Capturing the moment: Making the most from iPhone photography

Adam Turner
31 October, 2014
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iPhone photography, iPhone, mac, apps, macworld australiaThe rise of the iPhone turned us all into budding photographers, but there’s more to great iPhone photography than just tapping a button and hoping for the best. There are a number of apps and gadgets on the market that will boost your shots.

With a smartphone or tablet always in arm’s reach, it’s tempting to document every waking moment of our lives but, when it comes to great photography, less is often more. Before you press the shutter button, consider what you might do to transform your quick happy snap into a treasured memory fit to hang on the wall.

There’s a treasure trove of great photography tools in the App Store, from alternative camera apps, which add professional features, to hipster image filters and photo sharing services. You’ll also find plenty of accessories such as tripods and detachable lenses to help you capture the perfect shot. If you’d prefer to stick with your trusty compact digital or hefty digital SLR, then your iPhone can act as the ultimate photographer’s assistant.

Point and shoot

When you tap and hold on a point of the screen to lock the focus in Apple’s Camera app, the yellow AE/AF lock box appears.

There are plenty of great third-party camera apps in the App Store, but before you jump in it’s worth coming to grips with the advanced features of Apple’s own Camera app.

Apple’s Camera app automatically adjusts the exposure and focus when you point it at your subject, ensuring your pictures look sharp while compensating for the lighting conditions. It’s possible to override this by tapping on any object in your shot, but if you tap and hold it engages the AE/AF lock, so the exposure and focus settings remain fixed when you look around. It’s

a handy trick when you’re struggling to focus on your subject or see the details in the shadows on a sunny day. Tap the screen again to disable the AE/AF lock.

The High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) also helps show up fine details in difficult lighting conditions by taking three photos with different exposures and combining them. It’s important to hold the camera still, as if anything moves between shots you’ll see blur in the final composite image.

HDR isn’t very useful for photographing people who won’t sit still. Instead you might look to burst mode, which takes several quick shots and lets you choose the best.

On the iPhone 5s, holding down the camera button (or the volume up button) engages burst mode, which takes 10 photos per second. It stores them in the camera roll under a single thumbnail, picking the one it believes to be the best shot of the bunch and offering you the option to delete the others. Holding down the camera button on an earlier iPhone captures a few photos per second, but you don’t get the extra benefits of burst mode.

Turn pro

If you’re looking for more advanced features, it’s worth checking out third-party camera apps such as ProCamera 7 and 645 PRO Mk II, which grant you more of the manual controls you’d find on a standalone camera. Unlike Apple’s Camera app, you can set separate focus and exposure points to help capture tricky shots.

645 PRO Mk II

645 PRO Mk II offers users the choice of varying focus and exposure points in a photo.


Serious photographers will appreciate ISO control to adjust for different lighting conditions, along with histograms to see the tonal range in your shots. These apps can also save your images as TIFF files, retaining fine details, which are lost when your photos are compressed down as JPEGs.

If you’re keen to be in your photos, rather than being the person always missing from family portraits, look to camera timer apps such as GorillaCam and TimerCam, which give you time to jump into the shot. GorillaCam also lets you capture stop motion and time-lapse clips. If you’re looking to capture long exposure shots, check out Average Camera Pro or Slow Shutter Cam.

The volume up shutter button trick also works using the volume controls on wired and wireless headphones, letting you take a shot without even touching your iPhone. To get the best results from these apps, you’ll want a camera stand for your phone, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Get hip


The Instagram 6.0 update brought the ability for users to adjust the level of filter applied to images before posting.

Before you share your photographic masterpieces with the world, you may want to apply an arty filter to help your photos look old school.

Apple’s Camera app has basic editing features and a handful of built-in filters such as Instant, Fade and Noir, which you can apply as you’re taking the shot or afterwards in the camera roll. You’ll find similar tools in the official iOS Facebook and Twitter apps, along with some third- party social media apps.

Instagram drove the photo-sharing boom and features a wide range of filters along with the ability to crop and rotate images, as well as adjust the brightness, contrast, warmth and saturation. You can also tag people, add hashtags and post images to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr, or just share them with specific friends.

If Instagram’s options aren’t hipster enough for your liking, then check out the Hipstamatic app, which mimics an old analogue camera – loading film canisters, winding the film between shots and changing the lens to achieve a wide range of effects.

You’ll also find Polamatic by Polaroid to mimic instant photos and add a range of filters, along with touch-up apps like Afterlight and Photo Editor by Aviary. If you’re looking to master the art of the selfie, check out Snapchat, FaceTune, Selfie Cam and Selfiegram.

If you’re after all-rounders that incorporate advanced manual shooting options, filters and editing tools, take a look at Camera+ and Snapseed. The one-touch Clarity feature in Camera+ is designed to optimise your shots and bring dull photos to life, in a similar manner to Photoshop’s Auto Smart Fix feature, which improves colours and reveals details lost in the shadows.

If you’re looking for more advanced image processing and lens options, check out Faded and VSCO Cam for extra sharpening, grain and vignette tools to add polish to your shots. Filterstorm adds support for layers, masks, curves manipulation and colour correction.

Color Splash makes it easy to create a black and white photo while leaving some areas in colour, while LensLight lets you play with the light to add lens flare, light leaks and spotlights, as well as bokeh background blur.

Look your best

Adobe Photoshop Touch

Adobe Photoshop Touch is jam-packed with advanced features and offers the control of layers, selections, transformations and adjustments that Photoshop artists are looking for.

If your photos need more than a hipster makeover, you’ll find a range of powerful photo editing apps for the iPhone.

Along with applying filters, Apple’s Photos app offers basic editing features such as auto-enhance, red eye removal, rotate and crop. Once again you’ll find similar tools in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But if your images need serious work, you should look to apps like Adobe Photoshop Touch, which brings a surprising number of Photoshop’s features to the iPhone, including Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, Magic Wand and support for layers.

Alternatives to Photoshop Touch include Photogene and Awesome GIMP Photo Editor. If you’re looking to rework or manipulate your photos rather than just enhancing them, then check out You Doodle, as well as Instant Blend and Superimpose, which make it easy to blend photographs.

All for one

Rather than sharing your photos oneat a time, photo collage apps such as Insta Picframes and FrameUrLife let you combine several photos in the one frame to tell a story. They both offer a wide range of layouts, although Insta Picframes’ final result is always a square, while FrameUrLife adds the option of a 2:3 or 4:3 rectangle in portrait or landscape mode. FrameUrLife also lets you add a fancy frame to your collage, while Insta Picframes incorporates advanced editing features for adjusting the brightness, warmth, contrast and saturation of each image, as well as tweaking the focus and removing red eye.

Other options like Pic Collage make it easy to clip objects from your photos, while Photo Wall Pro offers a wide range of layouts, which make it easy to produce greeting cards and invitations.

Make a stand

If you’re serious about your photography then it pays to accessorise. An iFriendly camera stand makes a great addition to your carry bag, so you can capture great shots on your iPhone when you’re out and about.

iPhones don’t feature a mounting thread for screwing on to a standard tripod, but thankfully there are several ways to get around this. You can look for a smartphone case or clamp with a built-in mounting thread like the SnapMount, XShot mobile phone holder, RetiCAM smartphone tripod mount or Joby GripTight. These let you mount your phone on any camera tripod. Alternatively, you can look for a tripod designed specifically with the iPhone in mind.

Choosing a tripod involves trading size and features against portability. If you’re after a full-sized tripod to hold your phone up near eye height, then you may be better off with a standard tripod and an iPhone adaptor such as the Joby GripTight. Tripods designed for the iPhone are usually less than 30cm high – designed to help your phone sit upright on a flat surface rather than elevate it.

The ATC Universal is a traditional- style tripod, which stands only 6cm high, while the flat, credit card-sized Pocket Tripod – a Kickstarter project – slips out of your wallet and folds up into a tiny iPhone stand. You’ll also find tripods with flexible legs designed to cope with more challenging environments.

Joby’s GripTight GorillaPod stand has bendy legs, which you can wrap around a fence or pole to get the perfect camera angle, while the GorillaPod Magnetic adds magnetic feet.

Click the button

To make it easier to press the shutter button on your iPhone, some third-party camera apps such ProCamera let you tap anywhere on the screen. Meanwhile the Triggertrap app offers a quick release option, which captures the shot when you take your finger off the button – which helps cut down on camera shake. Triggertrap also offers timers along with the ability to take a shot by shouting at your phone or knocking on the table.

Apart from wired and wireless headphones, you’ll also find dedicated iPhone camera triggers, which let you
press the shutter button from afar, from the likes of Kootek, JBtek, iStabilizer and HISY.

Look closer


Olloclip has a range of lens kits for iPhones and iPads, including the Original 3-in-1 kit above.

If the iPhone’s built-in camera lens isn’t up to the task, you can easily strap on something more substantial to improve your view of the world.

Olloclip is another Kickstarter graduate, which offers a range of lenses that easily clip onto your iPhone, such as the 4-in-1, which incorporates a fisheye, wide-angle, 10x macro and 15x macro lens in the one unit. There’s also a 3-in-1 featuring a 7x, 14x and 21x macro lens, along with a standalone 2x telephoto lens with an adjustable polarising filter to cut down on glare.

Photojojo also offers a range of interchangeable lenses, which lock into an adhesive removable metal ring that attaches to the back of your iPhone. Options include fisheye, super fisheye, 2x telephoto, wide angle, macro and polarising – which you can buy separately or combined in a kit.

Other options include the iZZi Orbit iPhone case and iPro Lens System that let you attach a range of lenses to the supplied phone case. Meanwhile, the Kogeto Dot attachable lens lets you capture 360-degree panorama shots.

If you’re ready to get wet, then look to an Optrix watertight case such as the PhotoProX, which supports four interchangeable lenses and is waterproof down to 10 metres.

Get a grip

If you’re struggling to come to grips with the iPhone as a real camera, the Snappgrip case features a handgrip, shutter button, shooting mode dial and digital zoom control. It helps the phone sit in your hand like a small SLR and supports a range of detachable lenses. Meanwhile the Incipio Focal case helps your iPhone feel more like a typical compact digital camera.

The Manfrotto Klyp+ kit includes an iPhone case, lens kit and external LED light for improving your shots.

Alternatively, you may look to external flashes such as iblazr or the wireless Nova flash, both Kickstarter projects.

Lend a hand

Triggertrap Mobile

Triggertrap Mobile uses the iPhone’s camera to fire the DSLR’s shutter when it detects movement.

However good your iPhone may be, there are still times when you’ll want to put it aside and reach for a serious camera from the likes of Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus or Sony. But don’t shove your phone back in your pocket, as it can serve as a handy photographer’s assistant.

The Triggertrap app is primarily designed to work as a remote trigger for standalone cameras, either using Wi-Fi or the range of Triggertrap dongles designed to suit most cameras. When the app is controlling an external camera, you can use your iPhone as a sound, vibration or motion detector as well as access a range of cable release, time-lapse and HDR modes.

These days most camera vendors offer an iPhone app, which includes at least basic remote control features, sometimes adding remote access to the view through the lens along with the ability to wirelessly transfer images from the camera to your phone. You may also look to third-party apps such as Capture Pilot, which lets you preview your camera’s shots on the iPhone during a photo shoot as well as rate and tag them.

Another option is the Wi-Fi-enabled Eye-Fi SD memory card, which works with any camera that accepts SD cards and lets you access the photos wirelessly from your computer, smartphone or tablet.

Your iPhone can also stand in for many of the other gadgets in your photography bag. Apps like Pocket Light Meter, Fancy Light Meter and FotometerPro turn your iPhone into a makeshift light meter, while the Luxi Light Meter Adapter takes things a step further as an accessory that fits over the camera on your iPhone.

Of course there are plenty of other calculations to be made when you’re a serious photographer. Apps like Triggertrap and Long Time Exposure Calculator offer neutral density filter calculators for determining long exposure times. Meanwhile DOFMaster assists with depth of field calculations, while PhotoCalc adds hyper-focal distance calculations, exposure reciprocity, flash exposure calculations and a sunrise/sunset guide. It’s also worth installing a well-rounded PDF reader app on your phone such as GoodReader so you can carry around your camera’s manual.

On the desktop

Whichever gadget you use to capture your photos, you’ll probably want to copy them to your Mac for safekeeping and a little extra editing.

Apple’s iPhoto is useful for managing your photo library and editing images, but its insistence on importing all your images into one giant database file can be frustrating – especially when it comes to backing up your files. You can tell it to avoid importing your images, but if you still find iPhoto bloated there are plenty of alternatives.

If you just need a quick and easy way to copy images from your iGadgets to your Mac, dip into iPhoto’s settings and tell it to open Apple’s Image Capture app by default when you connect a camera. This makes it easy to copy your photos into sub-folders within your Pictures folder.

Google’s Picasa is a handy alternative to iPhoto for managing and editing your photos, especially if you post images to Picasa Web Albums. If you’re looking for more advanced editing tools then consider Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, ACDSee, Corel Aftershot or the free GIMP – any of which should meet most people’s needs compared to the expensive Adobe Photoshop CC.

Prosumers looking for powerful photo library management features should weigh up Apple’s Aperture against Adobe Lightroom. If you’re going down the Adobe path, then the Creative Cloud software subscription may be a good fit for your needs.

Photo Stream

Photo Stream makes it easy to share photos with your other devices, family or friends.


Play it safe

If you don’t take the time to back up your photo library, then you could lose everything in a heartbeat. Copying your files to disc, USB stick, external drive or Network Attached Storage drive is a sensible precaution, but it’s also important to keep an ‘off-site’ copy away from home to protect against fire, flood and theft. This is where the cloud can come in handy.

iCloud is rather limited when it comes to backing up desktop files. Sync services like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive are much more flexible and sometimes much cheaper. There are also dedicated backup services like Jungle Disk, CrashPlan, SugarSync, Cubby, Mozy and Carbonite. When you’re evaluating them, start with a small data set and test it for a while before you take the plunge and upload your entire photo library – which could take days or weeks.

iCloud is more useful for backing up images from your iGadgets, plus you can use Photo Stream to sync images between devices, although it doesn’t take long to use up your free iCloud allowance. Before you hand over money for extra iCloud storage, take a look at mobile apps such as Google+, Dropbox, Flickr and Amazon Cloud Drive, which can automatically upload your happy snaps to the cloud. Don’t trust them until you’ve tested them – some are supposedly designed to run in the background, but can leave you in the lurch if you haven’t opened the app for a while. Rather than backing up your mobile photos directly to the cloud, the PhotoSync app makes it easy to wirelessly back up your photos and videos from your iDevice to local or cloud storage. Along with Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Picasa and Flickr, you’ll find PhotoSync also supports FTP, WebDAV and desktop software for syncing wirelessly to Mac or Windows.

If you’re looking to shuffle files to and from your iGadget, then also check out FileExplorer.

When disaster strikes

Prevention is the best cure, but photo recovery tools still make a handy addition to your software arsenal. iExplorer helps pull images off your iGadget should a software update go pear-shaped, and you may find also photos hidden away on your Mac in your ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. Back up everything in that folder, rather than working with the originals, and then try changing the file suffixes to JPG and MOV to see which multimedia files you can recover. At this point, photo browsing software like XnViewMP for Mac can make life much easier, or IrfanView for Windows.

If you’ve accidentally deleted photos on your Mac or camera’s memory card, then you’ll need file recovery software, which tends to be expensive. Before you hand over any money, try the free PhotoRec from If you are going to pay for recovery software, then look for software that offers a free trial or demo mode, such as R-Tools’ R-Studio or Prosoft’s Data Rescue 3, so you can see which files are recoverable before you spend that cash.

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