How To Take Better iPhone Photos This Year

Click, click, click, flash

The iPhone can make a photographer out of anyone—if you know how to use it, that is. Sure, the dawn of Apple's game-changing device (that's the understatement of the year) had many bona fide photographers shook, decrying the images it captured as less than, but each technological advance has raised the smartphone's image capturing capabilities to rival that of professional cameras. And with apps designed to share those images, the call to produce stronger, more compelling photographs is louder than ever.

Most of us, however, don't know how to harness the iPhone's photography power—let alone its other myriad functions. This lack has made room for folks like Jack Hollingsworth, a photographer and author of the newly released guide to iPhone photography The Joy of iPhotography, to share the tricks of the trade. Hollingsworth has become a staple within the iPhotography world. His understanding of the iPhone's camera capabilities is unparalleled, and he shares it with the world in his book. The easily understood guide acts as both a how-to and source of inspiration. "When it comes to personal photography, the only voice that really matters is your own voice," he tells me over email. This year, make a point to find that voice. 

Since the vast majority of us use the iPhone (1 billion have been sold), we might as well use it right. Ahead, six tips to keep in mind as you explore, capture, and inevitably share your world. Just don't forget: Clean your lens. Happy snapping!

Be Intentional

Shooting off the cuff is great. If you want to elevate your photography, though, think before you shoot, shoot more, and add variation. Hollingsworth suggests thinking of your iPhone as a bona fide camera. "Instead of waiting for moments and memories to come to you, go and get them instead," he says. "Create your own script and narrative." This can mean shooting from a worm's eye perspective or eagle's eye. Overthinking your intention can make for images that appear forced. Set your intention and go. Though the temptation to zoom may strike you, Hollingsworth advocates for getting closer to your subject instead of pinching and zooming. This greatly reduces camera shake and improves image quality, making your photographs that much more covetable.

Familiarize Yourself With Burst Mode

Newer iPhones come with the capability to shoot 10 photos a second (up to 999 in one burst). This means you have the ability to capture fast-moving objects with clarity and to, say, nail the Instagram-favorite jumping photo. All you have to do is press and hold your shutter button. Hollingsworth adds the mentality of burst mode can be carried over into non-burst photos; i.e. don't just take one photo. Shoot nonstop and then edit your selects after.

How Do You HDR?

HDR stands for "high dynamic range." Essentially, it takes three photos—under-exposed, optimally-exposed, and over-exposed—to create a single, well-balanced dynamic composite image. Hollingsworth advises keeping your iPhone's camera setting on auto, turning it on manually when in high-contrast lighting situations or when employing a tripod. (Auto settings typically give you the image you're looking for 80 percent of the time, he says.) Sometimes the difference between a HDR photo and a non-HDR photo isn't noticeable, but "it's grand" when you can see. Be warned, though, too much HDR effect can leave your photo looking artificial, or, as Hollingsworth says, superficial.

Don't Be A Square

As tempting as it may be to compose your photos in square format and make them more Instagram-ready, you're losing image quality. "I generally discourage photographers from shooting square," Hollingworth says. "Why bother when you can shoot in a full 4:3 aspect ratio and crop the shot in the Photos app [after]? If you were to shoot in the square format, those pixels are gone forever." You don't want to lose that quality. iPhone cameras these days have such a rich pixel ratio, you really have no excuse to detract from them.

Flash On, Flash Off

Chances are you've turned on your iPhone's flash, taken a photo, and shuddered at how bleak the image turned out. "A lot of new mobile shooters ignore the flash altogether because it often makes the images look too artificial and washed-out," Hollingsworth says. The new iPhone 7 and 7 plus models have upgraded the flash to determine white balance and brightness, which leads to more natural-looking photos. Regardless of what model you have, flash, when used in the right scenario, can improve your image. Hollingsworth suggests turning it on when you're in a low-light situation or complete darkness, or if your subject is in direct sunlight.

There's An App For That, But...

Relying on apps takes away from your iPhone camera's capabilities. Hollingsworth is a big advocate for the exposure compensation slider, which allows you adjust the amount of light being captured on your digital film. This can save you from editing the crap out of your highlights, shadows, and brightness later on. "I would rather have a mundane subject with magical light than a fabulous subject with terrible light," Hollingsworth tells me. If you focus on finding good light, you won't need to flip between Snapseed, VSCO, your Photos app and Instagram. "I think it’s far better to become a master of a handful of apps than to be mediocre at many," he says. Pay attention to your subject's background, too, because the iPhone "by its nature has ‘deep focus’ on everything," which means the background will inevitably be in focus. Simplifying your surroundings keeps the focus on your subject. With that said, experiment to find and trust your instincts. "When it comes to personal photography," Hollingsworth adds, "the only voice that really matters is your own voice."