Oct 16, 2020 | iPhone

5 Tips for Shooting Better Photos with an iPhone




So you have an iPhone.  The iPhone has become a wonder of modern technology, as have smartphones in general.  The iPhone has been known for its camera system being among the best available.  Certainly, the cameras on the newest models (the iPhone 11 series at the time of writing) do not disappoint.  Night mode for low light shooting, smart HDR for shots with huge dynamic range, and Deep Fusion provides a computational photographic boost when shooting in mid to low light.  There is so much horsepower (and brainpower!) under the hood of these phones that it makes sense that the camera system would be pretty awesome at making decisions on properly exposing a photograph for the user

It’s also likely to be the camera you have on you all the time.  Whether you left your main rig at home, or you just got caught with a good photo moment when you weren’t expecting to be taking pictures, the iPhone can handle a lot of photographic tasks.

So here are a few tips to help make those photographs stand out and look beautiful.

Clean Your Lens

iPhone 11 ProImage of the iPhone 11 pro close-up of the camera

Believe it or not, your lens will get dirty quite easily.  Fingerprints from handling your phone, lint, and dust can all show up in your image.  They may be able to be cleaned, but even if they can you are going to be cleaning them up in every single image.  Use a good microfiber cloth and give the lenses a good wipe before you get started.  Also, be mindful of how you handle your phone after you clean the lens.  It’s insanely easy to touch those lenses.

Also, be sure to take care of those lenses.  Apple puts some really tough glass on its lenses.  I’ve seen demonstrations online where it took the point of a razor blade to try to scratch the lenses on an iPhone 11 Pro.  That said, it still makes sense to use a case that offers lens protection.  I don’t want a case that covers the lenses, a case that offers a raised edge around the lenses will do just fine.  That way when the phone is sat down, it doesn’t rest on those camera lenses.

 Don’t Use Digital Zoom

If you have an iPhone 11 Pro, you have a 2x zoom, which is an optical zoom, that is to say, that the lens itself provides the magnification.  Of course, you can always swipe down with your thumb and rotate the electronic zoom wheel to get in closer, but that is a digital zoom.  It is simply cropping a smaller and smaller section of the photo in your viewfinder to simulate a zoom.  The quality of that will be poor, not much different than if you took the photo and then cropped way into it later.  The picture will end up being pixelated and colors will probably suffer as well.  Only shoot with optical zoom unless there is no other alternative.

If you don’t have an iPhone 11 Pro, you won’t have any other optical zoom options other than to use your feet and get closer.  There are some clip-on magnifiers that can be had to take you a little closer to the action.  The good part is these are optical zoom and, if well made, should not affect your image quality or at least not as much as digital zoom will.  Bear in mind, often you will get what you pay for.  Lenses from Moment have a good reputation for quality.

Learn more about digital versus optical zoom here.

Plan To Shoot Mostly Landscape Orientation

Pinterest and Instagram have given rise to the cell phone portrait orientation photo.  This can work well for selfies and fashion photography, but it is a hindrance in most action sports. If the action is moving side to side, it will be harder to capture in the frame if the camera is oriented up and down.  There will be exceptions for sure but plan to shoot most photos in landscape orientation.

In fact, about the only time I will shoot in portrait orientation is when there is no action and the player just frames better in that orientation.

People’s eyes are side by side so, at least to me, its generally more pleasing to look at a photo that is wider than it is tall.  It’s the same reason televisions, computer screens and movie theater (remember those?) screens are all in landscape orientation.

Use Continuous Drive Exposures (Burst Mode)

Some photographers are quite adept at being able to trip the shutter and expose the picture at just the right time to capture the action.  I am not one of those and most pro sports photographers aren’t either.  When I capture the perfect moment of action it is because I usually captured the action in the middle of a string of rapid-fire shots.  I anticipate the action coming and shot until the action is over and, if I am very lucky, I get the shot I was looking for.

Sometimes I’m not so lucky and my autofocus locked onto the wrong subject in a moving field of players.  Sometimes my shutter exposed just before and just after the point I wanted to capture.  Sometimes I tracked my moving subject badly and they fell partially out of frame or I was cropped too tightly and ruined the shot by having my subject too close.

All of these pitfalls can, and likely will, happen to you in your shooting.  Accept it and make peace with the idea.  That makes it easier for me to accept shooting 300 photos and coming away with 4 that are good enough to post.

Another way to shoot with burst mode is to use Live Photos.  When you use Live Photos, the iPhone will take ten photos in the span of one second.  Afterwards, you can go back and edit the Live Photo and pick the frame that looks the best in the series.  Voila!  You now have the timing for the shot.  Just remember, Live Photo is only one second.  Any longer than that and you will need burst mode.

Consider Shooting Video

Pictures for Instagram and Facebook are great, but videos can be even greater.  Video can show the action that you are only trying to convey in your photos.  Video can be impactful in a way that photos aren’t.  Conversely, photos can convey an emotion that you can’t get in videos. Another consideration is that you might be able to take a still frame from a video and keep it as a photo.Check back often for more photography tips and tricks!



Ralph is an avid photographer in his spare time. He spends a lot of his photography time shooting sports photos of his daughter, who plays softball and swims. He also has a keen interest in mobile photography.


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