The Ultimate Guide to Photographing Lighting with Your Phone

photographing lighting with your phone

When it comes to photographing interiors, I'm always urging designers to, TURN OFF the Lights! However, what do you do when photographing lights in a lighting showroom? You obviously can't turn off the lights. Using your smartphone can be a bit challenging due to the contrasting light levels and reflections. In order to get photos like the pros, here's my ultimate guide to Photographing Lighting With Your Phone.

1. Choose the Right Time:

If possible, choose a time when the showroom is less crowded to avoid people in the background of your shot.

Early in the day or just before closing time the showrooms will have the least amount of people in the background. This image above was taken as the showroom was getting ready to close. Imagine how different it would look if a dozen or so people were in the background.

 2. Manually set the exposure:

 When photographing lighting with a smartphone you are ABSOLUTELY going to need to adjust and set the exposure manually.

Take a look at the image below. This string of lights was displayed against a black wall. When I did a quick point and shoot, this is how my phone photographed it.

Your phone will almost always overexpose lighting. The camera light meter "reads" the overall space to determine the exposure. In the attempt to set the exposure for the whole room, the individual highlights (the lights) will be blown out and overexposed.

The photo below is what the string of lights against the black wall actually looked like.

 To achieve the image I wanted, I tapped my finger on the camera screen. This activates the yellow exposure icon (yellow box with tiny sun). I then slide my finger down the camera screen to darken the image and thus setting the exposure manually.

By manually setting the exposure, I was able to achieve the image I wanted and not the overexposed, too bright image the phone captured. 


3. Photograph from different Angles

 Experiment with different angles to capture the best shot. Straight on, side angles, looking up, or slightly below can provide interesting perspectives.

With the group of pendants above, I first positioned myself straight on and then tried an angle shot.

Varying your angle gives you options and you can decide which one you prefer.


4. Lock in the focus:

 Tap on the light on your phone screen and hold the position for a second or two to set the focus. This will ensure the light you are photographing will be in sharp focus and not some light in the background. This is especially helpful if the showroom is crowded with lights in the foreground, middle and background. With so much going on, the phone might not know exactly what to focus on.

5. Switch to Portrait Mode

Using portrait mode to photograph lighting will isolate the light and blur surrounding distractions, especially helpful with lot's going on in the background.

 Shooting lights in portrait mode will so much look better if people in the background are blurred out.


 6. Review and Retake if Necessary 

Don't wait until you're home to look over your photos. Immediately after taking your photo check for clarity, focus, and exposure. Retake any shots if needed, adjusting to fix problems.

 7. EDIT!

Your lighting image isn't complete until you take the final step of editing. Use a photo editing app to adjust brightness, contrast, and color balance. Even if your image is taken from the perfect angle, is perfectly exposed and clearly in focus, why post a photo like the one below...


When you can spend a minute or so editing and turn it into something worth sharing, like the edited one below.

Photographing lighting can be challenging but by following my ultimate guide to photographing lighting with your phone, you'll be creating beautiful lighting images in no time!

Looking for a more comprehensive training on smartphone photography? Check out my Smartphone Photography for Interior Designs course.