The 5 Immutable Laws of Better iPhone Photography


The development of cameras in mobile phones, and more recently the iPhone, has been one of the biggest changes in photography for many decades. In this space of time, photography has gone from technically heavy and gear-reliant to a situation where almost everybody has a camera in their pockets at all times. And those cameras are only getting better. So in keeping with the idea that the best camera is the one you have with you, we have decided to put together a list of ideas to get better results from your iPhone or mobile phone camera.

Stabilise the Camera – In all but well-lit settings, mobile phone and iPhone cameras have trouble with capturing enough light to give you a crisp and well focused shot. In many cases (especially low light and shots of a moving subject) you are going to have to give it a helping hand.

She's Got Curves

photo © 2009 Matt Burrows | more info (via: Wylio)

The first rule of thumb is to hold the phone horizontally with two hands (not vertically with one). That will help stabilise it to a point.

Now a lot of companies are coming out with heaps of accessories for this like tripods for your iPhone and whatnot, but in many situations you are not going to have something like that in your pocket or easily available. The single best way to solve this problem is to simply brace your phone against a stable surface. This is made a lot easier than many traditional cameras due to the fact that the phone screen is your viewfinder and you don't need to put the phone up to your eye to see what you are going to be taking a shot of. Often you can brace the phone camera at arms length and still see what it sees.

There are no hard and fast rules here, but try to look for something that allows you to get a level shot too. Leaning your phone camera against a wall or doorway will make sure it's level. A table or chair will also do if it's stable.

This is really no different to what traditional SLR or DSLR photographers when they are caught in a situation with less than ideal lighting. Brace yourself or your camera against an immovable object will give you the best chance of getting a good shot.

Improve the Lighting – A lot of low light situations aren't well captured by mobile device cameras (though this is improving with newer models having flash etc). Sometimes if the subject is moving in low light, you will just end up with a series of motion blurs on the final shot that aren't anything resembling what you hoped you could capture.

Now, if you have an iPhone 4 or an Android or mobile with a built in flash, that is a great first step. A lot of us aren't lucky enough to have that though. And sometimes even the flash on them isn't ideal.

In many situations you are going to have to think on your feet about the environment you are shooting in. Something as simple as turning on an extra light or opening a window curtain will give you a much better lighting setup to shoot with an iPhone camera. Look for natural reflectors like white walls or surfaces too.

There are no hard and fast rules to improving the lighting situation when shooting on an iPhone because every situation is different. Just be aware that your camera will probably have issues in lower lighting conditions and that you need to look around for ways to improve that with what you have on hand.

2/6/09: Up & Up

photo © 2009 Bobbi Bowers | more info (via: Wylio)

Get Closer – We know that we sound like a broken record by including this one as it's one of our common pieces of advice to people who ask how to take better photos and we have included it many times on this site, but the fact is that it is one of the best pieces of advice for any photographic situation.

You want to fill the frame with your shot, even on an iPhone or mobile. Most of the time that means getting physically closer to your subject. Sometimes it means lying on the ground or climbing up on something – just accept the fact that as a photographer, you will often get into positions that will make others laugh and sometimes scare small children – this is our burden. But if you really want a great shot then you will usually have to get closer to your subject in any way that you can.

We've said it before and we will say it again. The first three rules of photography are, “Get closer. Get closer. Get closer.”

Favor Strong Lines and Colours – The cameras on mobile devices don't process detail particularly well – especially at a distance or in low light. If you're thinking of getting a shot of that tree swaying in the breeze across the field at sunset, then you are going to have some problems.

This simply comes down to choosing your subject wisely and within the constraints of the gear that you have. Just as a an expensive 50mm lens isn't suitable for taking close ups of the moon, nor is a mobile phone camera suitable for shooting the Le Mans 24 Hour race. Look for big and bold subjects.

Well lit architecture is an examples of something that can work well with an iPhone. The bold colours of street art can work well if properly lit too. Know your constraints and shoot with them in mind.

Jello on my jeans
smothered in love

photo © 2011 Shane K | more info (via: Wylio)
photo © 2008 Alan L | more info (via: Wylio)

Don't Forget About Apps – A little bit of software for a few bucks can make your life with an iPhone or Android a hell of a lot more easy when it comes to photography. And the great thing about it is that there are a heap of really great apps that you can get.

But what should you look for in an app?

There are some apps that handle both pre and post production. While the iPhone doesn't have a zoom lens, a little creative coding by app developers means that this can be rectified (for example). On the other end, dealing with colour situations in common shooting scenarios such as landscapes, portraits, night shots or actions shots can be handled to a point with in-phone post production.

The iPhone app we are playing with most at the moment is Camera +. It covers a lot of these problems and a lot more. Plano is another one you might want to look at for panorama shots.

Don't forget though that a lot of talented people are working hard on developing new iPhone and Android apps every day, so don't be too rigid in your loyalties. Something better might well come out next week.


The iPhone camera will continue to improve as will the camera on any other mobile device. That is the beauty of technology. But working with what we have and the constraints it throws up is also a great way to improve your photography. Take advantage of the fact that you can now carry a camera with you everywhere. There has been no easier time to improve your skills through practice!

About Author

Rob is the founder of Light Stalking. His love for photography started as a child with a Kodak Instamatic and pushed him into building this fantastic place all these years later, and you can get to know him better here.
Rob's Gear
Camera: Nikon D810
Lenses: Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Depending on the subject I find taking burst images can be extremely useful or setting time lapse (1s interval, multiple shots) to capture moving subjects or creating blur.

Also using the self timer as you would on a DSLR to avoid camera shake is handy.

The best app I’ve come across to date has been the Gorillacam, not many bells and whistles but just some great essential features which aids shooting! 🙂

Great article!

Yes, stablizing the device is a biggie. The there’s the lighting. With my HTC, if I’m sitting or waiting for a train or bus (a shooting opportunity) I’ll take test shots at different settings to get to the right setting. This is in anticipation of “real” shots. Then, I’m ready subjects knowing my settings are close.

I’ve got Photoshop Express on my phone, it helps somewhat but PS cs5 it ain’t.

My favorite iphone4 photo apps are:
Hipstamatic (cool lenses and film types), Pro HDR (most awesome HQ results), and for editing I like Iris (tricky at first, but once you figure it out, the results are endless).

Actually just discovered tapping the screen when in camera mode with iPhone 4 will give an adjustable zoom bar at the bottom of the screen.

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