Any iPhone owner can take great photos with the device. The iPhone camera performs admirably even when compared to a DSLR. And while an iPhone sounds a lot easier to control and get familiar with than a professional camera with interchangeable lenses, tons of options, and menus full of settings, the iPhone camera can be just as tricky to learn to use. Even for people who are accustomed to taking photos with a standalone digital or film camera, figuring out the iPhone camera can be a bit of a challenge.
But plenty of photographers, both pro and amateur, manage to take great iPhone photos. And learning all of the iPhone’s hidden features and shooting tricks can make the difference between a decent shot and a great one. Whether you’re using a DSLR or an iPhone camera, you’ve got to know your equipment if you want to take amazing photos. So what do you need to know to get the most out of your iPhone camera?
You need to know how to open the camera app and how to take a photo, of course. But we’ll assume that you’ve already figured that out. You should also be aware of the iPhone camera’s hidden features and functionality, which can level up your understanding of how the camera works and dramatically improve the results you get from your iPhone camera. Read on for 12 useful iPhone camera tips that’ll help you get the most out of your device’s camera and start shooting like a mobile photography pro in no time.
1. Access the iPhone camera quickly
A great first step is making sure that your iPhone camera is always ready when you see a scene you want to capture. So one of the first things you should do is ensure that you know how to access the camera quickly. If your phone is locked, you can wake it and swipe up from the camera icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen to launch the camera, without having to scan your fingerprint or enter your passcode. Similarly, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open the control center, and tap the camera icon there. Or, you can make sure that the camera icon has a prominent place at the bottom of the screen so that when your iPhone is unlocked, you can quickly launch the camera and snap a photo.
2. Choose the right camera mode with 3D Touch
If you have the iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus, 3D Touch makes it easier to go straight to the shooting mode you prefer right when you open the iPhone camera app. Press the camera icon, and you’ll see a variety of choices pop up. You can hit “take photo,” “record slo-mo,” “record video,” or “take selfie” to save time when you’re launching the app. (Though you might want to make sure that the app is visible on your home screen first.) The same camera modes are accessible from within the camera app, in addition to some additional choices, including time-lapse, a square photo, and a panoramic photo.
3. Use the grid — and rule of thirds — to your advantage
The rule of thirds is a simple rule of thumb for composing a photo, and it’s easy to apply with a quick change to the settings of your iPhone camera. Open the Settings app, scroll down to Photos & Camera, and toggle the switch for “Grid” on. The next time you take a photo, you’ll see two vertical lines and two horizontal lines that divide up the screen and enable you to both apply the rule of thirds and make sure that the horizon is straight — a win-win for improving your composition. You can use the grid as a guide, lining up your subject within the verticals or placing the subject at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal line, instead of placing it dead-center, for a more dynamic composition. Also keep in mind that simpler images, shots taken from an interesting angle, and compositions that show depth and directional cues are all things to strive for as you’re looking to compose an interesting image.
4. Nail the focus and exposure
While your iPhone camera is probably pretty good at setting the focus and exposure on its own, a key way to get the best photo every time is to know how to change the focus and exposure yourself. If you’re framing a photo and realize that your iPhone camera is focusing on the wrong part of the photo, or is over- or underexposing the image, just tap on the screen to tell it where to focus and what part of the image to look at to gauge the proper exposure. Usually, that means that you can tap on your subject and the iPhone camera will adjust the focus and exposure to best capture it. You can also further adjust the exposure by dragging up or down on the sunburst symbol next to the focus square. And if you want to lock the focus and exposure regardless of how you move your phone or what happens inside the frame, you can tap and hold the subject you want in focus, and an “AE/AF LOCK” box will appear.
5. Pay attention to lighting
Your iPhone camera performs best in bright, natural light. So when you’re taking a photo, it’s always a good idea to pay attention to the lighting of each photo you take. Natural light, either outside or near a window, will often yield the best photos. So if you can move your subject — whether your best friend or your latte — into stronger natural light, you’ll usually end up with a better photo. Another lighting situation to look out for is backlighting. Having strong light behind your subject usually makes it harder to snap a photo that’s exposed properly. So if it’s possible to turn around and avoid a strongly backlit composition, you may find it easier to get the photo you want. You can also use your iPhone’s flash. But many photographers prefer to avoid flash whenever possible because it can wash subjects out, and we’d recommend leaving it off most of the time.
6. Get closer to your subject
While the iPhone camera has plenty of great features, there are just a few that we’d recommend avoiding. Flash is one of them, and digital zoom is another. To avoid using digital zoom, make sure that you get close to your subject when you’re composing your photo. Great photographers traditionally prefer to get closer to the person or object they’re photographing rather than relying on a zoom lens. That’s a particularly good strategy on the iPhone, since the iPhone camera doesn’t have any optical zoom capability. Instead, it reduces the size and quality of your photo by zooming digitally.
7. Take photos without the shutter button
If you’ve ever taken a photo from an awkward angle or a perspective, then you may be happy to learn that you can take photos without using the on-screen shutter button. You can use either of the volume buttons on the side of your iPhone to take a photo. Using a volume button makes it easier to hold the iPhone with both hands, and often makes for both a steadier grip and a better-framed image. Or you can plug in the EarPods that came with your iPhone and use the volume buttons to take a photo. Using the buttons on your headphones is similar to pro photographers’ use of a cable release, which enables them to trip the shutter without increasing camera shake.
8. Use some traditional techniques to reduce camera shake
Speaking of camera shake, there are a few photographers’ tricks that work just as well with an iPhone camera as they do on a DSLR or a film camera. When you’re taking a photo in low light, your iPhone camera will often compensate by using a longer exposure. That means that if you aren’t holding your iPhone still, the image can end up blurred. To reduce camera shake, you can lean against a sturdy surface. Or, you can hold your iPhone with both hands and tuck your elbows in to your sides to steady the camera. If all else fails, you can always use a tripod (or a conveniently placed table) to prop your iPhone up, and take your photo using the self-timer. Even if you don’t have somewhere to prop your iPhone, you can turn on the self-timer, press the shutter, and then hold your iPhone as still as possible when it takes the photo.
9. Get better action photos with burst mode
When you’re trying to take a photo of a moving subject, it can be difficult to get exactly the shot you want. Think puppies, children, and other quickly-moving subjects. Action makes it difficult to get a clear photo and to get exactly the right composition. So you should keep in mind that your iPhone camera has a burst mode that’s perfect for capturing the perfect moment (and ending up with images that you can use to make a GIF later on). By pressing the shutter button instead of letting go immediately, you’ll activate burst mode and get 10 shots per second. Then, you can easily choose the one you like best and delete the others.
10. Decide whether or not you want to use geotagging
Some people like their iPhone camera to save location data for each of their photos. Having that data enables a user to go back to the spot where they took that great photo a few years ago, display their photos on a map, or find all of the photos that they took in a given city. Others dislike geotagging because they’re uncomfortable sharing their location or worried about the impact on their iPhone’s battery life. To turn geotagging on or off, open the Settings app, tap “Privacy,” and then choose “Location Services.” From there, you can choose to allow the iPhone Camera location access either “while using the app” or “never.”
11. Know when to turn to a third-party app
An important part of learning to use the iPhone camera is knowing when you should call in some backup for the camera app that comes preloaded on your iPhone. You can accomplish just about everything you want with that standard app, but there are a few great apps that add capabilities you just can’t get with Apple’s standard software. Camera+, for instance, has a macro mode that you won’t find in the standard iPhone camera app. Manual enables you to manually control the ISO, shutter speed, white balance, focus, and exposure compensation. SKRWT enables you to correct perspective and lens distortion. And VSCO is something of a gold standard when it comes to filters and editing tools to make your photos look great. That being said, you often don’t really need things like filters from third-party apps. Often, simply adjusting the brightness and saturation of a photo will do more for the final image than overlaying a filter.
12. Manage your photos and storage
Once you’re taking lots of photos with your iPhone camera, you’ll need to have a plan to manage all of those photos. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to store and enjoy your iPhone photos, and painlessly back them up, with some apps from the App Store. Or, if you prefer to stick with Apple’s tools, open the Settings app and navigate to Photos & Camera. You’ll see a number of different options for managing and backing up your photos. Turning on iCloud Photo Library will enable your iPhone to automatically upload and store your library in iCloud. Turning on My Photo Stream will automatically upload new photos and send them to your iCloud devices when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. And turning on iCloud Photo Sharing will enable you to create albums to share with other people or subscribe to other people’s shared albums.