Daily Tip: How to take better pictures with your iPhone camera

Wondering how to take better pictures with your iPhone camera? Ever found yourself taking a picture with your iPhone only to discover the photo came out less than perfect? Sometimes you only have one opportunity to capture a moment, so you want to ensure everything is right and your photo doesn't come out looking like it was taken with a cheap and flimsy digital camera. The iPhone camera has come a long way since the original iPhone in 2007, currently sporting a 5 megapixel sensor with flash in the iPhone 4, but there are still a few things you can do to make sure you're getting the best shot possible.

In this tip we'll go over a few pointers to help you in taking better pictures with your iPhone -- find out how after the break!

Ready, steady, go!

I've been in situations where I've had to quickly whip out my iPhone in order to snap a photo on the go, but sometimes I wasn't keeping my hand steady enough (hello Mr. Blurrycam). One thing you can do is use a tripod, but not everyone keeps one handy when out and about. Camera+ ($1.99 -- iTunes link) helps by including an image stabilizer, monitoring how steady your hand is and taking the photo when you're making the least amount of movement. However, if you're using the default Camera app then you're on your own. As such, keeping your iPhone as steady as you can is a good way to make sure you're getting the sharpest image possible, especially in low light conditions. Speaking of lighting...

Light is your new best friend

iOS 4 iPhone 4 camera switch and LED flash icon

Lighting is a big factor in taking great pictures, and it's important to understand the basics when using your iPhone camera under certain lighting conditions. Taking photos where there isn't enough light can heavily impact the overall picture quality, so make sure there's as much light as possible. Although the camera baked into the iPhone 4 is (in my humble opinion) the best in its class, you'll still notice some noise in low light conditions.

If you're in a dark environment, make sure you're taking advantage of the iPhone 4's built-in camera flash. For older iPhone models without flash, getting a usable photo in low light may take a little extra work but you'll be glad you made the effort... Take a look at Darkroom (free -- iTunes link) to help you out with this problem. Just like Camera+, it features a 'Steady Mode' to help avoid blurry photos in low light conditions.

In addition, you'll want to make sure your subject is properly lit. For example, the light source should be directed at your subject (not at you) to help draw focus on whatever you're shooting.

Get up close and personal

The iPhone camera features tap-to-focus in addition to decent macro ability with the iPhone 4, so don't be afraid to get up close and personal with your subject. This is especially true when shooting portraits or close-ups, where letting your subject consume the majority of the photo really goes a long way.

To zoom, or not to zoom

Most point-and-shoot cameras feature an optical zoom of around 3x-5x, which is great for shooting at a distance. However this unfortunately isn't so with the iPhone (and all smartphone cameras, for that matter). When Apple released iOS 4 they threw in a digital zoom feature for the Camera app, but I've never found myself actually using it due how the pictures usually turn out. When you use the digital zoom feature you'll be losing a significant amount of quality, so unless it's absolutely necessary, try to stay away from using digital zoom as much as you can.

Edit, edit, and edit some more!

The iPhone has a number of awesome photo apps in the App Store, some of which we mentioned above, but which ones should you use for editing and refining your photos after you've taken them? Using the iPhone touchscreen to manipulate photos can be a rather delightful experience, so here are a few photo editing apps we recommend checking out:

  • ColorSplash - ($0.99 -- iTunes link) ColorSplash lets you take any regular photo and turn it into a colorful work of art. You start off by selecting your desired photo or taking a picture from within the app, to which ColorSplash strips away the color and turns it into a black and white. You then touch whatever area of the picture you want to fill in with color, creating unique images that really stand out from the crowd.
  • PefectPhoto - ($0.99 -- iTunes link) This app really shines when it comes to the number of options and effects you can work with. My personal favorite is the Spot Healing feature which lets you fix any blemishes or artifacts in your photo. Have a great shot of you and your best friend but want to get rid of that horrible zit that's taking all the attention? PerfectPhoto is the editing app for you! You can also crop, align, edit exposure and gamma along with a number of other great editing options. There's even a few noteworthy effects like Bloom and Vintage, taking your photos to a new and fully personalized level.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express - (free -- iTunes link) Photoshop Express for iPhone is a gem of a photo editing app, and to top it off it's completely free! A good example of its editing power is reducing noise and smoothing out your pictures so they're easier on the eyes. This is another great solution for taking pictures in low light conditions, letting you smooth out those darker photos in your collection and making them much more attractive.

Know of any other iPhone picture-taking pointers or suggestions we might have missed? Also let us know what your favorite photo editing apps are, or apps that can help get around some of the issues we mentioned above in the comments!

Bonus Tip: Clean your lens! Having a dirty camera lens can dramatically lower the quality of your pictures, so take a microfiber cloth and some screen cleaner to your iPhone to help your photos look less washed out. We recommend the iKlenz Cleaner Solution Kit to get the job done. You'll immediately notice a difference, so give it a try!

Tips of the day will range from beginner-level 101 to advanced-level ninjary. If you already know this tip, keep the link handy as a quick way to help a friend. If you have a tip of your own you’d like to suggest, add them to the comments or send them in to news@tipb.com. (If it’s especially awesome and previously unknown to us, we’ll even give ya a reward…)

Andrew Wray

Andrew Wray is a Salt Lake City, Utah based writer who focuses on news, how-tos, and jailbreak. Andrew also enjoys running, spending time with his daughter, and jamming out on his guitar. He works in a management position for Unisys Technical Services, a subsidiary of Unisys Corporation.

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Reader comments

Daily Tip: How to take better pictures with your iPhone camera

29 Comments

HDR is High Dynamic Range. It takes two pictures, and checks the balance between the light and hues, then mixes them, so your image won't be washed out, nor will everything be covered in shadows. Next time you're out on a sunny day, take a picture (of anything) with the HDR enabled, and you'll see what it does.

Instagram has nothing to do with editing pictures, same as other apps giving you lo-fi effects. Better call it processing and for that Instagram or Hipstamatic are of course on the TOP. Lots of things was said about iPhone photography before this post appeared, but it is pretty good to keep people update on the latest trends and possibilities. Good job to the author!!! As for the HDR - for me iPhone is not for creating HDR pics, you gotta have a big cam for that!!!

Zoom is actually good. And sometimes makes picture quality better. But if you zoom in too much (like all the way), then there's an issue. But zooming in a bit (almost halfway) can give your photos a superb quality. even when it looks like you moved a little bit then you thought, it'll take it's time, process it, and develop something clearer. Something I've noticed with the default camera!

For processing/editing, check out Photoforge2, which was just released. Amazing variety and depth of options—basically Photoshop for iPhone. (Much more so than the actual Photoshop app.) It's also on sale for today only at 99 cents.
Beyond that I'd recommend TiltShiftGenerator for adding depth of field effects; they can really make a photo seem much more interesting/focussed.

Apart from the fact moving objects with HDR a Dog Awful!!
Even people sloooow walking get a blur around them, or an overlay 2nd image

Thanks for the article. I suggest that you have a second article on the same topic and tell us all about photo-enhancing apps such as Hipstamatic, which I find totally amazing.

The only photography app I need on my iPhone is ProCamera - same features as Camera+ (anti-shake, zoom, separate focus/exposure, white balance lock-in, FX etc) but can also record video, which Camera+ couldn't the last time I checked.
Most of my "serious" photo editing software resides on my PC as I find it a pain to edit (or actually see enough detail to know where to edit) on the small iPhone screen, but I love purikura apps like PriPri Marron and Shibuya Cam to decorate photos on the go.

To keep the iPhone steadier when taking a picture (works with the standard camera app): Don't just click the shutter button, which will cause some movement. Instead, tap on it and keep your finger on the button. Then release it, which will trigger the photo while creating less movement.

Personally, I snap off multiple pics (rarely use the flash - I just make sure there's enough ambient light) and choose the best one and delete the rest. Surprisingly little lag time between shots...

Any photo apps for Iphone4 that let u add images or logos to an existing picture, like picsay pro for android?

I love PicSay. The closest thing I've found is PhotoForge 2 (released today). It let's you add layers so you could add a logo or image.

For a more steady shot take a deep breath or lean against a wall or steady object if avilable. HDR is great in the day time but takes time to process. HDR should not be used at night. Use auto flash instead.

Camera Plus Pro is the best photography app out there for the iPhone. Tap and hold your finger on the screen to control the exposure to get the right lighting for each photo. Tap once to focus. It has automatic white balance control, but you can also set this manually by holding up a white paper in front of the screen then locking the white balance with a tap, which can keep your pictures from having an unnatural tint.
There are many more features, but these are key in getting some great pictures from the iPhone camera.

Instead of using the zoom feature I find it better to take normal picture with the better quality it produces. Then go into my camera roll to the picture and zoom into the object and take a screen shot of it. Then wala. You got your close up with better results.

My most favorite photo editing apps are Camera+, Photoforge2 and King Camera. I have at leasts a dozen apps on my phone including Photoshop Express, but I by far ans away use the 3 I just mentioned ALL the time.

Thanks for your advice. I love taking quick shots with my iPhone. There are some great apps out there to tweak them so they are fantastic. My favorite is Camera+. It has some great effects to pretty it up. For wild, nutty effects, try CameraWow.
For my tips, try my site http://www.great-photography-tips.com/

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