9 iPhone Camera Features Every Photographer Should Use

The iPhone is known for its simple and straightforward user interface. In fact, Steve Jobs took great pride in the fact that Apple products never ship with a user manual. And while anyone can pick up the iPhone and start taking photos, there are some essential, but not necessarily obvious tricks, inside the camera app that every iPhone photographer should know. If you’re serious about improving your iPhone photography, you should definitely master these nine great features.

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There are a lot of features in the iPhone camera app and some are more useful than others. The goal of this post is not to provide a complete overview of the camera app features, but to highlight some key functionality that every serious iPhone photographer should know about.

1. Swipe Up For Quick Access

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? While that happens to all of us, you can improve your chances of taking the perfect shot if you know how to access the camera quickly.

Camera App iPhone 1

The fastest and most convenient way to access the camera is from lock screen. Do you see the camera icon at the bottom right corner in the screenshot above?

Just swipe up from there and you’ll open the camera immediately – you don’t even need to enter your passcode if the iPhone is locked! 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, which will open the control center as shown below.

Camera App iPhone 2

From here all you need to do is tap the camera icon and you’re ready to shoot!

2. Turn On The Grid

The grid – which consists of two horizontal and two vertical lines that divide the screen into three equal parts – is one of the most useful photography tools on the iPhone.

It’s great for applying the rule of thirds when composing your photos and for keeping the horizon straight. The grid serves as a reminder to always think about composition when taking a photo.

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To turn on the grid, go to the Settings app, scroll down to Photos & Camera, and make sure the Grid slider is turned on.

3. Shoot In Burst Mode

The burst mode is one of the most useful shooting features inside the iPhone’s camera app. 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.

iPhone Camera Tricks 5

On iPhone 6 and 5s you can get as many as 10 photos per second, while on the other iPhones you’ll get slightly less.

The burst mode is useful whenever there’s any movement or unpredictability inside the scene. It’s nearly impossible to catch the perfect moment of a child playing or a flock of seagulls surrounding a person, which is why the burst mode is a great tool for getting the moment exactly right.

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I also like to use burst mode to capture the movement of people. As humans walk they go through different stages, and the brief moment when the forward foot is about to hit the ground usually looks best in photos.

Since your subjects move their feet rather quickly, burst mode can be a great tool for capturing that magical moment.

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4. Set Focus and Exposure

One of the most essential features of the iPhone’s camera is the ability to set focus and exposure by tapping anywhere on the screen.

If you don’t set focus and exposure, the iPhone will do that for you. Most of the time it does a fairly good job. After all, that’s how most iPhone users take all their photos.

However, there are times when autofocus fails and your photos end up blurred. For this reason I almost always set focus and exposure manually to make sure that my photos are sharp. Let me show you how that works!

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This shot of a ping-pong table has a very distinct foreground and background, and the foreground has significantly less light than the background.

In this case I tapped the screen where the pingpong ball is, which set the focus and exposure on the ball. The background is now overexposed (too bright) and out of focus.

Now, what happens if you set focus and exposure for the background? The background is now in focus and properly exposed, while the foreground is underexposed and out of focus.

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Do you see how big of a difference that is? Get in the habit of setting focus and exposure to take full control of the photos you take. In most cases tapping the screen where your main subject is will do the trick, but feel free to experiment!

Sometimes, when you set focus and exposure by tapping on the screen, the exposure doesn’t look quite right. The image may appear under-exposed (too dark) or over-exposed (too bright). In these cases you can manually adjust the exposure before taking the photo.

iOS 8 Photo Features 2

After you’ve tapped on the screen to set focus and exposure, simply swipe up or down to alter the exposure manually. You’ll see the exposure slider with a sun icon appear. Swipe up to make the image brighter or down to make the image darker.

5. Lock Focus And Exposure

Besides setting focus and exposure, the iPhone also allows you to lock them. Simply tap the screen where you want to set focus and exposure, but instead of releasing your finger, hold it down for a couple of seconds. A larger square will appear where your finger is along with a yellow AE/AF LOCK sign.

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Now no matter what happens inside the frame or how you move the iPhone, the focus and exposure will remain unchanged and autofocus will be effectively disabled. Here’s what happens as I move the iPhone further from the subject.

Focus Exposure Lock

Now, why would you want to lock focus and exposure? Whenever there are significant changes inside the frame, the iPhone will automatically adjust focus and exposure for you.

If you’ve already set focus and exposure and a person walks through the scene, the iPhone will automatically readjust, but this adjustment takes time and any photos you take during that time will likely be blurred.

Even worse, the way you set focus and exposure will be lost and you’ll have to start all over, which is why I often like to lock focus and exposure when I’m expecting movement in the scene.

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This is very useful in street photography, where you can set focus and exposure in advance and wait for a person to pass through the frame.

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.

While there’s a lot to say about HDR photography with the iPhone, what you really need to know is that it combines three different exposures of the same photo to create one better-exposed image. Let me show you an example.

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The photo above, which was shot with the iPro telephoto lens, doesn’t use HDR. Below is the HDR version of the exact same photo.

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Pay attention to all the additional detail in the clouds, the brighter colors throughout the frame, and all the extra detail in the darker greenery in the foreground. This photo clearly demonstrates why I almost always leave HDR on in landscape photography.

However, 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 sometimes encounter “ghosts” if the scene is changing rapidly. HDR photos also take longer to capture, and this difference is more pronounced on older iPhones.

It’s also important to mention that non-HDR photos will sometimes look better than HDR ones, which is why it’s important to save both versions of the photo. To make sure that both version are saved, go to Settings > Photos & Camera, and make sure that Keep Normal Photo is turned on.

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,  I like to use HDR for all landscape photos and when the sky takes up a large part of the image. In other cases I keep HDR off.

7. 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 also 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 like 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 I don’t recommend using the volume buttons on the side of your iPhone in low light situations.

8. 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!

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This feature is incredibly useful when you want to take 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.

I also like to use the headphones when I shoot with a tripod. Since I don’t even have to touch the iPhone, this is a great way to minimize unintentional camera movement.

In fact, I even cut the cord of an old pair of Apple headphones right after the volume control to create a dedicated remote shutter release!

9. Use Geotagging… Only If You Want To

When you enable geotagging, you’ll always know where you took a particular photo. Can’t remember where you took that incredible landscape photo years ago? Now it’s no longer a problem since the iPhone saves that information for you.

This data can be used to display your iPhone photos on a map using software like iPhoto or Picasa, which over time will turn into an exciting database of places you’ve visited over the years. And if you ever need to find all the photos that you took in New York City, it only takes seconds!

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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.

Another reason to not use geotagging is battery life. Since the iPhone has to turn on GPS every time you take a photo, you can take significantly fewer photos on a single charge when geotagging is on. If you plan on shooting all day and you won’t have a chance to charge your iPhone, it’s best to turn geotagging off.

You can turn geotagging on and off if you go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. There you can turn all Location Services off at once, as well as enable or disable them individually. Make sure the Camera option is set to While Using (as well as the options of any other camera apps that you use) if you want to enable geotagging.

Bonus: iPhone Camera Features Video Lesson

To accompany this blog post I’ve recorded an in-depth video explaining 7 hidden iPhone camera features that every photographer should use. In this video lesson you’re going to see advanced tips and hands-on instructions for using the techniques you learned about in this article. 

If you also want to take incredible photos with your iPhone, please join 138,712 subscribers who receive our free iPhone photography email tips that you won’t find anywhere on this website.

  • Faye

    Good tips! I need to practice using focus and exposure more. Thanks, Emil.

  • Neha

    Great tips… Very useful .

  • gsingh

    Great tips, especially using the earphone volume button to take the pic and manual focus

    • Thank you, these are great features that people should use more often!

    • La Mo

      Dear Emil,
      It is a very useful tip that I never see about iPhone photography. I’m just start it a few months ago bit love it so much. I use DSLR for many years special for landscape and Macro but now start. With iPhone because I have no money to buy expensive gears.
      Here you are my photo of macro, with iPhone 5S and iPhone app, please advice.

  • Linda Apple

    I have to say, your blog ROCKS! I cruse though a lot of blogs, but I park at yours. Thank you again and again!

    • That’s a great compliment Linda, thank you! I’ll do what I can to make it even better in the future.

  • Emmichelle Salazar

    Your every article about iphonephotography brings new ideas and knowledge to me. Thank you ao much Sir Emil.

  • Alakowe

    Just learning you can lock the focus.thanks.

    • Happy to hear that, it’s a great little-known feature!

  • Waleed

    For those who want to enjoy more and more focus and exposure, should use “Procamera 7” app which is also recommended by Emil. I love that app. As it allows u to set the exposure and focus manually so easily and perfect way 🙂

    • That or Camera+, both are great. This article was about the native camera app, but these apps are great for people who want even more control over their images.

  • Gwyn

    Awesome! So glad to learn about the focus/exposure lock.

  • Mojo Bazaar

    I see the functionality of my iPhone 5’s camera in a whole different mindscape. I’m addicted to iPhonography and utilize it moreso for my business’s merchandise photography. Can’t wait to use these tips! Thanks mate!

    • Thanks Mojo, happy to hear that! For merchandise you also want to have bright, dissolved light and use a tripod to avoid any camera shake.

  • Bonvivantgal

    Thank you so much for your tips…! I use my iphone to take food pics for my restaurant & now I feel you opened many, new possibilities for making them awesome..& scrumptious !!

    • Thanks, happy to hear that! For food make sure yo have bright, dissolved light and use a tripod to avoid any camera shake.

  • John Heggaton

    Hey Emil, great tips, #5 is probably my favourite

    • #5 is definitely useful, people should use it more often.

    • Zemira A. Bianchi

      I agree. Thanks Emil!

  • Rao

    Good more usefull thank u

  • shrutika

    this is certainly useful. Thank you so much emil 🙂

  • Great article Emil!

  • Roman Ivanov

    Thank you for advices)

  • Mark

    Cool tips. Didn’t kno you can lock focus and exposure settings. Useful to kno.

    • Thanks Mark, it’s a great “hidden” feature of the camera app.

  • vinayak thakar

    Thanks for good tips,shall follow.

  • Stuart Guest

    Thanks Emil. I will definitely use burst mode more so I increase my chances of capturing that perfect moment. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Stuart! Burst mode is great, and now it’s super easy to quickly select your favorites and discard everything else.

  • Cecilia Dinio-Durkin

    Great tips! I will share and subscribe

  • amyfrenchink

    Great tips! I will be back. Pretty much daily, I predict.

  • Susan

    More awesome tips. I love using the headphones to take shots when I need to keep the phone still.

    • Thanks Susan, that’s a great technique that I really use a lot!

  • Susan

    Also thanks so much for sharing that you can access the iPhones’s camera simply by “swiping up” the small camera icon (which I’d never ever noticed before) at the bottom right hand of the iPhone screen at any time (even when your phone is “locked.” Absolutely brilliant.

    • That little trick is often the difference between missing a shot or not 🙂

  • Neago

    hello, thanks for tips!
    How can i maintain the edited photos (with effects) and copy them onto my laptop?
    Each time i copy those photos i find only the original ones
    Any clue?

  • khentouchthis

    I’m really surprised to find out that you can lock exposure and focus on the stock camera! Thanks for the tip 😀

    • Awesome, happy to hear you learned something new from this article 🙂

  • Jeffrey Ramos

    Thanks emil! I just started iPhone Photography last month and i can say that all my photos were based from your tutorials..though, still have a lot to learn.. so keep it comin’ bro:)

    • I’ll try my best, though I’m really busy with the Academy right now 🙂

  • Daniil

    Latvia? My country featured here? Baffled…. Also great article!

  • Soo

    #5 is a great tip. #8 sounds good too, but I didn’t like the example of using it as a sneaky way to take photos of people who might not want their photos taken. If it’s not a group shot and the person is identifiable, I usually ask if it is alright to take a photo of them, especially if there are children involved. Please respect others’ rights to not have their image taken.

    • 71Magi

      Thanks for posting that, my thoughts exactly, I was surprised being sneaky was included in photo tips.

    • Soo

      I realize taking photos of people in general often helps make your photography more interesting. That said, I used to work for a community magazine and every recognizable person in my photos that were not in crowd scenes had to give permission to be published. It’s only right to get someone’s permission if you’re going to put their image in print and online.

      Even now, on my blog, I try to continue doing that. There will be some that got away, such as the man in Nicaragua riding the ox as our shuttle went by, but, I did get the okay to take photos of children in Guatemala, vendors in Costa Rica and celebrating Panamanians, etc.

      If you don’t have permission, consider taking profiles or other shots that don’t infringe on their privacy. Also, tilt-shifting works well in blurring faces and surroundings to add some mystery or focus!

    • Deborah Polley

      Sometimes you may need to…if I were taking photos of someone being violent or committing a crime, I sure wouldn’t want to ask them permission first.

    • Soo

      I was referring to photography in general. Of course, the two situations you mention would be the exceptions.

  • Very good article, Thank you dear Emil

  • Ron.Pia

    THank you for great tips. Number 2 & 3 have my interest as I take photos of animals. Lately my shots have lost sharpness since loading IOS 8, especially shooting indoors. I think it’s me more than the camera. Suffering from subject movement and low light. You have given me some ideas to experiment with.

    • Happy to hear you found these tips useful 🙂

  • Chantel

    This was very helpful

    • Glad to hear you found it useful Chantel 🙂

  • deni2s

    Paldies, Emīl!

  • waw4

    Great tips! I learned so much! Thank you Faye!

  • Kanik Raj

    Superb article with awesome tips..
    Any free app u suggest the best??

    • Snapseed is one of the best free photo editing apps.VSCO Cam also has a great selection of free filters as well as adjustment tools.

    • Kanik Raj

      Thank u so much for suggesting those apps Kate., i wud like to knw the best app to manage the photos as well Kate pls..

    • I like to use the native Photos app to create albums and organize my photos: http://iphonephotographyschool.com/photo-albums/

      The Cleen app is good for mass deleting of images: http://iphonephotographyschool.com/cleen-app/

      Hope that helps 🙂

    • Kanik Raj

      It definitely helped Kate.. thank you so much 🙂

  • Aldair

    I’ve always had an iPhone and I’ve always bought cameras separately cause i though the iPhone camera was not good enough to take a good picture, i feel like i have a lot to learn. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ram Sabarish

    Thanks Emil , ryte now i understand how important burst mode .

  • Larry Moran

    Emil… When taking photos of my computer screen (on MacBook Pro), why do I get moire patterns on some photos but not on others?

  • Larry Moran

    When cutting cord to make dedicated remote trigger from old earpods, do you tape the cut end or is that unnecessary? I want to use for taking macro photos using Camera +.

  • John Gregory Wyman

    Thank you for the most helpful tutorial!

  • This article helped me a ton. Started off photography illiterate and was mainly just point and shoot. The focus lock alone is a big improvement. Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Ryan. Glad you found this helpful 🙂

  • tip #4 and #5! 🙂 thank you for this useful guide.

  • Barry Steil

    is there any way to impose a date on the photo. Legal types need to have date stamp on photos

  • Sam Nipius

    Wow. I found this article randomly through Google and now I see that it’s written by you! Great article Emil! How’s life?

  • Kathy

    Could you walk us through the proper way to use/set flash? I seem to always get color distortion. Thank you!

  • Gwenn

    Thank you so much. Just really started paying attention to using my iPhone 5S camera. I usually always have my Nikon with me. These are great tips for when I do not. Much appreciated.

    • So glad to hear you found these tips useful Gwenn 🙂

  • Mk Word

    Really want to improve your iPhone photos? Get the Camera+ photo app. It pioneered several of the new features you find on the regular iPhone camera, but adds several more, as well as possibly the best set of filters available. It also allows you to make full use of the 16:9 screen and shoots photos to fit. I’ve used the OME camera on various iPhones and I’ve tried a lot of the other various camera apps available … but I always come back to using Camera+.

  • Chomps Snack Sticks™

    Good stuff!

  • Roosvansia Sipahutar

    Nice… Thanks for sharing.

  • Fuad Efendi

    What about “How to use optical zoom” and “How and when to use digital zoom”? I cannot find. Thanks for excellent article!

  • boomeractivist

    very good help on how to use the iPhone to best advantage

    • Happy to hear you found this helpful 🙂

  • I have had iPhones for years & didn’t know half of these options existed – thanks for sharing such useful tips!

    • It’s amazing what great features are hidden away within these apps isn’t it! Glad you found this useful Becky 🙂

  • Tia

    I had no idea that I could use the headphones as a remote! Very helpful tip, thank you!

    • Laine Rudolfa

      I’m happy to hear that you found the headphones tip useful, Tia! 🙂