Take professional photos with your iPhone
You know the camera that’s always in your pocket? The one that’s built into your iPhone? It’s actually pretty good. Maybe better than that. Some professional photojournalists are even using it for photos that get printed in major publications such as Sports Illustrated and Mount Baker Experience.
So what’s the trick to getting great photos with your iPhone? It comes down to the same things that make a great photo with any other camera. First, you’ve got to know where to aim it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just like the old joke, “How do you carve an elephant? Start with a block of stone and cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.” When you’re creating a photograph you want to eliminate everything from the frame that doesn’t belong. Striving for simplicity will take you a long way.
Get close. Use what I like to call your bipedal zoom, moving the camera closer or farther from the subject until you’ve filled the frame with everything important and cut out everything else. It’s the bipedal zoom because you’re using your two feet to move your body and the camera you’re holding. Don’t be afraid to walk up close and get personal with your subject. Well, if it’s the black bear in the meadow behind the Mt. Baker day lodge then you don’t want to get so close. But that’s a rare exception.
Rule of thirds. Where to aim the camera also means choosing where within the frame to place your subject. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a flower, a mountain landscape, your brother zooming down a gnarly trail on his mountain bike or Aunt Martha and Uncle Ben on their sailboat.
Most snapshooters stick their subject smack dab in the center of the frame. While there are exceptions, that’s usually not the best place for a photo with impact. Artists of all kinds have been using some variation of the rule of thirds for centuries to guide the placement of their main subject in the frame. Notice that I said guide, not dictate, because there’s some flexibility in applying the rule.
The rule of thirds divides the frame into three parts horizontally and vertically, like a tic-tac-toe board. The points where the dividing lines intersect are the “power points” within the frame. They’re where you should place your subject. The iPhone camera app makes it easy to do this. When you fire it up, touch Options at the top of the screen, then turn the Grid on. Those lines will also help you hold the camera level when you’ve got a horizon in your shot.
Speaking of the horizon, place it near either the upper or lower horizontal third line instead of in the middle. Include more sky if the clouds are interesting, more land if that’s where the good stuff is.
If there’s no obvious horizon or clear verticals, like tree trunks, in the frame, try tilting the camera. You don’t want it to look like you goofed, so if you do have strong lines in the frame, tilt the camera enough that it’s obvious that’s what you meant to do.
Vary your viewpoint. Five feet above the ground isn’t the only place to hold your camera. That’s about how high my eyes are, and most people take pictures from their eye height. For subjects with eyes, such as children, dogs, fish, frogs and salamanders, try photographing them from their eye height instead of yours. I often like to photograph flowers from blossom height, looking sideways into the flower. Not always, because that would get just as boring as always holding the camera at my eye level. Sometimes you’ll want to shoot straight down on a subject or get underneath and shoot up.
Try walking around your subject, too. If it’s Mt. Baker that’s going to take you a while, so I’m really talking about smaller things. Turn around and look behind you – you might be surprised by what’s back there.
Relationships matter. Many times you’ll want more than one thing in your photo. Especially when photographing a landscape you’ll want to have a solid foreground, a middle and a background. That’s what gives the illusion of depth in a photo and keeps your landscape from looking flat and lifeless. Your main subject can be in any one of those three planes.
Frame a distant landscape with nearby trees. Place your best friend near the camera and let the landscape in the background set the scene. Get up close to one or two flowers in an alpine meadow while still including the distant scene. Throw a stone in the pond to make ripples in the foreground.
Another part of the relationships business is creating or accentuating lines and shapes. Diagonal lines are strong and powerful. Horizontal lines are restful and relaxing. Circles help hold the eye within the frame. Triangles create strength and stability. Look for these simple geometric shapes and patterns.
Let there be light. Without light there would be no photography, but not all light is created equal. You want light that is going to accent texture, shape and form. Look for light coming from the side, or even behind, your subject. When the sun is at your back, high in the sky, everything is illuminated equally. That’s flat and boring. It’s why many professional photographers prefer to work early and late, with a long nap on the mountaintop mid-day to work on their tan.
My favorite light is soft, but directional, like we get on days with a high overcast and thin clouds. That works great for close-ups and portraits. When photographing other people you can ask them to move under the edge of something that makes shade so they’re in shadow but light is falling on them from beyond the shade.
Take control of the camera. The iPhone’s camera is pretty simple: a fixed focal-length lens (with digital zoom), a fixed aperture and fully automatic exposure. You don’t have much control over the technical aspects.
On the 3GS, 4, and 4S models you can tap the screen where you want to focus before you tap the shutter button. A square appears that highlights the focus area.
For a little more control, you can download one of several photo apps. The one I like and use is Camera+ from Tap Tap Tap. With Camera+ I can choose both the focus point and the critical exposure point. Often they’re the same, but by moving the exposure point around I can sometimes get a better exposure when there are large light or dark areas in the frame.
Go out and play. Be bold and experiment. Be playful. That’s the real joy I find in making images with my iPhone. Remember the basics, but use them as guidelines and not iron-fisted rules. Hold the camera where you eliminate everything that doesn’t belong. Use the rule of thirds to guide subject placement. Look for lines and shapes. Create foreground-middle-background relationships. Watch how the light is playing on your subject. Don’t be afraid to get close, or to ask your human subjects to move into more flattering light. It’s all fun, and with the handy Delete button, you can trash your failures and only share your masterpieces.
After the shutter. Part of the fun of iPhotography is processing them with an app to add effects, enhance color or contrast, and add borders or text. All the photos with this article have been processed with apps on the phone. Check the sidebar for some of my favorites that
I use regularly.
What about Android? I drank the iPhone Kool-Aid back in 2008 and haven’t used any of the Android phones. But everything I’ve written here also applies to making photographs with any other camera you might have. The buttons and technical specs may be different, but remember where we started: It’s where you aim the camera that matters most. X
Mark Turner is an award-winning photographer based in Bellingham. Visit him at turnerphotographics.com.
|favorite iphone photography apps
Here are some of my favorite iPhone photography apps, the ones I use regularly. They’re all pretty inexpensive and may be purchased through iTunes or the App Store on your phone. First are some general-purpose apps that get used on almost every photo I share, then there are a handful of special-purpose apps that each do one thing well and get used only occasionally.
Shooting: Adds the ability to set focus point and exposure point separately; adds continuous light from the iPhone’s LED flash for better exposures blending existing light. Includes stabilizer mode that takes the photo when the camera is steadiest, self-timer with 5, 15, or 30-second delay, and a burst mode that shoots five frames per second (but at only 640 x 480 resolution).
Processing: Nice set of effects and frames, scene modes. Clarity button can enhance dull and lifeless images.
Pros: Easy to use and understand, intuitive.
Cons: Must save and reload an image to run multiple effects on it or to add several frames.
Shooting: No shooting mode, but you can access the native camera app from within Snapseed.
Processing: Very sophisticated set of effects, with a great deal of variation within each one. Relatively intuitive to use, but turn on the helpful instructions overlay the first few times since the interface is different than most other apps. Can stack multiple effects in the same editing session.
Pros: High-quality image processing, many processing choices, before/after comparison.
Cons: Learning curve for the interface.
Iris Photo Suite ventessa.com
Shooting: No shooting mode, post-processing only.
Processing: Sophisticated set of basic adjustments and effects, with the ability to draw a mask so effects can be applied selectively. Effects can be stacked in one editing pass. Ability to add text overlays. Has basic layer functionality, but it’s not particularly intuitive how to use that feature.
Pros: Masking and fine control over adjustments.
Cons: No frames or borders, some adjustments can only be done with a small version of the photo, with most of the screen taken up by the controls.
PS Express photoshop.com
Shooting: Extra-cost (in-app purchase) noise reduction, self-timer, auto review.
Processing: Very good basic adjustment controls. Wide selection of effects and borders, but they’re extra-cost.
Pros: Easy to use and understand. Has before / after comparison so you can see how you’ve changed an image.
Cons: Many of the effects and borders are an extra-cost purchase, which can be done from within the app after trying it out.
Purpose: Specialized app to stitch multiple frames into a panorama. Does one thing and does it very well. Settings allow choosing how big a file and how high a quality the finished panorama will be. Will stitch multiple rows of images together for even bigger panoramas.
HDR Fusion cogitap.com
Purpose: Specialized app to take two images with different exposures and merge into a single image. Unfortunately, there’s no way to preview the finished image within the app. It simply saves the merged file.
Purpose: Specialized app to add either text or graphic watermarks to photos and save a copy with the watermark. You can create your own personal watermarks.
Purpose: Specialized app to allow slow shutter effects, like moving traffic and blurred waterfalls. A tripod is recommended to use it. Less intuitive than it might be, so read the in-app instructions.