7 Steps to Great iPhone Photography

Bay Area Photographer, Jim Vetter (that’s me) thinks its very groovy to make killer images with the best camera he usually has with him.  I don’t always carry the D3s but I do ALWAYS have my iPhone in my pocket.  If I leave the house without my phone, I feel as naked as if I forgot my pants – and I know what that feels like.  It happened once but I’ll save that for a later post.

Throughout this post, I’ve included some of my iPhone photos that were captured and edited ONLY with the iPhone and the apps I have in it.  No Photoshopping here.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, iPhone – Sometimes it’s the best camera, I was at first reluctant to use my iPhone camera for various reasons related to my ignorance of it’s capabilities and my arrogance about ‘serious’ photography.  Anyway, I overcame those faults enough to really appreciate this little camera that I carry around in my pocket every day.

This post is about actually using the iPhone to make pictures – not just taking pictures – making pictures.  I’ve explained my creative process from concept to publishing.  I hope you like it!

My 7 Steps to Great iPhone Photography

Step 1 – Open Your Eyes

We are all out and about quite a bit.  Our phones are in our pocket, our purse (or satchel if you’re a dude) or in our hand as we’re obliviously crossing the street while we text our buddy about drinks after work.  In any event, we have them all the time and if we just open our eyes to what’s around us, there are remarkable photos to be made anywhere we look.

Step 2 – Look for the Light

Light is the language of photography and it’s not so hard to learn.  The learning process begins with simple awareness.  Just be aware of the light that is hitting the things around you.  Where is it coming from – what direction?  Where are the shadows falling?  Are the shadows sharp or soft?  What color is the light?  You might be inclined to assume that natural light is white – but it actually ranges from orange to yellow to blue.

Anyway, the point is that you want to be aware of the light and how it paints the scene.  Then you can make artistic choices about where to position the camer or the subject.  Start Looking for the Light and you’ll start seeing beautiful images to make.

Have you ever noticed how good everyone looks in late afternoon or sunset light?  The skin looks smooth and warm and everyone is beautiful.  This is because the light is a warm yellow/orange color which makes people look healthy and the light is low in the sky so it fills in all the shadows in the face so people don’t look like raccoons as they do at high noon.   But regardless of the time of day, just pay attention to the light around you and beautiful images will present themselves to you.

Step 3 – Reach for the iPhone

You can’t make a photo unless you have the phone in your hand.  If it’s in your pocket, the most is can do is dial the last person you spoke to so they can hear your change clank around while you play pocket pool.  So have the thing (iPhone) in your hand when you’re on the go.

Step 4 – Launch Your Favorite Camera App

If you’d like to read about lots of iPhone camera apps, look at some of these links below.  I’m going to talk about the ones that I use and there are many others that I have not even tried and still more that are arriving in the AppStore every day.

About half of the time, I just use the camera app that came with the iPhone.  However, sometimes I know I want to do some tweaking of the image and share it right away to Facebook, Twitter, etc.  At these times, I’ll choose a camera app that has the editing/filtering and sharing features built in.  My favorite camera apps are Best Camera, Camera+ and Instagram.  Each has the ability to take the picture, edit it in some way and then share it via email and social network sites.

Step 5 – Compose Your Shot

This is where you get to make the artistic choice about what is in your photograph.  Consider the entire frame – not just your main subject.  What is behind the subject?  What is in front of the subject?  Do you want those things in the shot?  If not, recompose.

Really look at the frame holistically.  Nothing in the frame is completely insignificant. Does it all make sense together?  Is it cluttered?  Generally speaking, less is more and the less you have in the frame, the easier it is to create compelling images.  It is easier to create powerful and compelling images when you simplify the composition.

So how can you simplify the composition and isolate your subject?  Try getting down low and shoot up to remove the ground clutter from the shot.  Try getting in close so the subject fills the frame.  Try shooting down on your subject so the background is only the ground itself.  Try tilting the camera to include the most interesting elements of the scene while eliminating the junk you don’t want in the frame.

Most importantly – look at the entire frame before you press the button.

Step 6 – Press and HOLD the shutter button DOWN – Don’t release it yet!

This is an awesome technique I learned from Chase Jarvis.  The iPhone does NOT take the picture until you RELEASE the shutter button.  You can hold it down as long as you like.  It takes the photo when you lift your finger.

When you think about it, lifting your finger from the iPhone screen is going to cause a lot less shake and jiggle than hitting the screen with your finger.  When I learned this, my iPhone photos went from crap to incredible.  This may be the most valuable thing you take away from this blog entry.

Step 7 – Take a Deep Breath – Exhale – Relax – NOW let go of the button

Getting sharp images on any camera requires a steady hand.  This is even more important on the little iPhone which easily gets bumped around while we’re making pictures.  This causes the photo to blur and causes us to curse @#$%^&@#!!

Before you release the button, anchor yourself on both feet, take a deep breath, exhale and relax. Then, gently lift your finger from the button and you will get sharper images every time.  Every single time.

If you follow these 7 simple steps, you are sure to make more interesting, more compelling, sharper, better images with your iPhone – or any other camera phone for that matter.  In fact, these concepts apply to all cameras.

When I shoot professionally, I am keeping all of this in mind with every shot.  After some time it will come naturally and you won’t even thing about it.

Pimping Your Images

The iPhone camera Apps I mention above, along with many others, allow you to edit and filter your images in an endless variety of ways.  You can crop to change the aspect ratio or to recompose your shot, you can adjust brightness and contrast, add special effects and much, much more.  Go get a bunch of these apps and try them out.  Play with all of the filters, knobs and sliders and find out what you like.

I personally believe that every image has a life of its own and deserves post processing that is unique to that image.  Some images will lend themselves to black and white while others look better with over-saturated color.  Some will look great with a crazy pencil sketch effect.  You’ll know what works by playing around and trying different effects until you hear yourself saying “WOW!  That rocks!”

So sum up my pimping advice in a word – EXPERIMENT.   You are the artist.  There is no right way or wrong way to process your images.  Do what feels right to you and then proudly share it with the world.  If someone doesn’t like it, screw ’em.  It’s your art, buddy!

Sharing your Art

One of the coolest things about camera phones is that they allow you to instantly share your art with a friend, your family or the entire world.  Don’t be stingy with your images – share them on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, wherever.  Most any iPhone camera App will allow for sharing to multiple social networks as well as by email or blog.  Make use of that feature to show your stuff.   There is always someone out there who wants to see any image you create.  Share your Art!

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