (spring sandwich cookies) were all taken with my iPhone since my camera is being repaired and my backup camera needs to be repaired. Oy. You’ll have to let me know what you think about the photos!

  4. LOVE this post! I always think that your IG photos are beautiful!

    1. Thanks, Julie! Yours are always good too! The adorable, chubby baby probably has something to do with it too.

  5. Chelsea, I need you to take all my pictures! LOL These are great. I am trying so hard to improve…..not there yet but better than before. How do you import pictures to IG from your phone? Thanks for the guidance!

    1. Hah! I’ll be right over.

      To import your pic: open IG, click the camera button in the middle at the bottom of the screen, instead of taking a photo, select the little box with your last photo taken on the lower right part of the screen. That opens your photo library. Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks for the great info on using your iphone camera. I’m checking out some of the aps you mentioned.

  7. great post! it’s interesting to see how other people use IG – i on the other hand actually swear by the IG lens and rarely import photos from my camera to IG – i like to see the exact size it will be when it’s going to be posted. love hearing your perspective on the other way around!

    1. (i meant i rarely import from my iphone camera, not actual camera.)

    2. That’s crazy! And your pics always turn out so well! It’s probably because you live in California. Yep, I’m going to go with that reasoning. 😉

        1. I bet it’s because you get a lot of nicely lit and outdoor shots. The IG camera tends to not turn out so well for me in low light.

  8. Yessssssss!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so excited you wrote this post! Now I can take awesome pictures on my phone like you! Maybe, kinda, ok they definitely wont be as awesome.

    1. Hah! Your “Yessssssss!!!!!!” cracked me up. I better see nothing less than awesomeness from you on IG from now on. 😉

  9. This is so helpful, Chelsea. You are the goddess of great Instagram photos. Now, I’m off to try some new apps. That I’ll probably never use because I’m lazy. But you DID convince me to stop taking the pictures in Instagram before, and that definitely helped. Baby steps.

    1. Goddess of great IG photos, I like the ring of that.

  10. Great tips! I totally thought you would have been an Afterglow (well, now Afterlight) user but I guess not! I’m going to have to look into some of the apps you suggested because sometimes my shot isn’t straight and it bugs me that I can’t adjust it haha

    1. Nope, but I downloaded Afterlight the other day to play around with it. 🙂

  11. you should try pic tap go! it’s got amazing filters + it really helps lighten them up + fix the color if it’s off. Love it!

    1. I’ll definitely look into. Thanks, Libby!

  12. Thank you so much for this great roundup! SO helpful! I can’t believe you got those gorgeous shots with an iPhone… really, really beautiful! Happy Monday!

    ~Abby =)

  13. lol… jerkface. That cracked me up!! Loving this post. I am sooo new to Insta. I did not know any off this cool stuff. I better bookmark this baby!! 🙂

    1. It’s a word I commonly use. And it’s blog friendly– unlike some of the other words I use. 🙂 I hope you find the tips and apps helpful! You’ll love IG!

  14. Love this post! Thanks for sharing these tips with us. I’ve had IG for awhile now, but I’ve just recently started using it more often. Love all your photos! =)

  15. Great post and beautiful photos. I downloaded a couple of the apps, I look forward to trying some of them out, thanks!

  16. great information – thanks for sharing! i’ll have to check out some of those apps to make my IG pics better. do you have to buy some of those apps or are there free versions? 99.999% of my iphone apps are free – apparently i’m cheap!

    1. I’m pretty sure Pro HDR and XnView Fx are free. I think Diptic and Camera+ are a couple bucks.

  17. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. I’m excited to try out statigram & using your tips to take better pictures. Your photos are truly GORGEOUS!

  18. Just had a chance to sit down and read this, even though I Pinned it a few days ago. GREAT tips, Chelsea. I was happy to see that you don’t use the IG filter a lot. I thought maybe I was the only one. Sometimes I’ll add a filter just b/c I’m worried someone might think the pic is too “plain.” Good post!

  19. I totally need these tips. I am a horrible photographer 🙂 We have a Thursday (today) Link Up Party at allthingswithpurpose.com and I’m sure our readers would love these tips, too!! We hope to see you there!! We are your newest FB Like!!

  20. How do you get your “watermark” on the pictures? Is that just for your blog or for instagram also?

  21. Thanks for the post! This will help me heaps with pictures for my blog. I don’t have a camera or computer at the moment so I do EVERYTHING on my phone. I do a bit of editing now but not too much. Only thing is I have a Samsung galaxy s3. Do you know anything about android apps?

  22. This is amazing! So happy I saw it on Pinterest. I have an iPhone lens kit. I can’t use it because my Lifeproof case isn’t supposed to be taken on and off, so if you still want one, I could make you a deal 😉

  23. I love this! Especially the part where you talk about moving the glowers to the office and then say… “So sue me.” I needed to hear that today! Great post!

  24. Just recently got an I-phone and my favorite part was the ability to take nice pictures with a phone! Now I know exactly the apps to download! 🙂 Great post!

  25. Caitlin B says:

    Thank you SO much for this post! I am starting a blog and kept making the excuse that I couldn’t really take my own photos without a DSLR because the quality would make my blog look bad. Clearly, you have proved me wrong! I really appreciate the tips- and downloaded all the apps that I didn’t already have. Thanks for the tips!


  26. thanks for this post, Chelsea! I got an iPhone this summer and have been loving learning how to maximize the camera on it. I LOVE instagram too. 🙂 But still not satisfied with my picture taking ability. Funny, cause for me my pictures always are more vibrant and look a lot better taken with the instagram camera (no edits yet) vs. the iPhone camera? maybe they have done an upgrade?

    off to check out some more of the apps and things you mentioned.

    P.S. Your IG pictures are amazing!

  27. I always wonder if every amazing blogger takes photos with a dslr, now I know they’re probably using a phone (just like me, sometimes). Thanks for the tips!!

  28. You also can take pictures in HDR mode on your camera. Great option to eliminate an app.

  29. These are great tips- found you off of a Pin. Have you ever seen or used the Rhonna app? I am in love- use it for almost all of my blog and insta pictures. Ever so much fun to use!

  30. I’m so all over some of these that I haven’t tried! Thanks for the recommendations. Love ya! Lisa~

  31. Julanne Kowalski says:

    Thanks for a great blog about IG pics! I’ve been posting an IG a day, always taken on the day it’s posted, for the last 1051 days! I almost always take the picture in Camera+, do some editing, because I like choosing my frames and my filters independently of each other, then take it to the Instagram App and work with it a little more. I have the olloclip lenses but am like you, I have a mophie on my phone and its just never very convenient to take it off to use lenses. If you have the time, my IG name is julannek and I blog at pausesandclicks.wordpress.com.

  32. What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively useful
    and it has helped me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid different
    customers like its helped me. Good job.

  33. I was just thinking about writing a post on this, and then I found yours. This is such great advice. Yes, I found it super helpful.

  34. Thank you so much… the apps and statigram site are a fantastic help…
    Great post… and looking forward to following you… 🙂 xv

  35. From a fairly new blogger & Pinner, & very very new to IG & Twitter, Thank you Thank you! Great picture taking advice.

  36. Great post! I am now using the grid tip! I was just wondering if you are using an app to watermark your photos and if so, which one. I love that you have ‘two twenty one’ scrawled on all your photos.

  37. This was a great post. I have an Ipod touch that I use for Instagram and I definitely struggle sometimes. Can’t wait to try your tips. My Instagram is diy_and_me if your interested.

    Thanks again

  38. LOVE! I just posted this on my FB page (www.facebook.com/KLMarkertPhoto), with a link back to your post:
    “Several soldiers have told me that their wives love photography, too, but they can’t afford an expensive, fancy camera for them. I definitely understand. I explained to the soldiers that two years ago I entered the Army Digital Photo Contest and placed with an honorable mention. Out of all the photos I entered with my “fancy camera”, the only photo that placed was the one that I had taken with my old Droid X cell phone. Then I ask them if their wife has a cell phone that can take photos. Every single one of those soldiers (9 or 10 of them) have all told me that their wives DO have cell phones that take photos.
    “Smart” phone photography is a new, expanding art form. I am amazed now that there are lenses for some of the cell phones-cameras, too! We have sure come a long way since the days when you were cool if your phone cord was long enough that you could carry the receiver far enough to talk in different rooms!
    Do you want to learn more? Here is a great article about smart phone apps, and taking better photos with these phones:”

  39. So glad I found this post, I tried the Pro HDR app and it’s genius. It takes 2 pictures and combines them for the perfect amount of light. I wish there was a camera that does this!

  40. This is so awesome!! I have so much to learn about taking photos using my phone! So, do you always use the camera+ app to take your photos then? and for editing, like the banners on your recipe pics? what app did you use for that type of editing? Also, there is such poor lighting in my house, would you then take all your objects outside?? 😀 Thanks again! Loved this post!!!

    1. No, I typically import the photos into camera+. I added the banners on the food photos above in Photoshop. I typically take all of my project photos with my DSLR inside, but if I can move the project, I take the photos of it in my office, which is the room that receives the most light.

      1. Oh! Ok! So, DSLR inside, iphone outside! Got it! Thank you! (now to get a DSLR!) HA! lol!

        1. Sorry if there was miscommunication. I take 98% of my blog photos with my DSLR. I took the food photos above with my iPhone because my DSLR was being fixed at the time. 100% of my Instagram photos are taken with my iPhone though.

  41. Thanks for all those tips. Your pictures are beautiful! I downloaded some of those apps and hope my pictures can look as good as yours! Thanks and have a great day! 🙂

  42. Mary NeSmith says:

    Ok I am totally lost maybe you explained it and sorry if you did. what is IG?

  43. Thank you for all your useful tips. I would like to know what you used to insert the font in your recipe photos? Thank you!

    1. I added the banners on the food photos above in Photoshop. Since my DSLR was being repaired I took the photos of the food with my iPhone and uploaded them to my computer to edit them like I typically do with blog photos in Photoshop. There are apps out there that allow you to add text and banners– Phonto, Over, and Labelbox are three I know of.

  44. Thanks for the tips. I just bought Camera+. After a housefire last year, we haven’t replaced our cameras yet, so I depend on my iphone for pictures. Sometimes I get a good one, sometimes it’s a crapshoot, so I’m hopeful that I can use your tips and use the app to improve my pics until we get a new camera.

  45. I figured most of these out on my own but I didn’t know about the focus option so thanks! As soon as I read it I grabbed my camera to see if mine does it too and it does! (Android).

  46. Thank you so much for the tips! I don’t have a fancy camera, just a fancy phone. My pictures never come out pretty enough for my blog. Your tips have fen me inspiration to spruce my pics up. Thanks for the great info!

    1. *your tips have given me the inspiration to better my pictures.

  47. I’ve been waffling on getting an iPhone because I do love the Android set up but every single post I’ve looked for on Pinterest about taking better photos with your camera phone is about iPhones! Not to mention most of the suggested apps aren’t available for Android. I think you may have convinced me. Your photos are stunning!

    ~Meaghan from DIYfaerie

  48. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was
    great. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  49. Here from Pinterest! I use Lifeproof case (haven’t taken it off since I got it – I’m paranoid!), but lusted after the Olloclip lenses.

    I found comparable lenses on the Photojojo website: http://photojojo.com/store/awesomeness/cell-phone-lenses/. They come with a metal ring that affixes to your phone case; the magnetic lenses then sit on the metal ring – they work great! 🙂 I’d take a picture to show you, but, well, it’s on the back of my phone!

  50. Superb points completely, you just received a fresh visitor. An amount you advocate in terms of your release for you to produced some days in the past? Just about any specific? Superb points completely, you just received a fresh visitor. An amount you advocate in terms of your release for you to produced some days in the past? Just about any specific?

  51. I am a lover of i phone it is very good and very lovely.It looks so sweet. But i have no i phone.so i am so sad of this. ok friends bye.

  52. Nice tips and advice for beginners, sometimes it is not really how beautiful your camera or phone is, but it is about how you create and choose angles.

  53. Good tips! I almost always forget to clean those camera lens. And when the photos don’t look good, I always thought there was something wrong the the camera. So that’s why…

  54. This is soo pretty! I can’t believe that the iphone apps could take pictures like this, it is really amazing. I been using android for ages and I am comfortable with its features, but sadly in picture editing, I have some struggle since some of its apps are almost identical with each other. While looking at your post, it really do look so amazing that makes me wanna buy iphone asap! thank you for sharing.

  55. I love this post! I use my phone’s camera more often than not too.
    One question though, how do you put your blog name onto your instagram photos?
    Is that another app that you use?

    Thanks for sharing!

  56. Great post! Tip #5 was for me. Lol When out with a friend, I grabbed her phone to take some pics and couldn’t believe how clear hers was. We have the same phone. I was really starting to think mine was defective. I looked into other camera apps, etc trying to get a clearer pic. Then one day I happened to clean my phone, including the lense, and voila! Clear as day! I couldn’t believe that for over a year I was mostly taking “dirty” pics. Lol! And why was my lense dirty and hers wasn’t? I have a 5 year old who was always playing games on my phone. Lol Kids! So now I quickly grab something to wipe the lense before taking pics. Much better! So tip #5 is a good one! Lol

  57. I’ve been surfing online greater than three hours these days, but I by no means found any fascinating article like yours. It¡¦s beautiful value sufficient for me. In my view, if all internet site owners and bloggers produced superb content material as you probably did, the net will likely be a great deal a lot more valuable than ever before.

  58. Nice article. I’ve recently used the apps from A Beautiful Mess. Have you used their apps? This post is a couple years old. Are you still using an iPhone 4S (I am)? Are there new apps you’re really loving these days? Thanks for sharing.

  59. This was a really helpful post and I love the apps you mentioned!

  60. Excellent article and great tips! I love my iPhone 4S and Otterrbox Defender too. Love the Camera+ app. Also PictJointer and Repix free apps for frames and effects. I’m LouiseC303 on IG where I post my silly pix of my Shih Tzu, food and the beauty of my neighborhood in Arizona.

  61. Wow, I never would have guessed you took those with your iPhone!! I can’t wait to try out these apps. Thanks for sharing!

  62. Vikki Carter says:

    This is a very good list, all the apps are very helpful. Stangely, no one mentioned Snapseed:) I also use afterlight quite often. It’s awesome how third-party apps can easily cover almost any need one can feel. Editing apps were always the most widely used, even though editing capabilities of the native Instagram app are good enough for most situations, and there was only one domain not covered. And i’m talking about follower management. But since instagram has implemented its following and action per hour limitations, the need has risen significantly. The best app i could find yet is fast-unfollow.com, it can quickly get rid of up to 5000 users not following back per day, so if your a fan of follow-to-follow method – it’ll help you a lot. And if they added a scheduling option i would be so happy;) Hope it’ll be of use for someone;)

  63. These images are so cool for a camera phone. Who says you need a DSLR to take professional pictures? Great tips. Thanks!

  64. Your photos are gorgeous! I love that snowy scene…although it’s making me crave spring even more! I’m getting back into blogging after a hiatus and almost never have my DSLR on me when I want it (plus, I haven’t fully learned how to operate it yet). I have an iPhone6 and am so glad I found your tips. I had no idea that I could use my finger to pick which part of the photo to focus on, or use a grid view! Thanks so much for the post.

  65. <3 this post!! The pictures in my first post were horrible taken with my IPhone. I am using your tips and am hoping for much better results!! Your pictures are beautiful!!

  66. Have you tried VSCO? it’s currently my favorite, but my next download is absolutely going to be PRO HDR. Thanks so much for this post! still not entirely clear on that ‘rule of thirds’

    1. Nevermind!! turned on that grid feature and it’s all clear now 🙂 thanks again!

  67. I never knew my poor old iPhone could be so functional! Thank you for giving me hope for my old equipment. Great content for the budget blogger in all of us!

  68. Thank you for the helpful info! Best bit for me “Don’t Zoom”! I was wondering about that and my unorganized experiments didn’t help me much.
    Any updates for 2018 – i.e.: HDR on iPad/iPhone, update on Apps you use, etc – would be most welcome.
    Thanks again.

  69. The information in the article you mentioned is very valuable to me.

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