Three Basic Tips to Get the Most out of Your iPhone Photographs

One of my friends recently said to me that she wanted to take better photographs, but was stuck with her iPhone 6. Half of me could relate - camera phones come with limitations. The other half was screaming. "Stuck? The iPhone 6 is an amazing camera!"

The truth is, if you have an iPhone 5 or 6 in your pocket, (unless you're sporting a new DSLR) it's likely the best camera you've ever owned. Apple's "Shot on iPhone" campaign is a testament to this. And, if you need further convincing of the iPhone's photographic capabilities, check out Austin Mann's review on the iPhone 6. Frankly, it's disgusting how good these photographs look.

Second, both examples reinforce the only universal truth regarding photography. It's not about the camera. It's about the photographer.

There are plenty of articles to be written about how to get the most out of your iPhone's camera. To get started, here are three basic tips to improve your photographs.

START WITH A RULE

I'm hesitant to suggest composing around a "rule". Too often, people feel beholden to them. The truth is, just because you follow a specific rule, it doesn't necessarily make for good photography. However, when I am unsure how I want to compose a shot, starting with a rule can often be helpful.

Perhaps the most popular of these is the "rule of thirds".

Odds are you're already familiar with the rule. Essentially, imagine breaking your image down into nine parts by placing two equidistant vertical and horizontal lines across the image. The general rule is that if you place the subject at the intersections, or along the lines of the photograph, you create a more pleasing composition. Why? One element that contributes to "good composition" is balance. 

The reason why the above photo works is because it has balance. Not only is the subject, in this case my beautiful wife, balanced by the "emptiness" of the right side of the frame, but by Big Ben as well. People and landmarks carry weight in photographs. Playing with the balance and using a rule to structure your composition provides the photographer with a good start to making an interesting image.

Thankfully, the iPhone can assist by tapping the grid button in the camera app to provide you an overlay.

If you are an Instagram user (and thus shooting in a square format), this rule gets a little tricky. A better way is to think of each box as a number (1-9) and placing the subject in the center of a box is one way to create an interesting composition (particularly when using the corners). You can also create "zones" buy combining boxes as seen below.

LIGHT, ALWAYS LIGHT

Photography is about light or the absence of it. As a general rule, the more interesting light you collect, the more potential for creating an interesting photograph.

Photographers like to shoot during two times of day. The hours before and after sunrise and before and after sunset. These hours are referred to as the blue and golden hours. In film, it's referred to as "The Magic Hour". Because the sun is lower in the sky, shadows are longer and more interesting and skin tones are more flattering. When the sun is directly above, you lose most shadows and the light can be harsh on skin.

While the iPhone works surprisingly well in low light situations, it shines the most as a camera when the sensor is able to collect more light. 

In the absence of light, particularly indoors, you might be tempted to use your iPhone's flash. I would suggest caution. Your camera's flash works much better as a fill flash (used to fill in shadow areas) than a key light (a main light source). In low light situations, where you think flash might be necessary, first try to find a key light you can use to illuminate your subject, then use your iPhone's flash to balance out shadows.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Keep your photos simple. Don't be afraid to get close to your subject. Shoot at your subject's level (especially when shooting children). Remove distracting backgrounds and elements. A good photo draws the viewer's eye to the subject. Our eyes are attracted to light and areas of focus. Use this to your advantage.

Below is a photograph I took of my niece with an iPhone 5. I used an app called VSCO Cam that allowed me to control the shutter speed. The longer shutter speed allowed me to blur objects that were in motion. But, because the face was still, the eyes remained sharp. This sharpness draws the viewer's eye into my subject.

There is much to say on the subject of iPhone photography, but hopefully these three tips will help you to take more interesting photos with your iPhone.