Best Camera – 5 Tips For Making Great iPhone Photos

My iPhone has been like crack to me since the day one on the market, June 3, 2007. Most of us iPhone users make regular and swift use of the impressive ‘Net, email, and location-based tools, but as a professional creative I’m always using the built-in camera to grab snaps of anything that catches my eye for ideas, inspiration, and such. In fact–in case you didn’t know–I post daily mobile iPhone snaps to my Facebook page and my Twitter account for fun (friend/follow if you’re interested.)

That said, I dunno if it’s been the pile of comments I’ve received from those sources, the numerous ranting requests via email, or the hilarious fact that someone actually started a Facebook group called “Chase Jarvis Shoots Better Pics with His iPhone Than I Could With a Hasselblad”, but I figured–since people have grumbled to me about such challenges and since grabbing snapshots is a part of my daily creative routine for staying fresh and inspired–that it would be good fun to post a quick ‘how to’ checklist for making great iPhone pictures. So here goes:

Tip 1. Hold the camera still, using two hands.
Seriously. Whether shooting vertically (portrait) or horizontally (landscape), day or night, inside or out, use two hands and don’t wiggle until the shutter has entirely closed in the viewer. This is 75% of the battle.

Tip 2. Compose the shot with your finger on the camera button.
The shutter release on this camera goes click when you release your finger from this button, not when you press the button. As such, do all your composing with your finger on the trigger and simply lift your finger when you like what you see in the viewer. This will help you keep the sucker steady (Tip 1) and will help with your timing.

Tip 3. Avoid fast-moving subjects and low light.
Let’s face it, a little phone camera doesn’t have the same smarts as your Nikon D90 (ams)or D3x (pros), so don’t ask it to behave like one. Without dissecting the boring details, this camera just isn’t made to shoot slick action images of skateboarding or sexy images of your significant other on the dance floor at 2am. [Click the ‘continue reading’ link below for more tips and sample photos after the jump…]


4. Keep it simple.
I’ve never been much of a traditionalist, but my style is typically pretty clean. Take this to heart and we’ll skip the composition lesson, but in the meantime we can boil things down to this: pictures with one or two graphic elements are generally better than busy images with tons of clutter. This concept is amplified with the iPhone camera which lacks the chops to render the subtleties that your dSLR can. So just like Tip 3, don’t ask it to try. Keep your subject matter simple and your pictures will be better.


5. Buy three applications for your iPhone: Best Camera, Camera Bag and Pano. Best Camera ($2.99) app lets you shoot, creatively edit and quickly share your iPhone photos with the world. Offering multi-tasking, new filters, a customizable filter interface and sharing options, Best Camera app offers a powerful and easy-to-use set of filters and effects for your iPhone. Stack them. Mix them. Remix them. The possibilities are virtually infinite. When you’re ready to share your images, Best Camera lets you quickly and easily upload them to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, SmugMug, email and of course, Exclusive to Best Camera, touch the app’s globe icon to view a real-time gallery of images streaming in from other Best Camera users all over the planet. [Full disclosure – Best Camera is my invention]
Camera Bag ($2.99) has a series of pre-selected aesthetics, including “Ansel” and “1962” (black & white), “Instant” (polaroid), “Helga” and “Lolo” (vignetted, toy camera), “1974” (funky muted colors), “Fisheye” and “Infrared” (self-explanatory), and “Cinema” (cinematic 16X9 aspect ratio) that takes your vanilla iPhone snap and spits out something more interesting. Pano ($2.99), another great app, lets you take series of pictures and sew them together seamlessly in-camera to make one giant horizontal by following a series of simple prompts. Goodbye Photoshop. Both these apps allow you to save the final “new” picture directly to the Camera Roll in your iPhone, and will really help bring your snapshots to life.

Gasworks Park, Seattle. “1962” Theme from Camera Bag.

Gasworks Park, Seattle. 3-photo panorama from Pano.

chase jarvis best camera paris berlin

Paris (left) + Berlin (right) using "Slate" filter on Best Camera

That’s it. Seriously. So, whether you’re a pro shooter using the gadget of the century to help fuel your creative inspiration, or a you’re just looking for a way to take a picture of your girlfriend that doesn’t suck, I hope these tips help demystify the great iPhone snap.

[In case you’re interested in following these low-brow snapshots, or any of this ‘creative discovery/means of inspiration’ stuff that doesn’t always make it to my blog, it usually goes down on my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, so I’d love to have your ‘friend’ and ‘follow’ accordingly.

In contrast, if you’re visiting here via Facebook or Twitter, the more comprehensive behind-the-scenes highlights (videos and pithy topics, spectacles and disasters) always filter there way here to my blog, so I’d encourage you to subscribe to this beast via email or RSS if you don’t already.]

49 Responses to Best Camera – 5 Tips For Making Great iPhone Photos

  1. John December 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    Great tips, man. So that’s how you do it (plus about 10 years experience, of course).

    Thanks for the Facebook friend add too!

  2. Jay McLaughlin December 28, 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    Out of interest, do you happen to know the exposure settings the iPhone uses?

    It seems to be a fairly slow shutter speed, and a high iso.

    Would be nice to know what it’s trying to do when I click the shutter

  3. (nf) nuno ferreira December 28, 2008 at 5:59 pm #

    Fantastic tips! I don’t have a iPhone (yet) but this will certainly be useful with my Sony Ericsson K810i camera phone. :-)

  4. Tomislav Filipcic December 28, 2008 at 6:02 pm #

    Chase, have a look at a app called SteadyCam. It uses the iPhones acceleration meters to take the photo when the iPhone is most steady in your hand. The premium version also lets you use the whole screen as a shutter button.

  5. spyboy December 28, 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    There’s a few others to add to the list..

    1) Foto Timer (set your iPhone on a timer so you can be in the shot, or at least put the camera down so it doesn’t blur)

    2) Joby Gorillpad Go-Go (has a suction cup) so you can put your iPhone on a tripod

    3) Griffin Technologies Clarifi case. Hard shell iPhone case with a slideable macro lens, so you can finally shoot close ups of bugs, or scan bar codes

  6. msdanielle December 28, 2008 at 7:42 pm #

    wow, great photos!

  7. Shelby White December 28, 2008 at 8:41 pm #

    I’ve heard about the Pano app but not the BW apps.

    Foto timer and tripod suction cups for the iphone? Who woulda thought!

  8. Anonymous December 28, 2008 at 8:42 pm #

    i go to this blog for pro tips and sharing information about the industry….not cute iphone photo tips. get real, man.

  9. Adam December 28, 2008 at 9:19 pm #

    I like that you bring some outside the box ideas to the table Chase. A small camera, like the iPhone works fine for practicing the composition/art side of photography. I had a kid show me a couple of pretty cool pictures he took from an AC/DC concert with his 4 year old cell phone. (4 years old! Seriously.) He’s a student of mine. The composition is good, great lighting and he captured the moment. The lighting on stage was really bright, it worked o.k. I asked him to put at least one in his portfolio set for the end of the semester.

  10. Thomson Photo December 28, 2008 at 10:11 pm #

    @ anon: I’m a pro photographer with 15 years experience, and I’ve come to realise that too many blogs think it’s all about big gear and strobes, when in reality it’s about seeing. Taking pictures with your phone helps. Because there is no Profoto lighting, discussion of desaturated colours, or industry gossip in this post, you think it’s somehow not pro or not targeted at all of us? On the contrary it might be just what we need.

  11. Mark Wallace December 28, 2008 at 10:21 pm #

    iPhone vs. 1D Mark III, may the best man win…

  12. Anonymous December 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm #

    I don’t have an iphone, but you’ve definitely re-framed my thinking about what the little phone in my Crackberry should be used for.

    Damn you Chase Jarvis. Creativity everywhere!

    • Artrell August 7, 2011 at 7:52 am #

      If iofnrmation were soccer, this would be a goooooal!

  13. michal letko December 29, 2008 at 5:45 am #

    as someone noted above – try the free app SteadyCam, you will never use the default camera app again.
    But thank you for the “holding trigger” tip, I would never discover it by myself

  14. Nathanael Gassett December 29, 2008 at 7:45 am #

    Hmm… I wonder what Chase could do with an old Moto phone with a VGA cam…

  15. R Mireles Photography December 29, 2008 at 8:01 am #

    Thanks for the tips, glad you know about those 2 iphone apps, been using them myself for a while, gonna now try the steadicam one that Tomislav recommends.

    Your new facebook friend :)


  16. Michael Warf December 29, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    Have you tried the iphone app called “Night Camera”? It uses the accelerometer to find the point where your camera is the least shakey. Nice idea!

  17. Cynthia Medina December 29, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Thanks for the great tips. I need to remember to keep it simple. I have the camera bag app and it works very well, another great one is the SodaSnap free app, it creates personal postcards with your pics which you can save in your camera roll, post them on or email them.

    Following you on twitter….

  18. Aalaap December 29, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    Pretty basic stuff, yeah, but I guess a majority of casual users ignore these. Good.

  19. Lucas Kane Photographs December 30, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    Totally agree and feel this is the future. My phone is always in my pocket but my camera isn’t. I originally started my Mobile Photographs Blog with my BlackBerry Pearl. It wasn’t the best quality but it did document all those images I’d stumble upon when I didn’t have my ‘real’ camera. Now that I’ve switched to an iPhone, I find myself using the camera bag app like I do photoshop and creating some great images.

    Some of the new phones are claiming 8 MegaPixels…and if that’s the case, imagine a camera phone that shoots in RAW format and allows you to control shutter, aperture and ISO…?! It would be a brick but count me in!

  20. marco December 30, 2008 at 10:28 pm #

    love the tips! I thought I would share what an iphone and a little post processing could do

  21. Art Rogue December 31, 2008 at 11:57 am #

    Great tip about keeping you finger on the shutter button while composing.

    I would also like to mention that you can take a photo with the iphone’s normal camera software much faster and go back in camera bag, select the photo, and process it post.

    I use camera bag all the time now because it seems to add contrast to to the iphones washed out images. Unfortunately if I have camera bag set at the highest image quality setting the software hangs or crashes and I can’t take a photo. I am forced to keep the output size at 800 rather than 1200.

    The iPhone can be useful for making small prints too. I photographed my baby niece on Thanksgiving and made 5×7 epson prints to give out for Christmas gifts. Everyone love them and I was left with more requests of the print.

  22. spottheblogger January 1, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    What software do you use to manage all your postings? What’s your workflow when you have a shot and want to blog, twitter, or post on facebook? I can barely keep up with a picture-a-day gallery. I need better photo blogging tools and tips! If you know of a blog that specializes in tips of that type, that would really help too.

  23. Anonymous January 2, 2009 at 8:10 am #

    I’ve got one. Clean your lens! I see so many mobile phone pictures that are smudgy and smeared.

  24. laanba January 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    I did NOT know that about the shutter button. I have Steady Cam and am using that some, but I love the shutter button tip.

  25. Jason Badry January 5, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    Awesome, yet simple tips – I’ve found the iPhone camera very frustrating, and for the most part it was not realizing that the picture was taken after I released my finger (often causing blur).

    Spyboy’s tip on the Griffin Clarifi is also huge; I used my old phone to document serial numbers/etc, but this seemed impossible with the iPhone.

    Now if only the quality could match my D90. ;)

  26. David January 16, 2009 at 8:02 am #

    I can occasionally fool the exposure settings of the iPhone camera in some low-light settings by covering the edge of the lens with my finger.

  27. Dardan January 21, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    The only tip i didnt know was that one with the shutter button on the iphone screen. I´ve tried something ellse aswell with my iPhone. If u have a wrong exposure ex. ur girlfriend with a nice bright sky in the background u have to adjust the exposure in order to see sth ellse than just a black face. Well the iphone can do that just place ur other hand in fron of the cam tryin to cover the sky(exposure changes in this moment), tap the shutter and try havin ur hand taken off in the right time so it doesnt appear on the image but leave it there long enough so that the iphone wount have anytime to readjust exposure(the exact time is somewhat after the fake shutter sound)! Kinda muanual and the timing is very diffucult but im always happy when i do sth extra with my iphone!!!

  28. Richard Lewisohn April 9, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    Tiffen have updated their Photo fx app,so you can now crop and add layers (in reality add effects). It’s really very impressive.

    I just with the iPhone had some form of exposure compensation!


  29. Scott April 18, 2009 at 9:20 am #

    Thank you for a great post!

    Regarding Camera Bag and Pano: I am a complete amateur and have a Canon Rebel XT dSLR that I take pictures with, then I upload these into iPhoto or Picasa.

    Can you recommend tools similar to Camera Bag or Pano for my desktop machine? I need them there just as much as for my iPhone.

  30. Chase Jarvis April 18, 2009 at 11:53 am #

    @scott: try apple’s aperture for your desktop. they make a lot of cool plug ins for that application…

  31. April 30, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    i actually thought my iPhone was a camera with a phone attached. I use it daily for photos. I use it to shoot and email set-ups back to my art director from the road for his suggestions before final image making with my ‘big’ camera. It’s the greatest ‘sharing’ device for photographers. I love camera bag and also now use photogene for simple ‘photoshop-like’ editing. Love your stuff.

  32. Matt S. May 7, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    Great stuff. I had no idea about the shutter button. Don’t know how I lived without that tip. I can’t wait for the new 3.0 software that supposedly improves the camera quality of the iPhone.

    You’ve inspired me to start my own daily iPhone challenge. I also use the apps you mentioned (Photogene is indespensible) plus Tiffen Cool fx for vignetting and Tiltshift for depth of field adjustments.

  33. EdB May 27, 2009 at 12:58 am #

    Nice post Chase! I enjoy taking pics with my iPhone as well. Mostly my kids but after reading your post I’ll get some more creativity in from now on.

    Here is another great iPhone camera app for those low light situations: Darkroom. This one releases the shutter only after you completely stop shaking, so you will be sure to have a sharp pic.

  34. Nikhil July 22, 2009 at 11:41 pm #

    i am developing some apps and any tips like these are very useful !!
    Great article & very cool for iPhone Developer.
    Thanks Man.

  35. emergency cell phone February 17, 2010 at 7:01 am #

    Good tips, I have been trying to take better photos.

  36. Davao Photos September 20, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    great article … can’t wait to use it on my iphone

  37. Davao Photos September 20, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Thanks for tip … I’m also looking for a good iPad app for this process or a lightroom type app for iPad :) great article

  38. Geobert October 12, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    thanks for this one..very helpfull and pretty impressive…

  39. Deadra Hancey December 4, 2010 at 1:52 am #

    This looks funny

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  43. Krishnan September 6, 2014 at 4:33 am #

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  44. Dione Heiner October 14, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help reduce content from being ripped off? I’d definitely appreciate it.

  45. iPhone Barcodes December 4, 2014 at 12:54 am #

    These devices are little miracles. When I think about my high school days and taking all my photos with disposable cameras and getting them developed at Walmart… Well, things have come a long way! As cheesy as it may sound, I count my iPhone as one of my blessings because of the memories it helps me capture every single day. Pretty stuff. Random stuff. Dumb stuff. All of it. Yay—iPhone. You’re so cool


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