Written by Sara Tasker


A quick-fire guide to better iPhone photography

Sick of your phone’s photo album being full of selfies and missed opportunities (“No, if you squint, you can totally see it’s a heron mid-flight”)? Allow photographer Sara Tasker to share a few tips.

photo piece 1Do you have photos from your childhood Christmases? I do. It’s the usual line up: sullen faces mid-turkey-chew, torn cracker crowns and impossibly 80s upholstery. Treasures, of a sort.

My granddad took these photographs. He shot a whole roll of film, walked to the chemist, waited a week, then wrote in neat, 1940s handwriting the year and occasion on every single one.

Sadly, I don’t have the time for that.

Among the many, many compromises that came with the birth of my first child was the realisation that hobbies are now firmly on hold. My own fancy camera grew dusty, and I spent long winter hours seeking solace on my phone, trapped under a tiny, sleeping babe. That’s how I discovered iPhone photography.

iPhoneography, as it’s REALLY ACTUALLY called, is the legitimate art of taking beautiful photographs with your smartphone. It can be hard to tell from a cursory perusal of a Facebook feed, but our phones are increasingly capable of taking striking, moving and memorable images, without missing a single Twitter notification. All iPhones running the most up to date operating system should have the exact same features.

So, because the best camera is the one you have with you, and because nobody ever keeps their resolution to ‘learn how to work my camera out of Auto mode’ each year, here’s a quick-fire guide to creating brilliant iPhone imagery.

photo piece 2Go manual

Your phone will quite happily do this automatically, but manually setting your focus and exposure will bring much better results. Tap your subject area on the screen, and a box will appear: your phone will make sure that this area is bright, visible and sharp. Tapping different areas of the object will give slightly different results, especially if there’s a lot of contrast in your scene. Focus on a dark part of your image, and the whole scene will brighten. Focus on the lighter side, and the shadows grow deeper.

photo piece 3Thoroughly exposed

If your image still looks a little light or too dark, tap the focal point again to see the sunshine icon: this is the exposure control. Swipe downwards to make the picture darker; move upwards to brighten the scene. I tend to shoot slightly underexposed with the iPhone to capture all the detail, then lift the exposure if necessary in an editing app later on.

photo piece 4Chasing light

For clear and beautiful shots, use all the natural light you can get – open curtains, clear clutter off window ledges, move people into the brightest part of the room.

On sunnier days, try shooting directly towards the light to capture the low winter sun. Aim slightly to the side of the brightest point and watch the starry flares bloom across your screen. Adjust your focus and exposure as above to ensure your subject is still well-lit and visible, then snap, move a little, and snap some more.

Straighten up

Thanks to the iPhone’s skinny shape and size, it’s easy for jaunty angles to sneak into your snaps. If you’re photographing something with horizontal or vertical lines, line up your shot against these; there’s an in-camera grid option to make this a cinch. Get down at eye-level with whatever you’re shooting, and hold your phone straight rather than tilting towards the subject. Think about where the lens is on your phone – the top right corner – and line that up directly with your subject for a really clean shot.

On blurpose

In the low light levels of a winter home, it can be tricky to get a single clear shot of the smallest, scampering members of the family. Burst mode and good light can help, but if all else fails don’t be afraid to embrace the blur. Focus on something still in your image, hold down the focus and exposure to lock it in, then capture the chaos unfolding around you.

photo piece 5Shutter release

As well as the on-screen button, you can use the volume controls, your iPhone headphones or the inbuilt self-timer mode to trigger the camera to shoot. Specialist iPhone tripods are available, but I find a big chunk of Blu-Tack serves just as well, getting a phone to balance long enough for a group shot or tinsel-laden self-portrait, with no heinous selfie-stick required. (I took the picture below by balancing my phone on the roof of my car.)

photo piece 6Capture the ordinary

When the technology is so simple, great subject and composition really count. Capture the details that you want to remember. Look for the clues that tell the story of the day: little hands tearing at wrapping paper, discarded Christmas crackers, your mum obsessively stuffing both in the recycling bin in the rain. Ten years from now, these are the things that will pull you back in time.

photo piece 7JPGTake a batch

Burst mode – accessed by holding down the shutter for several seconds – will take a series of images in rapid succession. Don’t limit yourself to your first take; shoot, then check, reframe, and take some more.

The edited highlights

A light hand is needed for most editing apps; a good rule to apply is: if you can tell what you’ve done, you’ve probably done too much. My pet hate is heavy yellow filter tones. Dig around for the white balance or temperature control that will dial this down and stop your snaps from looking like my smoker aunt’s net curtains. If in doubt, save a few different edits side-by-side and choose the most natural and beautiful result.

See more of Sara’s iPhone photography at meandorla.co.uk


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Written by Sara Tasker

A photographer, blogger and dedicated napper, Sara's career highlights include getting a DM on twitter from Jon Ronson and once appearing on Radio 4 at 6am. She lives in Yorkshire with a dodgy WiFi connection.