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How to take great photos on any iPhone!

Even if you have the first-gen iPhone SE, you've got a great camera.

My friends and I took a casual day trip, a few months back. After a long day hiking into the unknowns of Mumbai, we ended up at one of the most peaceful beaches we’ve ever been to. We took a few pictures with my DSLR, you know, the casual sunset silhouette shots. Satisfied with what we had gotten so far, we decided to call it a day, and walk back to get a cab.

I was leading the way and that’s when I looked up to get another glimpse of the beautiful sunset. And boy, the sky had lit up. I looked back at my friends, walking in a straight line. That’s when I pictured the shot. I had no time to take out my camera, put a lens on, adjust the exposure all the while hoping for the sky to stay the same. I jumped down and just took out my iPhone.

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This immediately became my most favorite picture from the day.

We all have been looking for the best camera money can buy. Then at some point or the other, we have been moralized into thinking ‘the best camera is the one that we can master’. I was only recently going through all of my favourite ones, and that’s when I realized that most of those were shot on my iPhone!

Phone photography is getting more and more popular in 2020, especially after the most recent updated product releases. Whether you have the latest iPhone 11 Pro models or one of the earlier editions (like me!), the most important thing is that you’re taking photos with your smartphone.

After all, it’s far more enjoyable to simply pull your phone out of your pocket to capture a photo, instead of unpacking all your camera gear from your bag.

Your phone is also most likely to be the camera you have on you every single day, and that, after all, is the best thing you could wish for!

Before we get into some basic tips to improve your iPhone photography, it’s really important to gain full access over the native Camera App and shoot manually.

Set your Exposure manually

In the native Camera app, you’ll find very few situations in which the exposure will be set incorrectly automatically. However in order to achieve silhouette shots or to keep the background/foreground dark/light in particular, you will need to set it manually.

It’s pretty easy to do that. Just tap on the area you want to auto expose to then swipe up to increase the exposure or swipe down to decrease the exposure.

Set your Focus manually

If the main subject is out of focus, the viewer will become confused about where they should be looking. But if your subject is in sharp focus, the viewer will be instantly drawn to that part of the scene.

So, how do you tell the camera which part of the scene you want in sharp focus?

Setting iPhone focus is actually very easy. But it’s one of those hidden iPhone camera features that most people don’t even realize exists! Then simply tap on the screen where you want the focus to be. Usually, this would be on your main subject in the foreground.

A yellow box appears to show where the camera is focusing.

Lock your Focus and Exposure with the AE/AF lock

Tap and hold a spot on the screen for a few seconds until you see a yellow box flash around your finger. Let go, and you’ll see the message “AE/AF Lock” on the screen. You can now re-compose the shot, and the focus and exposure will remain the same until you tap the shutter release button.

Now that we have these basics done, here are a few tips to get your iPhoneography levels up!

Keep your photos simple

The first thing to know in how to take good photos with your iPhone is to start by keeping your pictures simple.

A lot of times, people overcomplicate their photos. But too many details distract the viewer. A busy scene makes it hard to create a beautiful composition. One interesting subject is all you need to take great pictures. It’s easier to create a strong composition when your picture only has one subject.

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Don’t worry if most of your photo has empty space. In photography, we call this negative space. It’s a great way to make your subject stand out.

Shoot from a low angle

Most people take iPhone photos from chest height. This is usually the most convenient way of taking a picture.

But there are usually more creative options for taking great photos. Learning how to take a good photo involves thinking outside the box!

A few reasons to start taking pictures from a lower angle are

Your photo will be more intriguing. It shows the world from a new perspective.

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You can show interesting details in the foreground.

Shooting from a lower angle shows your subject with nothing but sky in the background. This is perfect for removing unwanted distractions. It makes your subject stand out against the plain background.

To make sure that most of the phot is properly exposed, try shooting with the HDR mode on.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. The iPhone HDR camera feature lets you capture more detail in both the bright and dark areas of your photo. It’s perfect for high-contrast scenes, such as the above one.

Show depth in your photos

Most photos look better when they convey a sense of depth. Creating depth helps draw the viewer’s eye into the scene. It also helps in separating the three elements of your photo, foreground, subject and the background.

Don’t confuse depth with background blur, or bokeh. Bokeh does help in adding depth to a photograph, but there are many other ways you can achieve this. Also, achieving a bokeh is not so easy and effective on an iPhone, unless you have one that rocks the portrait mode.

One of the most powerful methods is to use leading lines in your composition.

Roads, paths, railway tracks, rivers, and fences make excellent leading lines. At the beach, use the water’s edge or ripples in the sand. Compose your photo so the line leads from the foreground into the distance. This draws the viewer through the scene, making your photo more engaging.

Another way to add depth is to look for objects in the foreground rocks, flowers, leaves or other interesting objects. As we mentioned earlier, if you’re struggling to include foreground objects in your photo, shoot from a lower angle.

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The next way is to use something to frame your subject. You could use archways, window frames, or overhanging tree branches. Shooting through a frame draws the viewer’s eye through the frame to the scene beyond. This is a great way to create a stronger feeling of depth in your photo.

Shoot in backlit situations

You might often hear this, never shoot towards the light.

That’s what I used to follow, well until I started shooting in back lit (silhouette) situations. And they’re actually very easy to achieve.

So how do you shoot an incredible silhouette photo with your iPhone? All you need is an interesting subject. Then shoot towards the light.

For great results, ensure your silhouette appears nice and dark. In the Camera app, tap to set the iPhone focus. Then swipe down to darken the exposure. You can always darken the silhouettes further with an editing app.

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Sunrise and sunset are perfect for taking silhouette photos, as you’ve got the amazing sky in the background. But you can create them wherever there’s a light source behind the subject.

Let light lead the way

As photographers are often referred to as light painters, or light seekers, natural light (sun light) can be your best friend and your worst enemy.

Light can often make your shot on iPhone picture look as if shot on a camera. This happens because light helps in adding more depth by separating the brightest and darkest parts of your photo. If you place your subject in the spot where there’s good light, you can produce some great looking portraits. iPhone as it is renders skin tones in the most pleasing manner.

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Edit your photos, but don’t overedit them

Do you want to know how to turn a good picture into an amazing one?

It’s simple. You just need to do some basic photo editing.

But you don’t need high-end editing skills or expensive photoshop apps to add beauty or drama to your iPhone photos. For most of the cases, you can get done with almost the most basic editing in your native Photos app itself.

iPhone Photography / Photo Editing Apps

Even though the iPhone camera is good enough straight out of the box, it does not however provide as many manual controls that you might want. The App Store contains thousands of apps for shooting, editing, and sharing your photos directly from your iPhone or iPad.

Here are a list of few apps that will help you in accompilishing the most out of your iPhone cameras :

1. Best Photo Editing App: Snapseed

Powerful photo editing app with a huge range of tools

  • Wide range of professional editing tools, yet very easy to use
  • Exposure, color, and sharpness adjustments
  • Crop, rotate, straighten, and perspective correction
  • Selective adjustments, brushes, and healing tool
  • Black & white and vintage filters
  • Portrait enhancement, vignette, and lens blur
  • Double exposure, frames, and text
  • Price: FREE

2. Best Intermediate Photo Editing App: Afterlight 2

Full-featured photo editor with advanced tools and creative options

  • Exposure, color, and sharpening adjustments
  • Advanced tools such as curves, selective color, gradients, and blend modes
  • Dust and light leak overlays
  • Double-exposure tool for seamless blending of images
  • Add text and artwork using layers
  • Free filter packs by well-known mobile photographers
  • Price: FREE (with a subscription fee for full access to all features)

3. Best Professional Photo Editing App: Adobe Lightroom CC

Professional photo editor app with advanced editing tools

  • Powerful editing tools within a simple user interface
  • One-tap filter presets for quick edits
  • Advanced editing tools including curves and color mix tools
  • Selective editing, healing tool, and perspective correction
  • Get consistent looks by copying your favorite edits to entire albums of photos
  • Adobe Creative Cloud syncs edits between iPhone, iPad, computer and web
  • Price: Free (with a subscription fee for premium features)

4. Best One Touch Editing App: VSCO

Stylish editing app with beautiful film-like filters

Pronounced as “Visco”

  • Subtle one-tap filter presets that mimic the look of classic film
  • Adjustable filter strength
  • 130+ filters available via an annual subscription
  • Editing tools for cropping, exposure, color, and sharpness
  • Built-in camera app and photo sharing platform
  • Price: FREE (with a subscription fee for additional filters and tools)

I think it’s safe to say that my iPhone SE 1st Gen is probably my most favourite photo camera. There are a lot of limitations that come along as well.

But hey! What’s perfect in this imperfect world?


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