Natural lighting always wins.Indoor and studio lighting certainly serves its purpose, but nothing beats the natural light you get outside. Any time you can take your photography sessions outdoors, do so. There are nuances to this tip, and we'll get into those below.
Avoid being backlit. Unless you're doing silhouette work, or you have advanced shooting skills, it's generally best to avoid your light source being behind your subject. It makes exposure harder to manage and can make focusing in on your subject tricky.
Try different angles with the same lighting. Lighting is one of those things that shifts in your composition every time you do. It's an interesting experiment to focus on a single subject and take photos from as many different angles as possible with a single light source. When doing this, focus not just on where the light hits, but also the length and richness of your shadows.
Move around. This applies to angles as well as depth. You're not going to get the most creative shot possible, or one of the highest quality, if you aren't willing to play with the light available to you. Especially if you're outside, there are reflections, sunspots, shadows, and more available for your photographing purposes. Move around in your space and see how many different lighting scenarios you can discover.
Halo lights are great for detail. Artificial lighting can be fantastic for highlighting detail in portraits. The best part? They make portable ones for your phone if you're looking to play with this technique. If you've ever wanted to seriously up your selfie game, a halo light will do the trick in a big way.
Get it golden. Ahh, the golden hour. It's that glorious time of day just before sunset where things look, well, golden. It's some of the best lighting out there for dramatic photos and stunning hues, but it can be a little tricky to work with. Give yourself some time so you can try different angles until you find what works best. But once you've taken a few well-composed golden light shots, you'll find yourself chasing that hour time and time again.
Learn to love the clouds. It might sound a little counterintuitive, but a cloudy day is truly a photographer's best friend. A blanket of clouds diffuse the light so it is more even, allowing you to craft the composition you have in mind without having to fight harsh glares or dark shadows. If you're out and about and looking to capture some Insta-worthy snaps, consider an overcast afternoon your lucky day.
Use the built-in exposure tool. If the light you've got isn't cooperating with you, enter the magic of the iPhone. Press and hold on the light you want focused on, then drag your thumb up or down to increase or decrease exposure as necessary. It's a nifty tool in the more recent iterations of iOS that can help you achieve the right lighting even when it doesn't exist.
Get appy. While we don't recommend relying heavily on apps to up your photography game (it's always better to put in the footwork to learn the skills the right way), one of the greatest parts of working with a smartphone as your camera is that you have the benefit of post-shoot apps that allow you to tweak color profiles, exposures, and contrasts without having to spend forever trying to get the shot just right out in the field. We recommend Snapseed and VSCO.
Work together. Sometimes two is just better than one. If you're in a low-light situation with a friend when you spot the perfect shot, recruit your buddy's phone flashlight to help illuminate the subject so you can get the photo!
Silhouette it up. Like we mentioned above, there is a time and place to let the backlight life shine, and silhouette work is the place! Silhouettes make for cool effects and dramatic shots, but make sure your backlight is in the right place and your exposure is low enough if you're gonna take this style on. Otherwise you risk your silhouettes being less than fully in shadow, which can ruin the effect you're going for. Stark contrast is the name of the game with silhouette work, so try and choose a composition that supports that difference in foreground, subject, and background.
Be picky. Sometimes when you're starting out with photography, you get an urge to photograph anything and everything. While we say go ahead and follow that urge for a little while, you'll quickly realize that, unfortunately, not everything photographs well. It's ok to be selective about what you want to shoot, in fact, getting more selective will really only increase your skills and the quality of photograph you're able to capture.
Macro details add interest. Of course, you can't get truly macro with your iPhone photography without an add-on lens, but you can achieve some pretty cool close-up stuff by getting as close to your subject as possible without losing focus. This naturally creates a shallow depth of field and highlights details that may otherwise get lost.
Not all nature is worth photographing. An addendum to the first tip in this section. Nature is beautiful, but it's not all photogenic. Ok, so, most of it IS, but resist the urge to take a bunch of wide shots with too many layers, too much texture – the result is a photograph that's way too busy. Instead, choose truly breathtaking scenery and try and have a solid foreground and background, with clear separation between the two.
Limit subjects. In order to keep your compositions clean, limit the number of subjects in your photos. Choose one or two things you want to be the center of attention (not necessarily in the center of the shot) and focus on making those subjects shine.
Check your (photo) surroundings. We've all seen it – the photo where the bulk of the shot is gorgeous but there's a messy background cluttering it up, or something unexpected that was so close to being out of frame, if only the photographer had paid better attention. Be the photographer that pays attention. Check the full frame before you take the shot, make sure everything is precisely where you want it to be.
Create scale. If you want to give a sense of how big or small something is in your photo, the best way to achieve it is to give it something to compare to. If you're taking photos of caves or cool rock formations, try putting a person in the frame (creatively) to showcase the magnitude of the formation. Or use two things within your frame to highlight the enormity or the smallness of the other.
Add visual interest with patterns. Training your eye to see patterns will help you create stunning compositions time and time again. Things in a row, things lined up diagonally, patterns that occur in nature (leaves or tree limbs or mountain ranges, to name a few). Capture these things with the sole focus on the pattern itself and see the impact it has.
Consider what your subject requires. Not all subjects need the same photographic treatment, so don't expect to be able to take photos in the same position, the same way, every time. For example, portraits often turn out better with soft lighting, creating a more even field across the face. Before you click the shutter, consider if a small tweak might take your shot to the next level.
Tell a story. Think about the photographs you've seen that cause an immediate reaction within you. Chances are, in some way, shape, or form, they were telling a story. If you're photographing humans, try and capture real emotion. If you're photographing wildlife, try and include context without losing focus. It's all about using the space within your frame to explain the moment in a way that will help communicate its meaning to the viewer. Keep this in mind as you create your compositions.
Think it through. Extra consideration is the thing that can take a photograph from meh to good and from good to great. Thinking through what you're doing before you do it will be one of the most powerful tools in your photography arsenal.
Principles of Photography
Rule of thirds. This is, perhaps, the golden rule of photography. The rule of thirds states that, in any given photo frame, there is a three-by-three grid. You have a top third, a middle third, and a bottom third as well as a left third, a center third, and a right third. These thirds are the key to keeping your compositions interesting and avoiding the bad habit of centering all your subjects within your frames.
Keep it simple. Beautiful photography doesn't have to be complex. In fact, keeping your compositions simple is often the best way to create imagery that strikes the viewer. Being able to do simple things extremely well is a photographic principle that will serve you well even when you tackle more complex compositions.
Ensure a clean shot. Keeping an eye on the background is one thing, but one of the most important things you can do before you take the picture is to check the perimeters of the shot. Often, things creep into the edges without you realizing while you were focused on the main portion of the photo. Even a barely-there intrusion on the edges of your shot can hurt the final product.
Shoot low to high. This isn't the way we look at the world most often. Think about the wonder you feel when you are forced to look up at something to take in its beauty. Shooting from a low-to-high angle allows for a grandiose effect on most shots, as well as a shift in perspective for the viewer -–something that always elicits interest.
Don't forget depth. Dimension is what makes a photograph come to life – showing depth adds dimension and makes your 2-D photograph seem almost 3-D. This is achieved by using foreground objects (those closest to you and the camera) to frame the subject. By doing this, and keeping the subject further back, you create depth that makes the viewer look a little harder, and sets a much more descriptive stage.
Lead the eye. Depth is part of the equation here, but there are several other ways to lead the eye of your viewer in your photography. Use lines – guardrails, tree lines, horizons, lane markers in the road – they can all help lead the eye toward or away from your subject, and in doing so, help create a rich photograph that engages the viewer's minds.
Symmetry, symmetry, symmetry. Remember when we talked about patterns? Symmetry comes into play with those, but you can use symmetry in more instances that simple pattern identification. Symmetry exists in reflections, in faces, in everyday objects. And symmetry is pleasing to the human eye, which makes it a very useful tool to employ in your photography.
Employ graphic design basics.Graphic design and photography have a lot of things in common – they are both visual arts, after all, aiming to captivate the viewer with clean lines, intriguing subject matter, and creative looks at life and everyday objects. Consider employing principles like alignment (diagonal alignment is a great one), hierarchy (re: depth and subject focus), and balance (the rule of thirds helps with this) in your photography and see the difference it makes.
Consider your compositions.You don't have to control everything within a shot in order to control how the shot turns out. There are many ways in which you can consider your compositions before you take the photo. Consider the lighting, your subject, whether you need to be nearer or further, your surroundings. Move what you can if it betters the shot, and be cognizant of all angles available to you. Create a checklist of things to double-check before taking the shot.
iPhone Power Secrets
Don't be afraid of the burst Holding down the shutter button causes a burst of photos to be taken at once. This is great for action shots or when you're trying to get juuust the right frame while something is in motion.
AE/AF Lock is your friend.Your phone might not automatically focus on what you want it to, but all you have to do is tap and hold the part of the screen you want to focus on, until AE/AF Lock shows up on the screen. Once it does, the focus is locked in, and you're good to go!
Look, portrait mode is a beast.If you have one of the newest iPhones, you've probably played with the true genius that is portrait mode. Thanks to the camera and software magic, portrait mode creates a shallow depth of field that really makes portraits pop and adds a level of professionalism to single-subject photos without you having to do much more than tap a finger! It's a powerful tool, take advantage.
Know how to access your camera quickly.When you're out there living your life, sometimes the good shots just pop up out of nowhere. When the moment begging to be photographed arrives, you need your camera at the ready. Thankfully, there are some pretty quick ways to get to your camera from the lock screen. Whether it's swiping left or pressing down hard on the camera in the lower right hand of your screen, you can have your camera up and ready for some shutter magic in no time.
Get griddy with it.Remember when we talked about the rule of thirds? Well, your camera app has a tool to help with that – the grid! When you're still getting the hang of how to compose your shots in thirds, we recommend keeping the grid up. Simply go to settings, then camera, and toggle “Grid” to “On.” Now you'll have a better idea of where in the scheme of thirds your subjects are falling and can play with that as you please.
Turn live photos into long exposures.Long exposures are a work of photographic art. They turn the passage of time into beautiful blurs and motion into stunning streaks. Most people don't realize they can create them right from their phone, but the live photo feature gives us the chance! First things first, click the clock icon next to the live photo icon at the top of the screen, and make sure it's set to 3s or higher. Then, take your photo, and swipe up on it in the gallery. From there you can click the “long exposure” option and watch as your phone does the magic for you.
HDR helps exposure.If you've clicked off that HDR feature because you think it takes too many pictures, or takes too long to snap your shot, you may want to reconsider. HDR helps with exposure by taking a photo at the exposure immediately available, then taking one lower, one higher, and combining them to create the perfect exposure. It's a great help in situations where the light is a little too low or a little too bright, but the shot is otherwise spot on.
Treat it like a camera.If you want a shot at slightly steadier pics, consider changing the physical way you click the shutter. Instead of tapping the screen, use the appropriate side button to snap the photo. Or, if you have headphones, you can use the remote on those as an even more stable option if you're worried about shaking your shot.
Keep it clean.This one probably goes without saying, but when you're living your everyday life it can be easy enough to forget – clean the lenses! And clean them regularly! Keeping those photographic bits free and clear of dirt and debris will keep your photos clear and crisp.
Digital zoom exists, but that doesn't mean you should use it.Undeniably, there are instances where digital zoom comes in handy, but it should be a last resort only. Don't let it become your replacement for moving your body to get the perfect shot. Physically getting closer is always the better option, as it will allow the phone's best camera settings to shine.
The photo doesn't take until you take your finger off the shutterLess of a trick, more of a reminder – but the photo doesn't actually take until you take your finger off the shutter button. If you hold down, you'll either end up with a burst or might miss the moment. It requires a little bit of anticipation in everyday life, being ready for the shot a split second before it's exactly what you want, but knowing this helps you be prepared.
Lens attachments can come in handy. If you're serious about your iPhone photography, you may want to look into attachments. Things like macro lenses or wide lens attachments can help take your photos to the next level and beyond the iPhone's capabilities without investing in a full DSLR.
Learn to see things differently. This one just takes time, and consistent effort. Training your photographic eye isn't easy, but it gets much easier with practice. Learn to see things differently, don't be afraid to get a little weird in order to get the shot. When you can see the world in a series of possibilities, angles, and beautiful details that you may have previously been missing, your photography will start to show this unique perspective.
Sink into the shadows. Shadows may not always be the best thing for your photos, but learning to play with them in a way that is artistic and helps you understand the relationship between light and shadows, as well as the importance of contrast, will take your photography to the next level.
Layer it up. When you can create interesting relationships between fore, mid, and background subjects, you create layers that add depth, and force viewers to think harder about what you're trying to accomplish. And any photo that gets the viewers thinking is a good one!
Get reflective. We touched upon this briefly earlier, but reflections can be a huge asset in your photography. Not only are they often beautiful, but their natural symmetry is pleasing to the eye and they allow you to flip perspective in a different way.
Rethink perspective. Along with learning to see the world in a different way, rethinking your perspective with every shot is a great way to hone your creative skills and unlock a new level of creativity. After you take the shot you had originally planned, consider if there's a way you can flip the perspective – for you as a photographer and for the viewers who will eventually see your work – to make things a little more interesting or unexpected.
Apply filters (sparingly). We always advocate for learning how to take great photos without the help of post-production help first, but just as most great photographers earn their unique stamp via editing, you can create a unique look that unifies your photography with the use of apps and filters if you use them in a way that enhances what you captured rather than trying to mask any mistakes. Choose filters that brighten the bold colors in your shots, or highlight the contrast between the subject and its background, or that help balance the exposure just a little better. Elevate your shot rather than trying to mute it so it looks like all the other photos on social media out there.
Play with stark contrast. The relationship between light and dark is one of the most powerful tools in a photographer's kit, and the only way to master it is to play with all ends of the spectrum. Where taking photos on an overcast day allows you to keep a pretty even exposure with less contrast, taking photos when the sun is at its highest, or when it is directly behind your subject will give greater contrast. Taking photos half in-shadow and half out will take this even further. Put yourself in situations where the contrast is naturally stark and see what you can do!
Take risks. No one ever became great at something by playing it safe the whole time. Some of the best shots you'll get will come from getting out of your photographic comfort zone and stepping into uncharted territory. The more risks you take with your photography, the better you'll get, and the more risks you'll be able to take. Your comfort zone can always be pushed, expanded, and pushed again – lean into that and watch your photos evolve quickly.
Let color lead the way. Color is the lifeblood of a lot of modern photography. Telling color stories by grouping similar colors together or creating color palettes that pop is an important part of the work you'll do. Whether these color palettes are ones you find occurring naturally in the world around you or ones you create by arranging a flat lay or other composition, playing with color and letting it lead the overall mood of your shots is a great way to expand your understanding of color relationships and how they play a part in the final outcome of your shoots.
Becoming a better photographer is all about starting with the basics and building from there. With these tips under your belt, you can use that powerful device in your pocket to become an impressive photographer. And when it comes time to store that glorious gallery you've created, we've got you covered with powerful storage and intuitive organization.