Are you struggling to take good photos with your iPhone camera? It’s actually easy to take stunning pictures with the iPhone. You just need to know how to use the camera settings to their full potential. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to use the native camera app to take incredible iPhone photos. And you’ll discover some hidden iPhone camera features that you never knew were there!
Table Of Contents: How To Use iPhone Camera
Click any title link below to go straight to that section of the tutorial:
- Swipe Left To Quickly Open The Camera App
- Turn On The Camera Grid
- Choose A Shooting Mode
- Set The Focus Point
- Adjust Exposure
- Lock Focus & Exposure With AE/AF Lock
- Use HDR For Better Exposed Photos
- Use Burst Mode When Shooting Moving Subjects
- Shoot Live Photos To Bring Your Photos To Life
- Use Portrait Mode To Blur The Background
1. Swipe Left To Quickly Open The Camera App
How often have you missed a great shot because you haven’t been able to open the iPhone camera in time?
It doesn’t have to be like this! There’s actually a super quick way to open the iPhone’s native camera app. And you don’t even have to type in your passcode to unlock your iPhone.
If your iPhone is locked, press the round Home button to wake up your phone, then swipe left across the lock screen. On the iPhone X, press the Power button instead of the Home button.
When you swipe left, the camera app opens immediately. With this trick you can start shooting in less than a second!
There are other ways to open the camera app too. This video from my iPhone Photo Academy online course shows you three ways to open the camera. Click here to find out more about iPhone Photo Academy.
My iPhone Photo Academy online course shows you how to take incredible photos that everyone adores. Join now and discover how to create pictures that you’ll be proud to look at years later.
If you’re already using your iPhone when you want to take a photo, use one of the following techniques to open the camera app.
If the Home screen is visible, tap the camera app icon. It’s best to add the camera icon to the dock at the bottom of the screen so it’s easy to find.
To add the camera icon to the dock, tap and hold the icon until it starts to jiggle. Then drag it down to the dock section at the bottom of the screen. Press the Home button when you’re done.
If you’re using a different app, there’s a quick way to open the camera app without having to return to the Home screen. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open the Control Center. On the iPhone X, swipe down from the top right. From here, tap the camera icon to open the app.
If you want to know how to take good pictures with iPhone, it starts with always being ready with your camera. Knowing how to access the camera in a second or two means you’ll never miss a great photo opportunity. It will definitely improve your chances of taking the perfect shot every time!
2. Turn On The Camera Grid
The native camera app has the option to display an on-screen grid. The grid has two horizontal and two vertical lines that divide the screen into nine equal parts.
To switch on the gridlines, you need to access the iPhone camera settings. Go to Settings > Camera, and ensure the Grid option is on (green).
This rule states that it’s better to place your subject off-center, rather than in the middle of the frame. So you can use the grid to position your subject where two of the gridlines meet.
When shooting landscape photos, position the horizon along the top or bottom gridline, rather than across the middle.
The grid is also an amazing tool for keeping your iPhone level when taking photos. Use the gridlines to ensure horizons and other lines are level before you press the shutter.
By enabling the grid feature, you’ll also be enabling the leveling tool. This tool assists you in taking level photos when shooting straight up or down.
When you point your iPhone up or down, you’ll see a pair of white and yellow crosshairs in the middle of the screen. When your iPhone is parallel with the ground or ceiling, the crosshairs merge into a single yellow cross.
3. Choose A Shooting Mode
The iPhone’s native camera app has several shooting modes. These help you take the ideal photo or video in different situations.
Swipe left or right to scroll through the different iPhone camera modes at the bottom of the screen. You can choose from Photo, Square, Pano, Video, Time Lapse, and Slo-Mo.
Photo mode is the default camera mode. It captures rectangular format photos whenever you tap the shutter button. Square mode shoots with a square aspect ratio. This is perfect if you like to share square format photos on Instagram.
Pano mode lets you capture super-wide panoramic shots. This is great for wide open landscapes and cityscapes. Hold your iPhone in vertical orientation, then tap the shutter button. Move your phone across the scene in the direction of the arrow to capture your panorama.
Video mode allows you to record video footage on your iPhone. Use it to make home movies, or share short video clips on social media.
Slo-Mo mode captures slow motion video. It’s great for any moving subject that you want to capture in slow motion.
Time Lapse mode creates sped-up video footage. Try making an iPhone time lapse video of a busy street scene or clouds moving across the sky.
Portrait mode creates a shallow depth of field effect to blur the background of your photos. It’s perfect for portrait photography as it helps your subject stand out.
4. Set The Focus Point
If you want to learn how to take professional photos with iPhone, you need to master getting the focus perfect. One of the most important iPhone photography tips you can learn is to set the focus when taking a picture.
If you don’t set the focus point yourself, the iPhone will choose which area of the scene to focus on. It may focus on your intended subject, but it won’t always get it right. So it’s best to set the focus yourself. That way can be sure that your subject will always be sharp.
Setting the focus point is very easy in the iPhone camera app. Frame your shot, then tap the area on the screen that you’d like to be in sharp focus. This would usually be your main subject. When focus is set, you’ll see a yellow square indicating the focus point.
Setting the focus point is particularly important when shooting close-up photos. When the lens is close to the subject, you’ll get a shallow depth of field. This means only a small area of the scene will be in focus, while the rest appears blurred.
Normally you’d want to blur the background in your iPhone photos. But setting focus on the wrong part of the scene can result in a blurred subject and a sharp background. You can see an example of this in the photo below.
As you can see, learning how to take good photos with iPhone involves always getting the focus perfect. This is an easy way to start taking better photos today!
5. Adjust Exposure
Knowing how to take high quality photos with iPhone has a lot to do with exposure. Exposure refers to the brightness of a photo. An under-exposed photo looks too dark, while an over-exposed photo looks too bright.
Under and over-exposed photos reduce the overall quality of an image. You’ll lose color and detail in areas that are too dark or too bright, so it’s important to get the exposure right when you take a picture.
When you tap to set focus, the camera sets the exposure (brightness) of the photo. It sets exposure based on the area that you tap.
If you tap a bright area of the scene, the camera exposes for the highlights. This means the bright areas of the scene will be correctly exposed with plenty of color and detail.
In a landscape scene, you can avoid the sky being over-exposed by tapping an area of bright sky. This sets the exposure for the bright sky. But keep in mind that the darker areas of the scene may appear under-exposed.
If you tap a dark area, the camera exposes for the shadows. In other words, you’ll see color and detail in the dark areas of the image. However, the brighter areas may appear over-exposed.
But you might not want the focus and exposure points to be the same. For example, you might want to focus on a subject in the foreground while exposing for the sky.
The iPhone provides an easy way to adjust exposure after setting the focus point. After tapping to set focus, the exposure slider with a yellow sun icon appears next to the focus point. Swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make it darker.
The 7 Best iPhone Photography Apps
There are thousands of excellent photo apps on the App Store, and the things you can do with apps are absolutely incredible. With that said, the number of photo apps out there is overwhelming, and it's really hard to know which apps are worth getting.
6. Lock Focus & Exposure With AE/AF Lock
The native camera app allows you to lock focus and exposure when taking photos. This locks in the current focus and exposure settings until you choose to unlock them.
To lock focus and exposure, tap and hold the screen for a couple of seconds at the point you want to focus on. A yellow box with AE/AF LOCK will appear at the top of the screen.
Note that you can still swipe up or down on the screen to adjust exposure manually if you wish. To unlock focus and exposure, tap once on the screen.
So why would you want to lock focus and exposure? One reason is that it lets you take several photos of a scene without having to set focus and exposure for each shot. Set it once, then keep shooting as many pictures as you want. This is great for trying out slightly different compositions and shooting angles.
Another situation where you would use AE/AF Lock is if anything is moving in the scene. If you don’t lock focus and exposure, the camera might re-focus on anything that moves within the frame.
AE/AF Lock is particularly useful in street photography. Without AE/AF Lock the camera might re-focus on anyone who walks into the scene.
It also lets you set up a shot in advance. You can frame the photo, and lock in the focus and exposure settings that you want. Then wait for a person to pass through the frame and press the shutter.
7. Use HDR For Better Exposure
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. This is one of the most useful iPhone camera settings for creating perfectly exposed photos.
HDR is ideal for high contrast scenes. For example, if you have a bright sky and a darker foreground or main subject.
In situations like this, switch on iPhone HDR setting in the camera app. The camera will create a well-lit photo with plenty of color and detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
To open the HDR settings, tap HDR in the camera app. You can choose from HDR Auto, On or Off. Auto lets the camera decide when to use HDR. But it’s better if you decide whether you want it on or off.
Switch HDR on if you’re not getting good exposures in high contrast scenes. Otherwise, you can keep HDR switched off.
In general, it’s best to use HDR for landscape photos and scenes where the sky takes up a large part of the image. This allows you to capture more detail in both the bright sky and the darker foreground.
So how does HDR create a more balanced exposure? When you switch on HDR and take a photo, the iPhone camera actually takes three pictures at different exposures. It then blends the best parts of these images to create one photo that has good exposure throughout.
The photo below doesn’t use HDR. The foreground is quite dark, while the bright clouds are over-exposed with no detail.
Below is the HDR version of the same photo. HDR mode captures detail in both the bright clouds and the darker foreground. The colors are also more vivid throughout the image.
Non-HDR photos will sometimes look better than HDR images. Luckily, the camera app can save two versions of the photo: HDR and non-HDR. To ensure the camera saves both versions, go to Settings > Camera. Switch on Keep Normal Photo in the HDR section.
8. Use Burst Mode When Shooting Moving Subjects
Burst mode lets you take ten photos per second for as long as you hold down the shutter button. This makes it easy to capture the perfect action shot with minimal blur.
To activate burst mode, hold down the shutter button for half a second or longer. Your iPhone will start taking a continuous sequence of photos in quick succession.
After shooting a burst of images, you can choose the best photos from the sequence and delete the rest.
Use burst mode whenever there’s movement or unpredictability in the scene. It’s perfect for photographing children, animals, birds, and water splashes.
It’s also great for capturing magical moments in street photography. Try using burst mode to capture the perfect stride or pose.
9. Shoot Live Photos To Bring Your Photos To Life
Live Photos is an exciting iPhone camera feature that brings your photos to life. Rather than freezing a moment in time with a still photo, a Live Photo creates a wonderful moving image.
It works by capturing the moments before and after you take the picture. The result is a 3-second video, complete with movement and sound.
Below is a Live Photo shot at the beach. Hit the Play button to see how it captured the movement of the water and people.
The Live Photos feature is only available on the iPhone 6s/6s Plus and newer. On these phones, you can switch on Live Photos by tapping the circles icon in the camera app.
When the circle icon is yellow, Live Photos is on. When you press the shutter button, the camera will save footage of the 1.5 seconds before and 1.5 seconds after that moment.
After shooting a Live Photo, play it back by pressing down firmly on the screen. You need to press harder than you’d press for an ordinary screen-tap.
When you’ve captured a Live Photo, you can apply a Loop, Bounce or Long Exposure effect if you wish. To access these effects, open your Live Photo then swipe up.
Loop turns your Live Photo into a continuous video loop. Bounce makes your Live Photo play forwards and then in reverse.
Long Exposure creates a beautiful slow shutter effect, blurring any movement captured. This is perfect for creating a silky smooth effect on waterfalls and rivers.
What if you want to share a Live Photo?
Most methods of sending a Live Photo result in a still image. But there is an easy way of sharing a Live Photo: save it as a video, first! For more on this, read our guide: How to save Live Photo as video.
Use Live Photos whenever there’s movement or sound in the scene that you’d like to capture. It works particularly well when photographing people – especially children. And it’s great for capturing scenes with flowing water.
Live photos is also perfect for situations where the sound adds an extra sensory element. For example, birdsong or the sound of water when you’re shooting in nature. Or why not capture the sounds of a bustling city scene?
You’re unlikely to use Live Photos for all your shots. But it’s perfect for preserving those moments that you couldn’t capture in a still photo.
10. Use Portrait Mode To Blur The Background
Portrait mode lets you shoot photos with a shallow depth of field effect. Use this mode when you want your subject to appear sharp against a beautiful blurred background.
Portrait mode is available on the new iPhone XS camera, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. You’ll also find it on the iPhone 8 Plus camera, the iPhone X, and the iPhone 7 Plus. Note that Portrait mode isn’t available on the iPhone 8 camera, iPhone 7 or older.
Normally you could only achieve a shallow depth of field with a DSLR camera. But Portrait mode lets you recreate this effect with your iPhone.
This mode is perfect for shooting portrait photos of people. But you can use it to make any subject appear sharp against a blurry background.
To shoot in Portrait mode, select Portrait from the list of shooting modes next to the shutter button.
If you’re too far away from your subject, you’ll see a prompt telling you to move closer. If you’re too close to your subject, the camera will tell you to move further away.
If the scene is too dark, it will tell you that more light is required. Ideally, shoot outdoors where there’s plenty of light. But avoid bright direct sunlight as this can create harsh shadows on your subject’s face.
When you’ve composed your photo, tap the screen to set focus and exposure. Or tap and hold to lock focus and exposure so that you can take multiple shots with the same settings.
On the iPhone 7 Plus, the words Depth Effect appear in yellow when the depth effect setting is active. This indicates that your photo will have a shallow depth of field when you press the shutter. On the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, you won’t see the words Depth Effect.
Portrait mode also includes a Portrait Lighting feature. You can use this to apply various studio-quality lighting effects to your photos. Note that Portrait Lighting isn’t available on the iPhone 7 Plus.
The default Portrait Lighting setting is Natural Light. This setting doesn’t apply any lighting effects to your photo. To select a different effect, swipe through the Portrait Lighting icons (shown on the right of the viewfinder in the screenshot below).
Studio Light brightens the highlights. This can make it look like you took the photo in a photography studio. Contour Light darkens the shadows on the subject’s face. This can create a more dramatic portrait.
Stage Light makes the background appear black. Stage Light Mono is the same as Stage Light, but it converts the photo to black and white.
You can apply Portrait Lighting effects at the time of shooting, or in post-processing using the Edit option in the Photos app.
It’s worth noting that Portrait mode simulates a shallow depth of field digitally. So you won’t always get perfect results like you would with a DSLR. For example, some of your subject’s hair might appear blurred when it should be sharp.
In most cases, it does a great job. But you can always revert back to the regular version of the image without the depth affect if you wish.
To do this, open the picture in the Photos app, then tap Edit. Tap Portrait at the top of the screen to switch off the depth effect. To switch it back on, tap Portrait again.