Everyone wants to take better pictures, and that especially reigns true for iPhone owners. Widely regarded as being one of the best smartphones you can buy if you care about camera quality, it’s common to see some excellent pictures marked “Shot on iPhone” shared on social media and wonder how you can amp up your photography game.
And here’s the good news: it’s actually pretty simple to take your iPhone pictures up a few notches, and it’s all about knowing what its cameras are capable of, along with the extra hardware you can mix in to achieve something worth framing.
Check out our tips below to get the most out of your iPhone’s camera and take some truly breathtaking photographs.
Swipe up for more control
It’s the worst-kept secret among iPhone users: There’s an easier way to access those extra controls people use to fine-tune their photos before shooting them.
Instead of tapping the downward-facing arrow at the top of the app, you can simply swipe up on the viewfinder. You’ll then see a suite of extra controls that will give you more granular control over how your pictures look. There’s flash settings, Night mode, Photographic Styles (more on those later), aspect ratio settings, exposure controls, a timer, color filters and a RAW toggle.
These will all come in handy when perfecting your scene before capturing a photo, so you’ll likely find yourself swiping up more often than you think.
Change your perspective
This seems pretty obvious, but sometimes shifting where your camera is pointing can help you get a better photo.
Try crouching down and looking up at the subject you’re trying to capture, or walk around it and see where the light hits it best. It’s also worth experimenting with different lighting and perspectives to capture the best-looking photo you can, especially when it comes to things like food and portraits.
Adjust your exposure
If you find your subject too bright or overblown by natural light, you can adjust your exposure in one of two ways.
The easiest way is to tap to focus on the subject you’re capturing, then slide up or down on the sun icon that’s presented on the right side of the box. This will bring exposure levels up or down and give you much more control over how the scene in front of you looks.
The second way is to swipe up on the viewfinder and locate the exposure settings (typically the fifth or six icon, depending on the iPhone you have). From there, you can swipe left or right to bring exposure levels up or down.
Get a grid
One of our favorite tools for taking pictures on an iPhone is using a grid, which helps tremendously when centering a subject. By going to Settings > Camera and visiting the Composition section, you can enable a 3-inch-by-3-inch grid, which will give you an idea of where to position your subject in the frame.
Add a blurry background with Portrait mode
When taking a photo of a person, adding a soft and blurry background can add a dramatic and artistic touch to your pictures.
Portrait mode can be accessed by swiping left on your iPhone’s viewfinder or by tapping “Portrait” in the mode switcher. From there, you can center your subject with your grid and add a soft, faded background to your photo. There are also a handful of other portrait settings for different lighting conditions, including some that will black out your subject’s background and make them much more prominent in the finished photo.
It’s a great tool to play with and utilize when you really want to add a professional touch.
Go deeper in your editing process
Speaking of a professional touch, to really master how your photo will look before it’s ready for posting, consider taking a RAW photograph.
Modern iPhones are capable of taking pictures in the RAW format, which captures much more information about the scene in front of you and yields a larger file size as a result. Because there’s so much more information collected when compared to a typical JPEG or HEIC file, editing programs like Adobe Lightroom and Pixelmater Pro can add much more fine-tuned adjustments to your photos, and you’ll gain more control over how the end product looks.
Apple’s own editing tools in the Photos app on the iPhone can also get a better grip on how your picture will look so long as it’s a RAW image you’re editing. You’ll likely want to delete the RAW file after you’ve saved a more efficient copy since they can gobble up your phone’s storage over time, but it’s nonetheless a very handy tool if you want to kick your post-capture game up a notch.
On iPhone Pro models, Apple includes its ProRAW format, which not only captures all of the data of a normal RAW photo but also the company’s post-processing, so the image looks good enough to share right out the gate. From there, you can fine-tune the look of the picture using any of the tools mentioned above.
Utilize Photographic Styles
If you have an iPhone 13 or newer, swiping up in your camera app will present you with Photographic Styles. This setting is designed to help you take pictures that look the most appealing to your own tastes. It’s also an easy way to stay on brand if you like to keep a consistent look on your Instagram feed or photo gallery.
There are five different pre-built styles to choose from: Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Rich Warm. You can customize any of them to your liking, and the name of that style will adjust to reflect your changes. This way, you can capture images that add a bit more life or moodiness to a scene. What’s more, you can toggle the style to stay on permanently so you won’t have to worry about losing your look.
Each style isn’t just a typical filter either. Apple actually changes how it processes the photo you take when you select a certain style and apply it to your camera. Everything from the amount of detail captured to the lighting, color balance and contrast are affected and adjusted in ways a filter simply can’t accomplish.
Photographic Styles are a great way to enhance your photography game and take better advantage of what your iPhone is capable of.
Macro mode for micro subjects
The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max include a new feature called macro mode that allows you to get extremely close to a subject (as close as two centimeters) so you can capture far more detail than a typical telephoto lens. It’s especially useful when your subject is particularly tiny.
Move your iPhone as close as you can to the subject you’d like to capture (e.g., a flower or stone) without letting it drift out of focus, and you’ll watch your viewfinder automatically switch to the ultrawide lens to get the shot. The iPhone is capable of some really impressive macro photography, so play with it and see what kind of pictures you can snap.
Get better night shots
Nighttime photography is a tricky skill to master, but there are some easy ways to capture darker conditions in brilliant detail right on your iPhone.
Visit the swipe-up controls and tap the Night mode button (which only appears if your iPhone thinks it’s dark enough to use Night mode). From there, you can adjust how long the exposure lasts when taking a photo. This allows the camera to keep its aperture open longer, taking multiple different photos at various exposures and combining the data from each of them for a more balanced result.
Sometimes, the automatic exposure setting your iPhone applies won’t be enough to grab the amount of detail you want, so increasing it by a few seconds may help. Be sure to keep your hand steady, by the way, since it’s easy to mess up a long exposure shot with a simple twitch or other unintended movement.
It’s also good to turn your flash on every now and then if it’s really dark, but if you can avoid it, we recommend doing so since you don’t always get the most evenly lit shots with it on.
Consider a tripod
No matter how steady your hand is, sometimes it’s just good to strap your iPhone to a tripod. That way, you can ensure your phone is correctly balanced to capture a straight photo without any concerns over motion blur.
A tripod is also handy when it comes to taking pictures at night. By utilizing a tripod and a long exposure setting in Night mode, you can capture nighttime landscapes and even the night sky.
Swap out your lenses
Other third-party equipment worth checking out are additional lenses for your iPhone. Various companies sell different lenses like fish-eyes, telescopes and more so you can get much different-looking photos than what the pre-built lenses in your iPhone capture. They’re helpful for when you might want to get even more of a scene into a single photo or get closer to a subject than what macro mode is capable of.