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iPhone camera tips and tricks guide: How to shoot great photos and video

Get the most from your iPhone’s camera tech with these handy tips, including how to use the best hidden features, how to tweak the camera’s photo and video settings, plus how to use Apple’s new Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus boast Apple’s all-new mobile camera tech, capable of shooting gorgeous photos in almost any conditions. But to get the best possible results you’ll need to know exactly how to use those cameras, as well as their hidden modes and features.

Our in-depth iPhone camera tips and tricks reveals all you need to know to master photography and video capture on any of Apple’s mobiles, from older handsets up to the mighty 8 Plus. We’ve also taken a long look at the exclusive camera features only available on the iPhone 8 and 7 models, such as the Portrait mode.

What’s the difference between the different iPhone cameras?

The standard iPhone 8 sports Apple’s latest 12-megapixel single-lens camera, an update on the 12-meg snapper found on the iPhone 7 as well as earlier models. You can now capture finer detail in low light situations, although the photo results are just as strong on earlier models in decent light. You can expect quite natural colour reproduction, a strong dynamic range and enough detail to make images look great when blown up onto a big TV.

Check out our iPhone 7 camera review and comparison to see how the iPhone 7 compares with older Apple handsets. Our iPhone 8 camera review is coming soon.

Conversely, the iPhone 8 Plus and 7 Plus come packing a dual-lens camera. These use a pair of 12-megapixel lenses, which work together to produce even more impressive photos than the single-lens version. You get an f/1.8 aperture wide-angle lens, which is the main camera lens, plus an f/2.8 aperture telephoto lens which adds a 2x optical zoom to the phone (On top of the standard 10x digital zoom).

These zoom features are particularly handy when shooting wildlife, architecture and so on. The 7 Plus and 8 Plus can also shoot video with the 2x optical zoom, as well as up to 6x digital zoom. And having two lenses means the Plus models also enjoy an exclusive Portrait camera mode, which captures impressive depth-of-field. This allows you to blur out the backdrop and helps your subject to really stand out.

Recent Apple handsets also boast built-in optical image stabilisation, to cut down on blurry photos due to hand shakes. You have HDR support to deal with tricky contrast and a powerful Quad-tone LED flash for night shots.

Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus handsets can also shoot up to 4K Ultra HD resolution video, although by default they shoot Full HD footage at 30 frames-per-second. Meanwhile the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus can shoot 4K at 60 frames-per-second, while the earlier devices were limited to 30 frames-per-second. The result is much smoother, more natural-looking footage.

Check out our tip below on changing resolution for instructions on switching to 4K movie capture.

Take a look at our iPhone 7 Plus camera review to see what we think of this premium smartphone snapper, including a run-down of all of its camera features. Our iPhone 8 Plus camera review is in progress.

How to get started with your iPhone’s camera

The great thing about the iPhone’s camera is that you really don’t need instructions. It’s very much a point-and-shoot snapper; just open the camera app, aim it at your subject and tap the on-screen shutter button to take a snap.

You have a few camera features that you can toggle on and off, lined up along the left hand side of the camera app. These are, from top to bottom:

  • Filters – Use these to change the look of your photos instantly. This works by altering the colour saturation and other factors.
  • Timer – Add a 3-second or 10-second timer, so you can take a group photo with yourself included.
  • Live Photo – This middle icon toggles Apple’s Live Photo mode on and off. More on this later.
  • HDR mode – This is best left on auto. HDR helps to deal with tricky contrast by taking three separate photos, all with different exposure levels, and then stitching them together. In this way, you get less oversaturation and murky areas in your high-contrast photos.
  • Flash – Can be turned on, off or left on auto mode.

You can also check out your most recent photos by tapping the preview window in the bottom right corner of the iPhone’s camera app. And if you want to switch between the front and rear cameras, tap the icon in the top right corner.

How can I quick-load the iPhone camera?

In iOS 10 and later, you can quickly load up the camera app without actually unlocking your iPhone 8 Plus (or whatever model you’re rocking). Handy for any impromptu action shots.

To do so, just tap the iPhone’s power or home button, or raise the phone, so the lock screen flashes up. From the lock screen, swipe your finger left across the screen and the camera app will appear. Now just shoot away!

If your phone is already unlocked, don’t faff around finding the camera icon on your desktops. Just flick your finger up from the bottom of the iPhone’s screen to bring up the Control Center, and you’ll spy a camera icon in the bottom right corner. Tap that to access the camera app.

3D Touch shortcuts for the iPhone camera

Although 3D Touch is still a grossly underused feature, it can be handy on the iPhone when it comes to camera shortcuts.

Prod the camera icon on your desktop or the Control Center nice and hard. You’ll see a sub-menu pop up, which can be used to jump straight into video mode or slow-mo mode. You can also activate the FaceTime camera to take a swift selfie, rather than fiddling around switching cameras inside the app.

Not exactly a major time-saver, but worth bearing in mind all the same.

iPhone camera modes and what they do

As well as taking standard snaps, your Apple handset can also capture video, with funky effects such as Slow Motion and Timelapse on offer. Here’s how to switch between modes and what each one does.

How to switch to Slow Motion, Timelapse and other camera modes

You have a small selection of special camera modes which you can switch between at any time, simply by swiping your finger up or down the iPhone’s screen. These special camera modes are (in order from top to bottom):

  • Pano – Short for Panorama. Hold your iPhone in portrait mode and then tap the shutter button and move your phone horizontally at a slow and steady rate.
  • Square – Simply a photo mode that shoots pics with a square aspect ratio.
  • Portrait – This camera mode is exclusive to the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, so you won’t find it on the other Apple handsets. The reason for this is the need for two camera lenses, something the iPhone 8 and other non-Plus devices are without. Check out our section on what Portrait mode is for more info.
  • Photo – The default camera mode. Capture photos by tapping the shutter button.
  • Video – Swipe your finger up once to swap to video mode, which allows you to record home movies.
  • Slo-Mo – A slow motion video mode. You can manually change the section of the video which is played back in slow-mo, after you’ve already shot it. More on this later.
  • Time-lapse – A greatly speeded up video, which is particularly effective when shooting a street scene or something with a lot of motion over an extended period.

Are there any proper manual controls for the iPhone’s camera?

If you want to manually fiddle with the iPhone camera settings, then we have bad news. While you can focus on a specific area with a tap, thus overriding the phone’s autofocus, there’s not much more you can do to tweak your snaps while shooting.

However, it is possible to change the exposure level with a swipe of your finger. Just manually focus on your subject by tapping them in the viewing window and you’ll notice a box appears around them, along with a sun icon on the right side. Press your finger to this icon and slide up to boost the exposure, or down to make things darker.

What are Live Photos and how do they work?

Apple’s Live Photos feature captures a second or two of live action with each photo that you take. This is a decent feature if you’re constantly snapping your kids, as these little snippets can be quite comedic when you’re scrolling through your virtual photo album.

Of course, bear in mind that Live Photos also take up more storage space, so you’ll want to use this feature sparingly if you have a 32GB model of iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, or – God forbid – a 16GB model from earlier generations. Thankfully iOS 11 handsets take photos which eat up less storage space, as they’re saved in the more efficient HEIF format. Check out our HEIF explainer guide for all you need to know.

To activate or deactivate Live Photos, just tap the central icon on the left edge of the iPhone’s camera app.

How to enable manual HDR mode on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

If you own the latest iPhone, you’ll notice that the camera app no longer offers manual control over the HDR function. That’s because the auto HDR mode is now on by default, and Apple reckons most users won’t need to switch it off; not a bad prediction, given the quick shutter action and very short processing time, even with HDR in action.

However, you can still bring back full manual control over HDR, to enable or disable it at will. This option can be found in the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus’ settings menu; just tap camera, and you’ll see the Auto HDR option in there. Tap that to bring back manual control.

iPhone camera photography tips and tricks

Trying to strengthen your camera abilities, to get better everyday shots on the iPhone? Here’s some quick and easy tips for improving the quality of your shots.

How to zoom when taking a photo or video

The iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus both have a special optical zoom mode thanks to their secondary telephoto lens. You can use this to get closer to your subjects, with no loss in detail.

On the right edge of the camera app’s viewfinder you’ll see an icon that says ‘1x’. This is the current level of zoom. Tap that to switch to the telephoto lens. You’ll notice the image instantly grows bigger and the icon changes to ‘2x’.

You also have a digital zoom with all iPhones, which basically crops the edges of the picture and blows up the centre of the image, to artificially zoom. To activate this, just swipe your finger up or down that zoom icon or pinch with your fingers on the screen.

How to use the 7 Plus and 8 Plus’ Portrait mode

The iPhone 7 Plus an 8 Plus serve up a new and exclusive camera feature known as Portrait mode. Portrait mode plays with the depth of field of a shot, blurring out the background by capturing a photo using both lenses. Check out the before and after results below for an idea of how this works.

You can find Portrait mode by entering the camera app and flicking your finger down the screen once. Note that this mode requires you to position the camera at least a few inches away from your subject; you’ll know if you’re too close as the app will warn you to move further back. When you’re ready and the Depth Effect icon is yellow, take the shot by tapping the shutter button as usual.

What is Light Portrait mode?

Light Portrait is a new camera mode introduced for the iPhone 8 Plus. This is a natural extension of the standard Portrait mode, which allows you to play with a selection of nifty effects for dramatic results.

Flick to the Portrait mode as before and you’ll notice the 8 Plus offers a scrollable list of funky filters, which manipulate your final image in quite impressive ways. You can add a stage lighting effect for instance, which seriously darkens the background of the photo. Have a play around with a test subject and we’re sure you’ll be impressed by what you can do.

Note that the iPhone’s Light Portrait mode is still in beta testing, so it may not necessarily work all of the time.

What are HEIF files, and how can I share them?

If your iPhone is on iOS 11, then your handset’s camera will shoot photos in the new HEIF format. This is a special super-compressed file format, while takes up a lot less storage space on your mobile with no impact to quality.

Definitely a good thing, although the problem with this format is it can’t be read by a lot of other devices (including any pre-iOS 11 iPhones, Android handsets, pre-High Sierra Macbooks and so on). Don’t worry though, you can find out everything you need to know over in our HEIF explainer feature.

iPhone camera video recording tips and tricks

To shoot a great home movie or shareable clip, here’s a couple of little tricks that you might not be aware lurk within the iPhone’s camera app.

How to change iPhone video resolution to 4K, and up to 60 frames-per-second

The only major pain in the arse with the iPhone camera app is that you have to exit the app and go to the iPhone’s main settings menu to change the video resolution.

By default, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, and earlier models, record video in Full HD resolution, at 30 frames-per-second. You can boost this to 60 frames-per-second or even bump the resolution to 4K Ultra HD in the settings.

Tap the iPhone’s Settings app and scroll down to Photos & Camera. Scroll down some more and you’ll see a ‘Camera’ section, which offers a choice of resolutions for standard video as well as slow motion footage.

4K footage of course takes up more space on your iPhone, so don’t go crazy at this resolution. The results are pleasingly crisp however, when viewed back on an Ultra HD telly.

Boosting the frame rate gives smoother, more natural results, which really stand out. Give it a try and you’ll see what we mean.

Note that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus can record video at 4K resolution and 60FPS together. Earlier models max out at 4K resolution at 30FPS, or Full HD 60FPS.

How to edit slow-mo (slow motion) videos on the iPhone

If you’ve already shot some slow-mo video on the iPhone 7, you can edit it to specify which section plays back in slow-mo.

To do this, head to your photo album and select the slow-mo clip. Now tap the edit icon, which looks like three lines with a circle on each. A timeline will pop up, complete with a slider bar above it. The chunk between the two large lines shows which part of the video plays in slow motion.

All you need to do is slide those two lines left or right until you’re satisfied and then tap ‘done’.

iPhone camera tips and tricks: Video

To see our tips and tricks in action, check out our full iPhone camera tutorial video below.


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