While I travel with thousands of dollars worth of pro photo gear, the reality is that if you’re just a casual hobbyist photographer—or your average vacationer—this is unnecessary with the advances in phone camera technology. So if you’re one of the many who is traveling this summer with just your phone to document your adventures, these iPhone photography tips are for you.
My sister is always telling me my phone is so superior to hers, which is not true—I simply know how to use it to maximize getting the best photo with the gear I’m working with. And you can, too, assuming you have a phone with similar camera features. Now, let’s dive in, shall we?
For the purpose of demonstration, all photos in this post were shot on my own summer vacations on iPhone 12 Pro with minimal edits. And while this photography guide is specific to iPhone users—sorry, Droid fans, I’m an Apple-only sort of girl—I’m sure you can apply them to your Pixel and Samsung photo use, as well.
1. Wipe the face grease off your lens
Ever notice how your friend’s Facebook photos have an almost-ethereal glow to them with the image a bit blurry, yet not necessarily blurred? Yeah, that’s sweat, grime or face grease. Get in the habit of wiping your phone lens with a cloth or even your shirt before ever taking a photo, and do the same for the display screen if you’re using the front-facing option.
POV: A dirty phone lens completely ruins any photo, and there’s no editing that can be done to save it.
2. Turn the brightness up on your screen
The simplest tip I can give you on how to take better iPhone photos is by always monitoring your brightness. The amount of light a camera or iPhone captures affects the overall quality of the image, and iPhone makes it easy to adjust the ISO with essentially the touch of a finger. To do this, tap on the subject you’d like to light meter on, then use your finger to move the sun dial up (for brighter) or down (for darker) as needed before you push the capture button.
Bonus: This also eliminates added time for editing after the fact.
3. Properly frame your subject
You can only do so much in post-processing, and a lot of good a decent image will do you if the subject of your photo has a giant phone pole coming out of his or her head. You need to always take in account your surroundings when you’re behind the camera, er iPhone, so move yourself or your subjects around so that there are no distractions above (or through) them.
An example of moving your body around to better frame your subject.
If you have trouble seeing the framing without a visual guide, you can turn on the iPhone grid feature to help you.
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4. Use Portrait mode
Portrait mode is the most genius photography feature Apple has incorporated since the invention of the iPhone. If you know anything about photography, the easiest way to think about it is that it allows you to adjust the f-stop and give your photo a nice bokeh (in layman’s terms, a more artistically blurred background). In fact, in more recent updates, you can even adjust the f-stop to your liking, which I’ll get into in a future iPhone photography tips post if requested.
I use Portrait mode a good 80 percent of the time—even when I’m taking photos of landscapes and not people. It creates the depth of field I so crave with my DSLR and makes for a more interesting photo. The one thing you need to be wary of is making sure the subject is in focus, though. Which brings me to this…
5. Focus your subject
A simple tap on the screen of your main focus, be it a human, a pet or the beachside cocktail you’re drinking, will bring the main image into focus. Once you see the focus is locked in on that, then you can pull the trigger.
Example of an iPhone image using Portrait mode with a crisp, in-focus subject.
6. Never, ever, ever zoom
I get it, you’ve had a fancy DSLR in the past with EF lenses that zoom like butter. Your iPhone is not this. You should never—I repeat, never—zoom with your iPhone in normal Photo mode.
Why, you may ask? All this digital zoom is doing is increasing the size of the image and decreasing the quality by essentially cropping it. Instead, you end up with very grainy shots that aren’t going to serve you well in the long run.
Same photo taken seconds apart, one zoomed halfway in and the other at the normal setting, 1x.
What to do instead? You have two options: You can either move closer to the subject (or vice versa) or, if that’s not possible, you can take your photo from where you are and crop your image as you like it in a post-processing app like Lightroom or Snapseed, which will always yield a higher-quality result. If you only take one thing away from this post, make it this: Stop zooming with your iPhone!
An example of the original image cropped. You can see how it doesn’t lose much resolution whereas zooming before snapping most definitely does.
7. Play around with angles
Taking a straight-on photo of a subject can be boring and get a bit repetitive. Instead, try this: Squat down and photograph your subject from down low, creating drama in your image and offering a new perspective.
Alternately, if your subject is down low, you can go high and shoot down on them (just be careful to avoid creating unflattering angles).
Another trick is to turn your phone upside down and get low on the ground, so your subject looms large in the foreground. Why does this work? It puts the lens closer to the ground and creates a lot of magical drama.
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8. Turn on Live photos
The exception for when I don’t use Portrait mode is when I’m trying to capture action, usually my niece and nephew who never sit still.
Live mode is fun as it captures a few seconds in frames, and you can choose the key frame that you want as your photo or create a boomerang (or GIF) if you’re posting to social media platforms like Instagram.
If you find these iPhone photography tips helpful, let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to provide more photo tips via future posts.
Next up: How to edit these photos once you’ve captured them! Stay tuned and subscribe to have free posts delivered to your inbox.
This is great information for the average person. I learned a couple of things to try out, and also to quit zooming! Thank you!
I’m glad you found it helpful! The itch to zoom is REAL. I almost wish they didn’t have that function for that very reason!
More tips please!!! (Tricks are awesome too!)
Coming up soon!
Great tips! Thank you! Every time I zoom, I’m just disappointed. I don’t know why I ever do it.
I know, right? I’ll do an editing guide soon and go over more about my process on the iPhone!
So helpful! Thanks. Definitely would love more tips. We don’t own a DSLR so pretty much use only our iPhones now. Even on our recent family trip to Iceland, we used only our iPhones.
Even with my DSLR, I find myself taking half my photos on the iPhone because the quality is so good now and also so I can post instantly to social media 😉
I know I’m not supposed to zoom, butni kept doing it. This has inspired me to stop! Also learned a few other tricks (like the exposure). Thank you!! More tips please!
I know! It’s hard not to. Especially when you’re videoing and can’t physically get closer to the subject.
More tips coming up soon!
Yes! Please more iPhone photo tips. Btw, I am a DSLR user and did NOT know about bad zooming on iPhone! Duh!
I can’t speak for other phones—maybe the Pixel is better?—but there’s a lot of room for improvement if the iPhone can ever crack that issue (like they did with the Portrait mode). And I get it—the temptation is real, *especially* if you’re used to a DSLR with versatile lenses!
Thank you!! These are great tips and Yes, please more! We are heading to Utah in September and hope to capture a picture of the Milky Way – if that’s possible with an iPhone??
It will definitely be a little bit of trial and error, but you should be able to if it’s dark enough! A few tips for doing that:
1. Get an iPhone tripod as you’ll need a stable surface to allow for a longer exposure (I can recommend one if you need it).
2. Clean your lens in advance as you won’t be able to see in the dark!
3. Make sure the flash is off.
4. Light meter on the sky (tap the screen and drag the slider all the way down to get a dark sky).
5. Set it on as long an exposure as you can (like 10 seconds or so depending on what your phone will allow).
Using the timer function on your phone (in conjunction with having a tripod) is also helpful at times as it gives you enough time to hit the trigger and get away from the phone before it actually captures so as to not allow for shake/blur.
And lastly, don’t zoom! At all. Ever.
Let me know how they turn out =)
Thank you so much for this!! I hate dragging my DSLR everywhere, and my point-and-shoot is so old I don’t want to use it anymore, so I use my iPhone 12 pro for everything, even photos for my blog. These are really helpful tips, especially the portrait mode info. I know you didn’t go into detail about the fstop part of that, but even just mentioning it made me look closer and I never realized I could change that!
I was thinking of going into F-stop in a part two, I just didn’t want to overwhelm any newbies out here right out the gate. But I’ll definitely do another one soon. Glad you found it helpful! The advance in phone camera technology has really been nice for those of us over-documentarians. I love a weekend getaway where I don’t even take my camera with me!
These are great tips! Thank you so much
Many years ago you taught me how to crop my phone photos and it has made all the difference in my pictures. Now you’ve taught me some new tricks. Thanks so much!
Ah, I’m glad that stuck with you all these years!
Thank you, this is great! More would be better 😉 One specific question—on iPhone 12, I try to get a closeup sometimes in regular mode and the background is naturally blurred that close up. (Like flowers.) But my iPhone almost always does something automatically to zoom out, without zooming out, and I can’t figure out what setting is changing or how to get it to stop. Ruins the closeup. Not a professional over here!
I would not even have known! Thanks for all of the tips there, I especially liked learning about the various camera angles. I will definitely put all of these tips to good use on my next travels.
I learned something, so keep the tips coming! Always enjoy reading and hearing from you.
Great tips. I’ve got an iPhone 6 so I’m unable to put some into operation. I’ve now got the grid enabled and do I have zoom. No way!! Not ever again. Thx for the great tips
Thanks so much for these great tips! I post to my travel business FB and Insta but I know they are not good quality and I need step up my game so these tips should help for sure! Looking forward to your editing tips!
You are so right about playing around with angles. It worked great when we tried.