Your iPhone takes great photos, but you can always improve them. For example, you can control the exposure, spend more time composing before pressing the shutter button, and make better use of the tools available to you.
In fact, you can take a crash course in iPhoneography right now.
How to Launch and Use the iPhone Camera
You can use the shortcut at the bottom right corner of the iOS lock screen to launch the camera. Either press hard and release the icon (if you have an iPhone with 3D Touch) or swipe up. You can also launch the camera through the Control Center or ask Siri to launch it for you.
When the camera opens, you will see all available features at the top of the screen (as shown below).
From left to right it is:
Flash : Select Auto, On or Off.
Live photos: tap the yellow icon to take Live Photos next to your photos. Live Photos captures a small amount of video and audio when you press the shutter button.
Timer: select three or 10 seconds or Off.
Filters: you can view filters while shooting. You can also disable them in post-production if you wish.
At the bottom of the screen are the various modes you can shoot in. If you leave the default camera settings, they will reset to Photos mode every time you restart the Photos app.
You can swipe left or right to access the following modes:
A photo: more photos with Live Photos option.
Video: shoot video with the quality specified in the camera settings.
Time-lapse: This is an automatic stop-motion mode that captures still images at «dynamic intervals» to create slow-motion video.
Slo-mo : Record video in slow motion with the quality specified in the camera settings.
Portrait : Devices with multiple cameras can use this mode to add depth of field and lighting effects to portraits and other subjects.
Square . Capture square format images.
Pano : Take panoramic images by moving your phone horizontally. Your device automatically stitches the images together.
At the bottom of the screen you see a shutter button (white for photos, red for videos). There’s also a shortcut to the last photo you took in your Camera Roll at the bottom left, and a button to switch to the front camera at the bottom right.
If you want to change your video quality settings, go to Settings > Camera. With the basics out of the way, we can now move on to some practical advice.
Focus and exposure control
The Camera app lets you touch the scene to set the focus and exposure with a single swipe. To lock this option, press and hold the photo preview screen until «AE/AF lock» appears at the top. This greatly simplifies the composition and maintains the current focus and exposure settings.
For near total control, press and hold to lock exposure and focus, then swipe up or down to adjust the exposure value. Often the subject you want to focus on (like a cocktail) is not necessarily part of the image you want to show (like a sunset).
This is an important skill to master because Apple’s camera app tends to misunderstand exposure. In most cases, the application overexposes images and loses detail in highlights and colors, especially in sky shots. This is especially true when you shoot silhouette images, such as the outline of a person with the sun in the background.
Use a telephoto lens (or your feet) to zoom in
Almost every iPhone since the iPhone 6s Plus has had at least two cameras. In the Camera app, they are identified by a small «1x» label next to the shutter button. Click «1x» to switch to another camera. On iPhone 11, you can select «.5» for ultra-wide or «2» for telephoto.
If you want to zoom in on your subject, it’s best to do it with a single press of the «1x» button. This guarantees the best image quality since it is purely based on optics and not on digital zoom which stretches and re-measures the image. If you «pinch to zoom» past the «2x» point, it will degrade the image quality.
All iPhones tend to work best when you use the standard wide-angle camera, labeled «1x». These lenses have a wider aperture, which means better low-light performance and a softer «bokeh» or depth of field effect. Getting close to your subject and shooting with the most powerful lens is an easy recipe for high quality images.
Fortunately, breaking these rules is not the main sin that many photographers once believed. Smarter software means less image noise, and who’s counting pixels in 2019? It’s good to remember if you’re worried about quality, but don’t limit your creativity.
Compose with grid
Go to Settings > Camera and turn on the Grid option to see the grid overlay while taking pictures. The overlay follows the «rule of thirds» which breaks the image into nine parts. While it can be helpful (especially for beginner photographers), the rule of thirds is not the ultimate part of composition.
Many images benefit from a rule of thirds approach, but many others do not. However, you can also use the grid to keep the horizon straight, find and stick to lead lines (lines that lead the viewer to your subject), and align the composition with other vertical lines in the scene.
RELATED:Is the rule of thirds really the rule of photography?
Use burst mode (or Live Photos) for action shots
Not so long ago, the ability to take action photos or any fast-moving objects with a smartphone was not possible. However, with the modern iPhone, you now have two options to do so. The first is Burst Mode, which captures a series of images, and the second is to use videos taken as part of Live Photos.
To use burst mode, simply press and hold the shutter button. Your device will keep taking photos until the buffer runs out (the time it takes depends entirely on the age of your device). Live Photos are not taken when shooting in burst mode. Instead, a series of high-quality images is stored in the Camera Roll.
When you view an image in the Photos app, you see «Select…» at the bottom of the screen; click to select the photos you would like to save. Tap Done and then choose Keep All or Keep X Favorites Only, where X is the number of photos you selected.
Burst mode is the best way to get high quality still images, but live photos can also be useful. This is especially true if the action is over and you’ve only managed to capture a couple of live photos.
Find the image and click «Edit» in the top right corner. Tap the Live Photos icon at the bottom of the screen (several dotted circles). Swipe left and right until you find the image you want, lift your finger, and then tap «Take Key Photo» to use that image.
Since this is a still image from a Live Photo video, it will not be the same quality as a normal photo. You will notice a degradation in image quality compared to a still image captured on the same device, but it’s better than nothing.
Use portrait mode
Portrait mode uses depth-sensing technology to detect the edges of the subject and blur the background to apply a simulated depth of field effect. You can also use it to apply various simulated lighting effects after and before shooting.
To shoot in portrait mode, swipe the viewfinder and select it as the shooting mode in the Camera app. If you have an iPhone 11, you can shoot more than portraits in this mode. The iPhone 11 includes enhanced support for using portrait mode for images of pets and inanimate objects. However, the image above was taken from the iPhone X in portrait mode and it still detected the cat’s face.
If you have an iPhone XS or later, you can use the Depth Control feature to change the intensity of the depth of field effect. Find the photo you want to edit, click «Edit» in the top right corner, and the «Depth» slider should appear at the bottom of the screen. Drag it from left to right until you’re happy with the effect, then click Done to save the image.
If you have an iPhone 7 Plus or later with two cameras, you can use portrait mode. The technology has improved as iOS has matured, but edge detection often makes or breaks a shot. When this works, the deception is virtually undetectable. When it doesn’t, it looks like an image that has been badly edited in Photoshop.
Control your camera with your Apple Watch
The Apple Watch does a lot of things — you can even use it as a remote viewfinder and shutter for your iPhone’s camera. Just launch the Camera app on your Apple Watch to launch the Camera app on your iPhone. When you close an app on your watch, the app on your phone also closes.
When the Camera app is open on your watch, the viewfinder shows you what your watch is «seeing». This is perfect when you need to take group photos or selfies but can’t get to the shutter. You can click anywhere in the frame to change focus and exposure (however, you cannot press and hold to lock or manually adjust exposure by sliding).
You also have two buttons: a shutter button and a three-second timer. When you use the timer feature, the LED on your iPhone blinks to let you know when to smile.
Record with volume buttons
This might seem like obvious advice since this feature has been on iOS for years, but you can also use the volume buttons on the side of your device to take photos. You can use it to capture still images, burst shooting (just hold them), or start and stop video recording.
This capture can reduce camera shake. Plus, you’re less likely to dim the screen you’re trying to compose with, or accidentally switch to another mode, or take a burst shot. It also makes it easier to take one-handed shots with the front camera — just be careful not to hit the Sleep/Wake button.
Capture long exposures with Live Photos
I know what you’re thinking — long exposures on iPhone? It’s much easier than you think. If you use Live Photos, you can turn almost any scene into a long exposure. This works best in the same conditions that you would shoot a «regular» long exposure with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Also useful if you keep your camera still (or better yet, use a tripod).
After taking a Live Photo, go to the Photos app and tap on the image you want to convert to a long exposure. Swipe up to open the Effects panel, tap Long Exposure, and then wait. Your device generates an image based on the additional data recorded in Live Photo.
Traditional long exposures keep the camera shutter open for the duration of the image. This results in smooth light trails and motion blur. However, the iPhone stitches images from 45 frames in Live Photo. You won’t get smooth light trails, but you will get some cool effects, as shown in the image above.
Use filters before or after shooting
Did you know Apple’s photo filters are non-destructive? This means you can click the Filters button at the top of the Camera app, apply any filter, and then take as many pictures as you want without fixing that filter.
To remove or try any other filter, go to the Photos app, find the image you want, click Edit, and then click the Filters button at the bottom of the screen. Click «Original» to remove the current filter or select a different one.
You can also tap the ellipsis (…) in the top right corner of the screen when selecting a filter to see filters from other apps. Keep in mind, however, that third-party filters are not non-destructive and won’t work the same as Apple’s.
Avoid Flash When Possible
Most smartphone flashes are bad, and the iPhone is no exception. This works great in a pinch, but most of the time it results in blurry, unflattering images. You can also draw unwanted attention to yourself, especially if you forget to turn off your flash and it goes off while you’re on the bus or in class.
Instead of using a flash, look for other light sources. Use the skills you’ve learned to capture and adjust your exposure and work with your environment. You’ll get more interesting photos, more natural skin tones, and you’ll have to think creatively to find a solution. In short, you will become a better photographer.
Flash still has its uses. You can use it as a key light in backlit conditions when your subject needs more face light. Also, it’s best to use flash only if you need to find your keys in the dark or scan documents with Notes.
Shoot in RAW
You get more out of your photos if you shoot them in RAW format, but it also generates a lot more data. The RAW format captures all «raw» data directly from the camera’s sensor. When you correct the data, you can change the result of the image and do things like adjust the white balance and exposure values in post-production.
VSCO and Adobe Lightroom are two iPhone apps that can be used to capture RAW photos. VSCO is a much better choice as it’s lightweight and gives you plenty of options for exporting your images. To use Adobe Lightroom, you must sign up for an Adobe Creative Cloud account to export your images.
If you’re ready to open up your wallet, then Manual ($3.99) and ProCam ($5.99) are great options. Each offers the ability to shoot in RAW with full manual control over camera settings such as aperture and shutter speed. The manual has a cleaner, less intimidating interface, but ProCam also has plenty of video features.
Focus after shooting with focus
Lytro was a startup that specialized in illuminated cameras for consumers. These expensive cameras captured enough information about the scene to be able to refocus the shot after it was taken. The technology did not find its niche, and the company closed in 2018.
Enter Focos: an iPhone app that is essentially a Lytro virtual camera. It captures as much depth information as possible from multi-camera iPhone models and then lets you refocus any image in portrait mode.
Focos is free to try, but a Pro subscription ($0.99 per month) unlocks high-resolution exports, lens filters, and 3D lighting effects.
Step back in time with a one-time camera app
Digital photography is amazing, but it also makes us feel too disposable with our photographic habits. Instead of carefully composing and shooting once, we are more likely to spend more time shooting the same subject multiple times and paying less attention to each shutter release.
This is where disposable cameras come in! They take you back to a time when you couldn’t view your results right away because you had to develop the film. This means that you have to adopt a slightly different way of taking pictures.
Huji Cam, KD Pro, and Grain Cam are free one-time camera apps. Gudak ($1) is a premium app, although it’s definitely cheaper than a roll of film.
None of these apps are perfect, but they are a lot of fun. They force you to be patient, creative and a little carefree.
If you love taking photos with your iPhone, there are several accessories you can take advantage of. At the top of the list is a tripod or tripod adapter for your iPhone. The Joby GripTight ONE is a small clip that you attach to your smartphone that has a standard tripod mount on the bottom. The Manfrotto Smartphone Clip is almost identical.
With a tripod attachment point on your iPhone, you can use any tripod you like. We recommend something like the GorillaPod 1K if you want to mount your iPhone in some cool places.
Aftermarket lenses can also expand your options. Moment makes some of the best (and most expensive) iPhone lenses right now. You also have to use a Moment lens mount case, but the image quality is excellent. There is a good selection of lenses, from super fisheye to anamorphosis. Oh, and don’t forget to grab Alloclip too.
The final accessory that any keen smartphone photographer should always have is a spare battery. Fortunately, there is a portable battery for every budget and pocket size.
Take a better photo
The camera is a consistent achievement in every yearly iPhone update. Apple may not always take the crown for the best smartphone camera, but they also rarely release bugs. The iPhone 11 is no exception. With iOS 13.2, the Deep Fusion Camera introduces new image processing techniques to enhance the level of detail in your images.
Armed with these tips, you’ll take better smartphone photos than ever before.
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