Getting good photos on the iPhone camera

Believe it or not, the photo above was taken using the iPhone 4 while I was on holiday in Barcelona, Spain. The photo you see is the painted glass windows at the back of the Sagrada Familia. Although I only have a couple of photos on my Flickr account, I have more which I have uploaded to Facebook. You’ll need to guess the difference between the 5DmkII shots vs. the iPhone ones… I didn’t really label them to be honest lol! Ok just kidding, find the ones between the albums Barcelona : 15th Nov &  Barcelona museum of art. All the albums in between them were taken using the iPhone.

So naturally some folks either thought they were taken using my 5DmkII or that I moved my photos to my dad’s laptop which we brought with us during our trip & edited it using Photoshop CS-something or another. I did do some minor processing however they were done on the phone using Adobe Photoshop Express for the iPhone.

I was using a pretty standard workflow… and is still my workflow on the iPhone today as I found it to be very effective & produces good results. It isn’t as good as doing editing on the computer with let say CS5 but I want to demonstrate that it can be done, as some photographic purists would like to say, out of the camera. To me not editing your photo to make it look even better than the original is silly & makes absolutely no sense. Photography has never been about reality. The fact that you use a camera to take an image, you are already distorting reality with enhanced colors, depth-of-field & angle of view. No camera can see what our eye sees so it’s pointless to try.

Here’s some tips…

Taking the photo

If you were wondering if I used any fancy software to take the photo, sorry I didn’t. I used the standard app which came with the phone. Reason because I wanted the HDR to be turned on. I did it in such a way that the phone took two images, the original & the HDR enhanced one. That way when I’m done, I can select the photo which came out looking the best.

So here it is, compose the photo & select the point of focus by touching the screen. Your hands need to be extra still for this to work as it is normal for someone to move the phone in front a little when touching the screen. So you need to be firm when you hold the phone & touch it without moving it. After all you don’t want to cause your phone to accidentally front focus on the subject. If it’s a landscape photo, it isn’t so crucial but for macro & close-ups, it’s pretty vital.

Second tip, make sure you focus on something bright. Reason because the exposure on the standard camera app is center weighted on the focus spot. If you focus on a dark area of the composition, the entire image will brighten up & blow the highlights on the bright areas. If you are not using the HDR function on the phone & you have intended the image to be like that, then that is fine. Otherwise look for a fairly bright area of the composition to focus on. You will need to work with the limitation of the iPhone like I have to get the images I got, but it will get easier when you shoot more with the phone.

Third tip… don’t just snap. The HDR function requires a couple of exposures to get it right. Moving subjects will spoil the final image so you need to pick your scenes carefully. Taking a sharp image with the iPhone requires patience & being absolutely still during the moment of capture. There is no Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilizers on the iPhone so you need to do it the old fashion way… don’t friggin move!! Spending some years studying meditation in Tibet like I have will enable you to take sharp images with your camera without the need of a tripod… rofl! Review the photo you have taken immediately after the shot & do a 100% crop to see if the image capture is sharp or not by double tapping the area you want to zoom in to. If the image isn’t up to expectations, delete the photo & try again. I probably took like 4-5 shots of the photo above before picking the best of them. I deleted the rest.

Fourth tip… please don’t use the zoom function on the iPhone. It’s only a digital zoom & it’s not an optical one, so forget it. Use the iPhone as a fixed lens camera & you’ll do fine.

Basically, you need to work with the limitations of the phone & pick your shots. There is no easier way to do this.

Editing the photos

Now the images generated using the HDR function is dull & uninspiring to say the least. It works very well in bring out the dark areas & reducing highlights, bringing back the lost detail… it however does a lousy job at creating an image which pops at the audience. In order to bring that out in the photo, we will need to perform some editing on the image.

I use the exposure, contrast & saturation settings on my photos… in that order. Exposure & contrast will affect saturation in one way or another so don’t overdo the saturation too much. I leave that control last because sometimes I don’t need it. At times, upping the exposure is all that it takes to make the image look good. Experiment at what looks good to you. This is something which defines you as a photographer so figure out what works for you & go create the look that you want. There are other functions in Photoshop Express that I will not dwell into but go ahead & experiment with the different settings there are.

Remember that what you see on the editing screen within Photoshop Express is not what you get. You will need to save the photo & open it using your standard photo viewing app to see the final version of the image. Be aware of the highlights & saturation in your final image because all the editing may potentially make things worse if you are not careful.

Uploading to Facebook

I use an app called iLoader to get my photos onto Facebook. There is also a Lite version which only allows you to upload 3 photos at a time, but I prefer the paid version which let’s you stack as many uploads as you want at a time… just that it still uploads 3 at a time but with the convenience of allowing you to queue as many photos as you want.

So there you have it. Learn the limitations of the camera you are using, work around those limitations & you will get great images. Hope this is useful for you & ask me questions if you have any.


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4 responses to “Getting good photos on the iPhone camera”

  1. James says :

    perfect for getting good images on the iphone!

  2. Gary says :

    Beautiful and good tips. Thank you for sharing.

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