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How to take great photos with your iPhone

The good news is you don’t need to have an expensive camera to take great photos! 

When I visited Nepal and only had my iPhone (6) to take all my pictures, including video and my scenic shots flying over Mt Everest. I was really pleased with them because I basically took my time and got my eye in.

That’s the key: to take a great photo you need to get your eye in!

I’ve since upgraded to the iPhone 11 Pro (and no, I’m not sponsored. I’m paying it off!) I love the panorama feature and the portrait mode. I’ll show you some photos below.

iPhone pic of mt everest
I took this panorama from the cockpit of the plane on my iPhone. That’s Mt Everest in the far right.

A friend once told me I must have a good camera because my photos were so good. I was a bit offended tbh. She meant well by the comment, but the reality is you wouldn’t tell your dinner host they must have a good oven because the meal was great, would you?

I have always loved photography. My great-grandfather was a professional photographer in New Zealand in the 1900s-1940s and our family has some beautiful sepia photos of my grandmother and her siblings as little ones and lots of beautiful images of Hamilton and Piha, places he loved.

He would try clever tricks in his dark room with holes in the film to create a sun and had an eye for beautiful composition. His work was exhibited in NZ and London.

I’m loving using Portrait mode to take pics like this of my visit to Hobbiton.

Portait mode at Hobbiton
Loving portrait mode to focus on this fake lichen on the fence at Hobbiton NZ

Here are 6 simple tricks to help you take beautiful photos (smartphone or not)

1. Declutter

Don’t try and capture too many things in your photo. Simple is best. This photo below is taken in a window looking across the road in Martinborough, New Zealand.

Reflection in window
I love this reflection of an historic building in Martinborough in the window of a homeware store.

This photo I took when I was volunteering in Nepal. A previous group of volunteers had built this fresh water cistern at a school where I built a bamboo fence!

Children in Nepal
By standing close to the cistern I was able to declutter this pic and make it about the girls

2. Get close up

Kind of the same as above, but zoom in to crop out the excess clutter. I love this close up of the Sydney Opera House because from a distance you never see how intricate the tiles are. I wrote this post on 5 cool things to do in Sydney too!

Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House like you might not have seen it before
zoom in photo tips
This is a typical power pole in Nepal and I wanted it against the sky so zoomed to cut out the buildings

3. Focus

Tap the specific item in the frame that you want the image to focus on (see below for more focus and exposure tips). In the case of the leaf I tapped the dew drops in the centre and that faded out the ones behind. Below I used Portrait mode to focus on the ear muffs on my heli flight during my girls weekend in Rotorua.

Portrait mode on iPhone 11
I used portrait mode on my iPhone 11 in this decluttered photo on a little float plane I was on
Photo of hibiscus
This is the iPhone 11 on portrait mode, blurring out the background
iPhone photo of leaf with drops
I took this outside my house as I headed off on my morning walk

4. Take your time

You might get lucky just pointing and shooting, but if you’re taking a scenery photo, for example, take your time to move the camera slowly and studying what you are capturing in the photo.

Being patient when taking photos
New Zealand is called Aotearoa in Maori. It means Land of the Long White Cloud. When our plane came down the North Island the whole island was covered in this white cloud so I waited until the plane wing underlined it.

5. Try different angles

Sure you can stand right in front of the flower and click, but try tilting the camera above or below it and see what results you get. Or put the subject to one side. In the pic below, we were in Martinborough for the weekend and the sunset was great but I think the zebra crossing is what makes this pic pop.

Martinborough hotel
In this photo I crouched down to make the zebra crossing a feature in front of the iconic Martinborough Hotel
Road and sky photo
Lifting the camera to get more sky adds a point of difference
Pashupatinath cremations
Watching the cremations at Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, I put the Sadhu in the lower right

6. Make eye contact

Take the time for your subject, whether it be human or animal, to look at you. Do whatever it takes to get their eyes looking down the lens. I was on an outback tour in Australia once and we found a koala asleep up a gum tree. We all stood under it and took photos, which were very boring. There’s no shouting at a eucalyptus-drunk koala to wake it up, but when our guide told us the trick was to break a twig, it worked! Apparently the thing that wakes them is the threat they might fall.

This lady below was a vendor in Hoi An, Vietnam with the most beautiful smile!

Lady in Vietnam
A seller in Hoi An, Vietnam smiles into my camera (iPhone 6)

How much better would this photo have been if the baby was looking at me too.

Use eye contact when taking photos
Making eye contact makes wonderful people shots

PLUS: Five iPhone camera tricks you might not know

I learned a few new tricks and shortcuts on this site iPhonePhotographySchool >>

1 Turn on your camera three ways: unlock your phone and hit the icon, swipe up and hit the icon OR THIS TRICK: when your phone is locked, just swipe from right to left and the camera is open. A great tip for averting the panic of needing to take a quick snap but not having the time to click through the other steps.

2 Use your headphones to take the photo. I did not know this! I just found it on a great iPhone tutorial video which you can watch in the link above, but you just open the camera app and let’s say you want to take a discrete photo or you are taking a low light photo at night time, you can put your iPhone down on the table or on a tripod (so you don’t shake it) and line up your shot, then using your volume + or – buttons, with the iPhone headphones plugged in, you take the pic.

3 Burst mode feature. This is great for action shots. Just hold your finger on the shutter button and it will rip off several in a few seconds and you can just delete the ones you don’t like that. Note: it bursts quickly! I held my finger down about 3 seconds and it took 24 frames.

Burst mode on iPhone
I love the light and silhouette in this lakeside park in Pokhara. Use burst mode to capture sports pics like this one with the ball in the air

4 Manual focus. You say whaat? Yes you can manually focus in your iPhone. Just tap the part of the screen you want to be in full focus and voila. This is great for a food shot or a close up object when there is a busy background and you want that to be blurred out a little. If you don’t do this the iPhone will choose what to focus on itself and you may end up with a fuzzy flower and a sharp leaf.

5 Increase or decrease the exposure. Yep you can play with exposure on your trusty iPhone and I do this all the time. Just tilting your phone will cause it to change exposure so you might be able to find the brightness you want that way. Otherwise the same technique you use for focus also alters exposure. Just tap the area you want to be bright (or darker) and as well as the focus square you’ll see a little vertical yellow line with a sunshine. Just move your finger up or down and what the image get brighter or darker.

If you want the focus AND exposure to jump back to the default setting after you’ve take one photo (cos you spent a bit of time getting it just so!), just hold your finger on the screen for a couple of seconds and AE/AF Lock will appear in a yellow block meaning you are good to take a whole lot of images with that setting.

Now it’s your turn. Get out there and have fun 😀

> You might also like my post comparing the best camera drones at 3 price points: under $200, under $500, under $1000.

> You might like to read my post on How to Write a Great Travel Story. It covers the basic structure of an article and works with any writing genre. If you’re ready to turn your hobby blog into a business, you’ll need to read my How to Make Money Blogging tutorials. Because you can indeed make a living!

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Trish Reid

Friday 13th of July 2018

Looking forward to reading your blog, I enjoyed the iPhone camera hints.


Friday 13th of July 2018

Thanks Trish!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!