Taking pictures on your iPhone: the Basics

If you’re looking to learn the basics on taking nice photos using your iPhone, then you’re in the right place. The camera function on smartphones has made huge strides in the last decade, and you’ll find that you can take pictures that are as beautiful and clear or more so than you can with a stand-alone digital camera. And it’s just as easy if not easier once you learn where to find the buttons…

The first step is to tap the Camera icon.

This will open the camera function to the default settings. By this we mean:

  • Photo (vs Video, Panorama or other options)
  • Forward facing camera (you’ll take a picture of whatever is in front of the camera vs a selfie/yourself)
  • Not magnified or zoomed
  • Flash off (unless you have previously chosen flash set to “On” as default or set for the camera to choose if it is needed each time ie “Auto”)

We’ll go through how to change each of these settings should you wish a different option for a particular photo.

Choose the Camera Mode – what they are each for

  • Photo: as mentioned this is the default and will likely be the best option for the majority of photos you will want to take.
  • Portrait: this does not refer to the orientation (ie landscape vs portrait) but rather this mode makes your subject pop and can give your pictures a dramatic look. When you take a photo in this mode, it keeps the subject in focus while making the background of the picture look artistically out of focus.
  • Pano: short for “panoramic photo”. When you tap this option, a yellow line and conspicuous white arrow will appear across your screen. This is a guide showing you in which direction to make a slow sweeping motion across the scene you wish to capture. You must follow the orientation of the line, so don’t try turning the camera to landscape for example. You’ll find more tips below.
  • Video: as the name suggests, you will capture action as a video. This can be edited later, so don’t worry too much about starting the camera too soon or stopping it well after the action has ended.
  • Slo-mo: this mode is for taking videos of actions that you’ll want to see slowed down. As you often see in replays of sporting events, for example. Or you can use this mode for everyday occurrences you think would make an interesting slow-motion video, such as a dog catching a frisbee or a child doing a cartwheel.
  • Time-lapse: this is a series of many closely-timed photos that will capture an action, usually one that happens slowly, such as a sunset or sunrise (or a flower blooming if you’re really patient). The camera must be kept perfectly still for this, so plan to set it on a static object for the duration of the action. You’ll also need sufficient battery as taking so many pictures does use a lot of power.

Customizing in “Photo” Mode

The first choice to make is whether you are taking a photo of something in front of you or of yourself. The camera defaults to non-selfie, so you won’t need to change anything if this is what you are hoping to do.

To change from outward facing to selfie mode, simply tap the icon on the bottom right as circled in yellow below. This button toggles between the two modes, so tapping it once again will bring it back to conventional (non-selfie mode).

If you want to take a picture of yourself (with or without others), the advantage of selfie mode vs a conventional digital camera is that you can see what the camera sees and make adjustments accordingly (fix your hair, bring the camera closer or farther from your face(s), etc.)

Like most other modes, you can simply rotate the camera 90 degrees if you want to take the photo in landscape (wider vs taller) instead of portrait (taller vs wider).

In Photo mode (as with most other modes), you can easily get a close-up shot of your subject without having to move physically closer. Notice in the picture above the “2x” in the small circle just above the “Photo” mode? This shows that the person is taking a picture which has zoomed by 100%. When you see “1x” here this is the default and the lens has not been zoomed at all. You can easily change the zoom feature by tapping and holding down the “1x” icon in the circle. This will bring up an arc that looks like the protractor you may remember from Math class. Simply slide your thumb right or left along the arc to change the zoom from 0.5 (ie appearing further away) up to 5.0 (ie max zoom). Once you’ve found the right setting, release your thumb and take the picture.

You can also choose if you want flash on or off. If you see the option “Auto” and choose it, the camera will decide the best outcome based on the subject and light conditions. You will find the flash symbol at the top left corner, as seen in the picture above (shown here with the line through it so set to “Off”).

“Live” option: this will capture a fraction of a second of movement in your otherwise still photos. It can add some pop, but it can also be annoying. Have a play taking pictures with it on or off. Personally I find them annoying when flipping through the files of photos later. And then there’s the other drawback of Live Photos in that they take up more storage space on your device…approximately twice the space of a normal 12 megapixel photo. You can turn Live Photo mode on or off by tapping the icon at the top that looks like a sun (in above photo, second icon from left on top of screen).

Another handy option is the timer. If you tap the timer icon (see above, second icon from right on the top of screen), you will bring up the menu of options. The default is zero (ie the photo will be taken the moment you press the shutter button). There are options of 3 seconds and 10 seconds. This can be useful if you are setting up a photo then need a few seconds to jump into it and not look rushed. Again simply tap this again to get back to default.

As you may have noticed, there are many other advanced customizations you can make in terms of exposure, shape (cropping), etc. We will cover some of these in an upcoming post. If you’re keen to learn more, there are numerous video tutorials on YouTube.

One super simple and transformative tip before we cover other modes below. You can help the camera know the focus of the picture you are trying to take simply by tapping on the person or object on the screen itself. You’ll see one or more yellow rectangles highlight where you’ve tapped. This will bring them more into focus and potentially adjusting the light to frame them. It is especially transformative if you are taking a picture where the environmental light is not bright (eg dusk) or there are very light and dark elements in frame. Suddenly, with one tap your friends and family appear clear and bright rather than looking like shadowy figures in a criminal line-up.

In our next post, we’ll be covering the basics for the other camera modes: Video, Pano, Slo-Mo and Time Lapse. And in upcoming posts, we’ll cover how to access and file your photos on your smartphone as well as share with others. If you’d like to receive these automatically into your inbox, subscribe for free below by inputting your email address and hitting the Subscribe button.

Gransplain: Smart tech. Smarter you.

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