The iPhone Camera: Tips & Tricks for Better Photos

Updated on May 23, 2019
Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast

The iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world today
The iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world today | Source

Getting to Know the iPhone Camera

The continuous evolution of smartphone photography has led to the iPhone becoming one of the most popular cameras you can buy. It wasn't created with the sole purpose of taking pictures, but it does it so well that many people have put their digital cameras on a shelf in favor of the lightweight camera that they always have in their pocket. Take your smartphone photography to the next level with these ten iPhone camera tips.

1. The iPhone Camera Grid

To help you compose better shots, you can turn on the grid. This onscreen overlay can be found in Settings > Camera > Grid. It is based on the rule of thirds, a photography trick that was created to try and make images more interesting to the human eye. Here's how it works. If you compose your shot by placing your subject at the point where two of the grid lines intersect, you will generally have a more pleasing composition. So, instead of putting your subject in the middle of the frame, try framing them to the left, or the right, and you may be surprised at the results.

The rule of thirds can also be used to ensure that your landscape images are level
The rule of thirds can also be used to ensure that your landscape images are level | Source

2. Top Down iPhone Photos

Once you turn on the grid view, you can take advantage of a little known feature that lets you take perfect top down photos. This particular style of photography is popular when taking pictures of food, office desks, or your shoes. It means that you are shooting from directly above the subject you want to capture, not at an angle.

To take top-down photos on your iPhone, make sure the grid is turned on, and then look for the two cross hairs in the middle of your screen. Tilt your iPhone back and forward until these two cross hairs are exactly aligned, then take your picture. If you find that shadows are a problem, add some additional lighting, or increase the distance between your iPhone and the subject, and crop later to remove elements that you don't need.

With practice, top down photography can produce some unique points of view
With practice, top down photography can produce some unique points of view | Source

3. Focus and Exposure

The iPhone has an intuitive "tap to focus" system built-in to the Camera app. If you want the rocks in your foreground to be the sharpest focus point in your image, simply tap on that part of the screen. If you want the hills in the background to be in focus, tap on those instead. Your iPhone will automatically adjust the exposure to match the area that you tapped on.

To adjust the exposure manually in a scene, tap once to focus, then slide your finger upwards to make the scene brighter, or slide it downwards to make the scene darker. You can adjust exposure later in an app if needed, but sometimes it just makes more sense to get it right at the time you take a picture.

Finally, if you open the Camera app and then press and hold on a specific part of the screen, you can lock both focus and exposure. This is confirmed when you see AE/AF LOCK appear at the top of your screen. When your exposure and focus are locked, you can recompose your shot and maintain the same focus and exposure at all times. To disable AE/AF LOCK, press and hold the screen once more.

For artistic exposures like sunsets, try AE/AF LOCK
For artistic exposures like sunsets, try AE/AF LOCK | Source

4. Shoot With Filters on iPhone

If we want to change the mood of an image, we often turn to 3rd party apps, or Instagram filters, to modify photos that we have already captured. However, the iPhone comes with a set of built-in filters that let you do the same thing live, before you even snap a picture. This is one of those iPhone camera tips that people often forget about, but if you remember that they are there, you can experiment with some unique effects and capture scenes in a whole new light.

To apply a filter before you take your picture, open the camera app on your iPhone and tap the three overlapping circles in the corner of the screen. Then slide your finger from right to left to select from a variety of filters. When you find the one you want, compose and take your picture.

You can use the iPhone camera filters to take pictures in black and white
You can use the iPhone camera filters to take pictures in black and white | Source

5. The iPhone Burst Mode

Have you ever been part of a group photo and had to wait patiently as the photographer takes a whole series of individual photos just to make sure they get a good one? We've all been there, and I get why people do that, because there is always a blinker: someone who will ruin an otherwise perfect shot. This is where burst mode can save the day.

In burst mode, your iPhone can capture up to ten photos in just one second. To activate it, simply open the Camera app, frame your shot, and press and hold the capture button. Your iPhone will take a series of pictures in rapid succession for as long as you hold down the button. This is great for capturing fast moving action, or for getting that one perfect group shot when no-one was blinking!

When you shoot in burst mode, the iPhone organizes this group of pictures into one stack in the Photos app. You can find them in the All Photos album, or in a custom album called Bursts. Here you can select the photos you want to keep by tapping on a burst stack to open it, and then tapping Select to choose the ones you want to keep. When you are finished, tap Done and choose whether you want to keep all the photos, or to delete everything apart from the ones you selected.

The iPhone burst mode can be effective at freezing action if you have enough light
The iPhone burst mode can be effective at freezing action if you have enough light | Source

6. The Apple Watch Camera App

If you have an Apple Watch, you can use the app on your watch to frame and trigger the camera on your iPhone. This can be useful in a number of scenarios. For instance, it gives you the ability to put yourself in the photo when using the rear camera. You can also snap a picture by pressing the capture button or by activating the countdown timer, all from the screen on your Apple Watch.

Another use case that people find helpful is to use the Watch as a video remote screen. This means you can use your iPhone to see what is on that shelf you can never reach in your kitchen, or in those hard to reach areas of your basement. Simply open the Camera app on the watch, then hold your iPhone up to the area you would like a better view of. You can see what your iPhone sees by watching the live feed your wrist!

How to Take Pictures With the Apple Watch

7. Perfect iPhone Panorama Photos

The Pano mode on your iPhone or iPad lets you to take a high resolution panorama photo. It does this by seamlessly stitching together multiple images as you move the camera in a gentle arc. All you do is tap the capture button and move your phone through the air. It is perfect for dramatic landscapes and can allow you to capture far more than you would with a single shot. Here are some tips on how to get the best Pano photos on your iPhone.

  1. Hold your phone vertically and move the iPhone slowly in the direction of the arrow for best results.
  2. Keep everything straight and level by aligning the middle of the arrow with the gold guideline in the middle of your shot.
  3. By default, a panorama is captured from left to right, but if you tap the white arrow you can reverse the direction and capture your image from right to left.
  4. You can even capture vertical panorama shots if you hold your phone on its side and then move your device upwards. This is particularly useful if you want to photograph tall buildings. Again, if you prefer, tap that white arrow to reverse the direction and do your vertical panorama shot from top to bottom.

The iPhone pano mode is perfect for sweeping landscape shots
The iPhone pano mode is perfect for sweeping landscape shots | Source

8. Master the iPhone Portrait Mode

If you've ever wanted to replicate those photos of people with a smooth blurred background, then you need Portrait mode. It's available on dual camera models like the iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, but you can also use it on the iPhone XR.

To get started, open the Camera app on your iPhone and swipe along the bottom of the screen until you find Portrait mode. Next, frame your subject, and be aware of the on-screen prompts that tell you if you are too close or too far away. When you are ready, tap the capture button to take your photo

For a more detailed explanation of this feature, including the ability to refine the amount of background blur, please read: How to Use the iPhone Portrait Mode.

Portrait mode gives a subtle, soft focus effect behind your subject
Portrait mode gives a subtle, soft focus effect behind your subject | Source

9. Shoot RAW Photos With an iPhone

The images that your iPhone captures are great for sharing online, but the picture you see on your screen only contains a fraction of the data that is captured. That's because it is stored in a compressed file format like JPEG or HEIF. If you want more control over things like shadows and highlights, you can shoot your images in the uncompressed RAW file format. When you edit a RAW file, you will be able to extract more detail compared to an image shot with Apple's Camera app.

To capture RAW images, you need to use a 3rd party camera app like Moment, Camera+, VSCO, or Halide. These apps will allow you to capture more data from your scene and will give you more control over the final product when you come to edit it. These apps also give you a variety of manual controls like the ability to adjust the shutter speed or aperture on your iPhone.

10. Lenses for iPhone Photography

When DLSR owners are looking for new ways to flex their creativity muscles, they may look to purchase an additional lens. iPhone users can do the same. There are a wide variety of lenses for iPhone photography that can be used change the perspective of an image. For instance, you can get iPhone lenses that will give you a much wider and more expansive field of view. You can also do the opposite, and get significantly closer to a scene with telephoto lenses.

They come in all shapes and sizes. The inexpensive ones will likely not yield the best results because they can be prone to distortion or a lack of sharpness. However, if you are interested in accessories like this, I would recommend the lenses from Moment. They are extremely well made, and have high quality optics that will give you the best possible results. The Moment lenses require a dedicated case for mounting, but the cases are stylish and will look good on your iPhone whether you have the lens on or not. They are available for all modern iPhones.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Jonathan Wylie

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      • Jonathan Wylie profile imageAUTHOR

        Jonathan Wylie 

        2 months ago from Iowa, USA

        Yes, they will all work with an iPhone 7, with the exception of portrait mode, which would need the iPhone 7 Plus. Enjoy! :)

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        Wow! This is awesome information!

        I bought my first iPhone in July 2018. Prior to that I had an android and never took photos with it. Now I'm taking quite a few with my iPhone, especially when I don't have my digital camera with me.

        Do these tips work for the iPhone 7?

      • Jonathan Wylie profile imageAUTHOR

        Jonathan Wylie 

        6 months ago from Iowa, USA

        Thanks for taking the time to read it RTalloni. Glad you found it useful.

      • profile image

        RTalloni 

        6 months ago

        Thanks for the update. So useful! I need to use my iPhone camera enough to get these memorized.

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