Oct 28, 2020 | iPhone

How to Take Great Photos With an iPhone



The current iPhones sport one of the most advanced camera systems on the market today.  These are a few tips to help you get the most out of your system and produce better images now.

Clean your lenses

Your lenses are attached to the back of your phone, which you handle all day long every day.  Chances are good you will touch the lenses on your phone during the day, which will smudge the lenses at least a little.  Those smudges, even the ones that are hard to see, can have an effect on your images.

iPhone 11 pro
iPhone 11 Pro 1

Use a microfiber cloth to clean the lenses right before you decide to photograph some images.  That will give you the cleanest, sharpest images possible.  Remember, cloudy images are almost never sought after.

Turn off your flash

All recent iPhones will capture fantastic images without a flash.  In most cases, I find that a flash causes the image to look, well, flashy.  When the flash fires for an image, the chances are that it will cause shadows in line with the lens, which makes the image look flat.  Natural shadows will give the image depth.

Turn the flash off at the top of the screen.  Your phone will take very good photos even in low light scenarios.  The phone’s powerful processor can take a series of photos at different exposures and combines them for exceptional dynamic range in the image.  

All of this happens so fast the user never notices.  The result is an image that captures detail in the highlights as well as the shadows and does so with no hassle and no need for flash.  I almost always prefer iPhone images from my iPhone 11 Pro without the flash, usually due to the more natural shadows that come from the ambient lighting.

Tap on the screen to set the focus

The iPhone general sets the focal point to the center of the frame, which as you will later find isn’t always where your subject should be.  We want the subject of the image to always have razor sharp focus, so let’s get in the habit of setting our focal point manually.

Simply tap on the screen and a yellow box will appear.  This box is an indicator of where the focal point is set in the image.  Whatever is inside that box will be tack sharp.

If you have a lot of movement in your image because people or objects are moving around, you can set the focal point and lock it by tapping on the screen and holding for two seconds.  The yellow box will appear as before but there will also be a header at the top of the screen that reads “AE/AF LOCK”.  This means your focal point is locked, so it will not change.  This keeps the camera from “hunting” for a focal point in a scene with a lot of movement.  The exposure (brightness) level is now locked as well, which we can work with below.

Slide the exposure to adjust images

Once you set the focus on the subject by tapping on the screen, you may have to adjust the brightness of the image by sliding your finger up to increase brightness, or down to decrease brightness.  Usually, the iPhone produces a very good image on its own, but sometimes you may have to specify the exposure level.

If you have a composition with complex lighting, you might have to help the iPhone out a little bit with the exposure.  If you tap on the screen for focus, the iPhone will meter the light at that location.  If that is a dark location in your composition the highlights may be too bright, and vice versa.  You can manually adjust the exposure by sliding a finger up or down, up for brighter and down for darker, once you have set the focal point.

This way you can take control of your image and expose it the way you like, rather than being at the mercy of the camera’s auto setting.  

Use Portrait Mode

If you are taking a portrait with the iPhone and it has a portrait mode, use it.  The portrait mode will blur the background behind the subject (called bokeh), which tends to separate the subject from the background better.  This photographic technique tends to cause the viewer’s eye to focus on the subject rather than the background.

In the camera app, just above the shutter button, you can choose the type of images you wish to take (photo, video, etc.).  Simply select “Portrait” and frame up your subject.  The phone will tell you if you are too close or too far away from your subject, so adjust accordingly.

When viewing the photo, you can tap “Edit” to change various lighting effects of the portrait mode.  Worth pointing out is the “f” symbol inside of an oval at the top left of the editing screen.  Tapping that symbol will allow you to increase or decrease the bokeh effect in the background.  You can even eliminate it completely if it did not work out well.  There is no reason not to use portrait mode for portrait shots.

Use the on-screen grid

The first rule of composition that most photographers will learn, and the easiest to employ, is the rule of thirds.  The rule of thirds will help you set up more balanced and interesting images mainly by keeping the subject out of the center of the image.

The essence of the is to break the image down into thirds, horizontally and vertically as seen above.  The four “lines” between the sections that form a tic-tac-toe grid (or a #hashtag if you prefer) indicate the best locations for elements in your image.  Intersections of those lines are especially pleasing.  Studies have shown that when viewing an image, the viewer’s eye naturally goes to the intersection points rather than the center of the image.

iphone on tripod
image of iPhone on a tripod with 3×3 gridlines showing rule of thirds

Your iPhone has a grid that it can place on the screen to assist you with image composition.  Go to Settings > Camera and then scroll down to the section titled “COMPOSITION”.  Turn the “Grid” option on and, just like that, you now have a grid to help you with composing your image.

You can read more about composition in this article.


Most people simply grab their iPhone and bang away at photos without much of a thought of how to work the camera system.  There are plenty of ways to take advantage of the camera, quickly and easily, to produce much more pleasing and eye-popping images.  Simple composition techniques, adjusting focus and exposure, and turning off the flash are all simple steps that you can take to capture more dynamic and interesting images.

If you liked this article, please leave a comment below and leave a suggestion above for more topics you would like to see. 

Until next time, go take some pictures.



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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