How to shoot the best portraits with your iPhone

Derrick Story, Macworld
6 January, 2014
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The iPhone is a capable device for most of our daily snapshots. And even though it’s not quite as versatile as a dedicated digital camera, you can still capture stunning portraits. Here are some great techniques for top notch people shots using the camera you always have with you.

Reflectors for fill light

The iPhone’s LED flash is decent for indoor photography, but isn’t strong enough to serve as a fill flash in bright daylight conditions. When outdoors, you can add more pop to your pictures by using a reflector.

Photographers often use collapsable disc reflectors for this purpose. Chances are good that you don’t have this accessory in your backpack. But you may have a car windshield shade available.

For self portraits, hold the reflector on the opposite side of the sun and bounce the light into your face. If you have a friend with you, they can hold it instead. Many windshield shades have both a shiny and a white side. In bright conditions, the white surface should work just fine. On partly cloudy days, you may want to use the shiny side to direct more light onto the subject.

1 car shade reflector

A handy fill light can be as simple as a car windshield shade.

Put the camera on a stand

You’ll have more posing options if you put the camera on stand. There are many portable options available, including the Lollipod, as shown below (and available in Australia via Amazon.com).

A stand can also help reduce distortion by positioning the camera parallel to the plane of the subject. Sometimes you may want the drama of a high or low camera angle, and other times not. The key is being in control of your composition. A stand gives you those options.

Use the front-facing FaceTime camera to help you compose the self portrait. This allows you to see the framing on the LCD. You may even want to take one or two test shots to judge lighting and colour. Once you have everything aligned, however, turn the iPhone around and use the higher resolution back camera for the final images.

Trip the shutter using the set of earbuds that came with your iPhone. Plug them in to the headphone jack, and when you’re ready to shoot, press the Volume + button on the earbuds to take the picture. That’s right, your earbuds are also a remote release. An alternative is to use the self-timer option included with many camera apps, such as ProCamera.

2 parallel camera v2

A stand can help you position the camera, leaving both hands free for the portrait.

Mirrors

We see them all the time on social networks: self portraits shot with a mirror. The advantage to this technique is that it’s fast and easy to compose. But you can improve the results by taking advantage of rooms that have natural lighting instead of the off-colour bathroom lights we typically see.

And, just like any other composition, pay attention to the background. Avoid clutter as much as possible.

3 mirror

Natural lighting and an uncluttered background will improve your mirror portraits.

Get close for pet shots

Portraits aren’t just for humans. Pets make excellent subjects too.

Take advantage of the close-focusing capability of the iPhone, get low on the ground and capture the exquisite detail of your furry friend.

Try different camera angles and use natural light whenever possible.

4 get close for pet shots

Position the camera low at 'pet level' and get close.

Add more light, if needed

If you find that you’re iPhone’s flash is constantly underpowered for the indoor photos you want to take, try a pocketable auxiliary light such as the Pocket Spotlight by Photojojo (available from Photojojo’s US site that ships worldwide). These stash easily in your backpack or purse, and can provide that extra bit of pop for portrait work.

Add finishing touches

Once you’ve captured a pose that you like, consider making a detour through iPhoto for iOS before sharing it with the world. Tap on the Tools icon in the lower left corner to reveal Crop, Exposure, Colour, Brushes and Effects.

The Repair Brush for example (Tools > Brushes > Repair) can quickly remove blemishes. With two fingers, zoom in and position the image so the blemish is clearly visible. Then tap on it with your finger tip to remove.

Other helpful brushes include Soften, for fine lines and wrinkles, and Sharpen for the eyes. After you’re finished, you can share the portrait with the world directly from iPhoto or save it back to the Camera Roll for publishing later.

5 blemish touchup

Remove that blemish with the Repair Brush in iPhoto for iOS.

Your iPhone won’t replace a DSLR with zoom lens for every portrait shoot. But by applying these techniques, you can capture amazingly good shots of yourself, friends and family.

by Derrick Story, Macworld

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