Hands on iPhone photo tips part I

iphoneI have received several comments in the last weeks asking for iPhone photo tips, so now I will make good on my promise to write a post about this. Turns out I have more to share than I initially expected, so this will extend to a couple of posts.

First off, some of you may know this, most probably do not, but my smart phone journey started with an android. The very first Samsung Galaxy back in 2011. And I loved it! It was actually only in 2013 that I got my first iPhone, the 5. And I don’t regret it. But in the end these are just tools, a camera, a computer, a phone, and the person who wields the tool (well) is the one making the picture. So, no matter if you use a Nikon or a Canon, a Mac or Windows, an iPhone or an android to take photos – make those pictures and enjoy doing your part in making the world a little richer!

So here are my first iPhone photo tips:

1) Starting with the obvious, but stating it nonetheless – as you know every smartphone (for ease of typing I will from here on speak of ‘iPhone’, but it will refer to any smartphone unless otherwise noted) has at least one camera, most of them two, front and back. For serious, every day use always use the back-camera as its resolution is way better than the one on the front. Quite honestly, I don’t even use the front camera at all, well, except for maybe checking my hair.

2) Select your camera app – use it and stick with it

So, there is the iPhone native camera app, which on my last iPhone I banned to some dark spot on my phone and never used it, except for a panorama here and there. But now with iOS 8, Apple upgraded their app and is a pretty close contender to my favorite one. With the native camera app you can tap one point on the screen and both, focus and exposure, get set to that particular point. And, since its latest update, you can then slide up and down and thus change the exposure. Just don’t swipe sideways as that will change from taking a photo to taking a video or a square photo etc. This app also has a HDR feature, so you will end up with two photos for the price of one in your camera roll, the 2nd one with slightly increased dynamic range i.e. shadows and highlights. Do you need it? I don’t, because if I want to do an iPhone HDR I want it to look like an HDR and do that (quickly) in post processing.

The other two camera apps I have used frequently are Camera+ ($2.99) and Camera Awesome (free), but there are many more. What makes these two apps stand out for me is the fact that I have more control over exposure and focus. In both apps you can set one point for focus and another point for exposure. You can can lock both or one and also move both or either one of those points around on the screen and immediately see how it changes the picture’s brightness – pretty nifty. After setting the exposure point, only Camera+ lets you further adjust the exposure by simply sliding on the side (or top/bottom depending on how you are holding the iPhone) of the screen. Both apps offer you a virtual horizon and a grid, which comes in handy when composing a photo. On top of these Camera Awesome also gives you the option of a Square, Trisec and Golden Spiral overlay to help compose a picture.

To take the picture all three apps offer shutter release with the volume button and a timer, but only Camera+ and Camera Awesome also have a stabilizer (anti hand-shake) and burst mode. Camera+’ latest update also boosts a macro mode, which I have yet to try more, but at first sight looks great. Whereas Camera Awesome has an interval feature, don’t think I have ever used it though.

Here is a field trip comparison to show you some of the differences:

(click on the pick to enlarge)

iphone, tips, tutorial, exposure, focus

Very important to me is the different degree of control over focus and exposure. Camera+ lets you even go semi manual, you can set ISO and shutterspeed to your liking. You cannot change the aperture as the iPhone does not have a movable iris (like a lens on a SLR).

All three apps have a at least a grid and will allow you to edit the photo you took (see point 3). Camera+ and Camera Awesome can also be set up to store the photos you take in-app (not the iPhone’s camera roll), edit (or delete) first and then save to your camera roll. I used to use that feature with Camera+ until I discovered that I can import photos into the app in order to use the editing capabilities. But I may go back to the Lightbox feature as you can sift through the photos and delete outtakes right away.

On top of taking photos Camera Awesome will also capture videos as will the native iPhone app, which now also shines with such fun features as time-lapse and slo-mo(tion) videos. And panoramas, let’s not forget about those, because every now and then you are in that epic place with an awesome view and you just need to have it all in one shot.

So which one is my app? I am using Camera+ for photos, because I have the most control and I do not need a video function in my photo app. Also, I usually get annoyed by constant advertising in free apps. For those times that I want to take a panorama, video, time-lapse or slo-mo I am now happily using the native iPhone app.

And another field trip comparison to show you some of the differences:

(click on the pick to enlarge)

iphone, tips, tutorial, exposure, focus

3) Enhance photo with (basic) editing

All three apps come with pretty awesome basic editing. Almost seem like miniature photoshop labs. Things like crops, contrast, sharpness, temperature, vibrance, color etc. are all there. Camera+ and the native app seem to be a little bit more detailed, which some might prefer whereas for some it might just be too much. However, the one thing that I am missing in Camera Awesome is ‘straighten’. Because, despite using a grid or horizon you just sometimes end up with a crooked horizon, which I tend to prefer straight. The editing in all of these apps is very intuitive and a lot of fun. You should take it over the top every now and then and see what you can do with it. I tell you, it is fun!

Speaking of fun, filters! Both the native app and Camera Awesome have built in shooting filters. Meaning you actually take the photo with a filter e.g. like an old instant or b&w and you end up with only the filtered photo. Which is the very reason I never use shooting filters with my iPhone. If I want a filtered look, I do that in post processing. Which you can do with all three apps after you have taken the real photo. So, why mess with the possibility that you might actually prefer reality? The native app comes only with a few basic filters, whereas both Camera+ and Camera Awesome shine with lots of filters, textures and other presets. Most are paid with the $2.99 in Camera+, and you can buy a couple more. A few are free in the free version of Camera Awesome, but be warned there are a lot of nice ones that are not and you have to pay a little extra for each set.

Phew – seeing how long this post is already, feels like it is at least double my usual post, I think I’ll better break it off and leave 3) More editing / apps and 4) Sharing / back up for another post of iPhone photo tips. My apologies to those who wanted an update on the other apps I am using in my iPhoneography. I hope you’ll forgive me and be back for part 2 of my iPhone photo tips.

iphone, tips, tutorial, exposure, focus

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14 thoughts on “Hands on iPhone photo tips part I”

  1. THANK YOU!!!! This is information I can use and learn from. Still learning my way around and have only taken one pic with the camera. It was just to see if it actually worked so it was throwaway!

    Thanks for doing this. I am going to look at those camera apps you noted.

    • You’re welcome, Debbi. Shoot me any questions you may have. As I said there are many other camera apps out there. I just had a specific look for android, since that is what you have and it appears that you have to pay for Camera Awesome, too, but also that it is better and does have exposure compensation. Google Camera might be worth exploring, as well as DSLR Camera Pro and Camera FV-5 – here is the article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amadoudiallo/2014/07/23/best-android-camera-apps-2014/ Now I almost wished I had another phone, an android to compare it with… 😉

      Hah – you are old-school (which is not necessarily a bad thing!), because when I got my new phone, the first thing I did is take photos. And connect to social media – LOL

  2. Wow! I had no idea about the back camera. So the front camera is more selfie mode, right? I sometimes accidentally hit the button for it and I’m disgusting by the unflattering closeup of myself!
    I also love to go a little semi-manual with apps. It’s not like the big camera, but it has its own charm and style and convenience. So I always think it’s important to learn to use the camera you have on you! And often, that’s the phone.
    Thanks so much for the details.

    • Seriously?! It is what Apple calls their ‘facetime camera’ – I guess we don’t need that many mega pix for our faces 😀 I’m not much of a selfie fan myself, so I cannot argue with you on that one.
      I absolutely agree with you. You have to know your tool the best you can.
      I’ll be posting my favorite, or maybe non-favorite apps, next.

    • I know, right?! I was fiddling around, changing between DSLR and iPhone, when I turned around and was like ‘whoa, great lines and sparkling reflections’. Mind you, this is a fairly un-edited version. I was thinking of going b&w with it.

  3. Really great tips, Claudia. I do tend to use the native camera app on my iPhone most but have the camera+ app also, but rarely use it. I may give it another shot after reading this. 🙂

    • I knew you got Camera+ at some point and really thought you were using it. I guess I am just too old school that I want to have at least some degree of control over exposure 🙂 But, whatever works! I really think most important with iPhone photography is to have fun.
      Hehehe – I actually loaded Camera Awesome just for this post out of the cloud again, but – just now – deleted it already 😀 Next up are my apps, will post probably next weekend, it is a busy time at work…

  4. some great tips! And the final shot = perfection. great lines.
    it’s amazing how much better your shots can be, when you know a little more about how it functions. Discovering I could touch the screen for exposure was such a big change in the quality of shots.
    I just wish the selfie cam was not so grainy! but then, maybe it is better on the iPhone 6.

    • Thanks, Leslie. Knowing how to set and manipulate the exposure is a big thing.
      You really do like to take selfies, huh?! Well, I guess you got to learn to take them without seeing yourself – LOL. And as for the 6, I am sure you’ll find out soon enough…

  5. I’m so glad you posted this Claudia, because I’m sure that some people will really appreciate the tips and advice you have provided in this well thought out tutorial. If only I knew what you were talking about because I’ve never so much as held any smartphone in my hand! But if I ever do get a cell phone, I’ve bookmarked this for reference. Thanks so much for your great photos and wonderful instructions. And of course, thanks for sharing this as a second look on the 2nd. We do this every month, so hope you’ll join us every month.

    • No smartphone, huh? There are not very many people around who will say that these days. It definitely is a learning curve especially with regard to ‘putting it aside’, but I’d miss mine. Thank you very much, Elizabeth


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