25 Tips for Mastering iPhone Photography

Whether or not you take pictures for pleasure or for pay, you should always strive to do your best – and show your best. Great photography is not necessarily about equipment. No matter what camera you use, your images can stand above all the rest; there’s just something about your photos that compels your viewer to linger just a little bit longer when examining them. 

You can achieve this level by attaining a basic understanding of photographic principles, learning to use some of the great photo apps available to you, and nurture a passion to succeed as a photographer and artist. Additionally, it never hurts to occasionally have thrown at you a handful of iPhone Photography tips and tricks. So, here’s my first set of twenty-five tips on how to master iPhone Photography:

1. When using any kind of camera, your photos should always have a theme – a story behind them. What are you telling your viewer? What do you want the viewer to see? For example, an image showing a bunch of colorful gum balls uses color itself as the theme as well as an element of composition.

Colorful gum balls

Color itself is a great element of design in composition (iPhone 4)

2. Simplify! Watch for distracting elements in your scenery, and scan your screen for unwanted objects. If you have to, shift your position or that of your subject in order to simplify the composition.

3. Compose your image in such a way that it draws attention to a single subject or point-of-interest. Fill your iPhone camera screen with your subject. Use leading lines – they guide the viewer’s eye to your subject.

4. Shoot your subject from many different angles, try different compositions, and even at different times of day or seasons. Don’t forget to get shots both vertically and horizontally. You stand a better chance at getting a winner!

A wooden barn doorway

Side-lighting adds dimension to your subjects (iPhone 4s. Glen Mills, PA)

5. If you want to learn how to edit and process your photos using iPhone photography apps, learn some basics of good photography first. Your goal is to concentrate on getting the shot correct in-camera and to minimize your time with photo editing apps.

6. Unless you are shooting action and sports, pause a bit before shooting. Evaluate the scene on your iPhone screen. Ask yourself, “Is this the best angle? Is this the best light? Should I compose differently?”

7. Don’t ever think that iPhoneography means “bad pictures.” Remember: it’s not the violin, it’s the violinist. You can make award-wining images with any camera if you develop a good eye, learn and understand basic photography concepts.

8. The iPhone’s HDR feature produces very subtle results and is not appropriate in every situation. Also, it may be less than ideal when photographing action shots.

9. Never make the common mistake of thinking that you’d be a better photographer if you had a “fancier” camera.

10. Always be aware of the type, quality and direction of the lighting in your scenery. This is how you develop your Photographer’s Eye. It is what makes a photographer truly stand out – not the type or brand of camera being used. Let’s face it, photography is based on light. Develop your eye!

A castle turret

Positioning a subject off-center, using the“Rule-of-Thirds” results in a pleasing composition. (iPhone 5. Aosta, Italy)

11. Don’t rely too heavily on process filters. Subtle effects are generally best. Remember that “less is more.”

12. If you get a shot that shows evidence of camera shake, no amount of post-processing can bring back focus or sharpness. However, you might use apps to help you take advantage of the blurriness by emphasizing it and producing an appealing “artistic” or abstract image. Perhaps a happy accident!

13. When critiquing the work of others on social networks and photography blogs, make it worth their while. Comments such as “Great shot” or “One of my favorites” are simply not helpful. Leave constructive feedback or nothing at all.

14. Use your iPhone’s digital zoom only when you absolutely have to get that shot and just can’t get any closer. Realize that with digital zoom, you’re cutting down on resolution and sharpness. Also, you stand a better chance of introducing camera shake. Use a some sort of support if you can.

15. Never, EVER, show or share your poor shots. Throw out your bad images with impunity!

Inside the Eastern State Penitentiary

Symmetrical compositions beg to be well centered. (iPhone 4s. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia PA)

16. Follow the Rule of Thirds in composition. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid on-screen onto which you place your subject or horizons – off-center along any of the grid lines.

17. Break the Rule of Thirds, see what you get.

18. Symmetrical subjects and compositions as well as certain reflections frequently work better when centering them in the frame rather than placing them off-center.

19. Shoot every day. EVERY day. Use one of many apps made for encouraging daily shooting. I like Photo 365 - “Everyday Photo Calendar for Your Life” by Benjamin Hsu ($1.99 Universal).

20. Digital images are fleeting, and you have to be careful with your backup and archiving workflows. Print your most cherished images to make them endure over time. However, use fine quality acid-free paper and storage containers. Watch humidity and temperature.

21. Sometimes you run out of new ideas for your iPhone photography. Photographer’s Block can be easily overcome by studying the works of others for that shot-in-the-arm motivator. Look at a lot of photographs. All the time. Think about what the maker wanted you to see. How successful was he. Get ideas. Get inspired.

Looking up to a vaulted ceiling in a medieval church.

With an iPhone camera and a handful of photo apps, you can create masterpieces (iPhone 5. Cefalú, Italy)

22. Learn to use iCloud and Photo Stream. It all just works.

23. Practice situational awareness. You should be able to understand and pre-visualize how your scenery, lighting and subjects will change in the upcoming seconds and minutes. Action changes in sports photography. Lighting quality and direction changes. Your subject changes position. Be prepared.

24. Enable your iPhone’s camera grid. Similar to a tic-tac-toe grid of lines, it will help you compose well if you want to be guided by the Rule-of-Thirds. It also helps you keep your subject and scenery aligned straight. Go to Preferences > Photos & Camera > Camera Grid.

The Photos & Camera settings panel in iOS

You can get help composing by keeping your camera grid enabled.

25. Always study your own photos. Examine your image metadata. What could you have improved with respect to composition and lighting quality?

26. (I know, I know, I said twenty-five) Generally, you're not likely to leave your iPhone behind – which is a good thing, because as you've probably heard before... the best camera is the one you have with you.

I’ll have more of these tips to offer you in upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, get your iPhone Camera app loaded up and shoot lots of photos. Study the results. Delete the bad ones. When you’re done, you can explore the excellent photo apps available to you, where you can tweak, play and experiment to achieve your own vision; to blow-away your viewers to the point of saying, “You shot that on your iPhone?!?!”

I can tell you from experience – it happens.