When I was growing up if you wanted to take a really good photograph you needed a DSLR camera. The point-and-shoots of the day just couldn’t produce optimal shots (keep in mind, this was the early 1990s–well before digital cameras even existed). Today, however, the story has changed.
The cameras we have in our smartphones have gotten incredibly good. Not only do most flagship smartphones now have dual lens camera systems, but virtually all smartphone cameras are also capable of computational photography–meaning the software behind the camera does a bunch of work to make your pictures look the best they can.
Apple’s flagship iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max series currently sport a dual lens system. And the upcoming “Max” iPhone is expected to get a triple-lens camera.
Of course, the lens system and the computational photography aside, there are also several simple things you can do to make your smartphone pics stand out. Here are five simple things you can do on your iPhone to take better pictures.
iPhone Photography: Use The Rule of Thirds Grid
There’s a tenet in photography called the “rule of thirds.” Basically, it states that if you divide your shot into nine imaginary grids by placing three horizontal and three vertical lines “over” the image and keep the subjects of your shots sequestered to one of those stacks of grids, preferably the outer ones, it makes for a much more interesting shot.
This sequestering, or composition, can be helped when you can see a grid on your screen. With this in mind, Apple built gridlines into the Camera app. To turn on gridlines, go to Settings>Camera> and toggle Grid to ON. Gridlines will now appear on your screen, dividing it into nine squares. Now line up your shots in one of the three stacks of square grids and your photos will appear much more compositionally interesting.
iPhone Photography: Lock The Focus & Exposure
Usually, when you take a picture the Camera app will refocus for each subsequent shot so you get the sharpest pictures. But sometimes shots look better with pulled focus (kind of like blurring part of the picture). This is usually done for artistic reasons.
It’s with this in mind that Apple allows you to lock the focus and exposure in the camera app so the focus and exposure setting used for the last picture are used for the next picture as well. To do this tap and hold on the screen and you’ll see rectangle contract around your finger. This means the focus and exposure are now locked. To unlock the focus and exposure simply tap anywhere on the screen again.
iPhone Photography: Don’t Go Crazy With The Zoom
For as long as the iPhone has been around it’s had digital zoom. To zoom in or out, simply pinch the Camera screen with two fingers and the zoom slider will appear. This zoom slider allows you to adjust the digital zoom settings of the photograph; it lets you zoom in and out on your subject. Slide your finger along the bar to zoom in or out.
You can also tap the + or – button to zoom in or out in increments or simply continue pinching in or out. While digital zooming is great, it’s actually making your photo less crisp the more you zoom in because digital zoom only magnifies the pixels in the photograph.
If you don’t zoom in too much, this won’t be a problem, but if you zoom a lot you aren’t going to get the crispest shot. To get around digital zoom limitations, Apple’s latest iPhones use a dual lens system. One of the lenses is a telephoto lens. This gives your iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone X, or iPhone 7 Plus or 8 Plus “optical zoom”, which means your not simply magnifying the pixels on the screen but physically zooming in with the lens as you would on a DSLR. Keep in mind, however, that the latest iPhones’ optical zoom is limited to 2x.
iPhone Photography: Put Your Back To The Sun
It’s a common misconception among non-pros that it’s always good to have the sun illuminating your subject from behind for outdoor shots. In actuality, this can make the subject of your shot look darker (underexposed). A great tip is to actually position your iPhone (and thus you, the photograph) with its back to the sun (or just over your shoulder) so the sunlight is falling on your subject. This will cast a natural light on your subject’s face to make them look the best.
iPhone Photography: Use The Flash In Daylight
Related to the above tip…many people assume flash is only useful in dark situations, like indoors or at night. Actually flash is incredibly useful during daylight pics. This is called a “fill flash” and it helps scatter more light over your daylight subject, thus softening any shadows bright sunlight can cast. To activate your flash outdoors, tap the lightning bolt icon in the camera app and then tap “ON”.
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