Awhile back on Instagram, I shared an awesome shot of Miss Q doing a “hockey stop” on her skis — I’ll share it again below. It was inspired by a digital discussion I had with Mark Blinch and Pavel Barber who shared their top iPhone photography tips earlier this year, and not only do I want to share more of their tips with you, but also some great iPhone camera hacks and tricks I’ve discovered on my own since moving from Android to Apple a couple of years ago.
I’ve actually moved away from using fancy DSLR and mirrorless cameras because taking pictures with iPhone is just as good, with a much more convenient footprint. Even packing an extra external battery in case I need to use my phone for more than 12 hours takes up far less space than a camera body and spare lenses.
You don’t need to be a trained photographer to take awesome photos (I’m not), but I am going to walk through some basic editing tips in this post as well — using both the built-in iOS software and easy-to-find apps — because it can take a so-so photo to something frame-worthy. All for free. Oh, and you can edit videos in iOS just like you edit photos, which was a huge development in one of Apple’s last major updates.
First up will be the iPhone camera tips from Mark, followed by iPhone video tricks from Pavel. Then I’ll add my own iPhone camera hacks and editing tools and tips at the end.
And, no, you don’t need the most expensive iPhone out there to achieve great photos or use most of these tips and tricks. As long as you’ve got the latest iOS software installed, you’ll be able to access just about everything included here.
iPhone photography tips
These are Mark Blinch’s iPhone photography tips:
Play around with different cameras:
Explore the multiple cameras on your iPhone — each one serves a different purpose. For example, try using the Telephoto camera when you’re shooting from a distance, and even when you’re up close to frame the shot differently. The Ultra Wide camera, on the other hand, is great at capturing larger-than-life scenes.
Look for interesting angles:
Unless you’re taking a portrait, avoid shooting at eye level. It’s so common and every day. Try a more creative shot, like getting up high or down low for more interesting perspectives. If you’re shooting an athlete (and we aren’t just talking pros here — your kids count!), try capturing them from a lower vantage point to create a more powerful image.
Experiment with action shots:
If you want to capture the perfect still images of a moving object, like someone skating on the ice, try using Burst Mode or taking a “Live” photo.
Burst mode lets you take up to ten continuous photos per second when you press and slide the camera shutter button to the left. You can then scroll through a sequence of pictures until you find your ideal action photo. With Live Photos, you can add three total seconds of movement and audio to your pictures — capturing 1.5 seconds both before and after you tap the shutter button — which can add a dynamic touch to action shots.
Set the mood with your exposure:
Exposure refers to the brightness of an image, which is particularly important when shooting outdoors. Getting the right exposure ensures your photos are neither too bright nor too dark.
The built-in Camera app on your iPhone allows you to adjust exposure manually. Open your Camera app and tap the screen to set focus or tap the upward arrow at the top of the screen to reveal more advanced controls just above the shutter. Tap the “+-“ icon to reveal the manual exposure slider so you can adjust more precisely.
More exposure compensation tips:
- When the sun is at your back, set the exposure slider to around -1. This will provide beautiful colours in your subject and in the sky
- When shooting directly into the sun, you can create amazing silhouettes. For a moody effect, set the exposure slider anywhere between -1 and -2
- On overcast days, try overexposing the scene to give it a more “airy look” by setting the exposure slider to +1
Don’t be afraid of the dark:
Try pulling your iPhone out when it’s dark; the Night mode feature can create some pretty dramatic results by letting you shoot darker scenes without the help of a flash. Long exposures no longer require the use of a tripod using the latest built-in iOS software. Plus, with the iPhone 12 Pro series, Night mode is enabled in Portrait mode for really stunning low-light portraits.
Find unexpected moments:
There are amazing photo opps happening all the time — not just during the action. If it’s hockey season, look for players lacing up skates or walking to the rink. (My take, since I’m not a hockey mom: if you’re at a dance studio, catch the dancers warming up in hallways or those social moments between halftimes on the rugby pitch.)
iPhone allows you to get places and capture moments in a way a bigger camera simply can’t. Because it’s nowhere near as intrusive. These intimate, less expected moments can be gorgeous shots.
iPhone photography tips for video
Here are Pavel Barber’s iPhone video tips:
Shoot in Ultra Wide to catch all the action:
The Ultra-Wide lens allows you to catch all the action no matter where you are. It’s particularly useful when you need to capture more scene in a tight space, like the corner of a rink or behind the net. (Can you tell these guys are all hockey all the time?!)
Ditch the gimbal:
iPhone shoots incredibly stable video. When combined with 4K and Dolby Vision HDR, simple skating videos (or other sports in motion) can look really cinematic. For best results, build up speed and get into a long glide, holding your iPhone as steady as you can. Ditching an extra device like a gimbal helps you shoot what you want much faster because you can just pull it out of your pocket and start filming.
I’m co-signing this tip with my own experience shooting ski runs on my iPhone. It’s easily 85% as smooth as shooting with a gimblal (maybe more) and it means one less piece of equipment that needs to come out on the slopes with me.
Experiment with slo-mo:
Slo-mo helps you capture the details in a skill like stick-handling, skating, ski moves, and more. To keep the shot dynamic, try going from regular speed to slowing down and then back up to regular speed. This will require a bit of editing that you can do right in your iPhone camera or iMovie app.
Mommy Gearest’s iPhone photography tips
You’re probably already well aware of basic iPhone camera tips like using the camera icon from your locked screen to get to the Camera app without using your Face ID or password. You probably also know about pinching to zoom and how to take an actual photo by pressing the shutter or using one of the volume butters. My bet is that you have the basics down after years and years of smartphone camera use.
But here are a few more iPhone photography tips of mine you may not know about:
Well, sort of. Have you ever seen photos of flowing water that look like the water is almost in motion? That’s usually created with a camera by manually adjusting the shutter speed and slowing it way down.
My favourite use of this feature is with waterfalls, which I always think look better with this added fluidity.
I wrote about this in my gargantuan Apple Ecosystem post, but it bears repeating here. The key is to make sure your iPhone is stable, either with a tripod or sitting on a big rock or something sturdy…
HERE’S HOW TO TAKE LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOS ON YOUR IPHONE:
- Be sure you’ve got your “Live” photo option turned on. This is essential.
- Steady your iPhone and take your pic.
- Exit out of camera mode and open your Photos app.
- Do NOT go into the “Edit” option, but instead swipe up from the bottom of your photo.
- Now look for the “Effects” option just below your photo (there will be four of them).
- Scroll all the way to the right until you find the “Long Exposure” choice. Select this.
- Wait for the magic to happen! Your photo, provided it was steadied well, should have all still subjects in the photo as is but your moving subjects (e.g. water during the day or car lights at night) in motion. Note that you can undo this at any time by repeating the steps above, but scrolling back to “Live” during the Effects step.
Tap to focus:
You’ve opened your Camera app and you’re ready to snap. But wait! Spend just two more seconds and get an even better shot by tapping on your subject. It’ll make that subject sharper and ensure you’re not focusing on something else nearby. You’ll know your tap registered if a small yellow square appears.
More on exposure compensation:
Go into the light! I love, love, LOVE shooting into the sunlight. Even though we’ve been told so often to put the sun behind you, using exposure compensation means you can throw that “rule” out the window.
Remember that little yellow square I mentioned in the “tap to focus” tip above? You can adjust the brightness and darkness (a.k.a. the exposure) two ways using this square:
- Tap on lighter and darker areas of the image on your screen, which then increases or decreases the exposure accordingly. Just keep tapping here, there and everywhere until you see something you like.
- To get more manual control, tap until you see the yellow square, then press and hold until a yellow line appears above and below the little sun on the right-hand-side of the square. Move your finger up and down to adjust the exposure.
Family photos and the self-timer:
Get in that photo! I see too many parents (especially moms) playing photographer but rarely getting into those photos themselves. Your kids NEED you in those photos, OK? One day, when you’re gone, they need those to help remember you.
And while selfies are great, their scope is limiting. I really started to explore the benefits of the self-timer during our locked-down days when shooting client work without the help of my usual photographer. Is it as great as having a pro around? Of course not. But did I do a reasonably good job without her? Sure did! And so can you.
Pro Tip: if you have an Apple Watch, this is even easier. Select the camera app on your Watch and prop your phone against something stable or set it in a tripod; ensure everyone except you is in place and frame them in the shot by moving your phone around until the shot you see on your watch-face is the one you want. No need to set a timer or race to your spot, just casually get into place, look at your Watch to make sure you’re happy with the final placement and click the shutter. You’ll have three seconds to look up and smile!
Your subject doesn’t always need to be front and centre. In fact, I often think photo compositions are more interesting when you offset the subject. Let’s say you’re shooting your kids at the beach; instead of putting them right in the middle of the landscape, move your iPhone so they’re off to the right and you have a nice stretch of beach on the left.
And no worries if you forget to compose your shot like this — you can always crop it later in edits.
Press + hold for video:
Did you know that you can skip a step when you want to take a quick video? You don’t need to toggle over to the video tab once you’re in the Camera app — instead, you can start taking video immediately one of two ways:
- Press and hold the shutter button; once it turns red, you’ve just automatically switched to video.
- Press and hold either of the volume buttons; same deal with the red shutter.
Note, however, that once you remove your finger from that press and hold, your video will stop recording.
Mirroring for selfies (warning…this is maybe one of my fave iPhone photography tips of all!):
This one is pretty huge if you take a lot of selfies (like I do, #SorryNotSorry). You know when you snap a selfie because the face you see on-screen is smoking hot and then you check it in your Photos app and you look all kinds of wrong? Yeah, this hack will fix that.
Go to Settings > Camera and scroll down to look for “Mirror Front Camera” — switch this on (it’ll turn green). Congrats, your selfie game is going to be better than ever!
Make use of Portrait mode:
To get studio-quality photos with a blurred background, portrait mode is your friend. Your best friend. Toggle over to Portrait mode in your camera app, move a good few feet away from the subject you want to be in focus, tap the screen to ensure your subject is as sharp as possible and take your pic.
Now, sometimes the blur is too much or not enough. You can manually adjust this, too! When you’re in Portrait mode, look for an “f” in a circle in the top right corner — slide the scale to go from minimal to maximum background blur.
Shoot interiors in Ultra Wide:
Now you have the same capability as real estate photographers! Shooting in Ultra Wide allows you to fit the entirety of even a small room into your shot, often giving it the illusion of looking bigger than it really is.
Decide if you really need to shoot in 4k:
I rarely shoot in 4k because it takes up a lot more iCloud space. You can change this for a specific video or project, but in general, I just keep my settings the same — 1080p at 30fps.
Go to Settings > Camera > Record Video and make your selection.
Time-lapse + tripod = sharp vids:
I love a good time-lapse. Getting a sunrise or watching kittens run around for four hours in just 17 seconds is a great reward for your recording patience. But this iPhone photo tip isn’t about the iPhone itself — it’s about what keeps your iPhone nice and still for the best video possible. Even the cheapest tripod will do the trick, and there are plenty out there that are compact enough to take with you on a day trip or vacation, too.
Slide to customize wide angle and zoom lens:
You aren’t limited to just one perspective when it comes to your iPhone photography. Even if you don’t have the Ultra Wide lens option that comes with the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max models, your iPhone has some capacity for moving closer to a target.
You can use your finger to drag — from just above the shutter where it reads .5 / 1x / 2 (or the combination you have on your screen) — you can customize just how much zooming in and out you want.
This is the same as pinching with your fingers, but you’ll feel like you have a smidge more control.
Flip your phone upside down:
That’s right, turn that sucker upside down so your lens is at ground level. My friend Dee Brun taught me this hot little trick and it can really add wow-factor to a shot that’s focused upwards.
When things get fuzzy:
If lighting starts to look weird or things seem poorly airbrushed on-screen when you’re snapping away, you probably need to take 15 seconds and simply clean off your lenses. The difference will be startling…even if you don’t use a proper cleaner and only have the shirt you’re wearing handy.
iPhone photography tips: free iPhone photo editing software
From straightening horizon lines to making colours pop, this iPhone photography tips post wouldn’t be complete without adding some easy photo and video editing tips as well.
iPhone photo editing tips
Camera — the built-in editing tool right in your camera app is probably good enough for most people. Clicking on the “edit” option brings you to everything you need to adjust brightness, increase colour saturation, crop and rotate, decrease shadows and even add vignettes. Unless I’m working on an Instagram image or something for a client, I do my editing here because it’s efficient and effective.
LightRoom — You can pay for a desktop version, but I’m telling you…the free mobile version is outstanding. It does everything the iPhone camera app does and more, plus it allows you to incorporate “presets,” which you purchase (e.g. Light & Airy), which are essentially one-touch edits that bring photos from ho-hum to WHOA.
iPhone video editing tips
iMovie — I absolutely LOVE iMovie; it’s incredibly easy and intuitive and makes DIY videos look next-level thanks to text overlays, royalty-free music and beautiful transition options. Unfortunately, iMovie still can’t take your vertical videos and turn them into a movie without cropping every snippet into a square. I mentioned this to Apple in early 2020 and hope there’s a fix in an upcoming update, since so many of us would love to use edited iMovies in our Instagram Stories.
Splice — I turn to Splice when I need to chop together a vertical video for IG Stories. Occasionally, I’ve paid to upgrade if I need to layer on music and nice transitions for a client video, but 95 per cent of the time, I use the free version.
iPhone photography tips — a final word: iCloud space
I ran out of the free iCloud space that came with my iPhone after I used it for maybe three weeks. I take a LOT of photos and videos and they eat iCloud storage for breakfast.
If the only thing you’re backing up on iCloud are pics and vids, and you already pay for Google Drive storage, you can set it up so they automatically download into Google Photos. Just download the Google Photos app and set it up in the top-right corner to do a backup. This will ultimately happen in real time.
BUT — and this is a big but — if you also need to back up computer files, I strongly recommend the 2TB storage option available through an iCloud subscription. It’s inexpensive and 2TB is a LOT and you can share it with up to five family members through Apple Family Sharing. I still have oodles of space with this plan.
Now go forth and take awesome photos using these iPhone photography tips. I can’t wait to see what you create.
DISCLAIMER: Apple provides me with tech loans and access to experts to facilitate content.