9 iPhone Camera Effects: How To Use Them For More Creative Photos

Is iPhone photography still just a point-and-shoot deal for you? If so, you’re really missing out. The native iPhone camera app is loaded with awesome effects which can lift your photography above the normal, everyday kind of photography most people produce. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about each of the built-in iPhone camera effects so you can use them to improve your iPhone photography.

Live photos effects long exposure

The iPhone’s native camera app is where it all begins – the default location for taking pictures with your iPhone. Start here with your device turned horizontally (landscape) or vertically (portrait) and you’re ready to go. Now, let’s explore each of the iPhone camera effects in turn.

1. Use 2x Telephoto Zoom To Get Closer To Your Subject

The first of the iPhone camera effects we’ll look at is zoom. If you have an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus, or an iPhone X, you can enjoy the benefit of optical zoom. That’s because these devices have two rear-facing cameras. One has a wide-angle lens, and the other has a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom.

With optical zoom, you can bring your subject twice as close without losing any image quality.

Iphone camera effects 1 zoom

With digital zoom, you’re merely enlarging the pixels from the original image, resulting in reduced image quality. So, after 2x zoom, the more you zoom, the more quality you’ll lose.

If you want to get closer to your subject, move physically closer and/or use the 2x optical zoom option. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Camera app and swipe to Photo.
  2. Tap on the 1x button and you will quickly see the 2x view. Tap and hold that 2x button and you can swipe left to increase the zoom up to 10x, or you can swipe right to decrease it. When you’re anywhere between 1x and 2x (with a dual-lens iPhone), you won’t lose any image quality. When you go above 2x, you will begin to lose that quality.
  3. To return to 1x, tap the 2x button.

Iphone camera effects 14 zoom

One important thing to know about iPhones with dual rear-facing lenses is that even though they have a 2x telephoto lens, they don’t always use it!

This is because, in low light conditions, the iPhone may decide it’s better to continue using the wider aperture of the wide-angle (non-telephoto) lens but with digital zoom, rather than switching to the telephoto lens. Unfortunately, you have no control over this – apart from shooting where there’s more light.

2. Light Up the Scene Using Flash

Your iPhone camera’s flash is perhaps not the most exciting of iPhone camera effects, but it definitely has its place. If you want to add some light to your image, look for the little lightning bolt when you’re in the Camera app. You have the choice to turn your Flash to Auto, On, or Off.

Iphone camera effects 4 portrait

The use of Flash will take some experimentation on your part. If you have an iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you’re in luck. They both utilize Slow Sync Flash.

Slow Sync Flash means your iPhone takes a photo with a slower-than-normal shutter speed while firing the flash. Because the shutter is open a bit longer, the background is exposed for longer, making it brighter. The flash helps to freeze the subject, but it’s still important to have your subject keep fairly still.

3. Create Long Exposures (And More) With Live Photo iPhone Camera Effects

You can get really creative and have a lot of fun with one of the most powerful iPhone camera effects – Live Photo mode. It’s available to those with an iPhone 6s or later. This option allows you to record the 1.5 seconds before and after you take an image.

So what does that mean for your photos? By having this feature activated, you can see your still images come to life with motion and sound. In essence, you have access to a three-second video, as well as a still photo.

To turn on this feature:

  1. Open the Camera app.
  2. Swipe to Photo mode and tap the Live Photo icon. It looks like a target and it will turn yellow when it’s on.
  3. Take a picture.

This is where the fun begins. If you have iOS 11 or later, you can apply a Live Photo effect.

  1. Open your Photos app and select the Live Photo.
  2. Swipe up until you see Effects.
  3. Select from Loop, Bounce, or Long Exposure.

With Loop, as the name suggests, you can turn your Live Photo into a video loop.

Bounce makes your Live Photo move back and forth.

Long Exposure is the most exciting of the Live Photo features. It creates an effect that used to be possible only with a long-exposure app or a DSLR/mirrorless camera.

live photos long exposure

Experiment with traffic at dusk or at night or fireworks in the night sky to capture light trails. Apply it to a waterfall or any body of water to give it that silky smooth appearance.

Live photos effects long exposure

If you want these Live Photo effects to look their best, use a tripod to keep your iPhone as steady as possible.

live photos long exposure

4. Try A Filter To Change The Mood

Filters are the most commonly used of the iPhone camera effects. There are a number of filters built into your iPhone camera. You can make subtle changes to your image before you even take the picture.

Iphone camera effects 11 filter

To get started, launch the Camera app. You’ll see three overlapping white circles on your screen. Tap on them to access a number of “looks” you can apply to your image before you shoot. The circles turn red, green, and blue when one of the filters is activated.

You have nine choices that will change the mood of the image. Aside from the obvious Original appearance, you can make your image more vivid, more dramatic, or remove the color altogether with Mono, Silvertone, or Noir.

Ideally, you should shoot without any applied filter. Then, if you want to use one of these filters later, you can do that. However, even if you do shoot with a filter applied, it’s good to know that you can remove the filter afterward, or switch to a different filter.

Always remember to use filters sparingly. Concentrate on taking good pictures first, then apply a filter to see if it provides the subtle enhancement or mood you envisioned.

5. Use HDR To Balance Your Exposure

HDR (high-dynamic range) blends the best parts of three separate exposures into a single photo. So if you want to automatically provide a more balanced exposure when you’re taking a picture in a high-contrast scene, turn on the Auto HDR feature on your iPhone.

Iphone camera effects 9 no hdr

The photo above shows how the iPhone camera has exposed for the relatively dark subject, causing the bright highlights above the subject to be blown out, capturing no detail in that region of the photo.

Compare this with the photo below, where HDR has been used. The iPhone automatically took three photos in quick succession and used the best-exposed regions of each photo to create a single image which has a much more balanced exposure and no lost detail.

Iphone camera effects 5 hdr

Here’s how to enable HDR:

  1. Go to your Settings and select Camera.
  2. Scroll down and you will see a section for HDR.
  3. Activate Auto HDR.
  4. You can also choose to save the original “normal” photo in addition to the HDR version by activating the Keep Normal Photo option.

6. Condense A Long Event With Time-Lapse

Have you ever wanted to create a video of a sunrise or sunset? Like, the whole thing — from darkness to daylight or dusk to dark? This is where Time-Lapse mode can come in handy, and it’s one of the more fun iPhone camera effects.

The entire process is quite simple, but you will need to keep your iPhone perfectly still, so get a tripod or place your iPhone somewhere it won’t move.

  1. Find the ideal landscape you want to capture. Make sure you treat this part as if you were taking a picture. Be sure everything in the viewfinder is properly composed, allowing for the location of the sun’s rising or setting.
  2. Swipe to Time-Lapse mode and tap the red button to start recording.
  3. Once your event has ended (e.g. the sun has set or risen), press the shutter button again to stop the time-lapse.

Time-Lapse can be used on anything you want, not just sunrises and sunsets.

For instance, you could attach your iPhone to the dashboard of your car and record your daily commute to work.

7. Use Slo-Mo To Highlight Movement

When you want to emphasize movement and really show the details behind some motion, the Slo-Mo feature is what you need. Depending on what kind of iPhone you have — from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone X — you can go from 720p at 120 fps (frames per second) to 1080p HD at 240 fps.

To begin recording, open the Camera app and swipe to Slo-Mo. Then start recording just like you would any video. With Slo-Mo, however, you’re shooting video with more frames per second. This way, you can slow down specific parts later.

Here’s how to edit your Slo-Mo video:

  1. Launch the Photos app.
  2. Find the Slo-Mo video you want to edit.
  3. Tap the Edit menu button at the top of your screen.
  4. Look at the slow-motion portion of the video in the timeline, represented by some “sliders” to the left and right.
  5. Drag these sliders to the points where you want the video to move in and out of slow motion.
  6. Once you’re happy with your selections, tap Done.

Whenever you want to record a video, consider Slo-Mo to emphasize certain parts. For instance, if you’re recording your child or pet running, maybe you will want to slow it down when they take a leap over a puddle to emphasize that athletic action.

8. Create Beautiful, Professional Portraits

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8 Plus, or iPhone X, you can enjoy using Portrait Mode to capture beautiful portraits with a blurred background.

iphone 8 vs iphone x

There are a few things to remember to make sure you get the best results, however.

Keep The Proper Distance From Your Subject

When you open the Camera app and swipe to Portrait mode, an on-screen prompt tells you whether you’re at an acceptable distance or not. If you’re too close or too far away, the camera lets you know.

Keep It Simple

Whatever you’re taking a picture of — a person, your pet, an inanimate object — keep it simple. If your subject is complicated — let’s say they have strands of hair sticking out in all directions — some of that hair may blend into the background when that was not your intention.

Portrait lighting

Pay particular attention to the edges of what you want to be in focus. If you don’t like what you see, move around a bit (closer or farther away) until you get the look you want.

Add Some Light With Portrait Lighting

Portraits generally need plenty of light for the best results. When you don’t have as much light as you would like, you can always fall back on Portrait Lighting.

Portrait lighting

In Portrait Mode, you can change the lighting to make your portrait image even better. Portrait Lighting produces the effects of real studio lighting based on fundamental photographic principles using depth‑sensing cameras and facial mapping.

Iphone camera effects 13 portrait lighting

There are five available options:

  1. Natural Light is the best-case scenario for your perfect portrait. Find a well-lit area and you’re well on your way to getting great results.
  2. Studio Light is the subtle solution when you need just a bit more light on your subject’s face.
  3. Contour Light adds some dramatic shadows with highlights and lowlights.
  4. Stage Light highlights your subject’s face against a deep-black background.
  5. Stage Light Mono is simply the black-and-white version of Stage Light.

Portrait Lighting can be applied before or after you take a Portrait Mode image.

Of all the iPhone camera effects we’ve covered in this tutorial, portrait lighting feels like the effect which has a little way to go before being truly useful. We’re hoping Apple continues to develop it and iron out the problems with the two Stage lighting effects.

9. Capture The Whole Scene With Pano

The iPhone camera is already a wide-angle lens by design. But when it just isn’t wide enough to capture everything you want from left to right, try Pano Mode to include it all.

Iphone camera effects 10 pano

  1. Open the Camera app and swipe to Pano mode.
  2. You’ll notice a guide bar in the middle of the screen to help you take your photo.
  3. If you want to start your photo from the left, be sure the arrow is pointing to the right. If you want to start from the right, tap the arrow to change its direction.
  4. Tap the shutter button and slowly but steadily move your camera along the straight yellow line from one side of your shot to the next until you’re done. You’ll want to move your iPhone continuously along this line without stopping.
  5. Try to keep the arrow on the yellow guide bar. This is easier said than done. It will be much easier to get a great image if you have a steady hand as you’re moving.

Iphone camera effects 15 pano

Try a vertical pano to capture something really tall, like a tree or building. The same principles mentioned above apply, just turn your camera to the landscape position and scan vertically.

iPhone Camera Effects: Conclusion

Taking pictures with your iPhone can be as simple as opening the Camera app and snapping away. But if you want to discover the many different ways you can use your iPhone to expand your creativity and create visually stunning images, look to the variety of iPhone camera effects at your fingertips.

Use the camera’s zoom capabilities to get twice as close to your subject without losing any quality.

Experiment with Flash — especially if you have the Slow Sync Flash capabilities included with an iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X — to see if you can brighten a dark setting.

Bring your still images to life with Live Photos. Create Loop, Bounce, and stunning Long Exposure images of city streets and traffic, fireworks, waterfalls, and much more.

Apply a filter before or after you take a picture to provide an entirely different feel. Make the image more vivid, more dramatic, or create a beautiful black and white image.

Enable High-Dynamic Range (HDR) to automatically balance the brightest and darkest parts of your photos.

Use Time-Lapse to condense a long event, like a sunrise or sunset, into a brief, stunning visual. Or use Slo-Mo to emphasize the movement and focus on the details of motion.

If you have an iPhone 7 or 8 Plus, or an iPhone X, use Portrait Mode to capture beautiful images with a bokeh background. And if the lighting isn’t quite right, Portrait Lighting comes to the rescue with a variety of subtle (and not so subtle) portrait enhancements.

Finally, when you need more room to capture everything you intended in an image, use Pano mode to expand the scene horizontally or vertically.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed discovering these powerful iPhone camera effects and will now be able to put them to good use in your own iPhone photography.

  • Pradeep sagwal
    • Hi Pradeep! Yes, some people have complained about red-eye with the iPhone X. I’ve never had the problem with my iPhone X, however.

    • BeaZea

      I use the edit mode in my iPhoneX to fix redeye (top left of screen when you enter edit mode).
      I also fixed red eye with the free photoshop app (PS Express) and if both didn’t recognize the red eye (only happened to me once) I used “Retouch” to fix it. It is more difficult to fix for blue eyes but with black eyes, should be easier.

  • “Have you ever wanted to create a video of a sunrise or sunset? Like, the
    whole thing — from darkness to daylight or dusk to dark? This is where Time-Lapse mode can come in handy, and it’s one of the more fun iPhone camera effects.”
    Didn’t know this was a thing! Thanks for bringing it to my attention

  • Thanks for your better post, Please keep up.

  • Shelley Rau Long

    I have an iPhone 7 Plus, but I don’t see the Portrait Lighting as an option in the Portrait mode. Is it just for the newer models?

    • Sam

      Yes its only in iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 10

  • Don Simpson

    How can I force the fash to fire even in good light?

    • BeaZea

      click the flash button, three options will light up Auto, On and Off. Select the “On” option and the flash will shoot at any light.
      Remember, the selection will “stick” to the next time you use the camera.

  • Carole Noel

    Thank you for the updated information. I have an iPhone 7+ since when it just came out. I still have not fully utilized the features. I will now.

  • Thank you for sharing some important details about the camera of iphone, it would really help me a lot…

  • BeaZea

    Love this tutorial. It captures so much and makes things so easy to understand.