Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   



Secrets of an iPhotographer

How to take better photos with your iPhone.

by Earl Nottingham

It’s no secret that as the quality of smartphone cameras gets better with each new model, sales of conventional digital cameras such as DSLRs and point-and-shoots are being affected. Many amateur and professional photographers are ditching their big cameras for the smartphones in their pocket. Phone cameras produce high-resolution images that can be quickly and creatively enhanced and shared with family, friends and even customers. Most smartphones are Android- or Apple-based and come equipped with a variety of camera features. Third-party apps also are available to take your photo creativity to the next level. Here are a few tips for getting better images based on the current Apple iPhones.


Enabling the HDR (high dynamic range) feature lets you shoot a scene that is typically high contrast such as a sunset against a mountain and still maintain color and detail in both the brightest and darkest areas. The camera does this by automatically taking several pictures at different exposures and merging them for final balanced exposure with pleasing color.


For portraits of people or objects, Portrait mode is the go-to setting. It renders nondistracting, out-of-focus backgrounds while keeping subjects sharp. You can also select a variety of lighting effects to enhance your subject. For best results, your subject should be between 2 and 8 feet away. Portrait mode can also be used in conjunction with the zoom feature mentioned next.


Zooming up on any subject can help eliminate distracting backgrounds. Most smartphone cameras offer some method of zooming into the frame, usually by moving a slider or pinching the image with two fingers. However, the best option on many later models is to tap the 1X circle button at the bottom of the frame, which enables a dedicated 2X optical lens that gives a much sharper image.


Most camera users know to tap on the screen to focus on the subject — a move that also sets the exposure. However, you can also manually make the exposure lighter or darker to your taste by dragging the yellow sun indicator slider next to the focus square with your finger before shooting.


If you are capturing subjects with lots of movement such as sports or wildlife, consider the Burst mode, which allows you to shoot up to 10 frames per second. This is done by just holding down the shutter button, giving you lots of images from which to pick the perfect one. Bear in mind that your camera will store all those images, so pick the best one and delete the rest.


Any serious photographer knows the value of following the “Rule of Thirds” when composing an image. The iPhone offers the option of displaying a Rule of Thirds grid that makes it easy to see where a subject should be placed in the frame for better composition. The grid also aids as a reference in keeping horizons straight in landscape images. You can find the option in Settings>Camera and enable the Grid switch.


While your smartphone’s camera already has many options, many third-party apps offer their own basic camera controls in addition to image enhancement features. Other apps offer creative looks and effects for existing photos from your native camera. Some of the currently popular third-party apps are ProCamera, Camera+2, Focos, Snapseed, VSCO and Photoshop Express.


A whole industry has been built around making accessories for smartphone cameras. Tripods, stabilizers and supplemental lenses are just a few items that can give a professional and polished look to still photos as well as video. A good first investment would be a set of clip-on lenses that give you wide lenses for landscapes and telephoto lenses for portraits or close-ups of nature. Brands to consider are Olloclip, Moment or Promaster.

Send questions and comments to Earl at earl.nottingham@tpwd.texas.gov.

For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at www.tpwmagazine.com/photography.

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