Facebook Pixel 13 iPhone Camera Settings to Improve Your Photos

13 iPhone Camera Settings to Improve Your Photos

There is an amazing array of iPhone camera settings you can tweak, customize, and configure to get just the right shots. Some of these settings are obvious, but others are buried beneath layers of buttons and menus and are easy to miss.

And while anyone can take great shots on an iPhone just by launching the camera and pressing the shutter button, learning a few of the custom options can truly take your iPhone photography to the next level.

13 iphone camera settings to improve your photos

Also, most of these iPhone tips and tricks are available no matter your iPhone model – so even if your iPhone is a few years old, you can still access some very helpful settings.

Are you ready to discover 13 highly useful iPhone settings?

Let’s dive right in.

lake with fluffy clouds
A picture of a lake near the United States/Canada border (shot with my iPhone). When you know how to tweak your iPhone camera settings, you can get the shots you’re looking for.

1. Show and hide camera options

Nestled near the top of the iPhone camera is a thin strip (with the Flash icon on the left and the Live Photos icon on the right, as displayed below). Situated directly between these two icons is a small arrow pointing up, like the ^ caret above the number six on a keyboard:

camera options iPhone camera settings
Tap the ^ icon at the top of the camera interface to show/hide the camera options icons at the bottom.

Tap the caret at the top to show and hide a row of options near the bottom of the camera interface. As you can see in the screenshot above, this uncovers a handful of useful options, including filters and real-time cropping.

Another way to access these settings? Press your finger directly on the middle of your iPhone screen with the camera open, then swipe up or down. This yields the same result as tapping on the ^ icon, but some people find the press-and-swipe method to be a little more convenient. Either way, the hidden row of options puts some powerful tools right at your fingertips and can help you instantly take better photos.

One caveat: When you reveal this row of settings icons, your normal photo modes, such as Pano, Portrait, and Video, disappear. You can still access them by pressing on the middle of your phone and dragging your finger to the right or left, but it’s easy to get lost without seeing the name of the mode you are currently using.

I recommend you first set the photo mode (i.e. Portrait, Photo, etc.), and only then reveal the row of camera options icons.

2. Use the volume buttons as your camera shutter

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, he proudly declared that it would not have a keyboard (much to the chagrin of smartphone users around the world!). Replacing the physical keys was a revolutionary touchscreen that could transform into whatever the developer wanted.

While the touchscreen was a brilliant move, it meant some common actions like snapping a picture became a little more tricky. It’s not always easy to hold your phone just right and press the shutter button at the same time.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this common frustration:

Press the volume-up button to snap a picture.

This feature is enabled by default, but many users aren’t aware that it exists. Once you learn to use it, you won’t ever want to go back to awkwardly tapping the touchscreen to take pictures.

(Also, quick tip: When you press and hold the volume-up button, your phone will begin recording a movie. Release the button to stop recording.)

volume buttons
Many people don’t know this, but the volume buttons on any iPhone can be used to take a picture. You don’t have to change any settings to do it – it’s enabled by default.

3. Shoot in burst mode

An iPhone might not seem like the ideal device for action photography. After all, it can’t compare to a high-end DSLR or mirrorless camera that can fire off a burst of photos in rapid succession.

Or can it?

In fact, iPhones offer a burst mode – and with it, you can get action shots you never thought possible. You can shoot dozens of rapid-fire photos, then choose the best one from the batch.

Here’s how it works:

With the Camera app open, press and hold the shutter button, then quickly slide your finger all the way to the left. Burst mode will activate, you’ll start taking a series of images, and you’ll see a counter with the number of captured shots.

Use this during moments of fast action. You’ll always end up with those split-second, perfectly timed shots – without spending thousands of dollars on high-end camera equipment.

burst mode is a key iPhone camera setting
Press and drag the shutter button with your finger to take a burst of photos. The shutter button displays your photo count.

4. Press and hold the volume button for a photo burst

Burst mode is great, but what if you prefer using the camera volume buttons to snap pictures? If you press and hold the volume button, your phone starts recording a movie, not a burst – but did you know that you can force the volume buttons to shoot in burst mode when held down?

First, navigate to the Settings app. Then scroll down to Camera.

Next, look for the option that says Use Volume Up for Burst, and tap to enable it.

volume up for burst
If you find the touch-and-drag method of taking burst photos inconvenient, you can set the volume-up button to take a burst of images.

That’s it! Now, if you hold the volume-up button, your iPhone will fire off a burst – and if you hold the volume-down button, you’ll record a movie. It’s the best of both worlds, and a setting I highly recommend. You never know whether you’ll need a burst or a movie, so it helps to have both options at your fingertips!

5. Use the built-in self-timer

Sometimes, you don’t want to take a photo the instant you press the shutter button. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have a built-in self-timer; it lets you set a delay from the time you press the shutter to the time the camera actually takes a picture.

At first glance, this feature may seem missing from iPhones. But with a quick tap or swipe, you can activate the self-timer and start taking control of your photos.

Here’s what you do:

First, show the row of extra camera options by tapping the caret at the top of the screen (as described in Point 1 of this article).

Then press the Timer icon. Select either Off, 3s, or 10s:

iPhone Camera Settings self timer
To use the built-in self-timer, tap the Timer icon. Then specify whether to use the 3-second or 10-second delay.

Now, when you press the shutter button, you’ll get a delay before your iPhone snaps the photo.

It helps to have a tripod to hold your phone steady, but the timer works fine for selfie shots, too. That way, you can snap a picture without trying to position the phone and fire your iPhone shutter at the same time.

6. Real-time aspect-ratio cropping

As experienced users know, it’s easy to crop a photo on an iPhone. Just tap on the image, hit Edit, and then press the Crop button.

But while this process works well for cropping your photos after you take them, what if you want to start with a cropped display and frame your image accordingly?

Some high-end cameras allow you to select custom crops when you take photos, and the iPhone has this ability, too.

First, tap the caret at the top of the screen to reveal the hidden camera options. Then, tap the 4:3 button (which represents the 4:3 ratio in which iPhone photos are shot):

iPhone Camera Settings real-time cropping
To use real-time cropping, access the hidden camera options and tap the 4:3 icon. Then specify what type of crop you want: Square, 4:3, or 16:9. Note that these options might be slightly different depending on your iPhone model.

Now you can choose whether to shoot in a 4:3, Square (1:1), or 16:9 aspect ratio – and you won’t have to go through the painstaking process of cropping your photos individually afterward.

school campus
Real-time cropping lets you see how your cropped photo will turn out (without any guesswork).

7. Portrait Lighting

In 2016, the iPhone 7 Plus was released with the first iteration of Portrait mode.

Portrait mode essentially mimics the blurry background effect you can get with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but with Apple software algorithms. And the blur mimicry has gotten much better since those early incarnations, and now incorporates a feature called Portrait Lighting. This gives your Portrait mode images the appearance of being captured in various lighting conditions, and the result is so good it’s downright uncanny.

To access Portrait Lighting, first put your phone in Portrait mode (find it in the mode options just above the shutter button).

You should see a series of circles above the Portrait label; these are your different Portrait Lighting effects:

portrait lighting
Enable Portrait mode, then touch and drag the icons above the shutter button to change the lighting effects. Your phone will show you a preview of the final result in real time!

The default lighting mode for portraits is “Natural Light” but this can be changed to “Studio Light,” “Stage Light,” “Contour Light,” and more. You actually see the effect in real time, so you know how the finished result will look, and you can change lighting modes as much as you want before you take a picture.

Portrait Lighting is a great way to punch up your portraits, and you can even go back and change the Portrait Lighting effect afterward when editing a Portrait mode image in the photo library.

8. Use filters as you shoot

Instagram and other social networks popularized the idea of filters, and now it’s almost strange to see photos without some kind of filter applied. The most common way of using filters is to snap a photo and then apply the filter afterward – but your iPhone camera has an option to use filters as you shoot.

With this, you can see what your edited pictures will look like before you even take them.

filters on an iPhone
Filters can be applied as you shoot your images so you can see exactly what the final result will look like.

To use real-time filters, access the camera options by tapping the caret at the top of the screen. Then tap the icon with three intersecting circles.

The filter options will appear, and you’ll be able to choose from a variety of looks, including Vivid Warm, Dramatic Cool, Silvertone, and more. I find this method much more practical than applying filters after I take a photo, plus seeing your filters applied in real time can have a dramatic effect on your images!

9. Choose your preferred photo format (HEIF vs JPEG)

Until recently, the iPhone shot pictures in JPEG format. But while JPEGs are a good compromise between quality and file size, they’re ill-suited for today’s users, who want features like HDR imaging while still keeping file sizes small.

HEIF is a new file type designed to solve this problem, and it’s now the default format for iPhone photos.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a device that can load HEIF images, which makes sharing iPhone photos somewhat problematic – unless you know a handy iPhone settings solution.

Go to Settings, then Photos, and scroll all the way to the bottom to Transfer to Mac or PC. The Automatic setting will convert HEIF pictures to JPEG when sending them to a device that can’t read HEIF images. (Keep Originals will always send images as HEIFs).

You can also change the image format from HEIF to JPEG or JPEG to HEIF. Go to Settings, then Camera, and select Formats:

iPhone Camera Settings heif jpeg
High Efficiency is a good option for saving space, but Most Compatible uses the more common JPEG format.

If you tap High Efficiency, your iPhone will shoot HEIFs – whereas selecting Most Compatible forces your camera to use JPEGs.

Generally, I recommend shooting photos in HEIF and leaving Transfer to Mac or PC on Automatic. But it’s always useful to know how to change these settings to your liking!

10. Optimize iPhone storage

If you take a lot of pictures on your iPhone, you might quickly find yourself running out of storage space. And while you can’t add more storage to your iPhone, there is a trick that lets you take tons of photos without worrying too much about using up space on your phone: storage optimization.

Go to Settings, then tap Photos. Look for the Optimize iPhone Storage option:

optimize iPhone storage
While you can’t add more storage space to your iPhone, you can take advantage of iCloud storage to help ease your photo storage burden.

This will automatically upload the photos to your iCloud account while keeping tiny, low-resolution thumbnails on your iPhone. Then, when you load a photo, the original is automatically downloaded from iCloud.

A caveat is that you need enough space on your iCloud account to accommodate your photos. Unlike your iPhone, you can add more iCloud storage, but you will have to pay. Prices range from one to ten dollars a month, and the one-dollar plan is plenty for most people.

So if you find yourself constantly running low on iPhone storage because of all your photos, don’t delete them! Just use the Optimize iPhone Storage option and let iCloud take care of the rest.

11. Show/hide the camera grid

Many DSLR and mirrorless cameras have grid overlays that help you compose your shots. They’re a great way to make sure your horizons are level, and you can use them to guide your rule-of-thirds compositions.

But did you know that your iPhone also has a grid?

All you have to do is select Settings, then Camera, and enable the Grid option.

iPhone Camera Settings show hide grid
Enable the Grid option in your Settings to display a grid overlay as you shoot pictures.

Now, when you take a photo, you will see a 3-by-3 grid, like this:

campus library and garden
The grid overlay is a great way to make sure your photos are straight and well-composed!

12. Adjust the blur strength in Portrait mode

The iPhone camera has a fixed-aperture lens.

What does this mean? Well, unlike a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can’t decide whether to shoot wide open or stopped down – and so you don’t have control over the background blur.

Except that, when shooting in Portrait mode, your iPhone does let you customize the level of blur. This effectively mimics aperture adjustments (through software trickery).

First, select Portrait mode from the mode options. Then tap the f icon in the top-right corner.

A slider should appear at the bottom of the camera screen; it approximates various f-stops of a camera lens:

iPhone Camera Settings portrait blur
Once in Portrait Mode, tap the f button in the top-right corner. Then drag the slider above the shutter button left and right to increase and decrease background blur.

Slide all the way to the left for f/1.4 and all the way to the right for f/16. You will see the blur change in real time as you adjust the slider. I often find that the default value selected by my iPhone (usually between f/2.8 and f/4.5) is great, but it’s nice to be able to customize.

portrait blur example
You can adjust the blur level of your Portrait mode backgrounds (even on some lower-end iPhones with a single camera).

13. Preserve Settings

This final trick isn’t going to do anything for your photos, but it could save your sanity! If you find yourself frequently using a specific filter, adjustment, or Live Photos setting, you can tell your iPhone to preserve those settings – instead of forcing you to enable them one by one every time you take a picture.

Enabling the Preserve Settings option is simple:

Tap Settings > Camera > Preserve Settings:

iPhone Camera Settings preserve settings
The Preserve Settings option lets you keep all your favorite settings in place.

Here, you can specify the settings you want your iPhone to remember. Then, every time you open the Camera app, all your custom settings will remain just as you left them.

iPhone camera settings: final words

Well, I hope you found these tips helpful! Note that these are just some of the iPhone camera settings you can change to help customize your photography experience. There are dozens of other options to change and tweak, and with just a bit of practice, you will soon find yourself adjusting plenty of settings to suit your needs.

Also, don’t be afraid to poke around in the Camera app and Camera Settings menu. You just might find some new options you didn’t know existed!

iPhone camera settings FAQs

Do I need a high-end iPhone to use Portrait mode?

The first iPhones to do Portrait mode combined pictures from two separate cameras. Now, iPhones with only a single camera offer Portrait mode thanks to advanced software algorithms. Even the iPhone SE, the lowest-priced iPhone, can do it with the rear camera and the front-facing selfie camera.

How can I stop my iPhone pictures from looking blurry?

If your photos are blurry, your iPhone is probably having trouble focusing. Tap the screen to focus in one particular area, then give your phone a half-second to adjust focus. That should help keep your photos sharp.

Why can’t I use Night mode on my iPhone?

While all the settings in this article can be used on virtually every iPhone, Night mode requires special hardware and is therefore only available on certain models. If you try to take a photo in dimly lit conditions and your iPhone has Night mode, it will automatically show up as an option. If you don’t see Night Mode appear, then your iPhone probably does not have this feature.

What are the best settings for casual, everyday use?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at all the iPhone camera settings, my advice is to just ignore everything and go take some pictures. The default values for your iPhone camera are just fine. You don’t have to change, tweak, or customize anything to get great photos.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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