How To Take Better Photos With Your iPhone

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I own an expensive DSLR camera yet my iPhone is the camera I use most. A DSLR takes great photos but it’s also heavier, takes up more room, is very conspicuous, and also takes time to learn. The iPhone on the other hand is the easiest, most convenient camera to use that you always have on you. The only drawback is the quality. While the iPhone may not take as high-res/crisp photos as a DSLR, you can still take beautiful photos with your iPhone. Here’s a list of how to take your iPhone photography to the next level with the right settings, apps, and ideas. Side note: all of the photos in this post were taken with an iPhone camera.


1.  Color

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This photo “pops" so well because red and green are complementary colors. Think back to the elementary school color wheel.

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Colors that are opposite from each other are desirable together because they create a vibrant, high-contrast look. Your eye is naturally drawn to the colors. Another great example of this is football jerseys. Many teams use complementary colors like the Broncos, the Chargers, the Dolphins, etc. because they want to draw the viewer’s eyes to the players. So when you’re out taking pictures, keep an eye on naturally occurring color schemes. There are also analogous color schemes, primary & secondary color schemes,  and many more to remember as well. Nature designs its color schemes all on its own which is pretty awesome. :)

 

2. Exposure

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When the iPhone decides what exposure to set, it doesn’t always decide accurately. Sometimes you get too much blinding white light which makes everything look faded. Or sometimes it’s too dark so you can’t see anything. I like to custom set my exposure to make sure either error doesn’t happen. In the photo above I set the exposure lower to show the sunset without making the whole photo bright white. The iPhone has a manual exposure setting which embarrassingly took me a long time to realize it was there. I never knew you could drag the sun up and down to set the exposure–and if you didn’t know that, you’re welcome! If you still don’t know what I’m talking about then look at the photo below.

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When you click on the screen once to focus, the exposure button pops up. Drag the sun up for more light or down for less light. When in doubt, make your photo darker (and you can lighten up later). I find it easier to correct darks than it is to correct whites.


3. Different Angle

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If you can’t find a good shot or anything interesting to photograph, try angling your camera in a different direction. Look up towards the sky for a good shot, look down at things you normally wouldn’t look at like crosswalk paint and water puddles, or lie low on the ground and get a photograph angling upwards. Having such a small camera is super convenient in this instance. Anyway, the photo above was taken during a walk on the Las Vegas strip. I could have photographed the hotels along the strip, but the view of the buildings in the sky was much more interesting. It felt like a new perspective of the strip. Sometimes a slight angle adjustment makes a scene feel brand new or interesting.


4. Focal Point

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You can’t custom set your aperture with an iPhone unfortunately, but you can still use the default aperture to your advantage. Tap on the object you want to focus on, then place non-focal objects physically close to the camera but out of the way. It makes non-focal objects blurry which is perfect when you still want them in the shot but not the center of attention. I used this method for the photo above. I wanted the cup in the shot but not the focal point, so I focused on the sign and positioned the cup close and to the side. I also utilized light to create focus. The sign is much brighter than anything else so it becomes the center of attention since the rest of the scene is less visible.


5. Tonal Contrast

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Tonal contrast is the difference in tones from the lightest tone to the darkest tone (or white to black). I like to photograph scenes that are mostly composed of midtones or grays, with a little bit of black and white to accent the grays. This type of tonal contrast feels evenly lit and realistic. An easy way to look at the contrast of a scene is to select the black & white filter in the native camera app. You can see the tones live in front of you. Once you like what you see, select the color mode again and take a photo. Here is the image above but in black & white. It feels balanced because the majority of the photo is composed of gray while there’s a little bit of white in the sky and black in the leaves & windows.

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This method takes a little bit of planning and trial & error, but it’s a great way to get a well balanced photo.


6. Framing

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This is my favorite and most used method! Framing is a way to place your subject in a visually pleasing location. This takes a steady hand and a good eye, but with a little bit of practice it’s the best method for better photos. Check out the grid below.

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Imagine that every picture you take has a grid placed over it just like this. All of the objects in a scene that are ON the white lines instantly become more interesting to look at. And all of the objects that are located where the lines meet (the red circles) are the center of attention. Placing your subject either on a white line or in the red circles will make your subject stand out. For example, I placed the car smack center of the grid in between the two white lines, but the guy’s head is touching the bottom white line. He (and the car) becomes a focal interest.

Also, sectoring your photo in thirds creates a great composition (also called the rule of thirds). In the photo above the road is dominating the orange section, the house and shrubs are mainly in the green section, and the sky is in the blue section. If there are different subjects or settings in each third, it creates visual interest. This mostly works with landscapes but it’s good to keep in mind. Overall, using the grid is a recipe for a great and easy composition.


7. When all else fails, edit the photo to hell and back.

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Just kidding… kind of. Editing definitely helps make a photo better, but don’t rely too heavily on editing alone. A shitty photo is a shitty photo regardless of how many filters you slap on. But if your photo needs a little something extra, take it into apps like VSCO or Afterlight and apply filters. Be very cautious with over-filtering though. I’d say one to two filters on a single photo is enough. You can also use settings to correct your mistakes. Use the exposure setting to fix your lighting issues (if you didn’t get that exposure just right), bring up the saturation if you want your colors to pop more, bring the color temperature to cooler or warmer, etc. I only edit using the two apps mentioned above, but I primarily use VSCO.

The photo above is an editing example I did in VSCO. The photo below is the original photo straight from the camera. It looks much more dull and too yellow in the original photo. I didn’t have great light to work with (office lighting sucks) so I corrected those issues in VSCO and added a bit more blue to everything with a filter.

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Conclusion

Of course all photography tips can be applied to iPhone photography but these are things you can specifically adjust or use with an iPhone. Most of all, keep taking pictures to practice your iPhone photography!