iPhone Photography: Advanced Exposure & Focus Techniques

By , Jun 23, 2012

I hope you enjoyed making images using the creative exposure techniques we learned in our last iPhone Photography lesson. I had a great time following those that shared their work using the #iDBCreativeExposure tag on Instagram, and I share a few of my favorites at the bottom of this post.

In today’s lesson, we are going to learn more about exposure and focus liberation

Exposure and Focus Liberation

You probably discovered setting your exposure and focus was great if you wanted to focus on the same point you wanted to set your exposure. But what if you want to focus on something in the foreground, and set your exposure for the light in the background, or vice versa?

You have a couple of options, Camera+ or Camera Awesome. Both of these apps liberate your focus from your exposure. Before we get into the details of how to do this, let’s talk a bit about focus as it relates to your iPhone.


Focus, as the name implies, refers to what elements of a scene will be sharp or in focus. Most of the time, an entire scene will be in focus. The iPhone does a pretty good job of ensuring that. However, in scenes where you have a great distance between the background (distant) and foreground (closer) elements you might experience a situation where one element is sharp and in focus and the other is not. This phenomena is illustrated below.

To get complete creative control over both the exposure and focus, you can use Camera+ or Camera Awesome. In this example we are going to use Camera Awesome – it works the same in Camera+. Once you have Camera Awesome fired up, touch the screen to see your default focus/exposure point.

Now, to liberate your exposure from your focus, simply unpinch them. You should now see both a focus indicator (square) and exposure indicator (circle). To craft your perfect image (a silhouette in this case), simply set the focus on the subject and the exposure on the bright sunset in the background.

Exposure and Focus Lock

Another technique I like to use is something called exposure and focus locking.

You might have noticed that if you touch an area of your iPhone’s screen long enough, the exposure/focus box will pulse, and ‘AE/AF’ will appear at the bottom of the screen. If you haven’t grown up as an SLR (big fancy camera) photographer, this will probably be new to you.

What exposure/focus locking does is just what the name implies, it locks the exposure and focus so that it won’t change even if you move your phone around. The exposure and focus will remain locked until you tap the screen again.

This is a handy trick if you would like to make your image much brighter or darker than the light in the scene will allow you. Here is a quick example of how I used AE/AF lock to create the image below.

Here is the scene as the iPhone initially exposed for.

What I wanted to do was brighten it up and try to blow the background out a bit to create a mysterious dreamlike path. However, there wasn’t an area dark enough that I could use to brighten the overall exposure. Remember from the previous lesson: tap somewhere dark to brighten the image and somewhere light to darken the image.

I was able to work around this limitation by exposing for a dark area just to the right of this scene and then lock that exposure in to be used when I shifted my iPhone back to the scene I wanted to photograph. The photography world calls this, ‘recomposing’.

Voila, just what I was looking for! You can see how much more overexposed or bright the image is now.

To achieve the final version of the image, I used a few tricks I’ve developed in Snapseed.


I hope you have learned a bit more about controlling your iPhone’s exposure and focus. Your assignment is to go out and shoot photos using these advanced exposure and focus techniques we learned about today. Over the next two weeks, tag your Instagram photos with #iDBAdvancedExposure so we can all follow along. I will choose a few of my favorites to be featured in our next lesson. Until then, keep it clicking!

Favorite Photos From Last Assignment

Photo by @owengd69

Photo by @saurin3245

Photo by kr0n0s99

Photo by @cueball30

Photo by @supermani

Photo by @naahqeeb

Photo by @yhavin

Justin Balog is an award winning photographer and filmmaker. You can follow is daily creative adventures at HOSSedia.com or learn more about iPhone Photography in his iBook ‘Big World Little Lens‘.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/luisreyespr Luis

    I just became a fan of iPhoneography, the separation of focus/exposure makes a great difference in quality.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Awesome, have fun!

  • http://twitter.com/JB_UNIT24 Aaron de Leon

    :( ebook is only available on iPad, but great post loving these :D

  • http://twitter.com/georgehdz George

    I’m loving this iPhonephotography lessons

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Glad you liked it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marlon-Greg-Ceballe/1261923209 Marlon Greg Ceballe

    Nice post! I my self is a iPhone photography enthusiast. Your article will help me alot :) thanks!

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Awesome, glad I could help!

  • http://www.gizmoheat.com/ Hammad Armghan

    Thank you iDownloadblog :)

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Glad you liked it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/luisreyespr Luis

    Can I put effects on the picture, or do you expect it to be 100% natural?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marlon-Greg-Ceballe/1261923209 Marlon Greg Ceballe

      Also my question..

      • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

        Whatever your creative muse guides you to do. No restrictions….just have fun!

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Whatever your creative muse guides you to do. No restrictions….just have fun!

  • Gus Me

    Nice job. I was lucky enough to be picked as one of the faves. @kr0n0s99 here :) Love to see others helping bring more people into the iPhoneography world. I’ll definitely be checking out the other faves instagram feeds.

    • rosssimpson

      great photo!!

      • Gus Me

        Thank you!

      • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

        No luck involved, great pic!

  • rosssimpson

    I love iPhonography! check out myinstagram @r18_ :p

  • http://twitter.com/Karenjs Karen

    This is very helpful. Wondered why I’d occasionally get the “thick circle” instead of “the normal square” from time to time on Camera+ ..which now tells you exactly how experienced I am at taking photos.. Keep it coming!

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Good deal! The thick circle is intended to look like the aperture opening inside a camera lens…that what helps me remember which is which. Aperture (circle) controls exposure. Glad I could help!

  • http://www.facebook.com/martin.busek Martin Busek

    I found one feature in iOS6 and not sure if it is in iOS5 too… When you hold your finger on display for a while (in stock camera app), the exposerue and focus fixes, until you touch the screen again…

    • jdshorrock

      Just verified it works for iOS5 also.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/alexjdz Alex Diaz

      Read the article!

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Yep, that is a great feature of the newer iOSes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000408745447 Matty Rosello

    Where did you get that Lego wallpaper?

  • juanmateo

    Good tutorial. Personally I choose ProCamera and Camera+ for shooting. ProCamera is great for AE and AF but also for AWB (Camera+ too), also is very fast.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Agreed, I like Camera+ too…just thought I would introduce Camera! since it was free. The WB lock on Camera+ is a gem!

  • Abdul Rahman

    I’m trying to unpinch but the two are not getting separated.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Are you still having problems?

      • Abdul Rahman

        No. I got it. I have to tap and then pinch out then it separates. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/quent1g quent1g

    hi,did you know where i can find the lego wallpaper,the same,thanks,Quentin

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001827608183 Prajyot Bakhale

    which is d wallpaper?

  • Loopthree

    Just posted to instagram (@deepbluethree). These lessons are fantastic, thank you.

    • http://www.hossedia.com/ Justin Balog

      Glad you are enjoying them!

  • http://twitter.com/Dynomite232 Nino 0raham

    whats the backround pic of ur iphone

  • Wael Abdo

    very nice info. keep em coming. thanks

  • Aaron de Silva

    I see Singapore Flyer!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.morgan.9256 Andrew Morgan

    … I’m confused. Hasn’t this already been posted?

    • Gus Me

      The date says June 23rd, so this looks like a “bump”. This also can’t be edited with updated pics as instagram is down….

  • http://www.facebook.com/saurin3245 Saurin Farki

    Thank u iDB and JUSTIN BALOG for selecting my photo…@saurin3245

  • David Altman

    I am having trouble UNpinching to separate focus and exposure. Takes me several attempts. Maybe because i have large fingers? Any suggestions?

  • Harmeet Singh

    oooooooooooooooooooosum blog. thnx mate

  • jeremiah smalls

    it wont let me unpinch the exposure from the focus