iPhoneography: making the most of your phone’s camera

September 5, 2013

“The best camera is the one you have with you.” – Chase Jarvis

Today nearly all of us are walking around with a perfectly good camera in our pocket — the one on our smartphone. For this article, I will focus on the iPhone, but the advice on technique and accessories is applicable to most smartphone cameras and many of the apps mentioned are also available for Android and Windows phones.

There will always be a place for professional photography and professional grade cameras, but when funds and equipment aren’t at hand, these tips should help you make the most of your

smartphone’s camera.


Shoot lots of photos.  There is a saying, “What’s the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur? A professional only shows you her good photos.” Pros take lots of photos. Its not uncommon to take 10 or more photos to get the one perfect one. On a smartphone it can be difficult to actually see how good your photo is, especially if you are outside in bright sun. Sure, you can pinch zoom to check for focus, and other issues, but you might miss the opportunity to take the next photo, so it’s better to take a bunch of photos and then find the best ones later, either on your phone or when you have downloaded them to your computer.

If you have a screen protector on your phone, it can affect how the photo looks when you preview it. The auto brightness adjustment on your phone can also affect the on-screen appearance, but not the actual photo. You can disable this feature under your iPhone’s settings.

The native iOS camera app is slower than some others. An app like Camera Genius allows you to shoot multiple images in quick succession. This can be very helpful for action shots (think awards being presented, speeches being delivered, marchers marching).

Keep your lens clean. Its very easy for a small spec of dust, smudge or scratch to have a big impact on the clarity of your photos, so keep your camera’s lens clean.

Sharing on the fly. If your goal is to get the images out to your followers as the event is happening, or shortly after without going back to your laptop, make sure you have apps like Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ installed and authorized on your phone. If you haven’t tried the newest Flickr app, be sure to update it and check it out.


Rule of 3rds. You may have heard about the rule of thirds: divide your frame into 3 sections or 9 quadrants, and place your subjects at the intersection of the lines, rather than in the center.  Most camera apps allow you to turn on grid lines to help you with this. it makes for a much more pleasing image.

Staging and distractions. Don’t be afraid to place your subjects (if you can), and keep an eye out for distractions in the frame, either in front of, or more often behind, your subject.  Sometimes these distractions are more difficult to see on the screen, don’t forget to look at your shot after you’ve taken it, or consider possible distractions when setting it up. Distractions could be anything from vehicle traffic, a lamppost, or street sign, or a person.

Forget you have a digital zoom, fill the frame. One big difference between smartphone cameras, point and shoot cameras, and DSLR or SLR cameras is the way the zoom works. Smartphone cameras have a digital zoom, the effect is no different than taking the photo and then zooming in on your computer, and it will generally result in a grainy image. Zoom with your feet. Get as close as you can to the subject to get the shot you want. If you need to enlarge the subject beyond what is possible by getting closer, you can try to “fix it in post” when you get back to your computer, but know that you will loose some sharpness.

Forget you have a flash. The on-phone flash is practically useless. It can work for “fill” lighting if you are close enough to your subject and the subject is backlit. But generally, it’s a good idea to keep your flash off, not in auto, and try to position your subjects in good light.

Brace yourself! Hold that camera phone steady with two hands, and consider bracing your elbow against a wall, door frame or lamppost.

Want to take your iPhoneography to the next level? Check out our Beyond Basics post for more tips and tricks.