Getting the Most from your iPhone Camera

Just some upfront disclosure, we aren’t photographers.  However,  we have been learning a lot and about how to use the amazing new cameras on the iPhone.  The best part is that we haven’t spent any money on special add-ons to the phone – we have just been using some simple photography techniques, learning the features of the iPhone camera, and experimenting with free photo apps, and utilizing free photo websites.

When we started off trying to learn more about taking better pictures with the iPhone, we were shocked by how much we had been missing out on.  After practicing and some trial and error, we are loving all of the photos features the iPhone offers.  We compiled all of these into this list of tips.  Here, we will cover techniques, features, and settings of taking pictures with an iPhone.  We 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 we are referring to an iPhone 6s.  As Apple continues to add features and capabilities we will try and keep this updated.

Photography Techniques: These tips apply to take 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 even with the built-in stabilization features of the phone.
  • 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 lightbox.  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 lightbox, or you can make one on your own that will work just as well.  This post from Never Homemaker explains how to make a photo lightbox.  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.  Also be sure to check out refurbished mobiles 2019 to save some money.  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 backlighting, 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 clearest 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 art 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 the main object should be in the center of the photo, so the grid features are not always applicable.  An additional purpose of the grid feature is to make sure that the camera is not tilted.
  • Portrait Mode: If you are photographing a living object, use the iPhone’s feature portrait mode. Do not confuse it with frame orientation. Portrait mode makes your subject look more appealing. It will automatically focus on the face, making it look sharper and a lot closer to reality. It also blurs the background so that the subject stands out. You can control the level of blurring as you wish. This feature can be found above the shutter button, next to photo mode. 
  • Timer: Many times a perfect opportunity for a shot is ruined only because our hands were shaky. Tapping on the shutter button usually shakes the camera even though it is only a matter of a few seconds. To avoid getting blurry images, use the camera timer option. This way you can take a hands-free selfie. But this is not its only use. You can take any shot hands-free with this feature. Traveling alone? No worries. You can take your own photos as well using this feature. Set your camera somewhere and start the timer and then run to the spot from where you want a picture. However, it works best for stationary subjects only. If you are taking a shot of a moving subject, for example, wildlife, you may miss the subject when the timer goes off. You can also try using volume buttons as an alternative. 
  • 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 was 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!

iPhone Photography Accessories

To get the best out of your iPhone camera, invest in photography accessories. The most useful accessories are lights, tripods, and lenses. 

Artificial light can allow you more control over the lighting in your photographs. Flash usually gives a harsh effect or a glare. Get a portable one so that you can easily take it around with you. The lighting from a portable light is also good enough to enhance the lighting conditions. 

To get a focused picture, tripods are your best accessory. Your hands can never keep the camera as steadier as the tripod can. You can get tripods in varying sizes, with some that are even pocket-sized. Choose one based on your photography subject and usage. If you are into low light or night photography or video shooting, then tripods are a must-buy. 

To get even more than the iPhone camera offers, invest in external lenses. For example, lenses with optical zoom have a much better output quality than the built-in zoom feature. There are lenses for distant or close-up photography as well. You can find a lens that works for you based on the kind of photography you like to do.

We 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?  Smiley Icon