Ideal Lighting & Color Temperature For Your Smartphone Camera

A free guide on creating photos & videos with your iPhone, Pixel or Droid that rival professional DSLR/mirrorless camera content


The effect light has on your subject is a result of a few simple factors;

Color, intensity, distance from the source & physical interference. Truly mastering lighting & color theory takes lots & lots of study/practice. For those of you who would like a bit more on these topics – please sign up for my newsletter… HERE

Let’s keep it simple for now… and expand on only the essentials of lighting and color temperature.

Your camera isn’t great in “mixed lighting” scenarios. Daylight, standard lamp bulbs, halogen & incandescent lights all have drastically different “color temperatures.” Their hues & tints range from blue to green to red-ish orange. 

If you’re new to this concept, just do your best to use one type of uniform light source

Daylight is ideal. If you’re able to stage your shot by a window and turn off all other background light sources you don’t need, that’s a great start. Mixed color environments can make for discoloration in your subject matter… Often, your smartphone camera will auto adjust & assign the wrong color temperature. There is nothing worse than a photo taken in daylight when your sensor is calibrated for incandescent… yuck

Keep in mind – intensity & distance of your light source. Your phone camera’s “dynamic range” isn’t as amazing as the manufacturer claims.

Avoid harsh shadows & intense highlights. Newer smartphone cameras will combine images or digitally overcompensate when processing harsh shadows & highlights …what? In English – sometimes you’ll get noise, grain, or unnatural colors in overly bright/dark areas of your smartphone images. When contrast, color, and HDR (High Dynamic Range) cross paths… the results are interesting… In some cases, it can make food like Pizza or a burger with a well-glazed bun look really appetizing. In other cases, it can make simple subject-matter look very artificial. It’s all subjective. If you’ve experimented with this or plan to in the future please shoot me a comment or message on social, I’d love to see your results and talk more about how you found your photo’s recipe…

What's An Ideal Lighting Scenario For Your Smartphone's Camera?

Experimenting with 3 point lighting is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with general lighting principles. After you’ve worked with the following setups & snapped some stills/video with your smartphone camera – you’ll better understand what to look for in everyday lighting & – how to make the best adjustments to improve most lighting scenarios quickly.

Move a “soft light” or less intense light source closer to your subject. This soft source will act as a greatkey light. Move a bright/intense light source further away from your subject, use it as a “fill light” and brighten up any harsh shadows if possible. In some cases you can use an intense light source as a “backlight” creating a “halo effect.” Backlighting is a great way to pull your subject from the background but be careful not to draw attention away from your subject or overexpose your background.

Although a basic 3 point setup is one of the most practical ways to light a scene, it’s not a quick solution… Especially if you’re short on time.

A faster solution that can produce an equally beautiful look might look like a large window/natural light source and an intelligently placed reflection disk or “bounce board”. Depending on how your subject & camera are positioned you might be able to fake the look of three-point lighting without that third light source.’

If you don’t have any usable lighting gear, a reflector, or a nice natural light source on location… Well then, I’d recommend picking up a nice small, dimmable LED panel. Definitely splurge for one with adjustable color temperature… This way you can at least fill in any shadows on your subject & match the existing lighting in the space.

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