iPhone Photography for Beginners: Camera Basics

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How good are smartphones? So good, in fact, that they pretty much contain our whole lives. We talk, chat, get social, do our banking, surf the net, organize our diaries, watch videos, movies, tv, order food, read the news, get directions…and that’s just part of it. And for anyone who isn’t a pro photographer, our phones have pretty much replaced the trusty old point & shoot camera. I mean, why carry an extra piece of equipment when you can get the same, if not better, results with your phone?

The iPhone camera is actually pretty nifty, when you get to know its features well. It has a range of orientations, filters & editing options that can all enhance your final image. Let me take you through the basics.

Turning on the Grid

iPhone Photography for Beginners: Camera Basics

Your grid is the white lines that appear in your frame when you open your camera app, splitting your image into nine squares (3x3). Turning on your grid is super important for framing & composition, and I highly recommend you have this turned on at all times. It’s not an automatic feature though, so you have to manually activate it like so:

From the home screen of your phone, hit Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid

I will be going into detail in another blog post about composition & why your grid is important, so stay tuned for that one down the track!

Your Basic Features

When you open your camera app, you will notice several icons across the top of your screen.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: Camera Basics

To your far left is the Flash, represented by a little lightening bolt. If this has a cross through it, it means your flash is turned off and will not activate even in low light. If there is no cross through it and it has turned yellow, it means it is turned on and will activate every time you take a photo. You can set it to automatically use the flash only when the camera determines the light is too low by tapping the icon and selecting ‘Auto.’ My whole-hearted recommendation is to always keep your flash OFF. The flash lighting is harsh & never looks natural, so where possible ALWAYS use natural light. See examples below - on the left is with natural light, and the right is with flash. Yuck.

Next up is your HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range. What this is supposed to do is merge a higher & lower exposure to capture as much detail in the highlights & shadows as possible, making for a high quality image. Below are two examples – on the left is with HDR turned OFF, and on the right is with HDR turned ON. There is some visible difference in colour capture (note the white of the book is brighter and the pink strip is slightly more vibrant), but overall there is not a huge difference really. I do imagine that it would have a much bigger impact when shooting outdoors and for portrait photography. Set it to auto, and let it do its thing.

Next to your HDR is a funny circular button with three rings – this is your Live setting. Live is actually a pretty cool little feature if you can use it effectively! Live is essentially an animated photo, and when turned on it will capture 1.5 seconds of footage before and after you take your still, so what you end up with is something like a GIF.  They’re quite fun to play with, but keep it turned off unless you really want to use it for something or you’ll burn through your storage like no one’s business (they take up a LOT of space!). It only has the two settings, on & off, and you tap the icon to toggle between them.

After that you have your Timer button. Pretty self-explanatory. Use it for when you need to be in the frame, and need a delay between setting up the shot & the shutter releasing so you can get your pretty face in there. The iPhone has two timer options, a 3 second delay and a 10 second delay (that’s pretty standard for most cameras, my Canon is the same). Again, simply tap the icon to select your option.

The three grey circles to the far right are your in-camera Filters. You can choose a filter before you take a pic, so you can see what the end result would be like before snapping. Just tap the icon every time you want to change your filter, and select ‘None’ when you want to revert to a normal setting. Check out filters & results below!

 All of the filters available for iPhone.

All of the filters available for iPhone.

Filters below are (clockwise from top left): Noir, Chrome, Transfer & Filter. How good is Chrome?!

Functions & Framing Options

Below your frame is another set of options. Automatically, your camera will open on ‘Photo’. This is the default setting of a rectangular portrait or landscape aspect (depending on how you hold your phone).

iPhone Photography for Beginners: Camera Basics

Stills Options

Use your finger to swipe through the options from side to side. Swipe left, and you have all your stills photo options. The next option is ‘Square’. This will change your framing from portrait to a perfect square, which is ideal for Instagram. Swipe left again, and you get ‘Pano,’ your panoramic option. It will prompt you to scan your phone from left to right. Do so slowly, keeping the arrow on the centre line, and when you’re done capturing your panorama, hit the shutter release button again and voila – panoramic image!

 Low tide at St Kilda Beach, Melbourne. This is only half of the scene that your Pano function can capture, I just ran out of pretty scenery!

Low tide at St Kilda Beach, Melbourne. This is only half of the scene that your Pano function can capture, I just ran out of pretty scenery!

Video Options

Swiping right gives you all your video options. Option one is straight ‘Video’ – tap the red shutter release button once and it will start recording. Simply tap it again and it stops. You will see the timer at the top of your screen so you know how long your recording has been running.

Hot Tip: Instagram now allows up to 30 seconds of video, in case you didn’t know. It used to be 15 seconds, and lots of people still think it is!

Swipe right again, and you get ‘Slo-Mo,’ or slow-motion for the uninitiated. Take a quick video in this function and it automatically slows the footage down throughout the middle part of the video. You can adjust where slo-mo starts & stops after the fact, but I’ll go into this further in a future tutorial (but check out my seagulls – this is post-edit).

And finally, you have a ‘Time-Lapse’ option, which is essentially the opposite of slow motion! The idea is to take a long recording with a lot of footage, and then speed the whole thing up. Time lapse videos are great for shooting things like recipes, styling set ups and craft projects – activities that in reality take a lot of time, but where you want to show the process and end result in a short, how-to type video. You will need to set up your phone on some kind of tripod or holder where it won’t move, but again, I’ll go into more detail in a further tutorial. Time lapses are super fun to play with!

Preview & Camera options

The last two features we are going to look at as part of Camera Basics are the two either side of your shutter release. To the left, you have your preview option. Tap it, and the last photo or video you took will appear on your screen. You then have the option of sharing it, flagging it as a favourite, editing it, or deleting it. You can go through all the photos you have taken by swiping right and left. If you want to leave it for now, simply tap ‘Camera’ at top left and it will take you back to shooting mode. Tapping on ‘Photos’ in top right will open the Photos app which is where all your albums are stored.

iPhone Photography for Beginners: Camera Basics

Hot Tip: Every week or so, open your Photos app from the home screen, tap ‘Albums’ on the bottom right of the screen, and scroll through until you find the album ‘Recently Deleted’. Click into it, and you will see a whole bunch of pics / videos that you thought you deleted…only you didn’t really! Tap ‘Select’ on the top right of the screen, then ‘Delete All’ on the bottom left. It will then prompt you to ‘Delete X Items.’ Click on that, and it will empty that folder, freeing up valuable storage space on your phone and permanently banishing your terrible drunk selfies!!

Finally, to the right of your shutter release is a little camera icon with two circular arrows in the middle. Tapping this will toggle you between cameras – the one at the back of your phone (when you’re taking pics of other people and things), and the one in the front (for when you want to take a selfie). Little known fact though…did you know that the camera in the BACK of your phone is of a much higher quality than the one in the front? That’s why your lunch and beach pics are generally so much nicer than your grainy selfies! Of course, light quality has a LOT to do with how well your pics come out, but still…interesting!

So that wraps up Tutorial 1 for iPhone Photography for Beginners! While a lot of that might be fairly elementary for you and are things you already know, bear with me. I am laying the foundations for some cool stuff you probably DON’T know about what you can do with your iPhone camera, and ways you can take your photography to the next level without investing in expensive equipment! I’m going to go into detail about in-phone editing, advanced features, external editing apps, composition, and lots more! Click the button below to sign up and we’ll keep you in the loop!

Happy snapping!

Karli xx

Important: Please note that these tutorials are based on the functions available on an iPhone 6S. Earlier models may not contain some of the functionality discussed here, and iPhone 7 and above will have newer features & alternative ways to access them.