You don't need an expensive digital camera to take great photos — the smartphone in your pocket is better than you think.
There's a lot that goes into taking photos besides the camera. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shooting that will dramatically improve your results.
Time of day
Quality of light is everything. If you are shooting outdoors, the best time to take photos is during the two magic hours, just after sunrise and before sunset, when the lighting is softer and not as harsh.
Shoot out of direct sunlight
If you are taking photos during the middle of the day, avoid focusing on people in direct sunlight. Try and find a shaded spot where the lighting will be more uniform. An overcast day is also a good time to shoot outdoors as the cloud cover diffuses the light.
Capture as much light information as you can
The sensors on smartphone cameras have limited dynamic range, or ability to capture information from the brightest part of a photo to the darkest. To ensure you're capturing as much light information as possible, set your exposure (by tapping on your screen) to the brightest part, which is usually the sky.
Even if it produces a dark image, you can generally recover it using mobile editing software like Lightroom or Afterlight.
In photography, the rule of thirds is a guideline that helps with framing interesting compositions. Most smartphones have a grid feature you can enable that will help you align points of interests in your photos.
When you're taking pictures of people, frame them so that you're cutting them off mid-shin or mid-thigh. Headroom is also an important thing to consider. Try not to leave too much or too little empty space above your subject.
Try shooting at different angles to change the feeling of a photo. When shooting landscapes, try to capture something in the foreground to emphasize depth.
Third-party camera apps
If your native camera app doesn't give you a lot of control, consider downloading a third-party app. Camera+ is my favorite alternative to the stock camera. This will allow you to experiment with ISO, shutter, aperture and other parameters, giving you more freedom in how you capture your shots.
High-end smartphones like the iPhone X, Google's Pixel and Samsung's Galaxy S9 have a portrait mode that adds depth of field, emulating the look of a DSLR. To produce the the best results possible, use it when you have plenty of light and depth behind your subject.
The front-facing camera is not as powerful as the one on the back. Whenever possible, default to the rear camera, and instead of taking that selfie, ask someone for an assist.
A good way to get more creative with your photos is to use lenses, which are similar to what you would use on higher-end cameras, but cheaper and more portable. A fisheye lens give you an extremely wide field of view. The distortion can help you take some creative shots.
A wide-angle lens broadens the field of view of your camera, allowing you to take more dramatic landscape shots, or even better photos indoors or in confined spaces.
A telephoto lens is great for photographing things in the distance, but is also great at taking portrait shots up close.
A macro lens lets you take extremely close-up shots. Like a fisheye lens, this is helpful for more artistic photos.