Are you making full use of your iPhone camera when you take photos? While the camera app is easy to use, some iPhone camera settings are so well hidden that you may not know how to use them. In this tutorial, you’ll discover 10 iPhone camera features that will radically improve your photos – and give you much more control over your iPhone camera.
1. Swipe Left For Quick Access To Your iPhone Camera
How often have you seen a great moment unfold in front of your eyes, only to realize that it’s gone by the time you’re ready to take a picture? You can improve your chances of taking the perfect shot if you know how to access the camera quickly.
If your iPhone is locked, simply press the round Home button to wake up your phone, then swipe left across the lock screen.
The camera will open instantly. You don’t even need to enter your passcode to unlock your iPhone. With this trick you can literally start shooting in less than a second!
But what if you’re already using the iPhone and you need to quickly access the camera? Just swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open the Control Center as shown below.
From here, just tap the camera icon at the bottom right and you’re ready to shoot!
2. Turn On The Grid
The grid (two horizontal and two vertical lines that divide the screen into nine equal parts) is one of the most useful photography tools on the iPhone.
The grid serves as a reminder to always think about composition when taking a photo.
When composing a great iPhone photo, it often looks best if you place your subjects at the intersection of two grid lines. This is called the rule of thirds, and it’s one of the keys to great photography.
You’ll also want to be sure that your horizon is straight in any landscape photo. The grid is a terrific tool for keeping your image level.
To turn on the grid, go to the Settings app, scroll down to Photos & Camera, and make sure the Grid option is turned on.
3. Shoot In Burst Mode
Burst mode is one of the most useful shooting features inside the iPhone’s camera app. It allows you to take ten photos in just one second, making it easy to capture the perfect action shot with minimal blur.
To activate burst mode, simply hold down the shutter button for half a second or longer, and the iPhone will start taking photos one after another.
After you’ve shot a burst of images, you can then choose the best photos from the sequence and delete the rest.
It’s worth using burst mode whenever there’s any movement or unpredictability inside the scene.
It’s also great for capturing magical moments in street photography. Try using burst mode to capture the perfect stride or pose.
4. Set Focus & Exposure
If you don’t set focus and exposure, the iPhone will do it for you. Most of the time it does a fairly good job. After all, that’s how most iPhone users take all their photos.
There are times, though, when autofocus fails – or when you want to focus on something other than the most obvious subject.
That’s when you’ll want to set focus manually. This is very easy to do – just tap the spot on the screen where you’d like to set focus and the camera handles the rest.
What difference does focus make? In the photo above, focus is set for the flowers in the foreground. The subject is clear and bright, while the flower petals and leaves in the background are blurred.
In the photo below, the photographer tapped the screen to set focus on the flowers in the background. As a result, the subject of the photo is blurred.
When you tap on the screen to set focus, the camera automatically sets the exposure. Exposure refers to the brightness of a photo.
Under-exposed photos look too dark, while over-exposed photos look too bright – so it’s important to get the exposure right when you take your picture.
When you tap to set focus, check the screen to see if the brightness of the image looks good. If it looks too bright or too dark, you can adjust exposure before taking the photo.
After you’ve tapped on the screen to set focus and exposure, the exposure slider with a sun icon appears. Swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make the image darker.
5. Lock Focus & Exposure With AE/AF Lock
The iPhone also allows you to lock both the focus and exposure. So why would you want to lock these features when taking a photo?
The main reason is that if anything changes in the scene, such as a moving subject or the lighting is altered, your focus and exposure will remain unchanged.
That’s why it’s a great idea to lock focus and exposure when you’re expecting movement in the scene. For example, focus and exposure lock is very useful in street photography.
You can frame the shot, and set the focus and exposure in advance, then simply wait for a person to pass through the frame before taking your photo.
Once you’ve locked the focus and exposure, you can take multiple shots of the same scene without having to set focus and exposure each time. To unlock focus and exposure, simply tap anywhere on the screen.
To lock focus and exposure, just tap and hold the screen for a couple of seconds at the point where you want to set the focus. A yellow box with AE/AF LOCK will appear at the top of the screen.
Note that you can still swipe up or down on the screen to adjust exposure manually.
Now no matter what happens inside the frame or how you move the iPhone, the focus and exposure will remain unchanged.
6. Take HDR Photos
HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, is another great photography tool that’s built into the camera of your iPhone.
HDR photography with the iPhone combines three different exposures of the same photo to create one properly exposed image.
It’s great for high contrast scenes with bright and dark areas as it allows you to capture more detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
The photo below 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.
As you can see, the HDR mode adds additional detail in the bright clouds and the darker foreground, as well as more vivid colors throughout the scene.
As you can see in the photo below, a few minor adjustments in an editing app such as Snapseed can really bring out the colors and detail that were captured in the HDR image, while still maintaining a good balanced exposure.
You can find the HDR setting on the left side of the camera app. Tapping on HDR gives you three options: Auto, On or Off.
In general, it’s best to use HDR for landscape photos and scenes where the sky takes up a large part of the image. This allows you to capture more detail in both the bright sky and the darker foreground.
There are some downsides to HDR, particularly when it comes to photos of movement. Since HDR is essentially a blend of three sequentially captured photos, you may encounter “ghosts” if the scene is changing rapidly. HDR photos also take longer to capture, so your hand may move while the shutter is open.
It’s also important to mention that non-HDR photos will sometimes look better than HDR ones, which is why it’s a good idea to save both versions of the photo. To make sure that both versions are saved, go to Settings > Photos & Camera, and make sure that Keep Normal Photo is turned on in the HDR section.
7. Shoot Live Photos
Live Photos is an exciting camera feature that brings your photos to life by creating a 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. This creates a short 3-second video, complete with movement and sound.
Below is a 3-second Live Photo shot at the beach. Hit the Play button to see how it captures the movement of the water and people.
It’s also great for scenes where the sound would add an extra sensory element to the image, such as birdsong or the sound of water when you’re shooting out in nature.
Live Photos is only available on the iPhone 6s/6s Plus or newer. On these phones you’ll notice a round icon next to the HDR option (shown in yellow on the left of the screenshot below).
To shoot a Live Photo, tap the round icon so that it appears yellow. The camera app will now start recording video, and when you press the shutter button to take a photo, the 1.5 seconds of video before and after you took the shot will be saved – resulting in a 3-second Live Photo with movement and sound.
After shooting a Live Photo, you can play it back by pressing down firmly on the screen (harder than you’d press for an ordinary screen-tap). This makes use of the new pressure-sensitive 3D Touch technology on the latest iPhones.
While you probably won’t use Live Photos for all of your shots, it’s perfect for preserving those extra little moments that you couldn’t capture in an ordinary still photo.
8. Take Photos With Volume Buttons
Have you ever missed the iPhone’s tiny on-screen shutter button? If so, switch to using the volume buttons on the side of your iPhone!
Either of these buttons can be used for shutter release, and the tactile feedback you get from pressing a real button is definitely much more satisfying than pressing a digital button.
Additionally, this allows you to hold the iPhone in two hands, exactly as you’d hold a traditional digital camera.
The one downside of this approach is that you have to press the volume button quite hard, which can result in camera shake. For this reason, you should avoid using the volume buttons on the side of your iPhone in low light situations.
9. Take Photos With Your Apple Headphones
Remember those white Apple headphones you got when you bought your iPhone? They also have volume buttons, and you can use these buttons to take pictures!
This feature is incredibly useful when you want to take discreet photos of people you don’t know, as you can just pretend to be listening to music or making a call while you’re actually taking photos.
You can also try using the headphones as a remote shutter when you shoot with a tripod. Since you don’t even have to touch the iPhone, this is a great way to minimize unintentional camera movement.
10. Use Geotagging… Only If You Want To
When you enable geotagging, your iPhone will keep a record of the location every time you take a photo, so you’ll always know where you took a particular picture.
This geotagging data allows you to easily find out where a particular photo was taken. It also lets you search for images taken in a certain place, or view all of the photos you took at a particular location. All of this can be done within the native Photos app.
You can turn geotagging on or off by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. There you can turn all Location Services on or off at once, or enable or disable them individually. Make sure the Camera option is set to While Using if you want to enable geotagging for your photos.
If you’ve enabled Location Services before taking photos, you’ll see the name of the location where you took the picture at the top of the Photos app. Tapping Details at the top right gives you more information and the option to view other photos taken nearby.
If you want to find all of the photos you took at a particular location, tap the Search icon (magnifying glass) at the top of the Photos app, then type the name of the place in the Search box at the top of the screen. A list of matching locations will appear below.
To view your photos on a map, open the Places album in the Photos app. You can now zoom in and out on the map, and tap on a set of photos to see more images from that location. You can also tap Grid at the top of the screen to view your images in a list – grouped by date and location.
With geotagging enabled, your iPhone’s photo library will gradually turn into an exciting database of places you’ve visited. And if you ever need to find all of the photos that you took in a certain place, it only takes seconds!
With that said, be careful when you share your images on social media or when you share photo files with someone directly since they show the exact location where each photo was taken. If revealing your location is a concern to you, it’s best to not use geotagging – in which case you should switch off the Location Services feature.
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 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.
Bonus: iPhone Camera Features Video Lesson
Want to learn more about your iPhone camera features? We’ve created an in-depth video explaining 7 hidden iPhone camera features that every photographer should use. In this video lesson you’ll discover advanced tips and hands-on instructions for using the techniques you learned about in this article.