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The Ultimate Guide to iPhone Photography

by Emily Derrick / April 18, 2022

Phone photography has come a long way since the first phone cameras of the early 2000s. Specifically, each new iPhone release comes with a bigger, better camera. As a result, many of us have an incredible camera for snapping photos right in our pockets.

iPhone cameras are now so good that Selena Gomez shot an entire music video on an iPhone. Feature-length films have been shot on iPhones, too.

And nothing is stopping you from using your iPhone to take some truly spectacular images. You’ve already got the professional camera, now all you need are the professional tips and tricks. Lucky for you, we’re here to help.

iPhone photography tips you need to know

Here are all the best tricks for using your iPhone to take professional-quality pictures. Whether it’s a selfie for the ‘gram or you want to start a photography career, this is what you need to know.

Use the grid

One of the first principles of professional photography is called the rule of thirds. This rule says that the perspective of a photo should be in thirds: foreground, middle ground, and background (or left, middle, right).

The photo should be divided into nine sections; three vertical and three horizontal. This grid should guide your perspective and framing.

Professional photographers use the grid of nine sections to provide the structure for snapping a photo. You can either focus your image in the center or move the focus to a different area to make a more interesting shot. It depends on what you want the photo’s main subject to be.

 

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Luckily, your iPhone comes with a feature that gives you these grid guidelines. In your iPhone settings, choose the camera. Here, you can turn the grid option on. You will see grid lines in your camera, but they won’t appear in the final photo.

Find the perspective

When it comes to taking professional-style photos, it’s all about perspective. Perspective is one of those things that isn’t an exact rule. It’s more about feeling and seeing. The more photos you take, the better you will get at finding good perspectives.

Perspective just means where things are in a photo, what sizes they are, how they relate to each other and the relationship between shapes and spaces.

 

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Try crouching down or raising your phone above your head to experiment with angles. You can also move to the side of a subject to find a new way to look at an object. Good photography often frames subjects in new or exciting ways. You can also use lighting and shadows to bring focus and attention to different elements within the photo, which will change the perspective.

Getting good at recognizing new angles and seeing new ways to look at subjects takes time and practice, so don’t worry if you take some photos that don’t look as good as you hoped.

Bonus: Turn your phone upside down

If you are trying to get an extreme angle or tilt on a photo, but can’t quite manage it, try turning your phone upside down. Since the camera is at the top of the phone, flipping it upside down allows you to get your camera closer to the floor than when it’s right-side up.

The great thing about iPhones is that they should automatically recognize this and flip the image. If it doesn’t, you can always flip it during the editing process.

 

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Tap to focus

It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know about this simple iPhone photography trick.

When pointing your phone at the subject of your photo, you can tap the screen to focus the camera lens. Your iPhone camera should focus automatically, but sometimes it needs help or you might want to focus on something different for creative reasons.

You can choose to focus on the foreground or background, and it can be particularly useful if you are taking a photo of something moving. You need to make sure the camera itself is still, though, as tapping to focus the lens requires a consistent distance between you and the subject.

Adjust exposure

Once you’ve tapped on the screen to focus your camera, you’ll notice a small symbol that looks like the sun. While this symbol is still visible, slide your finger up and down to adjust the exposure. This will change the brightness of any lighting in the picture by changing how much light the lens lets in.

It effectively allows you to choose how much light is in the image so you can create a beautiful, bright photo or a dark, moody one.

Bonus: Lock in the exposure

To choose the exposure you want, you might need to focus elsewhere, which can be a problem. You can lock your exposure and focus in place while keeping the same amount of light on the subject.

Tap and hold on the area with the perfect exposure. Your iPhone will automatically flash up the sign AE/AF Lock. This stands for Auto Exposure/Auto Focus lock and will hold the same focus and exposure setting for the next photo.

Use the other features

When your camera opens, it will automatically be in the standard mode. But your iPhone comes with a range of other features that can help you take some fantastic snaps.

Here’s a rundown of some of the other elements on your iPhone camera and how to use them to take incredible photos.

Video: It seems contradictory, but taking a video can actually be an excellent way to take photos, and it’s particularly handy if your subject is moving. Once you’ve taken a video, you can pull stills from the moving images to isolate one specific frame. While this will result in the image quality being slightly lower, it can be a great way to get a photo of something that’s hard to capture.

Square: If you plan on sharing your photos on Instagram, using the square feature can help. Sometimes, the angles and perspectives are not as good when you crop a picture later. Seeing the final square crop as you take the photo can help you capture a better image.

Pano: Short for panoramic, this is an excellent feature if you want to take in a wider area. The lens on an iPhone might not be wide enough to capture the entire image or landscape that you’d like to photograph, so you can use the pano feature to pan across the area you’d like to capture and it’ll create one long photo. The key to getting a good pano picture is keeping your hand steady. Once you start capturing the image, ensure the arrow stays on the center line so that the photo looks even. You can use the pano feature to take both horizontal and vertical images.

Portrait: Newer iPhones also have portrait mode, automatically adding depth to a photo by focusing on the central subject and blurring the background. Use this feature to crisply capture a subject in the center of your shot.

Burst: Using burst mode means that when you press and hold the shutter to capture a photo, your phone will take multiple images all at once. This can help you get the perfect shot, especially if your subject is moving or you want to make sure you snap the perfect moment.

 

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Make the most of live photos

Your iPhone can take live photos where it will capture several frames before and after the main image. You can use this feature to create amazing long-exposure shots.

Turn your live photos option on by clicking the circle image in the top bar with your camera on. You can see your live images in your camera roll by viewing the image and holding down one finger on the screen.

If you swipe up, you will get several options, including turning the live photo into a loop, bounce or a long exposure image.

Use natural lighting where possible

When it comes to taking good photos, natural light is the best option. Natural lighting can create some incredible images. The soft, golden light in the mornings and evenings can be very gentle and flattering, while bright midday light can illuminate subjects, casting natural shadows and highlights.

Of course, sometimes natural lighting isn’t strong enough or is coming at the wrong angle. Flat light caused by clouds can be frustrating to work with, and you might need to use additional lighting.

You can control the change in exposure, as detailed above, to slightly adjust the lighting to either create a brighter, lighter image or a darker, moodier one as you please.

 

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Use HDR

If you struggle with lighting but still want to use natural lighting, you should check your iPhone’s HDR setting. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Effectively, when HDR is on, your iPhone will take several shots very quickly at different exposures. This allows your phone to capture varying lights and shadows and then merge them into one photo to get the best contrast and lighting.

You can find your HDR in camera mode in the top bar. iPhones come with three HDR settings: auto, on, and off. If you are shooting in low lighting, check that your HDR is on to get the best chance of capturing a good photo.

Use the volume button

Holding the phone in a way that makes it easy to press the capture button on the screen can give you a hand cramp or require you to move the phone, sacrificing the perfect angle. Don’t forget that you can take a photo by pressing the volume buttons on the side of your phone.

When getting the right angle for a photo, you may need to hold your phone differently. Using the volume buttons to capture an image can be much easier than tapping the screen, allowing you to find new angles and take photos more easily.

Stay level

Your iPhone will automatically help you level your camera when taking overhead shots looking down. Two crosses — one white, one yellow — will appear in the center. When your phone is level, the two crosses will overlap completely. You can use this guide to ensure the photo is straight.

Avoid the selfie camera

iPhones are notorious for having a massive difference in quality between the front and back cameras. The rear-facing camera on recent models is almost twice the quality. This means more pixels, greater detail, and better focus.

Even if you want to take a selfie, you should still use the rear-facing camera. Try setting up the photo first, paying close attention to framing, perspective and where your face will be. You can ask a friend for help taking the pictures or use a remote control to take your own photos. Using the rear-facing camera to take selfies will result in a higher-quality image that will be easier to edit.

Don’t forget that by using the back camera, the image will be flipped, so you might find you look different. You can flip the photo back in the editing process if you prefer.

You might also look different because the back camera uses a wide-angle lens. This can make your face look longer and thinner, which is flattering for some people and not for others! It can also make your nose look more prominent, so remember to take an extra step back if you want to avoid this.

Use a filter

Lots of people think the filters on photos are only for Instagram posts and that serious photographers don’t really use them, but this just isn’t true. Professional photographers regularly use filters to add atmosphere to a photo.

Even Hollywood films are shot with filters when the directors want to add an extra layer of drama.

You can, of course, add filters later in the editing process. However, it can be helpful to try different filters out while shooting. This way, you can try out different looks and get different effects. iPhones come with several built-in filters that you can apply before taking the photo.

 

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In camera mode, you will find a symbol of several overlapping circles. Once you’ve chosen this, a second menu bar will appear across the bottom with several filter options.

You can choose between combinations of warm and cool as well as vivid, dramatic, and three different black and white options. Each filter will give your photo a different atmosphere and mood.

Avoid zoom if you can

The best way to zoom in on the subject of your photo is to move your feet. Zooming in on an iPhone doesn’t actually zoom in because it doesn’t have an adjustable lens like a camera. It just makes the image bigger. This makes it blurrier.

The more you zoom in, the worse quality your photo will be. For a better picture, try to get physically closer to your subject.

 

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Many people end up with bad shots because they zoom in too far. If you can’t get closer, try a new angle to make the photo more interesting from a distance.

If you want, you can invest in a clip-on lens to make zooming on your iPhone better quality. Read on to find out more about iPhone accessories.

Make the most of iPhone accessories

iPhone photography has become so good that a range of photography accessories have been developed to make it even better. If you want to take your iPhone photography seriously, it’s worth investing in some additional tools.

You can buy a simple clip-on lens that snaps over the outside of your phone to improve your iPhone’s ability to zoom in. Different lenses can be helpful for different types of photography. The most common lenses are wide-angle lenses, telephoto lenses for long shots, and polarizer lenses to reduce light glare.

Other suitable accessories to invest in include a light source, a stand, and remote control. Light sources can help you control the lighting of photos when natural lighting isn’t enough to get a good picture. Like lenses, you can get clip-on lights or some phone cases have built-in lights. A stand or tripod can help prevent blurring or movement when taking a photo. It can also help perfect angles, especially if you are in the photo and your phone is a short distance away.

A remote control can be helpful if you need to step away from the phone because you want to be in the picture or want to avoid your shadow being in the photo.

If you want to take photography seriously but don’t want to invest in a camera, a few accessories can help you take incredible images with just your smartphone.

Clean your lens

Blurry photos with lousy quality can sometimes be put down to a dirty lens. The downside of having a camera in your pocket is that it’s literally in your pocket. Professionals protect their lenses with caps and camera bags, but we never do that with our phones.

Ensure your iPhone is ready to take the best photos by taking care of it. Don’t let water or dirt get in the lens, and be sure to wipe the lens regularly to keep it clean. It’s shocking how many people don’t take crisp, clear images simply because they didn’t wipe the lens before shooting. Your T-shirt is good enough in a pinch.

Get comfortable with editing

If we’re honest, a good photograph is 50% taking the photo and 50% good editing. Even photos that look natural and don’t appear to have been edited have almost certainly had some tweaks here and there.

Apple knows this, so they gave the iPhone a whole bunch of features to help you edit your photos. Select Edit on the image you want to adjust, and you’ll get an entirely new menu of tools.

The iPhone also has an auto-edit function which is usually pretty good. Just tap the magic wand and let the phone do the work. You can increase or decrease the intensity of the changes using the slide bar.

 

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However, nothing is perfect, and sometimes the auto-adjust feature makes mistakes. In this case, you’ll have to edit the photo yourself.

If you don’t know where to start, here’s a quick rundown of the editing features on an iPhone:

Exposure: This increases the amount of light in the photo. It can make the picture seem lighter. It is very useful if your photo is dark, as it specifically focuses on the lighter areas of the image and can increase the contrast.

Brilliance: This changes the intensity of the colors, similar to the contrast tool. It’s great if your image is lots of shades of gray.

Highlights and Shadows: These two tools go hand in hand, and they adjust the light and dark sections separately. They’re helpful if your lighting is super harsh or the shadows aren’t intense enough.

Contrast: This tool can change the color difference between white and black. The more intense the contrast, the stronger the colors seem against each other. This feature often reveals hidden details.

Brightness: Acts similarly to exposure by brightening the entire picture, like shining a light on your photo. Unlike exposure which will mainly affect highlights, brightness affects everything.

Black Point: This tool changes the intensity and shade of the color black. Depending on the black point, the shadows, highlights, brilliance, and contrast can vary.

Saturation: You can use saturation to give more color to your photo. This will affect every color, making light colors lighter and dark shades darker. Adjusting the saturation can make an image more intense, or it can mute and calm bright colors.

Vibrancy: Vibrancy is similar to saturation but generally affects the more muted, mid-range tones rather than all colors. Increasing the vibrancy of a photo can make colors pop more without becoming too intense or overly saturated.

Warmth: Warmth makes the colors of a photo warmer. It works by changing the color white from a cold, bluish-white to a warm, orangey-white. All other colors are adjusted in the same way, giving the photo a slightly warmer, welcoming feeling.

Tint: The tint tool is like adding a drop of one specific color across an entire image. Depending on the photo, you can add a tint to enhance the colors and give the picture some extra vibrancy. Or you can contrast the colors in the image with a tint.

Sharpness: Sharpness can be used to tidy up blurred edges. Increasing the sharpness of an image makes edges and lines sharper and crisper.

Definition: Definition works similarly to sharpness. However, definition works by clearing up blurred areas by changing the pixels to bring more detail into focus and create contrast in gray areas. As a result, more of the image will come into focus.

Noise Reduction: Noise reduction works by creating an average number of pixels for a photo. This helps smooth out the roughness and harshness of images, though you might sacrifice some detail.

Vignette: This feature adds either white or black to the corners for a cool effect that draws attention to the center of the photo. It’s like adding a shadow to the edges that helps highlight the center of the picture.

Of course, if you want to take editing to the next level, you can also download Facetune2 or PhotoLeap. These apps offer more detailed editing functions such as changing the background, removing unwanted distractions, additional filters, and merging photos.

Take more than one photo

You can spend forever setting up the perfect photo, but really, there is no substitute for taking lots of photographs and then using the best one. For landscape shots, you should be taking several photos from each angle. For portraits and selfies, the rule is the same. You never know if you are blinking, the camera moves slightly, or a cloud changes the lighting.

You can always delete the bad ones, and you never know which photo you’re going to like after some editing. When you see professional photographers with one fantastic shot, you can be sure they took about 20, deleted 15 immediately, started editing the remaining five, and eventually picked the best one. Using burst mode can be helpful here.

Try slightly different angles, change the lighting if you can, and play around with the shot. What looks good at the time might not look as good later. Take as many photos as possible to ensure you get the image you want. That’s the great thing about iPhones, especially if you have cloud storage; you can just keep taking photos until you’re happy. 

 

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Final thoughts on iPhone photography

iPhone photography has gone from a bit of a joke, meant only for selfies to post on Instagram, to a serious art form. Many professional photographers use iPhones, and it means everyone with an iPhone in their pocket can take professional-style photos if they know what to do.

Remember, photography is like any other skill. It takes time, patience, and lots of bad photos to get just one good picture. 

So, grab your phone and get shooting!

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