“Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” - Anonymous

With a smartphone, almost anything is possible, even in terms of photography.

When we take photos, everything goes through the sensors, into the device, and is then manipulated by software. With so many options and settings, it can be difficult working out what does what. Between an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, or a Huawei Mate, each phone is trying to come out on top.

To help you, we’ve got some of the most common settings and modes for taking photos on your smartphone.

Default Mode

You’ll undoubtedly know the default mode. Whatever brand of phone you have, the default mode will be active when you open the camera on your phone. While every brand is trying to get the most out of the camera, this is a general mode for good photos in most situations.

Which is the most common photo mode?
When you open the photo mode, you'll be met with the default mode. (Source: Pexels)

The versatility of this mode is why it’s the most popular. Whether you’re taking a photo of a landscape or a portrait, this mode won’t take perfect photos but it’ll get some pretty good ones.

Selfie Mode

If you’d had a smartphone with a front-facing camera, you’ve probably taken a selfie or two. Selfies are very common nowadays which is why almost every smartphone has a selfie camera or front-facing camera.


So that you can see what you’re taking a photo of while you’re taking a photo of yourself.

The selfie camera allows you to look at the screen while taking the photo and in recent years, selfie cameras have started to be as important as the other cameras on the back of the phone. This is a mode that you should get used to, especially if you take a lot of photos of yourself.

What is selfie mode?
If you're taking pictures of yourself, you don't just want the front-facing camera, you'll want to use selfie mode. (Source: stokpic)

Night Mode

Much like the selfie mode, this mode is becoming increasingly popular. After all, we take our smartphones with us everywhere and it’s becoming increasingly common for us to want to take photos when the lighting isn’t ideal. Whether it’s at night or just somewhere with bad lighting, this is the mode to use.

Manufacturers have paid particular attention to this mode and now most smartphones with a good camera will have a fairly advanced night mode. Other modes may subdue dark areas and leave you with just a few points of light. This is where night mode comes into play.

Some smartphones now even have a “Super Low Light” mode whereas others may just alter the sensitivity, increase the aperture, or reduce shake. However they do it, when it comes to low-light photography, you’ll want to opt for night mode.

HDR Mode

To avoid washed-out photos, white skies, or subdued colours, there’s the HDR (High Dynamic Range) Mode. When used, this is quite similar to your default mode but it’ll improve the overall clarity of your photos.


Several photos are taken. Then, each area of colour is given the right exposure. The results are then blended for improved results.

Now you no longer need to do this part in photo editing software after the fact. It’s ingenious and practical. However, make sure that you don’t move too much.

Portrait Mode

Portrait mode has been around for a while and is becoming even more useful given how often people take and share photos of themselves and others.

What is portrait mode?
Portrait mode is designed with taking pictures of people in mind. (Source: Pexels)


It focuses on the subject, blurs the background, and creates good digital portraits.

Not bad, is it?

Some phones are better than others but generally, if the subject of your photo is a single person, this will be the mode to choose. Whether using the front-facing camera or the main camera, portrait mode will come in handy.

There are three main ways that technology has improved this mode:

  • With two sensors or cameras: this allows the phone to calculate the distance between the subject and the background and effectively blur the latter.
  • With one sensor: this makes use of an algorithm to blue the background. While not as reliable as the first method, it can still work quite effectively.
  • With a ToF (Time of Flight) sensor: this uses a light signal to calculate the distance. This technology is relatively new on smartphones and takes the portrait mode to new levels.

Check out these tips for better smartphone photography.

Square Mode

While not every phone has this mode, it’s becoming more popular thanks to social networks. The square photo is designed with social media in mind since networks like Instagram prefer this format.

How do you take better Instagram photos?
Taking photos in square photo mode will ensure that they're ready to be uploaded straight to social media sites like Instagram. (Source: Pexels)

That said, you don’t have to post these photos online when you take them. However you use these photos, you still have to thank the popularity of these sites for this mode’s existence.

Check out the best smartphone cameras here.

Panorama Mode

Panorama mode is used for ultra-wide or ultra-tall photos and is great for inspiring landscapes. You don’t need a super wide-angle lens, either, you can just move your phone smoothly from one side to another. The images are then “sewn” together to create one large image.

Even smartphones with the most basic of cameras tend to have this mode. You don’t need a large screen, either, as you can comfortably scroll around the result.

You can get some stunning photos in this mode.

Video Mode

If you can take photos with your smartphone, you can probably record videos. Whether it’s a Sony Xperia, iPhone XS, or OnePlus, the video mode is on almost every smartphone nowadays and you can record for just a few seconds or several minutes.

Of course, the better your camera, the better your video. That said, this will all come at a price. Additionally, the memory will play a vital role as it’ll dictate how much you can film and the quality of it.

There are some filmmakers using just smartphones for their productions!

Slow Motion and Fast Motion

Whether it’s an Apple or Android smartphone, you can find slow motion and fast motion modes on some models. In some cases, these are used just for fun and in others, they can create some incredible footage.

In this situation, you don’t need to worry too much about as the phone will do it all for you. Of course, slow motion is a video setting. Once you’ve filmed something, it’s slowed down.

The same is true for fast motion mode.

As you’ll have understood, smartphones come with plenty of modes and settings and you need to find the right ones. To get the most out of your photography, you need to be using the right ones at the right time. Of course, there's more to smartphone photography than just choosing the right modes, you also need to choose the right settings when taking shots. For example, if your photos regularly appear blurry, you might want to consider reducing camera shake by using a tripod. Additionally, think about the shutter speed, white balance, focal length, sharpness, autofocus, and depth of field when taking photos.

If you'd like more help with photography, there are many talented and experienced tutors on Superprof who'd be willing to help you. There are three main types of tutorial and you can choose the one which best suits your preferred learning style and your budget.

Group tutorials tend to be the cheapest and best for those on a budget as all the students in the tutorial are sharing the cost of the tutor's time and expertise. However, this does mean you'll get less one-on-one time with your tutor and the lessons won't be tailored to just you and what you want to learn.

Online tutorials tend to be slightly more expensive than group tutorials but are just between you and your tutor. This means you can benefit from tailored lessons and learning programmes as well as enjoying the tutor's undivided attention throughout your tutorials. However, without the tutor physically being there with you, it can make certain hands-on aspects of learning a little bit more difficult.

Finally, face-to-face tutorials have the benefits of the previous two types of tutorials without the drawbacks of the tutor not being there or there being other students in the tutorial vying for your tutor's attention. If you want to learn with these types of tutorials, however, you will have to pay more than the other two types as you'll be paying for your tutor's expertise, travel costs, and all the time they put in outside of your tutorials to ensure that they're tailored to you and exactly what you want to learn about.

Think carefully about which type is best for you and discuss all this with any potential tutors before hiring them!

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