50 things I have learned about iPhone photography

By , Nov 17, 2013

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In this post you are going to discover the 50 most important things I have learned about iPhone photography. Over the past two years I have taken some really great photos, and at least ten times more photos that did not turn out the way I wanted. I have done a lot of photo editing, which often only made my photos worse. I have spent countless hours on social media sharing my work and following the work of other photographers. And I have learned many things in the process.

I hope that by sharing the most important lessons I have learned I can accelerate your learning and help you avoid some of the mistakes that I made. But most importantly, I hope to inspire you to become a more active iPhone photographer. Let’s get started!

General iPhoneography tips

1. Getting a better camera won’t make you a better photographer.

2. Any iPhone is good enough for creating great photography. I’ve seen great photos taken with iPhone 3G. You really have no excuse.

3. Consistent practice is the best way to improve your iPhoneography. Keep practicing even when you’re out of ideas, and you’ll eventually create something amazing.

4. Treat your iPhone camera as if it was an expensive DSLR. If you only use your iPhone to create quick snapshots, you’ll never get anything else out of it.

Taking great photos

5. First learn how to take great photos. Only then it makes sense to master editing.

6. Become an observer of light. On a very fundamental level, photography is all about light, so the better you understand light, the better photographer you will become.

7. Learn to predict how the scene is going to change in the immediate future. Will that person briefly appear in the reflection after a few seconds? Be prepared when that moment comes.

8. The very best photos convey a strong emotion or tell a great story.

9. Mystery is the best way to tell a story in your photos. The best stories are already in the mind of the viewer. If you create mystery, the viewer can fill in the blanks and create a story that’s uniquely theirs.

10. Always take a few seconds and pause before taking a shot. Is this really the best angle and the best composition, or should you try something else instead?

11. The easiest way to improve your photography is to work on the angle and composition.

12. Learn the fundamentals of composition, get comfortable using them, and then learn how to break them. You must know the rules before you can break them.

13. Turn on the gridlines until you start thinking about any scene in terms of the grid.

14. Practice composition with simple photos that have a lot of empty space. Large open areas are perfect places to start with iPhone photography.

15. Always ask yourself what the main subject of your photo is, or what is the first thing that the viewer will notice. If there is no subject, is it really worth taking that shot?

16. Your composition should emphasize the main subject or subjects. And no, your subject should not be in the center of the frame.

17. Placing your subject even slightly off the center will greatly enhance your photos.

18. Think about photos in terms of balance. If you put your main subject in one corner of the image, you also want to have something of interest in the opposite corner to keep the composition balanced.

19. Turn on HDR for landscape photography and when sky takes up a large part of your photo.

20. Don’t use HDR for photos of movement and when you need to take many photos quickly.

21. Shoot against strong backlight (e.g. sunset sky) to create silhouettes.

22. Learn to quickly adjust focus and exposure – and how to lock it by holding down your finger.

23. Never use digital zoom. Zoom with your feet or crop your photos afterwards.

24. Use volume buttons for a camera-like shooting experience.

25. Use the volume buttons on your headphones for remote shutter release – or to stay discreet when taking photos in public.

26. You should be able to take the iPhone out of your pocket, turn it on, and open camera from the lock screen in two seconds or less. You don’t want to miss that perfect shot.

27. There are some great iPhoneography accessories on the market, but you don’t really need them to take great photos. Buying cool gear won’t make you a better photographer.

Editing and apps

28. No editing can turn a bad photo into a good one.

29. The easiest way to ruin a good photo is to mindlessly apply strong vintage filters.

30. If you are going to use filters, make sure you adjust their strength. The default filter strength will almost always be too strong and result in terribly overedited photos.

31. Your editing should enhance what is already great about the photo, and perhaps add a certain feel that complements the message of that photo. Everything else is unnecessary.

32. Learn the essential adjustments such as brightness, contrast and saturation first. Only then you should look into more advanced effects and filters.

33. Don’t download 50 photo apps. Only get a few and make sure you know how to use them.

34. Snapseed, VSCO Cam, Camera+ and Mextures are great apps to start with.

35. Don’t add text on your photos. Text is distracting and never looks good.

Photo management

36. Always have a backup of your entire photo library. And another one.

37. Despite technological advancements, external HDD is still the most practical way to back up a large photo library. Just don’t keep it in the same bag as your laptop.

38. iCloud is great for automatically transferring your iPhone photos to iPhoto.

39. Keep your edited photos in a separate photo album for easy access.

40. Don’t take multiple identical photos. Avoid the pain of deleting them later. Instead you should change the angle or composition and then shoot again.

Sharing and social networks 

41. Share your work on social networks to stay motivated and get feedback.

42. Follow other photographers whose work you admire to stay inspired and get new ideas.

43. It’s OK to copy someone else’s style for the sake of learning. You’ll eventually discover your own unique style, so you don’t have to worry about copying someone else initially.

44. Don’t try to be active on 10 different photo sharing sites. It will drive you crazy. Just pick your favorite and do a good job there. I only post my photos on Instagram.

45. Don’t use Instagram filters if you want to stand out on Instagram.

46. Always respond to people who took the time to comment on your photos. Simply saying “thanks” can make a huge difference.

47. Don’t tag your photos using every single hashtag you know. You don’t want to look like a spammer, do you?

48. Don’t watermark your photos. Watermarks are ugly, and nobody is going to steal your photos anyway.

49. Only share your best photos so that your feed looks great. Quality always beats quantity.

50. Digital photos are transient. Print your best work to make it timeless.

Which of these tips are your favorites, and is there anything you would add to this list? Or is there anything that you disagree about? Please let everyone know in the comments.

Emil Pakarklis is the founder of iPhone Photography School, a website that helps people take better photos with the iPhone.

The idea for this post was adapted from a similar post by Misho Baranovic. 

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  • http://the-david.com/ David Christenson

    “Never use optical zoom. Zoom with your feet or crop your photos afterwards.”

    I think you mean digital zoom. There is no optical zoom on iPhones, and optical zoom doesn’t degrade the quality like digital zoom.

    • Julio Cesar

      • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

        I wonder if any light gets through that :)

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      Argh. Thank you. I fixed it. It was indeed meant to be “digital zoom”.

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Of course, thanks for pointing that out.

  • Diogo Matos

    Nice post!!

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thank you Diogo!

  • Julio Acosta

    Slight grammar error at number 16, its know not no. Great article nether less

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      It’s not a mistake.

      • Julio Acosta

        Sorry, just realized i read it wrong.

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      The subject should NOT be in the center of the frame, it’s a common composition mistake.

  • Σαλαη αββας

    Cool guide

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thank you!

  • ✪ aidan harris ✪

    “4. Treat your iPhone camera as if it was an expensive DSLR. If you only use your iPhone to create quick snapshots, you’ll never get anything else out of it.”

    By far the best tip on the entire page I always neglect taking photos with my iPhone unless I’m at a family event of some sort. The old saying of the best camera you have is the one with you is indeed true though.

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      It’s one of the things that really annoys me… There’s nothing wrong with taking snapshots when you feel like it, but that doesn’t mean you should always treat your iPhone like an inferior camera.

    • Kalpesh

      it is an expensive camera :)

  • Martynet

    The volume buttons are great help in good light conditions, but in low light, the camera slightly move when you press volume button. So I suggest tapping the screen “gently” instead, if you have enough time.

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      You’re right, the volume buttons can move the camera quite a bit which is a problem in low light.

  • http://www.eraser.org B. Braun

    Yes, you can take great shots with the iPhone 3GS

    • Julio Cesar

      Pretty impressive!

      • http://www.eraser.org B. Braun

        Thanks.

  • http://www.joshuascottmccullough.com/ Josh McCullough

    You forgot to mention how grainy the photos will be when you look at them on a normal sized screen due to the high ISO. Cellphone cameras really aren’t a replacement for even a small P&S and certainly not a DSLR! But your tips apply to other devices as well (GS3, GS4, Lumia…etc.), not just iDevices!

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Many of these tips are of course universal, but I don’t really agree about grain. It’s usually not an issue on my Retina Macbook Pro unless I over-edit photos myself.

    • megan

      Well i have a Driod Razr so i don’t have the problems that the iphones have. My camera is much better. But i will tell you, the first paragraph is patently false. I am sure, even absolutely positive you take excellent photographs let me start by saying. That is not my point at all, but getting a good camera changes everything. a DSLR or even my Nikon1 is kindof a bad little camera. You would be amazed what it can do at night. Its crazy.

  • mav3rick

    Replacing “any iPhone” with “any good decent camera”, this article can easily go as a reference for anybody willing to get real photography from their pictures.
    Best paragraph might be that photos are a expression first and only after a tech creation.

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      You’re right, and many of these tips are of course universal. I talk about iPhone photography here since that’s the only photography I do.

  • diggitydang

    Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  • mrhs

    25. Use the volume buttons on your headphones for remote shutter release – or to stay discreet when taking photos in public.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • fayemcg .

    As a beginner, I found these tips to be quite useful. Thanks so much, Emil.

  • http://www.praverb.net/ Praverb

    This post is really awesome. Good work Emil.

    “The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.” – Ernst Haas

    • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

      Thanks Patrick!

  • http://iphonephotographyschool.com/ Emil Pakarklis

    That’s funny… And it kind of ruins the point of using your iPhone as a convenient and simple camera that’s always with you.

  • Murat Özakat

    It’s a useful article, thank you!

  • http://www.FaceBook.com/TLKurtz TLKurtz

    I disagree with #48. My son takes motocross action shots and I’ve seen riders find pictures online he has taken of them and download/use them for their own purpose with no request for the pic.

  • http://www.apple.com St3vè Jb

    Never use my iPhone to take Photo….

  • http://www.maxcarstore.com Jefri Lay

    I just love u Emil!!! Nice post