The Ultimate Guide to the iPhone Camera

Learn how to make the most of the iPhone cameras. With the Camera app, you can take amazing still pictures, record regular and slow-motion videos, create portrait shots, take live photos and more.

Capturing still photographs and video

Open the Camera app. To flip between the front and back cameras, tap the camera icon (bottom right). To switch between video and stills, use the slider under the image; moving between Time-lapse, Slo-Mo, Video, Photo, Square and Pano.

With the regular camera, you can zoom in and out using two fingers. To take a photo, tap the big white button at the foot of the screen, or one of the iPhone’s Volume buttons. Press and hold either to use Burst Mode, taking multiple images at once.

To record a video, set the slider to the Video option. Tap the red on-screen button to start recording. While recording, tap the white button (bottom left) to take a still photo. Tap the red button, which has now become a square, to stop recording.

You can also shoot video footage in Slo-Mo (slow motion). It’s shot in exactly the same way as regular video, as explained in Step 3, but with the Slo-Mo option chosen using the slider, as shown here.

The final option available on the slider is the Time-lapse feature. Tap the shutter and you can now take frame-long videos at set time intervals, showing the passing of time. It’s great fun to use.

Move the slider to the Square option and you can take a square-shaped photo. It’s ideally suited for taking a single image that will be used as an ID photo for a passport, driving licence or an avatar for use on the web.

The Pano option is for the panoramic camera feature. Tap the shutter and move the iPhone along the on-screen marker, you can take a continuous horizontal image. Tap the arrow to reverse its direction.

You can access real-time filters for your photos and videos, giving them various effects. Tap the icon (top right corner) and select a filter. Used correctly, these filters can really add to your digital photography.

For additional features, return to the Settings app. From this link select Photos & Camera. You can then access facilities that greatly assist you in your composition, such as an overlay grid and video settings.


Switching Between Cameras

You can take photos with the Camera app using the front-facing camera or the twin rear cameras. Simply tap the Camera icon in the bottom right corner of the screen, as shown, to switch between the front and rear cameras.


Manual Focus

While taking a photo, tap the screen. The yellow box that appears is the focal point of the picture and it’s here that the iPhone will focus when you press the Shutter button.

If you want to move the yellow box and focus on another part of the photo, simply tap that area of the screen. The box moves to this section, making it the new focal point.

With the focus box on the screen, you can also alter the brightness of the photo by dragging a finger up to increase the exposure or down to decrease it if the light is too bright.


Optical zoom

The optical zoom works on any iPhone with twin cameras on the rear. The optical zoom feature works with all photography options except for Portrait. When lining up your photo, you should see that there’s an icon at the foot of the viewer entitled ‘x1’.

The ‘x1’ icon means the photo is to be taken at actual size, without being zoomed in at all. Tap this icon and it changes to ‘x2’, showing the subject is now twice as close in the photograph; as it’s an optical zoom, your pictures suffer no loss of quality.

Tap and hold this icon and you can set an optical zoom, for a subject that’s up to ten times closer (or use the pinch/spread gestures). This is a digital zoom, so the photograph is simply blown up, inevitably, your pictures suffer some loss of quality.


Portrait Lighting

Line up your shot in the usual way and then select your lighting type from the choices offered in the wheel shown here. Your options are Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light or Stage Light Mono, turn the wheel to choose one.

When you turn the wheel, the lighting is applied in real-time, so you can see immediately what affect the changes have on your portrait. Find one you like or if you don’t want to apply Portrait Lighting yet, choose Natural Light.

Now shoot the picture in the usual way, that is, with the white button at the foot of the screen or the Volume button on the left of your iPhone. You can’t hold the button for multiple pics in Burst Mode whilst taking a Portrait Lighting shot.

You can apply lighting effects to your picture after it’s been taken, as long as it was taken in the Portrait option. Open the picture in Photos and tap Edit. Tap the icon at the foot of the photo and choose an option from the lighting wheel.


Live Photos

In addition to the regular still photo, the Live Photos feature, which is only available on the iPhone SE, 6s/6s Plus or later, captures a few seconds of video and sound, from before and after the still is taken, for an animated photo.

To use Live Photos, turn the slider below the image to Photo, then tap the circles icon in the centre of the top bar. Tap the Shutter button as usual to take a photo. Tapping the Live Photos icon again turns it off.

You can touch any part of a Live Photo and it comes alive, showing you the few seconds of video captured either side of the still image. It works like this if you use your Live Photo as a Lock screen picture too.


Editing Live Photos

Recent releases of iOS have made substantial improvements to the Live Photos feature. You can now edit a Live Photo. When you’ve taken it, open the photo and tap Edit.

As you can see, there’s a slider along the bottom. Tap it and you can drag in the ends, cutting off superfluous frames. You can also tap a frame and set it as the key image.

Swipe upwards for some effects. Loop makes the live photo continually move, Bounce does the same but forwards and backwards and Long Exposure adds a blur effect.


High-key Mono

Another new feature in iOS 13 is High-Key Mono, a new Portrait Lighting effect found on the far right of the effects wheel. This gives a very striking black and white image, overlaid on a plain white background. The look is sophisticated; just the thing for arty photos.


Reading QR codes

You can read a QR code with the Camera app. A QR code is a machine-readable pattern made up of black and white squares that typically opens a URL. To scan one, hover the camera over the code.

There’s no need to press the Shutter button. In the latest versions of the Camera app, Apple has added a frame around the code, making it easier to scan. When you get a notification, tap it to activate the QR code.

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Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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