Smartphone Camera Basics

Creating content with your smartphone that rivals professional DSLR/mirrorless photo & video necessitates understanding the basics of how a smartphone camera works


Let’s keep it simple. Your ability to create professional content with a smartphone will rely heavily on your understanding of how cameras work. Luckily for you, they all pretty much work the exact same way.

Camera lenses are made from special optics that shape & focus light. Camera lenses house small blades designed to control the amount of light passing through the lens.

A digital sensor converts light into data pixel by pixel. In the case of film, light triggers a chemical reaction that results in an image.

Lastly, a camera’s shutter opens and closes, it controls the duration of time the sensor/film is exposed.

Smaller optic components means less room for light…

Depending on your lighting environment, this limitation can make it difficult for your smartphone camera to capture great exposure.

We’ll review these ideas more in-depth in a moment… For now, just know, more light generally makes for more options & better quality content.

The 3 Main Smartphone Camera Components

What's An Aperture?

The opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. You can shrink or enlarge the size of the aperture to allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor.

What's Shutter Speed?

The length of time camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo.

Shutter Speed

What Is ISO?

ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor to light. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain.


As you change any of the three exposure settings on a traditional camera — aperture, shutter speed, or ISO — one or both of the others will most likely have to be adjusted in order to maintain your level of exposure. If you want a faster shutter speed, you’ll need to make up for that lost light. In order to compensate you’ll need a larger aperture or a higher ISO setting.

Most smartphone cameras have a fixed aperture to allow the maximum amount of light through the lens. This means compensating exposure to make up for a lack of light usually results in a less sharp image — slower shutter speed— or a noisy image —high ISO.

Smartphone Camera Advantages

Familiarizing yourself with your smartphone camera’s pros & cons is the first step in creating high-quality smartphone content quickly and efficiently… Some of these bullets might not make total sense to you right now but trust me – as time goes on, the gap will begin to close in even more between content created with high-end camera equipment & smartphone cameras. It will have everything to do with how the technology in these phones is put to use.

Spectral & IR sensors more accurately detect color temperature when compared to traditional camera hardware

Gyroscopes, accelerometers & magnetometers detect orientation to help keep your camera level

GPS “Geo-Tags” keep your photos organized

Smartphones get the more out of their hardware with by constantly upgraded software and special made camera apps

Keeping only one object in focus

Simple backgrounds

Subjects that completely fill the frame

Well defined lighting

Contrasting subject & background with colors and textures

Less background blur when shooting wide fields of view

Less hardware means a smaller camera

Small cameras fit into spaces other cameras can’t, allowing for some unique perspectives

Less power consumption = less batteries to carry

No moving parts = faster shutter speed

Shoot in the brightest lighting conditions without ND filters (neutral density filters) to cut down intensity of light

No camera vibrations from mechanical shutter opening and closing

Totally silent operation

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