There’s an old adage: The best camera is the one you have with you. These days, the camera most people have with them is their mobile phone. Even though I have a decent DSLR, most of the photos in my library have been taken with my iPhone. Here are some tips to help you take better photos with that device.
1. Know and accept the camera’s limits
I love minor league baseball. Whenever I go see my local club, I’ve gotten into the habit of sending out a photo of my view to friends. The iPhone is great at this, general photos of the ballpark. However, the iPhone is not going to capture a close-up of the slide into second. Unless you’re the second baseman.
While the iPhone has gotten much better at low-light photography, it’s still not all that great so make sure you’ve got good light on your subject. I also recommend keeping the flash off all the time (not on auto) and manually turning it on when you think you need it.
That said, sometimes the only way to capture a memory is to take the darn photo anyway, regardless of quality. Don’t let subpar conditions get you down.
2. Keep the camera steady
Lock your elbows to your body. Hold the iPhone with both hands about 12 inches from your face. I usually twist my hips slightly, bend my knees a little and put my weight slightly on my back leg. Making sure the camera doesn’t jiggle is key to a good photo. Take the photo with your thumb; don’t stab at it with your finger. This will be slightly easier in iOS 5 when you can use the volume buttons to snap a picture. If possible, rest your elbows on a firm object like a railing.
Speaking of railings, a good accessory to have is the Gorilla Mobile for iPhone. This flexible tripod is great to wrap around railings, plop on car hoods, your buddy’s head or just about any object. If you’re using an app that supports self-timers, you can use this to get in the photo, too.
I also recommend getting the Apple bumper case to help you get a grip. A naked iPhone is damn slippery. Ignoring this advice myself, I almost subjected my iPhone to a fall from a roof taking a picture when it jumped from my hand.
3. Get their heads together
The iPhone is great for taking candid shots. The problem is, most people aren’t good at having their pictures taken. When taking pictures of a happy couple, make sure their heads are touching. If you don’t it’ll look there’s a space between their heads you can drive a truck through. If you’re taking pictures of an unhappy couple, make sure you goad them and really get them going. You’ll get a much better picture when they’re swinging at each other.
Basically, just do your best to get your subjects closer together than you think you need to in any situation.
4. Your feet are the best zoom
You know that slider that lets you set the zoom level on your iPhone? Forget it exists. If you need to get closer to your target, walk. Ok, if you’re at the ball park you’ll need to stop at the railing. The digital zoom is a zoom of last resort. Because it’s a digital zoom and not an optical zoom, you’re going to get some pixelation. Like I said earlier, if you’re trying to capture a quick memory, work with what you’ve got and don’t sweat it. But if you have an extra couple of seconds, just put one foot in front of the other until you’re close enough.
5. Free yourself of the default camera app
The stock camera app is great for zomg the cat is doing some cute and I need to take a picture right, right NOW. I have no hate for the default app; it occupies the place of honor in my upper left-hand corner. It’s not, however, always the best tool for the job. There are three apps I recommend to help you take better pictures.
- Camera + ($1.99) If you’re at all serious about taking better iPhone pictures, I can’t recommend Camera + enough. It has a grid for framing your shots, a timer, and the ability to stabilize and take burst shots. There are also a slew of filters you can apply after you’ve snapped your shot. Depending on your viewpoint, the fact that images are stored in Camera+’s own lightroom-style sandbox until you export is either good or bad. Bad if you keep forgetting to export it. Good if you’re a congressman still getting the hang of Twitter, and want yet another chance to review your shots before sending them anywhere.
- Synthcam (free) I first heard about this from Andy Ihnatko when it was his pick on MacBreak Weekly. It’s an interesting idea: instead of using the high-resolution still camera, Synthcam uses the lower-resolution video camera to take a long-exposure shot (you can choose how long). It then determines what moved during the exposure and what didn’t, and performs some kind of magic to make a crisp image of the static components. What this does is give you the ability to take pictures in low light without a lot of noise. I haven’t tested it much, but for free you can’t go wrong.
- just.SelfTimer (free) If you read the title of this app and thought it would be a self-timer camera app… well, you’d be correct. This app isn’t going to necessarily help you take better pictures, but it will help make sure you’re in more of them. The app will take a picture on 3, 5, or 10 second countdown. One benefit to using an app like this is when you hand your iPhone to someone to take a picture of you. Instead of explaining where to press (and have them jiggle the camera), you can set the timer, hand it to them, and strike your pose.