iPhone Photography: Advanced Exposure & Focus Techniques

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!

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‘.