If you’ve got a newer model of iPhone (such as the X series, 7 Plus or 8 Plus), you can take advantage of ‘Portrait’ Mode to blur the background of your photos. Normally, blurring the background in an image is reserved for expensive lenses and cameras, so being able to do this with a smartphone is simply incredible, and a taste of what’s to come in the exciting world of computational photography. It takes a very keen eye to actually tell the difference between a photo shot on an expensive camera, and an iPhone using portrait mode. First, open the camera app, then select ‘Portrait’ at the bottom of the screen. When the camera has focused on the subject and blurred the background, you’ll see ‘Natural Light’ or ‘Depth Effect’ appear on the screen. Then just tap the shutter button to take a stunning portrait photo, complete with a blurry background. Pro Tip: On some of the latest iPhones, you can actually adjust the blur strength after you’ve shot the photo. Simply tap ‘Edit’ in the Photos app on the photo, then drag the Depth slider beneath your photo – a lower ‘f-number’ designates more blur, and vice versa with a high number.
iPhones are great for photography when the light is good, but as soon as it becomes to get darker, they tend to struggle. There is, of course, the option to use the built-in flash, and that’s what a lot of amateurs choose to do, but you’ll find that this often yields less than ideal results. In order to get a sharper shot with your iPhone in low light, you’ll need to eliminate any camera movement. There are a few ways to do this. The best way is to use an iphone tripod – these are often available cheaply, and can easily be slipped into your pocket. Another way is to rest your phone on a solid object, and prop it up with whatever is close by – a cup of coffee, your bag, etc. If there’s nothing to rest it on, prop yourself up by leaning against something solid like a tree or lamppost. Then, brace your arms close to your body, and try and press the shutter button (or better still, use your earphone’s volume button), to get as steady a shot as possible. Pro Tip: Another option is to use a separate light, be it a torch, an LED keyring, or even someone else’s phone light – by angling the light on your subject’s face, the effect can be much more pleasing than direct flash.
Adjusting your shutter speed can give you additional creative options when photographing moving subjects – slowing your shutter down, for example, allows you to display moving water as a sea of creamy fluff. Speeding it up allows you to freeze a jumping child, etc. The iPhone camera app doesn’t allow you to alter the shutter speed, but many 3rd party apps do – Camera+ 2 is a good one. Next time you’re out at night, try placing your iPhone on something sturdy, then using Camera+ 2 to slow your shutter speed right down, then trigger the shutter using your iPhone earphone’s volume up button – you’ll see how much more you can capture in the image, vs a straight shot at a higher shutter speed.
This tip can be applied not only to iphone photography but to most types of visual art in general. It’s basically creating a frame within the frame that’s already defined by your photo itself. To create this inner frame you can use any element of the scene you’re shooting. It could be the branches of a tree pointing to your subject, pulled back curtains, an open door or a window. Framing draws the attention of the viewer right to the subject of your photograph and it also creates a “layered” effect which saves the photo from looking flat and unexciting.
There has always been something magnetic and attractive about moving subjects. They’re very often the reason for the “Wow” effect of your photo, but they’re also notoriously difficult to catch on a phone. iPhone photography offers an easy way to make sure you’ve grabbed the precious moment: it’s called burst mode. In order to turn it on, you simply need to hold your finger on the shutter button once you have the camera app up and running, and multiple shots will be fired off automatically. The camera has the capability of taking around 10 photos per second until you remove your finger from the button! Using the burst mode significantly increases the chance of capturing the subject in the most desirable pose. You can also have a play around with live photos, which capture 1.5 seconds before and after your photo. Pro Tip: Shooting in burst mode too often can quickly fill up your iPhone storage. In order to reduce the number of unnecessary images, click ‘Select’ after shooting the burst, tap the photo(s) you want to keep, then tap ‘Done’ and choose to keep only your favourite shots – everything else will be deleted.
Our eyes have the ability to perceive highly contrasted scenes such as sunsets, and we’re so used to it that we don’t even pay attention. The iPhone camera (or any other camera), however, doesn’t have the capability of registering such great dynamic ranges of luminosity. So here comes the HDR option to save the day! HDR or high-dynamic-range imaging is a technique that makes it possible for the camera to capture details both in the dark and the light areas of the photo. To activate the HDR option you’ll need to open the camera app, tap on “HDR” at the top left corner of the screen and then choose “On”. Pro Tip: Turn on the option in Settings > Photos & Camera to save the original photo too – that way you can take advnatge of HDR photos, but also have the non-HDR version as well for you to choose from.
Most people know that the self-timer function on the iPhone is useful for taking a group photo or selfie – simply prop your iPhone up somewhere stable, tap the self-timer button, then run in front of the camera with your friends to be a part of the photo. However, you can also use the self-timer as a kind of remote trigger for an iPhone photo. This is really useful for when you’ve forgotten your earphones, and can’t trigger the shutter of your phone without having to resort to tapping the on screen shutter button. So next time you need to get a perfectly steady shot, set your iPhone up somewhere sturdy, compose the shot, then hit self-timer and stand back so as not to disturb the phone with your movements. Pro Tip: The iPhone has the additional benefit of having zero moving parts, in contrast to a DSLR for example. This means that when the photo is taken, there is absolutely zero movement within the iPhone itself, which in theory means the sharpest possible image capture. Pretty neat!
This isn’t really a specific smartphone photography tip, but I thought it was important to include it anyway. The use of leading lines in your iPhone photos is a powerful way to create a better composition. If you start noticing them once you’ll probably find yourself surrounded by them all the time. They’re literally everywhere! You can use them to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject. Leading lines could be rails, paths, streets, buildings, tunnels or even trees. With this method you can get really creative and explore countless possibilities to make your images stand out. It also creates depth in the photo as it can connect the foreground with the background.
Buying new accessories for your iPhone might not spring to mind when researching how to take good pictures with a Phone. However, if you intend to shoot with your smartphone frequently, it’s worth investing in some basic accessories. Some of them I consider essential, while others are simply fun to have, or useful in the right situations:
Now you know how to set your focus point manually using the above iPhone photography tip, but there are some instances where this won’t work. For example, if there’s movement in the scene, the camera might be constantly readjusting the focus point to compensate for the subject’s new position. To overcome this, did you know you can ‘lock’ your focus? Next time, just tap on your subject on the camera screen, and hold your finger down for a couple of seconds – you’ll see ‘AE/AF Lock’ appear. You can either swipe your finger up/down the screen to adjust exposure, or simple tap the shutter button to take the shot. The focus lock will remain until you exit the camera app, or turn off your phone.