It is no secret that I love my iPhone. Many times I’ve posted shots that were taken on my phone which can often be used for way more than just a snapshot of an ‘event’. I’m not going into a massive debate about iPhone camera vs ‘real’ cameras, because this is something the entire internet photography community has rehashed to no end. If you think an iPhone is in ANY way a substitute for a SLR, you’re an idiot. The iPhone is a sub-par tool that does the same physical thing, but has massive limitations on output. That said however, what makes the iPhone so great is that it is ALWAYS with you. An iPhone photo of something is better than no photo at all. So there. That part is done.
Now, moving onto the topic I wanted to discuss. I play around extensively with some ‘hidden’ features of my iPhone camera. Just like with a SLR, if the monkey holding it doesn’t tell it what to do, it won’t do it. The iPhone doesn’t unfortunately have any manual mode where you can set the ISO, shutter speed & aperture. Yet, it is exactly like a compact camera that has ‘modes’ -just without having to change the mode yourself. This does mean that you can still control to a certain degree what the camera does.
So below I’m going to outline the most commonly used techniques I use and then also, something that is brand new to iOS 7 which I stumbled upon right after I updated my phone. I’m easily most excited about that, but let’s start with the techniques first:
1. Thirds Rule Grid
By default, when using your native camera app, there are no visual guidelines on the screen. You can however enable a very handy visual guideline called Grid. It is found by going into Settings > Photos & Camera > GRID (enable). You will now notice your screen has 4 light lines dividing up your screen into thirds. Use this when shooting to help your composition be more pleasing. Put horizon lines on a third line. Have subjects intersect at third lines. Go wild. It doesn’t guarantee the most award winning photo from here on out, but it does help you compose something a little more pleasing to the eye.
2. Be Wild West Gunslinger Fast
With the revamp of iOS 7, certain things have moved around somewhat. For the most part, better. I’m often grabbing for my phone when I see something happen which I want to quickly snap before it’s gone. Normally this is a car of some kind for me. Old iOS required a double tap which revealed the camera icon, then going into camera. iOS 7 now has a ‘always visible’ camera icon in the lower right corner. Just slide this up quickly & presto! Camera is open & ready to fire! What if you’re already on your phone & want to quickly take a picture? Well just swipe UP anywhere on the screen to reveal the Control Center. Again bottom right has the camera icon.
3. Swipe Everything
Everything is now done with swipes. In Camera App specifically, swipe left & right to go into different modes: Video, Photo, Square, Panoramic. This makes things so much easier if you want to change modes quickly & without having to navigate a menu.
4. Live View Filter Presets
As a full time photographer, I often make use of Lightroom’s Presets function. This is the ability to adjust an image in a certain pre-selected way over & over again. What Lightroom doesn’t have is a Live View preset function. Your camera app does though! Selecting the 3 colour circles at the bottom right corner will bring up 8 different filters you can apply in Live View. Personally, I haven’t been using this feature too much. I tend to do any image adjustments in 3rd party apps which give me much better control over the image. If you have no image processing apps installed, you can still apply a preset by going into your Camera Roll, selecting an image, hitting Edit & again selecting the 3 circular icon.
5. Lock Focus & Exposure
This little trick is something not many people know about. I’ve been surprised how many folks I’ve been able to show this to! I think everyone knows that if you tap on an area of the screen it will set the focus & exposure (as best as possible) for that area. Now what if you find this isn’t giving you the exposure you’re after? This trick lets you override the cameras built in ‘modes’. Let’s say for example you’re in a room that has bright windows. You just need a good exposure for the room interior & don’t care about not being able to see outside too. Hold the camera away from any window area so it adjusts the exposure for the room interior. Now, TAP & HOLD the centre of the screen. You’ll notice the focus box will ‘grow’ twice until you see a “AE / AF LOCK” block. You have now locked the Auto Exposure & Auto Focus to that point. If you move the camera back to an area that has a window, the camera will no longer change exposure & your room will remain the correct exposure. Cancelling the AE/AF Lock is easy -just tap anywhere on the screen again & it will release the lock. Pretty cool huh! Think of this as the closest to manual mode you’ll get on the iPhone. If you get clever with this trick, you’ll find there is little you can’t do.
6. iOS 7 HDR Redesign (super powerful!)
This is what I’ve been most excited about since upgrading to iOS 7! They have seriously beefed up the HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature. I found myself always frustrated with older iOS versions because the HDR feature was slow & therefore almost unusable because of something called ‘ghosting’. Sounds scarier than it may be. HDR is the technique of taking more than 1 image at different exposure values to combine them into a single, higher dynamic (details in shadows & highlights) image. The problem with this is things move between those shots. When it all gets stacked together, things don’t match up (trees, moving people, etc) and you get ghost objects. Well the boys in the tech labs at Apple have certainly put some time behind this problem, because the new HDR feature in iOS 7 no longer has this problem! When enabling HDR, it is firstly incredibly fast. Secondly, it now takes three images at the same time to give you a much better transition between highlights & shadows. Thirdly, because the images are taken at exactly the same time, you no longer have ghosting in trees, etc.
Now all this all might sound like fancy talk, so I decided to do some hard testing before writing this article. See my test images below for a hard comparison between a single shot photo vs HDR. You’ll notice I really tried to create the harshest situations with shadow & highlight areas in 1 frame. The amount of detail that is retained is incredible. Add to this no ghosting & super smooth tonal transitions and you have one super powerful pocket camera device. What this allows is greater processing ‘wiggle room’. Very much like real world photography where one works with 16 & 32bit images whenever possible, because it gives you more freedom to manipulate an image.
Well that wraps up my article about Apple iOS 7 camera app tips & tricks. As a full time automotive & commercial photographer who doesn’t always have his Nikon D800E SLR with him, these are my go-to techniques. If you have any further questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below & I will get back to you. Alternatively catch me on Twitter or Facebook.
Till next time!