The iPhone’s camera app is loaded with useful features. But when should you use each setting and how will they affect your images? In this tutorial you’ll learn how to use 10 essential iPhone camera settings so that you can take control of the camera and shoot incredible photos every time you press the shutter.
1. Focus & Exposure
The key to shooting stunning iPhone photos is to ensure the focus and exposure is correct. If the image isn’t focused properly, the subject will appear blurred. And if the exposure isn’t right, the photo will be too dark or too bright.
Setting focus and exposure is actually very easy on the iPhone, but unless you know what you’re looking for these iPhone camera settings aren’t that easy to find.
Once you’ve framed your shot, the first thing you need to do is set the focus point. Decide which object you want in sharp focus (usually the main subject), then tap that object on the screen.
A yellow box will appear to indicate which part of the scene is in focus. Anything in front of or behind that object may appear blurred or slightly out of focus.
After tapping to set focus, you can now adjust the exposure (brightness) of the image if necessary. If it looks over-exposed (too bright) or under-exposed (too dark) simply swipe up or down on the screen to adjust the exposure.
If you want to lock the focus point on a certain object, tap and hold for a couple of seconds until you see AE/AF LOCK at the top of the screen.
When focus is locked, it disables the autofocus feature which means that the camera won’t refocus if something moves within the scene – this is great for street photography. It also means you can take several photos of the same subject without having to set the focus each time.
Did you know that you can display gridlines in the iPhone camera app to help you compose your photos?
Gridlines are really useful for several reasons:
- Keeping the horizon level in landscape photos
- Ensuring lines are straight or level in architecture photos
- Dividing the frame into three sections for a classic “rule of thirds” composition
- Splitting your photo in half for a perfectly symmetrical composition
To turn on the grid, you’ll need to access the iPhone camera settings. Open the Settings app, then select Photos and Camera. Scroll down to the Camera section, then switch on the Grid option.
3. Burst Mode
Burst mode is invaluable whenever you’re shooting moving subjects. This feature allows you to take ten photos per second, giving you the best chance of capturing the perfect action shot with minimal blur.
Using burst mode is incredibly easy on the iPhone. Simply hold down the shutter button and the iPhone will continue to take multiple images until you release your finger.
After you’ve taken a burst of images, you can then select the best photos from the sequence and delete the rest.
Have you ever wondered what the camera’s HDR setting is for? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it’s a really useful tool for creating better exposed photos in tricky lighting situations.
It’s especially useful when shooting high contrast scenes, such as a landscape where you have a dark foreground and a bright sky.
In these situations it’s often difficult to capture color and detail in both the dark shadows and the brighter highlights. You’ll either end up with an over-exposed sky or an under-exposed foreground.
To create a more balanced exposure, try switching on the HDR setting in the camera app.
When HDR is switched on, the camera will take three photos of the scene every time you press the shutter. Each image is captured at a different exposure – one bright, one dark, and one somewhere in between.
These three exposures are then combined together to create one single image with a more balanced exposure. Using HDR allows you to capture more detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
Below is a comparison of an image shot with and without HDR. The first photo doesn’t use HDR. Notice how the foreground is quite dark, while some of the bright clouds are completely over-exposed with no detail at all.
Below is the HDR version of the same photo. Notice how the HDR image captures more detail in both the bright clouds and the darker foreground.
With a few tweaks in Snapseed, the color and detail of a HDR photo can be brought out, while still maintaining excellent exposure balance – as shown in the example below.
One thing to consider when shooting HDR photos is that you need to keep the camera perfectly still while the camera is capturing the three exposures. If the camera moves, you may encounter “ghosting” because the three images won’t blend together perfectly.
With this in mind, HDR photos are best taken when you’re resting your hand on a support or using an iPhone tripod.
5. Live Photos
Live Photos is one of the most fun iPhone camera settings to experiment with. This feature brings your photos to life by creating a 3 second moving image.
Rather than freezing a moment in time with a still photo, a Live Photo captures the moments just before and after you take the picture – complete with movement and sound.
Press the Play button on the video below to see how this Live Photo captures the movement of the water and people in this beach scene.
The Live Photos setting is perfect for photographing moving subjects, children, water, fun moments, or any scene that has interesting sounds that you want to capture.
Please note that Live Photos is only available on the iPhone 6s/6s Plus or newer. To switch on Live Photos, tap the round Live Photos icon (next to the HDR option) so that it turns yellow.
Now, whenever you take a photo, the camera will automatically capture 1.5 seconds of video before and after you took the shot. The result will be a 3 second Live Photo with movement and sound.
To play back a Live Photo that you’ve taken, simply press down firmly on the screen (harder than you’d press for an ordinary screen-tap).
You probably won’t want to use Live Photos for all of your shots, but it’s wonderful for preserving those extra special little moments that you couldn’t capture in an ordinary still photo.
The lightning bolt icon in the camera app allows you to switch the flash on or off. If you need to illuminate a subject in low light, you could try switching on the flash.
Keep in mind, though, that the iPhone’s flash can be a bit harsh. And sometimes it can ruin your photo by causing over-exposure, light reflections, and harsh shadows.
It’s advisable to keep the iPhone’s flash switched off in most situations, and only turn it on when you have no other way of illuminating your subject – for example, if you’re photographing a subject outdoors at night.
Below is a comparison of two photos of the same subject. This first picture was taken with no flash, and it’s a bit too dark.
The photo below was taken with the iPhone’s flash switched on. While the second image is certainly lit better, it’s a bit harsh and could benefit from some post-processing work to balance the light a bit better.
If you find that you often need to use the flash to illuminate a scene, there’s a great modification that you can do to your iPhone to soften the light and make it more flattering on your subject.
By placing a sheet or two of tissue paper over your iPhone’s flash, you can create a simple diffuser that softens the light and makes for a more pleasing photo.
If you take the case off your iPhone and place the tissue paper over the flash, then put the case back on the phone, this will help to hold the tissue paper in place.
Below is a photo taken with tissue paper over the flash. Notice how this one is a bit softer and the light isn’t as harsh.
Another tip for preventing the flash from being too harsh is to stand further away from your subject. Also, keep in mind that there’s no point using the flash to illuminated distant subjects as the light won’t reach more than a few meters.
The timer setting in the camera app allows you to set a delay between pressing the shutter button and the photo being taken. When you tap the Timer option (clock icon) you’ll be able to select either a 3 second or 10 second delay.
Once you’ve selected the delay that you want, set up your shot and press the shutter button. On the screen you’ll see the camera counting the seconds down.
On the back of the iPhone you’ll see the flash illuminating. When the flash stops, you know the photo is about to be taken.
When the shutter fires, the camera will take a burst of ten shots. You can then choose the best photo from the sequence and delete the rest.
The timer is great for those instances when you want to appear in the photo yourself. Simply set your iPhone on a tripod or other solid surface, set the timer, press the shutter, then stand in the scene ready to have your photo taken.
It’s also a useful tool when shooting in low light on a tripod. Without the timer delay, you might find that pressing the shutter button causes the camera to shake, resulting in a blurry photo. But if you set the timer, your iPhone will have stopped moving by the time it takes the shot.
8. Photo, Square & Pano
The list of options next to the shutter button let you shoot in a range of different modes. Just swipe to scroll through the modes, then select the one you want to use. Let’s look at the still image options first: Photo, Square and Pano.
Photo is probably the setting you’ll use most as it allows you to take a classic rectangular photo in either landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) orientation.
If you decide you want your photo in a different aspect ratio such as square, you can always crop it later in post-processing.
Square, as the name implies, allows you to shoot square photos. If you find that you always share or print your images in square format, you might prefer to shoot square photos to start with. Just remember that it gives you fewer options for cropping later on.
Pano, short for panorama, allows you to create extra-wide panoramic images. This feature is amazing for capturing wide landscape scenes or cityscapes.
You can also use it capture vertical panoramas as shown below. This is great for tall waterfalls.
When you select Pano mode in the camera app, you’ll see a right-facing arrow. If you’d prefer to take your photo by moving from right to left, tap on the arrow and it’ll flip around.
When you’re ready to start shooting, tap the shutter button, then very slowly move your camera in the direction of the arrow. Keep the camera as steady as possible. When you’re done, tap the shutter button again to stop the pano.
The photo you create with Pano mode will include everything your camera saw. If you turned corners as you moved your camera, you may notice some distortion in the final image.
9. Time-Lapse, Slo-Mo & Video
As well as shooting still images, there are three modes that let you shoot different kinds of video: Time-Lapse, Slow-Mo and Video.
Video mode allows you to shoot ordinary video footage with your iPhone. Use it to create movies and tell stories about events, celebrations, and anything else that would make an interesting video.
Once you’ve selected Video mode, simply press the shutter button to start recording, then press it again to stop. The duration of the video is shown at the top of the screen.
When shooting video you can tap to set focus, and swipe up and down to adjust exposure, just like you do when taking still photos.
Any videos that you record will automatically appear in the Videos album in the Photos app, as well as in the main All Photos album.
Slo-mo allows you to record video footage in slow motion. This is especially effective when recording very fast action that’s hard to see with the naked eye.
A hummingbird in flight, a child bouncing up and down, long grass blowing in the wind, and fast moving water are all fun to watch in slo-mo.
In Slo-mo mode, simply tap the shutter button to start recording, then tap it again to stop. All of your Slo-mo videos will automatically appear in the Slow-mo album in the Photos app.
When you open a Slo-mo video in the Photos app, you can tap Edit and use the slider beneath the video to determine how much of the video appears in slow motion and how much appears at normal speed.
Time-Lapse allows you to record incredible sped-up time lapse videos that show a long process occurring in just a few seconds.
You’ve almost certainly seen examples of time-lapse videos on television. Classic examples of time-lapse videos include a flower bud appearing to open over the course of five or ten seconds, or clouds moving quickly across the sky.
Again, you just tap the shutter button to start recording, and tap it again to stop. Because the footage is sped up, you’ll need to record for at least a few minutes – preferably longer – to create a decent time-lapse video.
Anything that moves slowly or infrequently can make a good subject for time-lapse. Even clouds moving slowly across the sky can result in a beautiful time-lapse video when the motion is sped up. Click play on the video below to view a time-lapse video recorded on the iPhone.
You’re probably aware that you can use editing apps to apply filters to your images, allowing you to change the colors and tones in your photos. But did you know that you can shoot the original image using a filter in the camera app?
To shoot using a filter, tap the Filters icon (three overlapping circles near the shutter button). A grid will appear showing you what the scene will look like with each available filter. Simply tap the filter you want to use, then take your photo.
The great thing about shooting with these filters is that they’re non-destructive. This means that if you change your mind after taking the picture, you can easily choose another filter or remove the filter completely.
Below you can see that one of the black and white filters is being used to take this photo.
After taking the picture with a filter, you can change or remove the filter by opening up the image, then tapping Edit at the top of the screen.
Tap the Filters icon (as shown on the right in the screenshot below) then select a different filter – or select None to remove the filter completely. Tap Done to save the changes.
Even if you decide not to shoot using the camera app’s filters, it’s worth having a look at them before you take your shot. They can give you an idea of how the image would look in black and white or with particular color effects applied in editing.
iPhone Camera Settings: Conclusion
Your iPhone camera is a surprisingly sophisticated tool. If you master the settings covered in this tutorial you’ll be well on your way to taking incredible photos with your phone.
Once you become comfortable with these, you may then decide to use the camera’s many editing tools to further enhance your images.
You may even choose to use some of the many apps available for advanced photography and image editing. The sky’s the limit – so long as you’re having fun!
More iPhone Photography Tips
Now that you’ve mastered how to use the features of your iPhone camera, it’s time to learn some simple tricks and techniques that will dramatically improve your photography.
Check out this tutorial where you’ll discover 10 iPhone photography tips to quickly improve your photos – including powerful composition techniques, shooting silhouettes and reflections, and editing your photos with VSCO filters.