How To Take Wonderful Portrait Photos With Your iPhone

Taking photos of people is one of the most popular and enjoyable aspects of photography. The iPhone is a powerful tool for portrait photography, but there’s a big difference between taking snapshots of people and creating beautiful artistic portraits. In this tutorial you’ll discover ten great techniques for taking stunning portrait photos with your iPhone.

Karyn Teno iPhone Photos 4

Portrait photography is all about capturing the essence of the person you’re photographing. With a little bit of thought and planning, you’ll be able to take amazing portrait photos using just your iPhone.

Karyn Teno iPhone Photos 6

By following the tips below on lighting, composition, props and poses, you’ll find yourself taking beautiful and creative images that capture the personality of your subject. So let’s take a look at ten important tips for incredible iPhone portrait photography.

1. Find An Interesting Subject

Obviously the first thing you need to do in portrait photography is to find someone to take photos of. You could photograph your children, family members, friends, and even strangers for candid street portraits. Pets also make great subjects for portraits.

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When I first started getting interested in portrait photography, my daughter helped me by being my model so that I could practice different techniques. That first learning experience helped me feel more comfortable taking creative photos of my younger children.

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Asking a friend to model for you is a great way of getting practice when starting out with portrait photography. It gives you a chance to try out different techniques, poses and lighting until you find what works best.

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2. Shoot In The Best Light

Lighting has to be one of the most important factors in portrait photography. The best kind of light for indoor portraits is diffused window light. Using a window produces a beautiful rich directional light with diffused colors from whatever is reflected in it.

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To enhance and reflect more of the light on the subject, you can also use a light board. It could be a piece of white poster board placed out of the frame to help boost the natural surrounding light.

Don’t use the camera’s flash because it creates harsh shadows. Having the right amount of natural light helps ensure that the photo is crisp and clean, rather than grainy and possibly blurry.

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I have at times had my daughter move her clothing or her hair to have a somewhat blurred effect for artistic reasons. It’s a personal choice.

When shooting portraits outdoors, it’s best to work when the sun is low in the sky. The golden hours of early morning or late evening before sunset are perfect. Overcast skies are also really nice for portraits because you can shoot at any time of day.

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In bright sunlight when there are no clouds in the sky you’ll need to watch for harsh shadows which are very unflattering, and the bright sunlight can cause your subject to squint – this isn’t usually a good time of day for portrait photography.

3. Find A Suitable Setting

Explore your area to find interesting places to take portraits. Keep your setting simple and uncluttered so that your subject remains the focal point. This is especially important if you’re taking a portrait of a group.

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A muted background keeps the photo from becoming too cluttered and messy. Make sure your subject is wearing something that complements the color of the background so that they stand out.

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If you’re shooting portraits indoors, the ideal place to position the person is next to a window or entrance so that you have plenty of natural light illuminating your subject.

4. Think About Composition

When framing or composing your shot, keep in mind that you don’t need to center your subject. Usually the portrait is more interesting if the subject is off to the side. Using the rule of thirds will help you position your subject off-centre.

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You can frame your subject using a natural frame such as a doorway or window. If you’re photographing outdoors, look for trees or bushes that can naturally frame your subject.

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Use leading lines to draw the viewer to your subject if possible. A ray of light, or an arm or hand under a chin can provide subtle leading lines in your image. In the photo below the lines of the blinds lead from the foreground of the image towards the main subject.

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Train your eyes to find interesting places that add to the overall composition of the photo. Look out for natural frames and leading lines, and think about where you position your subject within the scene to draw the most attention to them.

5. Focus On The Eyes

When taking a portrait photo, it’s best to shoot just slightly above the eye line so that the eyes are wide and open. Make sure you focus on the eyes of your subject because this is the most expressive part of the face and it’s where the viewer will look first.

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Usually a photographer will focus on the eye closest to the camera for the sharpest focal point. First, make sure you hold your iPhone very still, and then tap on the screen where the eyes of your subject are to set the focus.

After setting focus, you may need to use the exposure slider to ensure that the face is properly exposed. Swipe your finger up or down the screen to adjust the amount of exposure that you want.

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Sometimes I like to try to capture a bit of light or gleam in my subject’s eyes from the light source – these are called catchlights. It makes the eyes have more dimension, depth and sparkle. Your subject will look more alive if you capture the catchlights in their eyes.

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6. Experiment With Different Perspectives

As the photographer, you can experiment with different perspectives or angles to create unique and creative portraits that tell a story. Try standing, kneeling, stooping or laying on your belly to get the right perspective for your subject.

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When photographing children, get down on their level so that you can engage them and keep them interested. Remember that when your camera is positioned lower than the subject, they will look stronger and larger than life.

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Alternatively, shooting from above the subject will make them look smaller and more vulnerable. It all depends on the mood you’re trying to convey through your portrait as to which angle works best.

7. Use Props To Add Interest

Using props can help to draw out a more realistic expression of the person, rather than a stiff unnatural pose. Try to get your subject, especially children, interested in their surroundings so that their smiles and expressions are more natural.

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Sometimes a prop can help the person feel more comfortable and at ease in front of the camera. My children play instruments so I like to have them holding or playing them.

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8. Think About Your Subject’s Pose

Most of the portraits I take are usually posed, but a few are candid shots. Think about what you want your subject doing to best convey their particular personality.

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When photographing your subject, have them sit, stand, kneel or lean on a tree. Explore all the options for the best and most engaging portrait.

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A portrait can seem lifeless when the subject is just looking straight at the camera. Get creative!

9. Capture Your Subject’s Personality

A good portrait photographer knows how to pull out the personality of their subject. Keep your comments positive and affirming so that the person doesn’t feel intimidated in front of the camera. Talk to them about things they’re interested in to get them to feel more comfortable.

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Another thing to remember is that your subject doesn’t always need to be smiling. Pure emotion pulls in the viewer and tugs at the heartstrings.

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Notice the portrait of my son looking through the window below. I used the condensation on the window to engage his curiosity, which elicited a more natural expression.

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Timing is important as well as taking a lot of shots. This will allow you to pick out the best photo where your subject has the perfect pose and expression.

10. Shoot And Edit For A Particular Style

Before you take your portrait photos, try to imagine what you want the final image to look like. Then ensure you use the appropriate lighting, exposure and editing techniques to achieve your desired result.

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Most of the time portraits need only a light edit in order to keep the skin tones looking soft and natural. But you can use a variety of apps such as Snapseed, VSCO Cam, Faded and Mextures to add filters for a more dramatic feel.

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There are many kinds of portrait edits, but I especially enjoy taking high key portraits. They are very easy to achieve and produce a very light and airy ambience. Use bright diffused window light and adjust the brightness/exposure by swiping up on the screen after setting the focus.

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You can adjust the exposure even further in post-processing using an app such as Snapseed. Making other adjustments for saturation and contrast can also be done.

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In low key portraiture the exposure is adjusted to darken the photo and creates a more moody tone where the lighter areas stand out. You can further enhance this using exposure settings in post-processing apps.

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Other techniques for natural textures and simulated filters are achieved by shooting through things such as a dirty window, window screen, or a sheer curtain. You can further enhance textures using an app such as Mextures.

By taking a little time to envision and plan your shot, these techniques will help you to get the best portrait shots possible with your iPhone.

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It turns out that there are specific things that anyone can do to take incredible iPhone photos. That's why we've created this video revealing 7 little-known tricks for taking incredible iPhone photos that everyone adores. Click here to watch this video.

  • Thanks for these great portrait photography tips Karyn! You capture your subjects in such amazing light and the images really convey their personality 🙂

    • Karyn

      Very kind of you, Kate! Thank you:)

    • Guest

      Thank you, Kate! I appreciate your kindness!

  • Cachorro12

    Very good write-up, loved the examples, it shows that the tips provided really work. Thanks for sharing

    • Karyn

      Thank you! I’m so glad this was helpful!

  • Terry

    Very nice shots and great advice! Do you use a lens attachment for some close ups? Do you have a favorite?

    • Karyn

      Hello, Terry! Thank you for your kind comment! I don’t use any lens attachment, the closeups are the result of great light! I’m not sure I have a favorite, but I do especially like the shot of my sleeping son:)

  • This is a wonderful tutorial with great examples. Thank you Karyn!

    • Karyn

      Thank you so much, Emil:)

  • Faye

    A very informative tutorial with beautiful photos! Thanks for all of the great tips.

    • Karyn

      Hi, Faye! I’m so glad you enjoyed the tutorial, and I hope you can use some of the tips! Thank you:)

  • Susan Ogden

    Hi! thanks so much for the tips on iPhone portraits…these are fabulous! One thing…i have the iPhone 5s and i do not seem to have the “exposure slider” after tapping the screen for focus…such as on the eyes…is it that i am not finding it or not on the iPhone 5S?? Thanks again for this great set of tips!!

    • Karyn

      Hi, Susan, thank you for your kind comment! You should have that on your 5s because that’s what I shoot with. It may take a bit of practice to use and you’ve got to be sure to tap the screen to set the focus before you can actually swipe and slide the exposure. I hope this helps, let me know:)

  • Hector Garcia

    These are great tips. Thanks. I found myself taking shots of my two dogs playing in the snow last night at 11 pm (we live in Dallas – so it’s very unusual) and the light bouncing off the snow at night created a great look.

    • Karyn

      Hector, that sounds wonderful! Snow is always a nice light for photos! Thank you for your comment!

  • Richard Avalos

    Love your tips Emil…now if I can just get busy taking some shots of my family! 🙂 any tips for photographing baby’s?

    • Karyn

      Thank you, Richard! There are so many ways to photograph babies. Indirect window light is a nice soft light for infants.

  • sarawelder

    Karyn, your portraits are exceptional and I found the tips helpful. You have very photogenic children!

    • Karyn

      Aw, thank you very much, Sara! I’m so glad the tips are helpful!

  • WONDERFUL tips for me to greatly improve my images. THANKS for sharing your help and your beautiful photography.

    • Karyn

      Many thanks, Chris! I’m so glad these tips were helpful!

  • Wyder Tutiven

    I’m new to the community and think it’s great! My biggest take away to these tips is how to leverage natural lighting to your advantage instead of spending too much time editing…TY Karen..

    • Karyn

      Yes, natural light is wonderful for portrait photograpy! Thank you, Wyder!

  • adamswench

    i love all you are teaching me. thank you Karen thank you..

    • Karyn

      I really appreciate your kind comment, so happy the tips are helpful:)

  • simirani

    Excellent tips!.. Thank u for sharing

    • Karyn

      Thank you so very much!!

  • Thank you Karen. Thank you for sharing your wonderful tips and your beautiful photography.

    • Karyn

      Thank you, Rosa:) I appreciate your kind comment!

  • ZayarLinn

    The best shot!

    • Karyn

      Thank you!

  • Sue

    Your creativity and awesome tips inspire me to test out portraits. Thank you Karyn!!! Thank you Emil!

    • Karyn

      Oh, wonderful, Sue! I hope you enjoy taking portraits as much as I do!

  • ACelticDragon

    Some wonderful advice here. Will have to test some of these tips out. 🙂

  • Randolph Haack

    Beautiful photographs, and thank you for this very helpful article! Since you don’t use add on lenses, I am at a loss for how you can get so close to your subject without the wide-angle distortion that I inevitably end up with when attempting the same.

    • Laine Rudolfa

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Randolph! 🙂 The trick here is to shoot a photo from a distance that doesn’t involve any distortion and then crop the image afterwards. If you’re shooting in a good light, you can still get great quality photo even after cropping. 🙂

    • Randolph Haack

      Aha, I see. Thank you for the clarification Laine. I recently discovered that the Camera+ app’s “Macro” feature can also be used for portraits. Armed with both methods, I shall no longer have an excuse for all my subjects looking like donkeys! 🙂

  • Swathi Chandrashekar

    Is iphone 5s camera sufficient or is it better with lens? If lenses, which ones are better?

  • thank you for sharing these wonderful tips …I already enjoy playing with light that’s the beauty of photography

  • Jan Peterson


  • Herman Drost

    What’s the best way to shoot a portrait of myself so it looks really clear in a thumbnail image on YouTube or Google? The Iphone images of myself are not so clear when reduced to 320 pixels (thumbnail size)

  • Ju

    How do you convert a landscape photo to portrait without altering the composition of the photo on an iphone?