Struggling to take beautiful photos using only your iPhone? It’s not as hard as you might think.
Most people don’t realize it, but iPhones contain surprisingly capable cameras – cameras that become more powerful with every new release. In the hands of a skilled photographer, an iPhone can be an effective way to capture stunning landscape shots, portrait photos, street images, and much more. Often, these iPhone photos are effectively indistinguishable from photos taken with high-end DSLRs and mirrorless models.
Of course, capturing good iPhone photos does require some careful techniques, and that’s what I share in this article: The 10 key lessons I’ve learned since picking up my iPhone camera. Once you know these basic iPhone photography tips, I guarantee that your images will improve in leaps and bounds.
So without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Hold your iPhone like a camera
When I first started taking iPhone photos, I held my phone with just one hand. That was a mistake.
One-handing your phone works great for casual, everyday activities, but when you’re shooting photos, you want to keep your phone as steady as possible. In other words, you should generally use two hands.
Try cupping your hands together, kind of like you’d hold a small point-and-shoot camera. Then let your right thumb hover over the shutter button. When you’re ready to snap a photo, just press down gently with that thumb while keeping your hands rock-solid.
You can use a similar technique when holding your iPhone horizontally (i.e., when capturing a landscape-orientation shot). Let your left hand support your right hand, and keep your thumb in position to fire that shutter.
Note that you should never jab at the shutter button, nor should you stretch your thumb so it’s in position. Make sure everything feels natural and comfortable; that way, you’ll get crisp, highly detailed results.
Also, keep your elbows tucked in and your iPhone screen close to your body. When I first started iPhoneography, I held my phone out at a ridiculous angle, which created a lot of camera shake (and as a consequence, a lot of image blur). Now I hold the phone in front of my chest or face, and I “look” through the screen as if I were using a conventional camera model.
2. Zoom with your feet
There are two types of iPhone camera zooms: Optical zoom and digital zoom.
Optical zoom is created by camera optics; this is the kind of zoom at work when you switch from your wide lens to your telephoto lens or your ultra-wide lens to your wide lens.
Digital zoom, however, is created by cropping; your iPhone simply deletes pixels to create a “zoom” effect.
As you probably realize, there’s nothing wrong with using optical zoom. If your iPhone has multiple lenses, then you should absolutely use them as required. Switch to a telephoto lens when you need to get close, and switch to an ultra-wide lens when you need to capture a wide frame.
But digital zoom is problematic. It won’t actually get you any closer to your subject. Instead, it’ll just damage your images.
So when you feel the urge to use your iPhone’s digital zoom option, zoom with your feet. Don’t sacrifice any pixels. Simply move closer to your subject!
3. Shoot the same subject a few times
The great thing about digital photography is that it allows a lot of attempts – and a lot of mistakes. So take advantage! Instead of capturing one shot of each subject, take multiple photos of the same thing, then pick out your best shots later.
I don’t mean that you should constantly fire off photos left and right. You don’t want to end up with thousands of files, all featuring the same boring scene. But it does pay to capture subjects from a few different angles, using a few different compositional approaches, etc. That way, you can ensure that you get the best possible result (and you can let yourself be as creative as possible).
I love shooting at the beach with my phone. I’ll take tons of images on a walk, check them out when I get home, then delete all the bad ones when I get home (that way, I don’t run out of storage space!).
Pro tip: Don’t delete any files when you’re out shooting. Certain photos might seem bad at the time, but once you’re back at home, you may find that some of your “worst” images actually turn out to be your best!
4. Pay attention to the light
Poorly chosen light can ruin any photo, whether you’re working with an iPhone camera or a $5000 DSLR. On the flip side, if you can master light, you’ll be an unstoppable photographer.
So pay careful attention to the light at all times. Observe the light’s quality, volume, and direction. Recognize how each type of light will affect your images.
Early morning and late afternoon offer golden-hour light, which looks soft, warm, and breathtakingly beautiful. You should experiment with different lighting angles, too; sidelighting will add three-dimensionality and emphasize texture, while front lighting will offer lots of detail but keep your subject looking flat.
I’d recommend that you avoid shooting in the middle of the day (unless it’s cloudy). Midday sun tends to be pretty harsh, and it’ll make it very difficult to retain details in the shadows and highlights of your photos.
But while brighter light is good for capturing detail, don’t skip those nighttime photo opportunities. The newest iPhones offer surprisingly impressive low-light capabilities; you can even use them to capture the stars!
5. Try your iPhone’s alternative shutter buttons
Every iPhone offers a main shutter button: That big white target right at the bottom of the screen. But did you know that you can actually trigger your iPhone’s shutter in several different ways?
For instance, you can take a photo by pressing the volume keys (i.e., the volume up and volume down buttons). You can also take a photo by pressing the external volume buttons on headphone wires (though this only works on certain headphone models, so you’ll need to test it out yourself).
Either of the latter options is hugely useful if you want to take photos discreetly. For instance, if you’re capturing candid street portraits, you can move close to your subject, then trigger the shutter using your headphones. As long as you pretend to be occupied with something else, your subject will never realize what you’re doing.
One more tip: If you want to fire your iPhone shutter from a distance, make sure that you turn on Voice Control, open the camera app, and say, “Turn up the volume.” Your iPhone will instantly take a photo! Cool, right?
6. Download different camera apps
The native iPhone camera app is nice, but you can gain far more control via various dedicated camera apps (many of which are free!).
Apps like Lightroom Mobile and Camera+ will let you adjust various settings manually, including shutter speed and ISO. That way, you can ensure you’re getting the best possible image quality, plus you can create all sorts of creative effects. Obviously, you shouldn’t jump into fully manual iPhone apps until you’re ready – but it’s definitely worth playing around and seeing what you think.
I’d also encourage you to check out various creative iPhone photography apps. For instance, you can grab long-exposure apps (so you can produce silky-smooth blurred-water shots) and black and white apps (so you can capture fine-art monochrome photos). Editing apps are also pretty handy, as I discuss in the next section:
7. Have fun with editing apps
Did you know that there are literally dozens of amazing iPhone editing apps just waiting to be downloaded from the App store?
It’s true. iPhone photographers are spoiled for choice, thanks to apps like:
With each and every editing app listed above, you can adjust image exposure, crop to improve the composition, correct image white balance, add beautiful color effects, improve sharpness, and so much more. Many of these apps also offer advanced features, such as vignetting, noise reduction, and masking.
And if you’re not satisfied by generalist editing apps, you can always grab specialist applications – including apps that’ll remove image backgrounds, apps that’ll remove unwanted objects, and apps that’ll layer several images together.
Personally, I love image editing. It’s a great way to enhance your photos, and once you’re done with the basic enhancements, you can have fun adding creative effects. I process literally all of my phone photos, and it’s so convenient; I just whip out my phone, pull up an editing app, and get to work!
8. Shoot from different angles
iPhones are small and light – which means it’s far easier to get down low or climb up high when doing iPhone photography (versus shooting with a heavy DSLR).
So take advantage of that capability. While it’s tempting to just shoot from standing height, I encourage you to experiment with many different angles. Crouch low to the ground and see if you can include a compelling object or line in the foreground. Then raise your iPhone high above your head for a top-down shot (or see if you can find some stairs for an even higher vantage point).
In my experience, testing out different angles is a lot of fun – and it can create dramatically different images. The more you seek out different angles, the more you’ll start to realize the incredible variety of options you have as an iPhone photographer.
9. Clean your iPhone lens
iPhones get stashed in pockets, purses, backpacks, car cubbies, and drawers. They suffer rain, snow, mud, dust, oily fingers, and dirt.
And yet – somehow! – we iPhone photographers always forget to clean our lenses.
When I first started doing iPhone photography, I didn’t clean the lens for months. Then, when I finally gave it a little wipe, it made such a difference. A clean lens will capture sharper, higher-contrast images, plus it just feels a lot better to shoot with pristine glass.
So get in the habit of regularly cleaning your iPhone camera lenses. (If your iPhone uses multiple lenses, be sure to clean them all!) Technically, you can clean off the glass with some tissue, a cloth, or even your shirt, but I’d encourage you to purchase a microfiber cloth or some lens wipes, which will get rid of grime without damaging the lens elements.
10. Simplify your compositions
Here’s your final piece of iPhone photography advice.
Keep your compositions as simple as possible.
Often, you’ll encounter beautiful scenes, but they’ll have so much going on: people walking by, trees stretching every which way, cars sitting at stoplights. It’s your job, as the photographer, to eliminate as many of these distractions as possible so that you can highlight the main subject.
If possible, identify one part of your image to highlight: a person, a building, or even a detail. Then try to remove everything that could possibly draw attention away from this element. (You can do this in various ways; try changing your angle, taking a few steps forward, or switching to your telephoto lens.)
That way, when a viewer is confronted by your photo, they’ll know exactly where to look!
iPhone photography tips: final words
Well, there you have it:
10 tips to improve your iPhone photos!
If you remember these tips, and you make a real effort to think creatively, then you’re bound to capture some amazing images.
So head out with your iPhone and have plenty of fun!
Now over to you:
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? What type of iPhone photography do you plan to do?
Sarah is a busy mum blogging from the beaches of Sydney about her sea change from the gray skies of London to Australia.
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