• Tips for Better iPhone Photographs


    I’m often asked by folks who follow my Instagram feed and inspiration wall, “How do I take better photography with my iPhone?” Most of the photographs I shoot on a daily basis are taken with my iPhone. Why the iPhone and not my professional Canon gear? Simply put, the best camera is the one you have with you...and I always have my iPhone with me.

    Keep compositions simple

    When shooting with your iPhone, look for easily readable patterns or symmetry. Keep in mind that photos sent to other phones will be viewed small. This image of a door in Oxford, England struck me for its clean lines and symmetry.

    Be intentional about cropping

    Every image I shoot is cropped after the fact. The native crop ratio isn’t always what best suits the composition. For example, a square format is popular on Instagram whereas landscapes are better suited to cinematic ratios.

    Choose a window seat

    When flying, choose a window seat. The view is nice from 36,000 feet above sea level. This image was created while en route to The Bahamas. Using iPhone’s grid, the island is intentionally composed at the lower right/third of the frame with leading lines guide the eye diagonally from right to left.

    Turn the grid on

    The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the first principles students of photography learn in the classroom. While this principle can be broken in good taste, you will consistently create better images by employing it. Turning the optional grid on in the iPhone’s camera will help ensure it is always top of mind. I keep mine on all the time.

    Embrace motion

    Motion often conveys emotion—it’s a heightened candid moment. Capturing motion with an iPhone often results in part of your image being blurry—and that’s okay! I shot this image at a Girl Talk show during last summer’s Firefly Music Festival. What makes this work is the motion of the hands and confetti set against a backdrop that is sharp and in focus. Every time I look at I’m right back in the middle of that swarming, sweaty rave.

    Good light is key

    For the last six years, I have created photographs with available sunlight almost exclusively. It’s simple, yet it can take months to recognize poor light from good light, and years to recognize good light from great light. The iPhone’s simple but capable lens is best suited for shooting with natural light. This high peak pole tent was shot and hour or two before sunset, what is commonly referred to as “golden hour.”

    Don’t just stand there

    Most, if not all these images I shot here were not created by me just standing up straight and holding my iPhone out. At 6’0” I often get low, then lower in framing my composition. Or in the case of the letter opener and magnifying glass, shooting down from up above.

    Use your flash sparingly

    While natural light often creates better images on the iPhone, the flash can be used to achieve a certain effect (also read “The Terry Richardson” effect) when you want a harsh drop shadow. This image of my Swiss army knife in a cork was shot against a white wall in order to create the drop shadow.

    Zoom with your feet

    The digital zoom might be the most useless feature of the iPhone’s camera—stay away from it. It’s quite deceiving actually. Instead of the lens zooming in, the iPhone is actually cropping in close on your image before you ever release the shutter. When you want to get closer, use your feet. It produces a crisper, higher resolution image.

    Use two hands for stability

    Whether I’m shooting in portrait or landscape mode, I like to hold the iPhone in both hands and release the shutter with my right thumb. This minimizes camera shake in lower light. To further minimize camera shake, hold your thumb down on the shutter until you are ready to take the picture.

    Be aware of moments

    Some of the most powerful candid photographs depict people in some portion of the full spectrum of human emotion. Easier said than done of course. Capturing the “decisive moment” is an art form that is often honed over a lifetime—Henri Cartier-Bresson was arguably the best at it. But it starts with being aware of what’s around you...and then rattling off a bunch of shots. After the moment has passed, go back and pick the decisive one. Apple recently made it easier to capture these moments by granting quicker access to the iPhone camera from the lock screen using just one swipe.

    Use the AE/AF lock

    As you may already know, you can tap once on the iPhone’s screen to focus and set the exposure of your image...but then you move slightly and the exposure changes on you. By tapping and holding on the area you want to expose for, the AE/AF lock is activated. This feature allows you to shoot back-lit photographs like this one of my boys in the backseat of my Bimmer. The bright sun was coming in through the back window and by locking the exposure on their darker clothing, I was able to properly expose for their clothes and faces.

    Look for people or objects to create a sense of scale

    It’s always a good idea to try and include a person or object in your composition to give a sense of scale. The patrons and waitstaff outside of P.J. Clarke’s do just that.

    Use an app to develop your images

    I use Visual Supply Co’s VSCO Cam app to develop my iPhone images. It’s a beautifully simple camera app that allows me to achieve the look and feel of film. You can adjust white balance, exposure, save highlights, add fill, and add film grain among a handful of other features. It’s not over the top or heavy handed, it’s just right.

    Jan 23, 2013 | Permalink (8) Total Comments

    scaleworm left a comment on 1/31/2013 at 12:47 AM:

    I agree, whatever is at hand, that takes images is the camera to use. I have thinking for a bit if an x100 but then would I carry it about with me all of the time for images? I take lots of images of my two daughters, and on my macbook they look Great!

    Bob Strassel Jr. left a comment on 1/30/2013 at 11:04 PM:

    Thanks for the great tips. I feel like I just took a master’s class in photography! Love the P.J Clarkes shot (used to be an old fav. of mine), great perspective.

    Giovanni Piazza left a comment on 1/25/2013 at 9:54 AM:

    Nice tips. I checked out the app and ended up downloading it. It has since taken my iPhone photo game to a whole new level haha. Thanks Castelberry!

    emjkmj left a comment on 1/24/2013 at 9:44 PM:

    Thanks for the pointers Fred!  I started photography as a hobby a year ago…  Very therapeutic.  I just picked up a Leica Monochrom now researching 50mm lenses.

    S/Amatourist left a comment on 1/24/2013 at 4:24 PM:

    very useful pointers. and great shots. man, i can smell that old BMW leather.

    alicia left a comment on 1/24/2013 at 12:14 PM:

    thank you so very much - i have picked up many good tips!  i follow your instagram & love your images.  i am going to try the app you mention.

    F.E. Castleberry left a comment on 1/23/2013 at 6:01 PM:

    @Charysse G.R.—You’re welcome. I’ve never come across this “purple streak” you mentioned…?

    Charysse G. R. left a comment on 1/23/2013 at 5:59 PM:

    Thanks for the tips! Definitely needed them! I was wondering how you avoid the “purple streak” a lot of iPhone 5 users have a problem with…? Thanks!