iPhone photography tips for creatives
I had a goal this year to take more photos of my people. Anyone else? I have this dream of our whole family sitting around and flipping through old photos and videos.
I love having my DSLR with me, but there are those times, you know?
Maybe I left the house without a purse and just brought my phone.
Is that weird? Is it weird to leave the house without your wallet? Let's just pretend that I'm simplifying or something.
There are times where you don't always have a DSLR or you don't want to get it set up.
Like when you're snuggling little ones or taking behind the scenes photos for your business. Yeah... you know what I'm talking about.
And if you don't have a DSLR and you're just wanting to take better phone photos with your phone? Well you're ahead of the game, friend. Let's talk iphone photography!
Today I’m going to show you...
- How to get your phone set up for the best photos
- Different camera modes you can use and when to use each one
- The best iPhone camera settings for your everyday and adventure photos
- How to get started and find good light
*Want to skip to a section? Click a link above to read about a specific topic.
All photos in this post were taken with an iPhone.
Disclaimer: not all of these iphone photo tips are available on every iphone.
Getting set up for iPhone photography
Your iPhone is good to go as soon as you boot it up the first time, but there are always a few things I check before I take a photo on my phone.
1. Clean the lens
Have you ever opened the camera app to take a photo and noticed that your picture looks a little hazy?
It could even be slight haze… like things are in focus but it doesn’t look sharp?
It just means your camera's lens is dirty and don't worry — happens to me all the time.
I think that if you wear makeup you just have to clean it more often.
If you see that your photos are a little hazy, clean your lens with a soft piece of fabric by gently wiping it off in a circular motion. Like you’d clean a bathroom mirror or a car window.
Even better? Make it a habit to clean your lens every time you pull it out of your pocket or purse.
You could get a fancy lens cloth, but you don't need it for the iphone. Just use a tissue or the soft part of your shirt.
Pro tip: Make sure the surface you’re using is soft and doesn’t have debris because even a small hair or dust particle can scratch the lens if you use too much pressure.
2. Turn off the flash
This is totally up to you and the kind of image you're going for, but I always leave my flash off.
You can always turn off the flash and then turn it back on if you need it. It will force you to seek out the best light in any situation and your photos will thank you.
Okay, not literally.
But your photos will have more data in them which makes it easier to edit!
Is there ever a time where I'd turn the flash back on?
I might turn it on if I was in a pitch-black space.
But then again I’d probably just move to a better lit space to take the photo! I like a softer image so even after the sun goes down, I’ll rock that no-flash life.
If no-flash is your go-to photo style, then you can just have your subject (or yourself) turn toward the lightest part of the room.
3. Don’t use the built in filters
When you open the camera on your iPhone, you will see a filters option in the top right or bottom right of the screen.
It looks like 3 circles grouped together. Tap it and a bunch of filters will appear.
It’s not a hard and fast rule to avoid these filters like the plague. But… avoid these filters like the plague. Ha!
Instead you can just focus on getting the right lighting and then edit your photo in a camera app so you have maximum control over the look you’re going for.
4. Use the lens on the back
You have two lenses built into your phone. One is on the back of the phone and one is on the front.
The lens on the back of the phone is much better than the lens on the front of the phone.
Have you ever noticed a less-sharp or more grainy image when you use the front lens? Well, that's because this lens just isn't as good.
It works fine if you're in a well lit space, but if you're in a dimly lit area, try to use the lens on the back as much as you can.
5. Turn HDR on/off
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. This is a fancy way of saying that the black parts of the image don’t lose detail and the white parts of the image don’t lose detail.
It's not always 100% accurate, but it works pretty well. Especially in more challenging situations.
Have you ever tried to take a photo of a landscape where there’s a lot of shade and a lot of sun? Maybe you're taking pictures at the top of Pike's Peak — wide open space with blue skies, a bright sun and deep, shaded valleys.
This is when you'd turn on HDR.
Or maybe you're shooting at golden hour and the sun just dipped behind the mountains…
Or maybe you’re taking a photo of the sunset and can't quite get the colors to show up right...
It’s time to turn on HDR.
When used at the right time, this feature saves the day!
To turn this on, open the camera app on your iPhone and tap "HDR" at the top of the screen. You will be able to select 3 different options: Auto, On, or Off. Choose "On."
When this is selected, your phone will take 3 images and compile them into one photo every time you take a picture. One will be underexposed, one correctly exposed, and one overexposed.
When you stitch them together, your image looks a bit more like it does in real life.
But — and this is important — this setting doesn’t perform as well with skin tones.
So if you’re taking a selfie or a group photo, leave this setting off.
But mountains and beaches and landscapes and the sky?! Well, this feature was made for those scenes.
6. Live view
On some newer versions of the iPhone, there’s a live setting that captures a short photo burst (with audio) around the photo that was captured.
I typically leave this setting off but it’s handy to have if you don’t want to send an actual video to a friend but still want them to hear what’s going on.
It’s also fun to take a photo of a laughing baby and have the “live view” to go back and watch.
Could you hit record on video and get the same result?
Kind of, but these live view pictures feel an awful lot like the Harry Potter newspaper — nite sized clips — and they will have you feeling just a tad nostalgic.
To turn on the live view feature, just tap the dotted circle at the top of the screen. Once it's turned on, it will turn yellow.
I would leave this setting on constantly but it eats away at your phone’s memory. So I suggest only turn this on from time to time.
To view the live view photo, just select the image and hold down on the picture. It will play what happened right before the picture was taken and right after.
iPhone photography camera modes
Mode #1: Photo
This setting is going to take a normal photo for you!
The default image ratio or image size is 4:3. This just means that one side is longer than the other.
This ratio works really well for prints and phone screens, so that’s why it’s set to the default.
If you want to change the ratio, you could always crop it in post.
Mode #2: Square
Want to print a square photo for that frame in your gallery wall? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to get the right Instagram crop? This one’s for you!
Just select the “square” option in the iPhone’s camera menu and your frame will be cropped.
This works great if there’s a lot going on in your image — group photo of your friends, interior photos, landscapes — because you’ll be able to see exactly where the image gets cut.
From there, you can move your phone around to make sure everything you want in the photo shows up on the camera screen.
Mode #3: Pano
Hello panoramic photography! These panoramas are those extra long photos you see on Facebook that upload and feel a whole lot like a 3d image.
To take this photo, select it on your phone and you’ll see a guided screen telling you to slowly “pan” or move your camera from left to right.
To get the best photo, hold your phone with both hands and bend your elbows so that the phone is closer to your body. This will eliminate shake and help you to keep a steady hand.
Mode #4: Portrait mode
Use iphone portrait mode if you have the iphone 7 or later for some added blur!
Isaac and I walked into a computer store the other day just so I could get my hands on the iPhone X.
Not a bad phone in my opinion.
I mean… I didn’t look at anything other than the camera capabilities, but I was impressed with the camera for sure.
It’s not going to beat out your DSLR, but for those times when you don’t have your DSLR on you, the iPhone X or iPhone 8 Plus' camera can fill in.
With this phone you can turn on portrait mode and take a photo with some pretty good blur.
And did I hear a rumor that Apple just got the patten for a lens attachment to the iPhone? Why yes, yes I did.
Take this feature, add a lens and phone photography is going to be something brand new.
Mode #5: Time lapse
This is actually a video setting, but I had to include it because it’s a fun one!
Select time lapse, lock the exposure for your scene (I’ll show you how to do this below), hit record and place your phone in a spot where it is stable.
You could use a phone tripod.
Or use a car’s sunroof.
Or lay it on the ground.
Just make sure the phone isn’t going to be bumped or move around and you’ll be all set!
Let your phone record for a little bit: 1 minute is a good starting place.
Then hit stop on your phone and your phone will process the video.
So… what exactly is happening during this process? Your phone is speeding up the video you just recorded!
That’s why it’s so great to have a stabilizer (tripod, ground, car, etc) because in movement from the phone will look like a whole lot of movement in the timelapse.
I love using this feature to the clouds or even a scenic drive.
I’ll open the sunroof — okay, I think it might actually be called a moonroof — in our car and place the phone so that the phone’s lens is out of the car.
Then I will close the roof as much as I can… ya know, without crushing the phone… and use the slight opening to brace the phone.
Hit record, hold the phone in that position and drive down a scenic road. There’s always a little bit of shake but I don’t mind because… that light and those trees? Too good.
Upload that to insta story and our family video “album” to add a little context to the story.
It’s always fun to flip back through photos of Hannah and Daniel and find these timelapses of our family adventures.
Can’t wait to relive that with them when they’re older!
iPhone photo camera settings
Select your focus
Turn on the camera on your phone and hold your drink close to the lens. You’ll see the camera try to focus on whatever is in the center of the frame so if your drink is in the center, you’ll get a little bit of camera blur in the background.
But let’s say that you want to keep your drink in the corner of the screen to use the rule of thirds with that fancy grid you just displayed.
If you want to off-center your photo, then all you need to do is tap on the screen to select your focus.
This will also set the exposure.
This is really helpful if you’re photographing people far away or photographing something close to the phone.
By tapping on the screen, you’re telling your phone exactly what you want in focus.
Select your brightness
And on that note, you can adjust the brightness!
You may not be able to shoot in manual on a phone just yet, but you can make the image brighter or darker before you ever take the image.
All you need to do? Tap on your phone just like you would to focus only you’re going to hold your finger on the area you want to focus.
You’ll see a gold box pop up and flash 3 times. Once you see that, you know that you’ve locked focus!
Once the focus is locked, you can adjust the brightness. Technically you can adjust the brightness without locking focus, but you’ll lose your brightness adjustments as soon as you take a photo.
So I recommend locking the focus if you want to adjust the brightness!
How exactly do you adjust the brightness or exposure? Make sure you’ve still got the focus locked and then look around the box for a sun icon.
You can drag the sun up — or swipe up — to increase the brightness and drag the sun down — or swipe down — to decrease the brightness.
Bam! Way more control over your phone images!
Use the grid
Your camera automatically has a 3x3 grid displayed on your phone.
Keep that grid turned on and follow the rule of thirds.
Or don't. You know that all photo rules are made to be broken, right?
To use the rule of thirds, all you need to do is place your subject (or object) at the intersection of 2 lines on the grid.
Okay, just went to take a photo of the tree in our backyard to show you what I mean...
I composed my image so that the tree hit the bottom right point.
You can see the yellow square from where I locked in my focus.
To zoom or not to zoom?
That would be a do not zoom.
Okay, okay… it’s totally fine if you want to zoom, but because you don’t have a zoom lens on your phone, this is actually a digital zoom.
Aka a fake zoom.
It’s fine to zoom as long as you know that anytime you do, you’re losing image quality.
Another way is to try moving closer.
Taking a few steps closer will help you keep your image quality and I always love it because it makes you feel like you're a bit more "in" the image.
You find new perspectives.
New focal points.
Moving around your subject, object or scene will make you a better photographer whether you're working with a DSLR or an iPhone.
Finding the best light for your iPhone photo
Taking iphone photos inside
Hannah was a few weeks old and waking up from her nap in one of those on-the-bed bassinets. I took a quick photo to make sure that I didn’t miss the photo and then moved the bassinet next to the window in our room.
A little extra work goes a long way: easier on you to edit and better photo quality.
There’s nothing wrong with a grainy or dimly lit photo, but it’s fun to get creative and see your work pay off on photos of your people.
So if you're shooting inside, you always want to look for a brighter space.
Our bathroom has no windows so I don’t take photos in there.
What? Jordan, of course you wouldn’t take photos in a bathroom!!
I know… right? 😂
But here’s the thing: if the best light is in the bathroom, take advantage of the light in the bathroom.
I once took the bridal photos in a bathroom.
PROPS — Taking a photo of your morning coffee for Instagram? Put it on a table and set it up next to the window.
Move your props to the best window light.
Even if you like more moody photographs, you still want good light to work with.
KIDS: — Photographing your kids with your iphone? Have them turn to face the window light.
You and me both! Pin this image so you can come back to this post anytime.
Name your board "iPhone photography tips" so I can find your faves!
Taking iPhone photos outside
If you’re shooting outside before the sun goes down, look for a shaded area or shoot backlit — you know… where you get that nice sunlight coming from behind someone.
If you’re shooting outside after the sun goes down, turn to face (or have the person you’re photographing turn to face) the direction where the sun just set.
This was fun! I can't wait to see your iphone photos... tag me on Instagram, okay?! No, really! If you learned something from these phone photography tips, tag me on insta — @JordanBrittley — because I'd love to give your photo a like.
If this post was helpful, share it with a friend and tell me — do you prefer to take square photos, panoramic or regular photos?