According to Flickr, the iPhone is the most popular camera in the world. Every year, Apple tweaks and fixes it, which is one of the most compelling reasons to upgrade to the latest model. However, to take the best pictures with the iPhone, you must master a few basics.
Launching the Camera Apps
You can access the camera application quickly from the Lock screen by waking your iPhone and then swiping from right to left. You don’t need to unlock your iPhone. If you have a model with Face ID and without a home button, you can also long press the Camera icon in the lower right.
When your iPhone is unlocked, the fastest way to launch the camera application is in the Control Center. On iPhone X or newer with Face ID, swipe down from the top right of the screen and look for the Camera icon. On an iPhone 8 or earlier with the Home button, swipe up from the bottom.
There is also a Camera icon somewhere on the Home screen and Siri can also launch the camera; just say, “Take a photo.”
If you have an Apple Watch, you can use it to launch the camera too. Just tap the digital crown to see a list of applications, then select the Camera icon. The Camera application will open on your iPhone, and you will see a preview of the frame on your watch. This is great for improvised group photos because you can set your iPhone down and frame photos from your wrist.
Control the Basics
After you launch the Camera application, you see various functions. By default, this is launched in Photo mode, so it’s ready to shoot immediately. Take photos by tapping the Shutter button, or by pressing the Volume Up / Down button next to your iPhone.
At the top of the screen in the Camera application, you will see the following options:
- Flash: This turns the LED flash on and off on the back of the camera (and “screen flash” in Selfie mode) turns on and off.
- Live Photos: Enable or disable Live Photos. When activated, this setting saves a few seconds of video along with pictures.
- Timer: Activate this if you need a pause of three or 10 seconds before the camera takes a photo.
- Filters: You can preview available filters before taking your photo. You can delete it later if you don’t like it.
Along the bottom of the screen, you will see several modes available. By default, “Photos” is selected. Swipe left or right to switch between these. You can choose from the following options:
- “Time Lapse”: Time-lapse movie and your iPhone will automatically stitch and turn it on.
- “Slo-Mo”: Record slow motion videos at high frame rates.
- “Video”: Record video in HD or 4K resolution.
- “Portrait”: Available on iPhones with two or more lenses, this mode creates a blurred background to simulate a wide-open portrait lens.
- “Square”: Shoot in Square Crop mode, the same as Instagram.
- “Pano”: Short for “panorama,” you can take a wide picture of your iPhone automatically stitched for you.
At the bottom of the screen, there will also be a preview of the last photo you took; tap to see all your photos. If you have not unlocked your iPhone, you will only see the photos you have taken since waking your device.
At the bottom right, there is also a button that allows you to switch between the front and rear cameras. Tap this to take a selfie, then tap again to return to another camera.
Control Focus and Exposure
Your iPhone will automatically prioritize any face in your shots, including face images.
To focus on a particular object in the frame, tap. Your iPhone must automatically focus and open that area. If you move the phone and change the composition, you must refocus because auto focus will be reactivated.
Sometimes, you might want to lock focus and lighting so that the iPhone doesn’t lose your settings. To do this, tap and hold the area. This locks in the focus and exposure, so the image will not be brighter or darker if you move.
Useful for being able to change the exposure value manually. For example, you might take a sunset photo behind an object. In this case, you want whatever is in the foreground to be in focus, while also exposing it to sunset in the background. To do this, you will tap the object you want to focus on, then tap and drag to change the exposure value.
You can combine this with focus locking. First, tap and hold the object you want to focus on, then (with the same motion) slide your finger up and down. As you slide up, the exposure value increases, letting in more light. Sliding down reduces the amount of light in the image, which is perfect for taking sunset shots.
This might seem complicated at first, but it’s easy enough after you master it. Try mixing this technique. Experiment and see what happens. You can always delete photos that you don’t like in the Photos application.
Some iPhones have multiple lenses that allow you to choose between a wide (standard lens on all iPhones) and an ultrawide or telephoto perspective. If your iPhone has multiple lenses, you will see “1x” or a similar label near the Shutter button.
Tap this icon to rotate between various focal lengths. “1x” indicates width, “0.5x” is ultrawide, and “2x” is telephoto. As of this writing, only the iPhone 11 Pro has all three, although this is likely to change with future models.
Experiment with the various focal lengths available to you. Width (1x) is a versatile lens and a great ride, with the “real world” equivalent to 26mm. Telephoto is closer to the portrait lens, and is equivalent to around 52mm. Ultrawide is at the far end of the spectrum, bordering the fish’s eye and equal to 13mm.
Taking portraits with an ultrawide lens is fun, but your perspective will be distorted. The face will have a large nose because whatever is closest to the center of the frame is exaggerated. Telephoto lenses allow you to compress the background of your shots. Much more fun for good portrait photography.
In the end, of course, there are no rules. You can make extraordinary photos in all situations just by experimenting.
Optical and Digital Zoom
You can zoom in by pinning a frame, just like you do when viewing a map or web page. If your iPhone has many lenses, you can zoom in more smoothly by grabbing the “1x” button and sliding your finger. You can also use this technique to get a clean zoom when recording video.
Zooming on an iPhone usually involves digital zooming, even though it has a telephoto lens. The iPhone must stretch pixels to enlarge. This means you will lose quality pictures unless you use the “2x” setting that comes with the telephoto lens.
You will also see the “snapping” effect every time you zoom in until the iPhone has to change lenses.
The more you zoom in, the more quality that falls apart. The iPhone does a very good job of cleaning up noisy images, but the software can only go so far. We recommend using the zoom carefully.
You better use your feet to zoom in – instead of moving to your subject.
Record a video
Swipe left on the mode selector button to enter Video mode. Tap the red Shutter button to start recording video. When you shoot, you can tap the white button in the corner of the frame to save stills to Camera Roll.
On iPhone SE, 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, you can also record QuickTake videos. To do this, simply press and hold the Shutter button when in the Photo mode. Slide your finger to the right to “lock” the shutter and continue to record handsfree.
Most of the other camera controls also found here also apply to Video mode, including changing the exposure and locking the camera settings.
Portrait mode is available on iPhones with two and three lens camera systems, such as the iPhone X, XS, and 11 families. Portrait mode calculates the depth of your subject. This then applies the type of motion blur obtained with a wide-open portrait lens to the frame background.
On older devices, such as the iPhone X, Portrait mode is only intended to work on people. On the latest iPhone, Portrait mode works for all types of subjects, including pets and inanimate objects.
However, even the iPhone X can be “fooled” to photograph a cat’s portrait in the right lighting.
While Portrait mode has taken the world by storm, it’s not perfect. In particular, smooth edges (such as hair or leaves) can cause unsightly, uneven blurring, especially in older devices. When you take pictures in Portrait mode, Live Photos is automatically deactivated.
You can also use Portrait mode to mimic certain studio lighting settings, which will appear at the bottom of the frame. This is useful for increasing lighting in certain situations.
Shoot in Low Light with Night Mode
The iPhone 11 can shoot in Night mode using an ordinary wide (1x) lens. The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max can do it using a regular (1x) and telephoto (2x) wide lens.
Night mode allows you to take photos in low light by exposing the sensor for a few seconds. This allows more light to enter the scene. The iPhone then stitches everything together and produces a low noise image.
Night mode will automatically trigger on compatible devices. You will see a moon icon in the corner of the frame with numbers in seconds. This is how long the iPhone recommends that you keep the shutter open so the shot will light up enough.
Tap the Night Mode icon to open the slider. To turn off Night mode, drag the slider left until it says “0s.” For longer exposure, drag to the right. You can’t “force” Night mode in situations that don’t need it because the scene will then be over-exposed.
When you shoot in Night mode, stay still. If you move too much, your image may be blurry or inconsistent.
For best results, invest in a small smartphone tripod to help you keep your device silent. You can also use a timer so you won’t move the iPhone when you press the Shutter button.
Should You Use Direct Photos?
Live Photos allows you to take a few seconds of video along with still images. The Direct Photo Icon is a series of circles surrounded by dashed lines. It turns gold when this feature is activated, but it is white with a line through it when deactivated.
You can see Live Photos on your camera roll by tapping and holding the screen each time you see the “Direct” overlay on the top left. On older devices with 3D Touch, just 3D Touch the screen (press force) to view Live Photos.
Because Apple switched image and video formats to more efficient HEIC and HEVC (which depend on hardware decomposition), the file size is roughly reduced by half. This means Live Photos do not take up as much storage space as before. Still, disabling this feature saves space on your cellphone.
Another benefit of Live Photos is the ability to choose new Key Photos. If the full size still image is not up to scratch, but you are also recording Live Photos, go directly to the Camera Roll. Tap “Edit,” then tap the Live Photos button. Scroll through the clips until you find a better image, then tap “Create Key Photo.”
Live Photos gives your images more context. They work best when you include them in your workflow. Remember that 1.5 seconds before and after you press the Shutter button will be included in your Live Photos. This will help you make smooth loops and add pleasant reflection to still images.
To understand Live Photos, take a few pictures and play with them. You can swipe up on Live Photos in the Photos application to see options for making loops, bouncing or blurry exposure photo shots. You can even export your loop as a GIF with GIPHY.
Settings You May Want to Change
You can adjust the behavior of the Camera application under Settings> Camera. Specifically, you might want to change the video resolution under “Record Video” from 1080p to 4K.
There are also several frame rates to choose from: 24 for cinematic displays, 30 for TV broadcast views, or 60 for some videos that look smooth and unnatural.
You can change the settings for slow motion recording here too. The higher the resolution and the more frames you take per second, the larger your video file. If you have a large iCloud (200GB +) subscription that is good with iCloud Photos enabled, you might not need to worry too much about space because everything will be sent there.
Look at the “Maintain Settings” section too. This determines whether the Camera application will remember certain parameters from the previous time you used it. By default, the Camera application returns to normal Photo mode. Toggle On “Camera Mode” and it will save modes, such as “Video” or “Slo-Mo.” Toggle On “Filter and Lighting” to maintain software effects.
Under “Format,” you will see the “High Efficiency” option, which requires less disk space, and “Most Compatible,” which uses traditional JPEG and H.264 compression for photos and videos.
We recommend “High Efficiency” if you want a faster workflow.
The iPhone is a serious camera
There is no reason not to use your iPhone as your main camera. In many ways, this is more convenient and efficient than digital or mirrorless SLR cameras. What you sacrifice in image quality and extensibility, you get portability, a direct connection to the web, and an ever-increasing low-light performance.