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iPhone Camera Tips and Tricks: How to take better pictures

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How to take better iPhone photos

Billions of photos have been taken with iPhones and many of them are dreadful. It's not because the iPhone 5S has a bad camera, though. It has a pretty good one, in fact.

Want to be among the masses of good iPhone photographers rather than someone just filling up Instagram with hashtag'd pictures of plates of food? With just a few basic iPhone photography tips and tricks you can become a much better mobile photographer.

Some people think you need a DSLR like the Nikon D810 to take good photos, but that's simply not true. Find out how to get the most out of your iPhone camera with our simple guide.

iPhone camera tip #1: Switch on the camera grid

When casually shooting with your iPhone, it's very easy to produce wonky photos, where the horizon is accidentally tilted at an angle. Skew-wif photos can look good if it appears deliberate, but it's best to know what you're shooting, rather than occasionally stumbling upon some photographic gold.

ScreenSwitching on gridlines is the easiest way to do this. The grid most superimposes a bunch of lines on the screen of the camera app, to make it much easier to compose your photos.

This feature isn't something you switch on in the actual camera app, though. Apple got rid of that in iOS 7.

Instead, go to Settings and scroll down to Photos & Camera. This holds the camera options that are kept out of the app itself in order to make it cleaner-looking.

Switch the grid on, and use it to line-up the horizon properly, giving you straighter-looking shots.

iPhone camera tip #2: Try shooting using the rule of thirds

While many people use the iPhone's grid view just to make their photos straighter, there's a actually another objective. In purer photographic terms, the gridlines are there to be used as a rule of thirds guide.

The rule of thirds is a principal based around the idea, the truth, that photos look better when your subject isn't slap-bang in the middle of the scene. Place them to either side, with perhaps another secondary element to interest the eye on the other side, and you have a recipe for a winning photo.

Where the gridlines intersect on the grid view is where you should look to place the subject in the scene. The real truth of the rule of thirds is that you can break it once you understand it and know how to use it, but getting on-board with how it works is a big part of going from becoming an Instagram pest to a good iPhone photographer. The basics of photography are for anyone taking photos, not just those who have shelled out hundreds on expensive dedicated cameras.

SEE ALSO: iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S5
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iPhone camera tip #3: Use HDR – a note on how it works

One of the easiest ways to improve image quality in your iPhone photos is to experiment with HDR, a mode that you switch on and off at the top of the camera app. You can't miss it.

HDR stands for high dynamic range, and is a mode that artificially enhances dynamic range by merging together three exposures: a bright one, a normal one and a dark one.

But what is dynamic range? In cameras it refers to how well a sensor can render the darkest and lightest parts of an image, before they become overexposed or crushed into blackness. HDR is all about opening-up these extreme ends of the brightness spectrum, bringing out details that would be missing when shooting in the standard Auto mode.

The iPhone's HDR mode is quite effective, but not too extreme, avoiding the sort of artificial look that some other phones produce. You could easily get away with convincing most people they're 'normal' photos.

You take HDRs just like standard shots, but you do need to have a steadier hand, because your phone is actually taking several shots in quick succession.

Here's the sort of effect you can get with it:
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iPhone camera tip #4: Avoid using the digital zoom

Another tool in the photographer's arsenal the iPhone offer is digital zoom. You use it simply by pinching on the screen to zoom in and out.

However, we recommend avoiding it. The iPhone uses digital zoom, which basically involves cropping the image, blowing it up and the applying a noise reduction algorithm to reduce the noise of the resulting photo. It results in pretty soft-looking images, though. The issue is that the iPhone just doesn't have the resolution or detail to spare to make digital zoom viable.

Even when zooming in just slightly, you can tell it has been used without blowing-up the final image.

Instead of using zoom, try getting closer to your subject. Use your legs instead. As well as being a good approach in technical terms, it's a solid outlook to have as a photographer, giving you a more hands-on and dynamic approach to your shots. Approaching things from strange angles may not make you look cool, but it will often result in better shots.

SEE ALSO: iOS 8 vs iOS 7 - What's New?
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iPhone camera tip #5: Apps to try

iPhones are often seen as being a bit restrictive compared with Android phones, but they do give you a good degree of camera flexibility with the help of apps. You're not tied to the inbuilt camera app, you can use third-party ones.

Some of them open up advanced features you don't get as standard. Perhaps the most important is being able to choose separate spots where the iPhone focuses and judges metering, which controls how bright a photo appears by altering exposure settings.

iPhone camera 4One of the first apps you should try is Pro Camera 7. This lets you set different spots for the exposure and focus.

It makes creative photography much easier, especially for shots with silhouette figures that the default camera app might try to brighten-up.

Other apps that also offer this include Camera Plus.

iPhone camera tip #6: How to take awesome night photos

iPhones can take great photos in good lighting, but turn the lights down and they really start to struggle. Noise goes through the roof and detail plummets through the floor.

The way around this is to try a camera app that lets you manually set the exposure time, and then use a mini tripod to stop your shaky hands from turning the shot into a blurry mess. Pro Camera 7 lets you pick exposure times for night-time shots – up to a huge one second exposure.

These exposure times tell you how long the shutter is open for, letting light hit the camera sensor. The longer the time, the more light your iPhone has to make into a photo.

For longer exposures like these, though, you do really need to use a tripod, or put your phone on a still surface. You can get a Joby Gorillapod for iPhones online for about £20 – it'll do the trick. Alternatively, you'll find no-name iPhone tripods on eBay for just a few quid, if you just want to play around for a bit.

iPhone camera tip #7: Accessories to supercharge your photos

The immense popularity of iPhones has sparked off other photographic accessories too. One of the most interesting is the Olloclip. It's a lens that sits on top of your iPhone's native camera lens, giving you a completely different field of view and visual quality to your photos.

It's reversible too. The idea is that one side gives you a macro lens, the other an extreme wide-angle one. Taking one out with you is like having a camera with three lenses.

Optical quality naturally isn't as good as a really good dedicated lens, but you can really get that shallow depth of field effect that's just not possible with the standard iPhone lens. Not without 'faking it' with processing, anyway.

An Olloclip doesn't come cheap at around £70, but it's a fantastic way to get a highly creative photos without taking a full-size camera out with you. 

SEE ALSO: iOS 7 Tips and Tricks


iPhone camera tip #8 – Get social

Sharing your photos won't directly make you a better photographer, but it's a good way to get more motivation to carry on shooting. Who doesn't like getting a nice bit of feedback about work they've created?

Instagram gets a bad rap as the place that made photography all about filters rather than photos, but it's an extremely vibrant social network that's all about pictures.

It works a fair bit like Twitter. You create a free account, and follow people whose snaps your interested in. They might be your friends, or just people you've spotted on Instagram who take neat shots.  

Each photo is posted like a Facebook status update, and can attract 'up' votes and comments. You don't have to be a hashtagging, selfie-posting teenager to have a bit of fun with Instagram.

iPhone camera tip #9: Use filters, but don't rely on themScreen

So far we've talked mostly about ways to make your photos better in quite a traditional sense. We're all about becoming better photographers, less about cheating to get your photos more 'likes' on Facebook.However, filters can be very useful, and a valid way to tweak your photos.

Even people with photography setups costing thousands of pounds tweak their photos on Lightroom or Photoshop – the right approach to post-processing and filters can be similar.

Our tip is to avoid aggressive presets, and instead manually fiddle with things like contrast, brightness, black and white transformations and vignetting. That way it'll become a skill you can actually transfer to photography in general.

There are loads of apps that offer this sort of post-shoot processing. One you can try out for free is Adobe Photoshop Express.

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