Getting the most from your iphone camera

I feel funny writing a post about photography when clearly I am not the best photographer.  However, I’ve been learning a lot and when I look over my scrapbooks, the quality of my pictures has improved unbelievably in the past few months.  The best part is that I haven’t spent any money – I have just learned simple photography techniques, practiced new features of the iPhone camera, experimented with free photo apps, and used free photo websites.

When I started off trying to learn more about taking better pictures with my iPhone, I was shocked by how much I had been missing out on.  I have to say, that after practicing with these, I am loving all of the photo features the iPhone offers.  I compiled all of these into this list of tips.  Here, I will cover techniques, features, and settings of taking pictures with an iPhone.  I will then have a follow up post with free photo apps and photo editing websites (this is now written!  Click here.).


When reading these tips, please note that I am referring to an iPhone 4S.  If you have another type of iPhone, some of these features may not apply to you.

Photography Techniques: These tips apply to taking pictures from any camera.  Most of the time it’s the skill of the photographer, not necessarily the quality of the camera, that determines how well pictures turn out.

  • Lighting: Whenever possible, use natural light.  Rather than turning lights on in a room, open up the curtains and let in the light from outside.  The catch to this, however, is to be careful with sunlight – there are times when too much direct sunlight causes photos to come out too bright.  In fact, early morning and early evening are great times to take outdoor pictures, while the middle of the day is the best time to take indoor pictures (both times of course, using natural light).  This article from Cambridge in Colour has more information about using lighting to improve your pictures.  The following pictures are from their site as well; they show the difference between how much natural light you have when taking your photo:
  • Clear Lens: This seems obvious, but you should always make sure that the lens on your camera is clear from smudges.  Anything on the lens will show up in pictures, so you want to keep it as clear as possible.
  • Steady Hand: When taking the photo, keep your hand as still as possible.  Camera movement will cause the photo to come out blurry.
  • Take Multiple Photos: When you’re able, take multiple photos in a row.  This will allow you to go through and find the best one.  In fact, professional photographers will generally only use about 10% of all the photos they take in a session.
  • Photo Light Box: If you are truly trying to take a professional-looking photo of one object (rather than people or scenery), use a photo light box.  This is especially helpful for bloggers or online sellers who are trying to take pictures of final products – such as crafts or meals.  These make a huge difference in how your photo comes out.  You can either buy a photo light box, or you can make one on your own that will work just as well.  This post from Never Homemakerexplains how to make a photo light box.  The picture below is from that post.

iPhone Camera and Photo Settings: Most iPhone users are not aware of all of the photo features and settings that are available to them.  Experiment with these a little bit, and you will see which ones work best for you.

  • HDR Feature: HDR, or high dynamic range, is a feature of the iPhone camera.  You can turn this feature on by opening the camera, and tapping the Options button at the top.  Or, you can turn it on in your Settings (under Settings, go to Photos & Camera, and scroll down to HDR).  With this feature, your camera will actually take three pictures: one in which light is underexposed, one in which light is overexposed, and one in which the lighting has ideal exposure.  This will drastically improve the light and dark areas of your photos.  HDR is best for photos with strong back lighting, photos with strong sunlight, or landscape photos.  It will not work as well when objects in the photo are moving or when you want vivid colors.  However, you can always make the colors more vivid using photo editing website (more on this in my upcoming post).  Here is an example of photos with and without the HDR feature:
  • Focus Feature: The iPhone 4S will automatically focus on an object that is in the center of the photo.  If you’d like to focus on a different object, just tap the object on your phone screen.  A blue box will appear and the object inside that box will now be the focus (the most clear object) of the photo.  If you’d like to lock in that object as the focus, just tap and hold until AE/AF lock appears at the bottom of the screen.  Here is an example of using the iphoto tap to focus feature (this picture is from the Sanziro site):
  • Photo Timing: If it sometimes feels as though there is a delay in the time you press the photo button and the time your phone takes the picture, it’s because the picture actually snaps when you release the button, not when you press it.  This set up is ideal because sometimes when your fingers hits the button on the phone, it slightly bumps the camera and may cause a blurry picture.  If you want to completely avoid blur, you can keep your finger on the button to snap the picture for a while until you are ready – this way the camera will have very limited movement when the picture snaps.  You can also use the volume “up” button to snap the picture, which will not bump the camera as much as the snap picture button.
  • Grid Feature: Under Options (when your camera is open and ready to take a picture, tap the Options button at the top), just slide the Grid screen to “On.”  This will create a grid of nine squares on your screen – these lines will not show up on the photo when you take it.  The purpose of the grid feature is to make it easy to follow the “rule of thirds.”  This is an artistic and photography rule that states that the main elements of a photo should fall on one of the lines or intersections in an imaginary nine-square grid, rather than being directly in the center.  Of course, there are times when a main object should be in the center of the photo, so the grid features is not always applicable.  An additional purpose of the grid feature is to make sure that the camera is not tilted.
  • Panorama feature: You can also find this option under Options when the camera on your phone is open.  Simply turn it on and it will be ready to use.  This is used to take panoramic, rather than traditional photos.  Start with the camera all the way to one side of the panoramic scene, and tap the button you would take to take the picture.  That button will then say “Done.”  Scan the camera across the scene you want to capture – your phone will take multiple pictures while you do this.  When you get to the other end, tap the “Done” button.  Your phone will automatically merge the photos together to create a panoramic image.  Please note that the photo will not appear panoramic when viewing it in your phone, but when you email or upload it, you will be able to see the panoramic image.  Here is a picture taken with the panoramic feature of the iPhone:
  • Edit Photo Feature: Once you take a picture, you can open it up in Photos.  In the top right, you can tap the “Edit” option – this will allow you to crop the photo, remove red eye, rotate, and auto-enhance.  There are apps that will do this too, but this is the easiest and fastest way.  This is perfect if you take a great photo that you want to share right away.
  • Snapshot of Phone Screen: The final feature you can use on the iPhone is to take a photo of your current phone screen.  For instance, you can take a picture of a text message, an internet page that you’re on, or anything that happens to be on your screen at the time.  First, you hold down the “Sleep” button (on the top of your phone, on the right side) – while holding that button, you hit the “Home” button, which is the main, large button on the front of your phone.  This may not sound like a useful function, but it’s actually come in handy quite a bit!  Here’s a picture I took while using my Pandora app:

I hope this was helpful!  Don’t forget to check out my follow up post on the best free photo apps and websites.  I’m still a beginner with improving my photo quality, so if you have any additional tips, please let me know with a comment!  P.S. Anybody feeling a beach trip?  :)