Intro to iPhoneography: Getting to know your iPhone camera


Getting to know your iPhone camera is the second post in my Intro to iPhoneography series.


Using your phone's camera seems straightforward since there aren't a bunch of buttons or controls to maneuver like there are on a DSLR or many point and shoot cameras. In a way it is. Push a button and you're done. There's nothing wrong with that but most phones are capable of producing decent quality images and prints so why not take advantage of the cool features? It's still less cumbersome than a traditional camera and always with you.

I have an iPhone 5 (which I smashed up around the camera area this weekend but somehow remains in tact - total tangent but I think I'd still be crying if it had broken completely) and the camera is fabulous and its features are impressive. Here are the specs as listed on the Apple website.

The tips below will apply to most iPhones and modern mobile cameras but I highly recommend that you read the manual for your specific phone model. I know that sounds about as fun as watching paint dry but I promise you'll learn something new. I'm a hardcore manual reader. Try it.



The iPhone's autofocus feature is decent but using it all the time is like owning a DSLR and never taking it off Auto. There's no problem with that but your photos could be so much better if you did the thinking instead of your camera. The iPhone camera doesn't know what the most important part of the photo's scene is.

You do.

Relying on autofocus is a guaranteed way to mess up your photos. The phone's autofocus will often choose the brightest part of the scene which can wreak havoc on a photo's exposure when you're shooting in brightly lit areas. Although the face detection feature is good it's not fool proof. It takes a minute to find the face and sometimes you don't have that long to take the shot.

Tap on the most important part of the scene. That's it. Super easy. Choosing the focus yourself ensures a well exposed photo. If you'd like to make edits to other areas of the photo you can do that in post processing which will be covered later in this series.



Turn it on (when you are in camera mode select "options"). You'll eventually forget its there. Use the grid to ensure straight horizons (I am a horrible crooked shooter, the grid helps me a ton) and help with composition. I'm not suggesting you become a slave to thoughtless adherence to the rule of thirds (a former challenge of mine).

Use the grid to create interesting lines and guide your compositions.


Don't use it. Seriously. It's so rare to see a beautiful shot that involved a camera phone flash. I'm not saying it's impossible I'm just saying it's usually pointless. The only reason I'd ever use my iPhone flash is if Jesus himself was moonwalking in a dimly lit room and I needed photographic evidence. Once in a lifetime - must get that shot - kind of stuff. Otherwise stick to natural light as often as you can.

If you're shooting in artificial light and your results are too cool (blue) or too warm (orange) you can easily fix that in post processing which we will discuss in another post.

Just say no to flash.

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

The HDR setting takes three shots at different exposures and combines them so you get the best of each image. One shot is over exposed one is under exposed, and one is "properly" exposed. The iPhone saves a copy of your regular image and your HDR image for you to choose from.

I adore this setting. Here is an example.


Regular shot on the left. HDR shot in the middle. Final edit on the right because I love this photo.

The differences are obvious. The HDR shot is the winner but keep in mind that it isn't always the best option. The phone does some thinking while it's processing the HDR shot so if you're in a rush turn this setting off. It works best for non moving subjects too. This is a great article about the HDR feature on Android phones and iPhones. Test it out and see how you like it. I think it's a keeper.

While the iPhone 5 is super easy to use as is tinkering with some of the more advanced settings can really improve your iPhoneography. I'll be back next week with a new post: Shooting apps. Which, why, and how.


Any questions?