An iPhone is capable of taking some astonishing photos—look no further than Apple’s “Shot with iPhone” campaign for proof—but as always, understanding your tools is the first step to creating great things with them. Of course you’ll know how to take snaps with your iPhone, but there are all sorts of oft-forgotten little features that you can use which unlock a whole range of tricks for getting photos that are more accomplished, more creative, or just plain more fun.
We’re going to assume you know the basics of opening the camera app and taking a shot, and that you know you there are great apps such as Instagram, VSCO, Pixelmator and Waterlogue that can apply filters or do desktop-style image editing to make your photos really shine. What we’re interested in here is the pro stuff—some of which, to be sure, will be limited to more recent models, but most will be applicable to most iPhones still in use. Ready? Say cheese!
Set focus and exposure—and apply exposure compensation
You probably know that you can tap somewhere on the screen when you’re in the Camera app to tell your iPhone specifically where to focus (even if it has recognized faces in the scene and decided to prioritize them) but this also sets the exposure, that is, how bright or dark the image is.
So for example if you’re photographing someone inside a room with their back to a window, by default the iPhone’s automatic exposure will likely turn them into a silhouette (as it tries to balance the bright backlight and the dark subject) but if you tap on them, it knows what you want to prioritize, so it makes the scene brighter. The view out the window will get “blown out”—that is, made too bright and so detail will be lost—but at least your subject won’t look like they’re in a witness protection program.
Traditional (and now of course digital) photography has a concept called exposure compensation, the idea that you let the camera decide how best to expose the scene, but then you give it a nudge—expressed usually in thirds of a “stop”—brighter or darker, to better reflect the shot you want to take. You can do this on an iPhone too, but it’s much less technical; tap on your subject, then drag the little brightness (sunburst) symbol next to the focus square up to make the picture brighter, or down to make it darker.