Tips for iPhone Photographers

From time to time on Instagram, I get a message from a friend or follower asking me what camera equipment I use. My slightly embarrassed reply is that 99% of my photographs are taken using my iPhone. I have a nice Canon digital camera that I like to dangle around my neck to look professional. However, I often find that I have more luck getting the kind of shots I want on my phone.

I thought that I would share some of the things that I have learnt since I started taking photographs on a daily basis. I hope that much of it will apply whatever camera phone, or just camera you are using.

Let there be light

My number one piece of advice? Take your pictures in natural daylight. I’m assuming that you don’t have a professionally lit photographers studio, so any other kind of artificial lighting will play tricks on you. Different light bulbs cast different colours across your image and create funny shadows too. In the picture at the top of this post, I am standing next to a window. At home, where I take most of my photos, I drag whatever I am trying to shoot close to a source of natural light. Not direct sunlight though. That bleaches out detail.

A photograph by Helen Perry where you can see the effect of sunlight bleaching an image
In the image on the left, direct sunlight is creating a glare on my hand and knee. I waited for the sun to go behind a cloud to take the second image.

Use your grid

Taking time to compose your pictures can make the difference between something that is meh or magnificent. I use what’s known as the Rule of Thirds to judge where to place things within the frame. The principle is that if you split your image into nine boxes, as shown below, and place whatever you are photographing on one of those lines (particularly the vertical lines) you will get a nicer looking more dynamic picture.

A photograph of Helen Perry demonstrating the Rule of Thirds
I have edited this picture so that my face, the subject, sits along one of the vertical lines of my grid of nine. The Renaissance artists discovered that this kind of composition often makes for a more pleasing image.
A flat lay by Helen Perry featuring a grid that demonstrates the Rule of Thirds in photographic composition
You can use a grid in your photo editor to alter the position of things in the frame after you have taken the picture. I find it really helpful to have the grid on my camera phone visible while I am shooting.

If it is not switched on already, using the visible grid on your iPhone camera is easy peasy.

A picture of the iPhone camera settings page
Go to ‘Settings’, ‘Camera’ then ‘Grid’. It’ll help you create better compositions.

Tap tap tap

Another useful function on the iPhone is the screen tap focus. Once you have lined up your shot, tap the screen with your finger right on the subject that you want to focus on. You’ll get a super clear and more interesting image.

Don’t be afraid of Negative Space

If the main subject of a shot is positive space then the background, with nothing in it, is the negative space. If you give the negative space some….space, then it makes the thing you are trying to photograph really stand out.

A flat lay by Helen Perry featuring products by Sevin London
I have tried to leave plenty of negative space around each element of this flat lay. I wanted to draw attention to the yellow items in the composition.

This can be particularly important to remember with Instagram photographs, which are viewed next to each other on a grid. Plenty of negative space in each picture makes them sit more pleasingly together.

Photo Editing Apps

I think it’s generally accepted that the editing options available on your iPhone or in Instagram, are not the best out there. Personally, I get on really well with an App called VSCO. I just use the free version. Here are some examples of before and after editing.

A pink wall at the Thames Lido in Reading
A fabulous pink wall before editing.
A pink wall at the Thames Lido in Reading
The same photograph after I had adjusted the exposure and saturation in VCSO.
Flat lay photograph, example taken before editing
A flat lay, taken on white card near a window.
A flat lay by Helen Perry featuring a pink cup and saucer and Russian dolls
Post editing. Lighter and brighter and much more likely to catch someone’s eye.

Generally, I will increase the exposure, contrast, and saturation on each photograph by several points. Then I use the sharpen tool. I use VSCO’s M5 filter, at a low setting, but there are dozens to choose from.

All of this totally depends on what kind of finish you would like. If you want a muted or monochrome image you might choose to dull the saturation or exposure. Have a play around.

If you find that VSCO is not for you this is an up to date list of the other Apps you could try by iPhone Photography School.

Work your angles darling

My friend Caroline, who is a proper qualified photographer, is big on this one. Get creative with your angles, take pictures from above or below or to the side, just keep trying new things. You can crop and chop too, you don’t need to feature all of anything. I love this technique for avoiding showing my face too often!

Cropped photograph of blogger Helen Perry wearing a green jumper
This photo was taken at a low angle with my iPhone on a tripod. I use the 10-second timer and run for it.

Advice from some great women on how to take better Selfies.

Equipment

If you are a photography geek then you could spend a fortune on equipment. I have bought just a couple of things. A cheap tripod (I’m not going to link to the one I have because I don’t think it’s that great) search ‘smart phone tripod’ on Amazon or Google. This came with a phone fixing and blue tooth remote control (you can buy them seperately on Amazon if you already have a conventional tripod).

Tripod equipment for iPhone
I have a small and portable tripod specifically designed for use with a phone. I also have a bigger tripod that has an iPhone attachment. Headphones are useful because you can use them as a remote control, just hit the volume button.

I have started a Pinterest folder filled with advice from experts on improving your iPhone photos

Bits and pieces

I’ve invested a small amount of money in props that I use to try and make my pictures a little more interesting. I have different coloured card mount boards (WH Smith or Hobbycraft) and different fabrics and tissue papers that can be used to add interest, layers and texture, especially in flat lay style pictures.

A flat lay photograph of soap by Helen Perry
Try adding layers and texture to your photos. Button, sequins and things that you can ‘spill’ look good too.

Introduce things that are special to you. I like to feature brooches, but keep losing them! A favourite book maybe? I notice lots of content creators have beautiful pairs of scissors, I must get some.

Inspiration

My last bit of advice is to look, look and look some more at the photographers that you love. Take tips and try and create your own images inspired by what they do. If I feel that I am in the territory of having copied someone (especially for an Instagram picture) then I credit them with the idea clearly and honestly.

The brilliant range of photographs featured on the @Instagram account is a great source of inspiration and ideas.

I recommend that you use Pinterest for ideas, and follow the Instagram mothership account, but other than that I’ll leave to you. You know what you like. Good luck!

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Please let me know if there is anything that I have not covered here, or if  you have any useful tips of your own to share. I love to read your comments.

12 Comments

  • Wow! I just point and click!!! 37 years of living with somebody who loves using a camera has taught me to just click and enjoy the walk or War and Peace whilst he takes another photo! I will try harder!! Thank you x

    • Lynne, if you are happy pointing and clicking then that is what you should do lovely! I’m getting a bit more geeky about it and thought I would share some of my homework and experience. Thank you so so much for reading. Hx

    • Hi Tikha, thank so much for reading 🙂 I’m so pleased if any of it is helpful. Glad you like my pictures too, very kind. Helen x

  • oooh the grid! Now isn’t’ that a life changer! Thank you!
    I’ve just started practicing with flat lays and this makes all the difference. I usually do it with my Nikon but I’ll def be grabbing my phone now..

    • I don’t know if it works for everyone, but the grid works for me. So much easier to see how to make the composition work better for a better shot overall. I do love a flat lay! Look forward to seeing some of yours xx

  • Wow. This is such a great post. Feel really inspired and equipped to tackle the changes i have been wanting to make to my instagram feed to create more of an identity. Thank you so much. Love your feed / stories

    • Hi Louise, I’m delighted that you found this useful. I have always enjoyed taking photographs, but Instagram and my blog have really focused my efforts. Thank you so much for reading and leaving this kind comment. Makes my day. Helen x

  • Great post Helen. I have a Canon DSLR but I’ve never used it for my Instagram pics as I usually have my phone with me rather than carrying my camera around all the time. Some really great tips and advice here. I edit my pics on my phone at the moment, I have a Samsung rather than an i-Phone but I must try and get to grips with VSCO!!

    • Thanks, Juliana, when it comes to my DSLR it is also a huge pain to get the photos off it, on to my computer, then over to my phone to post to Instagram. I would love one with Bluetooth…but good cameras are such a major investment. I’m positive the Samsung does everything the iPhone will, more for all I know! One day we will meet and compare notes. Thanks for visiting. Helen x

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