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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

If you want to capture great photography, you must have a camera with you! While this is well understood, carrying a camera bag or even a DSLR, is not always that easy.

Heading out to photograph is different for everybody, but for me, it means grabbing the backpack and tripod and heading out with the sole intention of capturing images.

I don’t take my camera gear when I leave to run errands or go see friends. This is because I am not comfortable leaving it in my car while out and about. But not having a camera with me means I might miss many great photographs!

Fortunately, for photographers serious about photography, the iPhone (and other smartphones) have evolved and become a great alternative. Now we can go about life with a camera always in our pocket.

While the iPhone is quite simple to use, here are 12 tips, tricks, and features you should know about improving your iPhoneography.

1. Swipe Left for Easy Access to Your Camera

You never know when you might stumble on something that requires a rapid response to capture the shot.

Rather than unlocking the phone and entering your password before selecting the camera app, you can quickly swipe the screen left and the camera opens up ready to go.

A man taking iphone photography of himself with a selfie stick

2. Use a Selfie Stick to Broaden Your Perspective

To some degree, the smartphone gets a lot of credit for the Selfie craze we see today. No longer do we need to ask a stranger to take our picture in front of an amazing background.

What’s great about a selfie stick is that you are no longer limited to the length of your arm. I

n these photos, you can see where the view was limited at arm’s length while the other photo uses a selfie stick for a broader perspective.

Using a tripod for iphoneography, pointed towards a lake and mountain

These can be very handy not only for selfies. If the stick has legs, you can use it like a tripod. This is especially helpful in low light conditions where camera movement might cause blur.

3. Try the Self Timer

The self-timer feature is a step up when wanting to capture a different style of selfies or any scene for that matter. The timer can be set for 3 or 10 seconds. Which time you choose depends on how much time is needed before capture.

3 seconds is not a lot of time but can be useful when you want to take a picture without touching the camera. The 10-second feature is better if you want enough time to press the shutter and then get in front of the camera.

Screenshot of using the iphones self timer to take a photo of a girl standing by a lake

4. How to Set the Focus

Most of the time, the focus will be sharp throughout an average scene due to the iPhone’s tiny sensor.

When you want something specific to be sharp such as a close-up, using the set focus feature will ensure that your main subject is sharp.

Two orange and red flowers in grass

This photo is a close-up of the flowers. As you can see, the focus is not on the flowers and is more averaged for the scene.

Taking iphone photography of two orange and red flowers in grass

The solution is simple. Just touch the screen and place the yellow square in the area you want to be in focus.

Two orange and red flowers in grass

By placing the subject closer to the camera and making it in focus, the depth of field appears shallow. This throws the background more out of focus for a nice effect.

5. Shooting Modes

Depending on the iPhone model, there are several modes you can choose from, including Time-Lapse and Slo-Mo for videos, Video, Photo (4×3 Ratio), Square (2×2), Pano (for panoramas). The latest models also have a Portrait Mode.

Stunning iphone photography of cracked desert ground

While capturing still photos, the 4×3 Photo mode is a perfect ratio for many scenes. For example, this cracked mud in the desert where the foreground is close to the camera and the top of the photo is further, giving the impression of depth.

Screenshot of taking a photo of a small green plant with iphoneography

Square mode is also very useful when you have a subject that fills the square format nicely.

a panoraman shot of purple flowers growing in long grass

The Panorama feature can be a lot of fun and is very easy to use. Select the Pano mode, touch the shutter button, and then move the camera from left to right.

It works best if you have a tripod to keep the camera level. If you don’t have one, try your best to keep the camera level while panning left to right.

You might notice the photo above has a black strip in the lower left and upper right. This is the result of the camera not maintaining a level position while moving left to right.

The camera was higher on the left and lower as it approached the right side. You can easily crop this out, however.

6. Cropping Images

Sometimes you might capture an image and later discover something in your photo you want to crop out. That was the case with this old rusty piece of mining equipment.

I did not care for the vertical pole on the left side of the background and decided to crop it out. This left the subject more centred in the frame.

Screenshot of cropping photos on an iphone

To use the Crop feature, choose the photo from the camera roll and open it, then select Edit. At the bottom next to Cancel, is the crop tool.

Click that and then you can drag the sides or corners anywhere you wish on the photo. And if your horizon is tilted, you use two fingers to rotate and straighten or drag on the dial right below the picture.

7. Adjusting Exposure

The iPhone’s metering is for the most part automatic when measuring light bouncing off the scene.

While average scenes with average lighting may expose correctly, there may be times where it does not. Fortunately, adjusting exposure is quite easy.

Many green, yellow, red and orange peppers arranged by colour

This full tonal range image is easy to meter and accurately expose.

A tree photo taken with a iPhone

Here is a scene I chose due to the high contrast of backlighting. This exposure is the iPhone’s average metering. It preserved some shadow detail and highlight detail.

While that is what it is designed to do, it feels too dark. That makes it a perfect image for using the spot metering feature.

A screenshot of taking tree photography with an iphone

Wherever you tap on the screen to set focus, you also are choosing that spot to meter exposure. Here, I clicked on the shadows of the tree trunk and the result was an adjusted exposure for better shadow exposure.

While this is a good approach for selecting zones that need a change in exposure, it won’t work for everything and in that case, you can adjust the global brightness with the exposure slider.

A screenshot of taking tree photography with an iphone

To utilize the slider, start by tapping on the screen where you will see the Sun symbol next to the yellow box.

The sun symbol is the slider to adjust exposure so just slide the symbol up or down to lighten or darken.

A diptych of the same flower photo, the left one is alot brighter

Here is a perfect example of adjusting global exposure. Due to high contrast lighting and the deep shadows in the rear, the camera exposure was off quite a bit as it compromised to maintain detail in shadows and some highlights.

To get a correct exposure, I used the sun slider and darkened the whole image until the highlights were set to proper exposure. This created a darker background but that is okay since the subject is the flowering plant.

8. Using the Flash

Adding Flash to your subject can be very useful in some situations. The iPhone flash is not very powerful, so its usefulness is limited to a few feet. In bright sun, the flash does not do so well but in the shade, it can be a different story.

If you look at these wildflower photos, you can see on the left is No Flash while on the right, flash fill has been added and the flowers are brighter while the background stays the same.

A diptych of the same flower photo, in the right one the flash was used

9. View on Map

Have you ever captured a photo and later wondered where you took the photograph? It has happened to me many times over the years, but fortunately the iPhone has a feature called View on Map. It is quite simple to use.

Open your camera roll and find the photo you are wondering about. Once the photo is open, slide up from the bottom and the map shows up with the location the photo was captured.

A screenshot of using the iphone map to scout landscape photography locations

10. How to Create HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and on IOS devices, the camera takes three exposures: light, dark, and normal, and blends them together to create an image with more detail throughout the highlights and shadows.

This is a very valuable feature when photographing high contrast scenes with dark shadows and bright highlights.

A diptych of the same shoto of a beach, the right one has used HDR for iphoneography

Comparing these two photos you can clearly see the difference. The left image has no HDR applied while the right image is an HDR image. Start by comparing the two columns on the left side.

The HDR image is a little greyer than the left image. Same with the beach. The right image seems more of a proper exposure as the sand, people, and sky are a hint darker.

11. Lighting

Mastering all the settings of iPhone photography is certainly necessary to creating great photography, but you can’t forget the creative side as well. Great lighting and composition are just as important in telling the story you wish to tell.

Outdoor natural light has several ingredients that define the type of light: Quality, Quantity, Direction, and Color.

The Quality of light often includes how soft or hard the light is while Quantity is related to brightness. Lots of light is usually bright while darker conditions have less available light.

Direction defines the angle the light is coming from and Color is just that: the colour of the light.

A photo of fantastically bright colored leaves taken with smartphone photography

An overcast day outside produces very soft light while a cloudless sky at sunrise will create light with a lot of contrast.

Overcast light was perfect for this maple, which benefits from the low contrast, soft light.

A line of brightly colored flags by a bridge

Harsh, late afternoon sunlight was perfect for this scene for several reasons.

The scene consists mostly of highlight areas with not a lot of shadow areas. The light is very directional coming from the side, which helps define the textures in the scene.

Bunkbeds in a prison or police cell

Backlight coming through the door of this historic jail cell creates a lot of contrast. This results in mostly bright tones and dark tones with limited mid-zones.

A close up of rusty metallic machinery part

This Side lighting works very well when you wish to emphasise fine detail.

Here, the texture of the rusting metal, bolts, and seams are enhanced by the side lighting on this old piece or mining equipment.

People sitting on a wooden pier by the ocean

The colour of light is often most notable at sunrise or sunset, where the light turns very golden. This creates a psychological impression for the viewer that can create warm and fuzzy impression.

Cool or cold light is often blue in tone and can create the impression that the temperature is cold outside. For this beach scene in Belize, the amber colour of the scene provides that warm tropical feel to the photograph.

12. Composition

The composition is also a crucial ingredient to great iPhone photography. You may already know about the ‘rules’ of composition, but if not here are a couple examples where the rules worked very well.

But first, there is a great tool on the iPhone and it is the grid feature. These lines exemplify the Rule of Thirds where the composition is divided into horizontal and vertical lines.

Placing a subject along any line works quite well while the intersections of the lines are considered visual hotspots.

A screenshot of taking tree photography with an iphone

The pine tree is placed on the 1/3rd left vertical line and by placing it there, the other 2/3rds of the scene are the background . This approach creates scene depth.

A green outdoor stairway, the diagonal lines creating a Z pattern

The diagonal lines of this stairway create a Z pattern, allowing us to visually follow it to the top of the picture.

A wooden pier

This line on a dock is a ‘forced perspective‘ approach. It forces the viewer to follow the line to the distance.

A small green plant growing from dry earth

Positioned in a 1/3 hot spot within the composition, this green plant gets more attention. It draws the viewer to the plant surviving in a harsh environment.


The iPhone is an amazing camera, capable of capturing much of what a DSLR can.

Hopefully these tips will guide you to creating better iPhone photographs. Remember to master the shortcuts the iPhone has and also look for great lighting and expressive compositions.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Charlie Borland

Charlie Borland is an award-winning professional photographer based in Oregon. For the last 35 years, he has done business with many top companies, such as Xerox, NW Airlines, Fujitsu, Tektronix, Nike, Blue Cross, Nationsbank, and more. His images have been published thousands of times worldwide. He has been represented by 12 different stock agencies during his career. He founded his own agency in 1995 and later merged it with a Getty subsidiary. Then he joined other photographers and co-founded the Fogstock photo agency. He is co-author with Bryan Peterson of the book Understanding Flash and you can find his ebook Outdoor Flash Photography and online courses at, His photography portfolio can be found at

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