The Ultimate User Guide for the iPhone Camera

The iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5 all have great cameras that perform well in a variety of lighting and shooting conditions, including low-light, flash and macro photography. And with the powerful yet easy-to-use Camera app in iOS 7, anyone can take great photos with ease. Today, we’re going to get in touch with our inner shutterbug and check out all the functions and features available in Camera, and shoot a few pictures along the way. Let’s go!

The Basics

Camera sports a minimal interface that’s easy to learn. Here are the main controls you need to know:

  • To take a picture, simply launch Camera and tap the white circular shutter button near the bottom of the screen.
    Take a picture by pressing the white shutter button
    Take a picture by pressing the white shutter button
  • Alternatively, you can use either of the volume buttons to snap a photo.
  • To focus on part of your frame, tap that area in your frame. The depth of field you get depends on the distance between your lens, the object in focus and the object out of focus — the further away the object in focus is from the rest of the frame, the more depth of field you’ll see in your image.
    Depth of field in a photograph
    Depth of field in a photograph
  • Focusing not only determines the distance of focus of your camera, but also the exposure. For example, if I focus on a bottle with a dark label in front of my iPhone, in a relatively well-lit room, the camera will adjust its settings to correctly expose the dark label, which means that the rest of the image will look significantly brighter (because of the existing light + the increased exposure). However, with Camera’s auto HDR, this won’t be too much of an issue, as the camera will actually take multiple shots and intelligently layer them to give you an image with balanced exposure across the frame.
  • To zoom in or out, use two fingers to pinch the screen.
  • Camera automatically focuses and sets exposure depending on where you tap on the screen to indicate your area of focus. If you’re manually setting up a shot, or a series of shots where you don’t want the exposure and focus to change, you can deactivate auto exposure and auto focus by entering Photo mode and then long-pressing (about 3-4 seconds) anywhere on the frame on your screen. You can then shoot as usual, and bring back auto exposure/auto focus by tapping once on the frame on the screen. (Thanks to our reader Dr_Romantic for the tip).
    Deactivate auto exposure and focus by long-pressing on the screen, and tap once to bring it back
    Deactivate auto exposure and focus by long-pressing on the screen, and tap once to bring it back
  • To take a photo with a vintage filter, tap the Filters button at the bottom right of the screen, then choose a filter to use and you’ll be able to see what your composition looks like with the filter before you take a picture.
  • To view your last photo, tap the Camera Roll button at the bottom left of the screen. From here, you can share your image, edit it or delete it.

Editing photos

You can tweak your photos using the simple, basic controls available from your Camera Roll. To do so, tap the Camera Roll button at the bottom left of the screen, find your picture and tap Edit.

Camera offers basic editing tools to quickly fix your photos
Camera offers basic editing tools to quickly fix your photos

The controls available are:

  • Rotate – Rotate your image in 90-degree increments to get the orientation right.
  • Auto-enhance – Fix colour and contrast automatically with a single tap.
  • Filters – Apply any of the filters available from Camera on your image for a different finish.
  • Red-eye Removal – Red eyes in photos are caused by a strong flash that reflect off the retina, showing the red blood vessels in the eyes. Tap this and then tap each red eye in your shot to fix them in a pinch.
  • Crop – Use this to crop the image to any aspect ratio you like, by either dragging the corners to the desired positions, or by tapping Aspect and choosing an aspect ratio you’d like to use. You can also drag the image to adjust what fits into your cropped frame, and use two fingers to hold and rotate the image freely to fit your new frame.
    Use the Crop tool to rotate and crop images freehand or using a set aspect ratio
    Use the Crop tool to rotate and crop images freehand or using a set aspect ratio
  • Tap Save when you’re done, to confirm your changes.

Flash

If you’re shooting in the dark or in indoor low-light conditions, you might find the flash useful. Bear that mind that this is a very small light source and isn’t diffused, so the illumination won’t appear as natural as you’d like. Still, it can make the difference between getting a shot and capturing only inky blackness.

Tap the lightning bolt icon to toggle Flash On, Off or to Auto mode, where your iPhone will detect the lighting conditions and appropriately fire if necessary.

Burst mode

If you’re shooting an action sequence, such as a moving vehicle or a pet, you can take a bunch of shots continuously (at up to 30 fps on the iPhone 5s), so as to as to capture the right moment.

  • To do this, hold down the shutter button till you’re done. You can also hold down either of the volume buttons to take multiple photos in burst mode.
  • Once you’ve shot a burst of images, tap the Camera Roll button to see the main image, and then tap Favorites to view them in a carousel.
    Choose your favorite images from a burst of photos to edit and share
    Choose your favorite images from a burst of photos to edit and share
  • Next, tap the empty circles at the bottom of each image to select the ones you want to retain.
  • Tap Done, and you’ll be prompted to either Keep Everything or Keep only X Favorites (X being the number of shots you’ve selected. Select whichever option you prefer and return to Camera Roll to edit or share your images.

If you’re frequently using a data connection over Wi-Fi and get charged for uploads, it might make sense to skip uploading all your burst photos, and only upload your favorites from the burst instead.

  • To do this, launch Settings from the home screen and tap Photos & Camera.
  • Under Burst Photos, turn off Upload Burst Photos.

HDR

HDR or High Dynamic Range in photography refers to a wide range of exposures. Let’s say you’re shooting a scene with a bright sky and your subject under the abundant shade of a tree. With a normal camera, your sky might look bright while your subject looks dark, or your subject might be well exposed while the sky is way too bright, and looks like a wash of white. With HDR processing, your iPhone takes multiple images at different exposures and layers them together to get a shot with balanced exposure across the frame – so, in our example, both the sky and the subject will be well exposed.

In the example image below, notice how the white plate and the light mashed potatoes are properly exposed, as are the bright yellow kernels of corn and the darker brown steak — all thanks to the magic of HDR.

This HDR image from an iPhone 5s has balanced colours and exposure
This HDR image from an iPhone 5s has balanced colours and exposure

Tap HDR to turn it on, off or to Auto, where your iPhone will decide if HDR is required to get a decent shot.

You can also choose to save the individual images that your iPhone shoots to generate the HDR. To save memory, turn this off:

  • Launch Settings from the home screen and then tap Photos & Camera.
  • Scroll to the bottom and turn off Keep Normal Photo.

Switch to front camera

If you want to take a selfie or shoot a personal video message, you can easily use the front camera to do so. Tap the camera flip icon at the top right of the screen to do this, and shoot as usual.

Take a selfie by switching to the Front Camera -- your mileage might vary
Take a selfie by switching to the Front Camera — your mileage might vary

Modes

You’re generally in Photo mode by default. Swipe left or right anywhere on the screen to access the other modes.

Video

Swiping left brings you to Video mode, which, on the iPhone 5s, lets you capture 1080p video at 30fps. There aren’t any real frills or settings to play around with here: simply tap the red record button to start recording, pinch to zoom up to 3x while shooting, and tap the button again to stop recording.

As our reader @Crinklex2 correctly pointed out, it’s best to shoot video while holding your iPhone in landscape mode. Shooting video in portrait mode (holding your phone in a vertical position) will cause your video to display a narrow vertical frame, with large black bars on either side, which is difficult to watch and will almost certainly annoy viewers, no matter how poignant the moment you’ve captured.

Shoot video in 1080p with ease
Shoot video in 1080p with ease

To preview your video, tap the Camera Roll button at the bottom left of the screen, and press Play. To share it, tap the Share button in Camera Roll to reveal sharing options.

Square

This is the same as photo mode, except that your frame is cropped to a square. This is perfect for composing pictures for Instagram, or if you just prefer the square format, as some photographers do.

Pano

You can use Pano mode to capture a wide shot spanning multiple frames.

Take great panoramas easily with iPhone's 30 fps panorama mode
Take great panoramas easily with iPhone’s 30 fps panorama mode

To get a good panorama, first hold your phone in portrait mode. turn and focus your iPhone to the left-most point of the scene you want to shoot, tap the shutter button and slowly begin turning your iPhone to the right. You’ll notice an arrow on the screen with a yellow horizontal line through the center — try to keep the phone at the same vertical height so that the arrow head remains as close to the yellow line as possible. You can stop and wrap up your panorama at any time by tapping the shutter button, or take a long panorama and have the Camera finish up for you when you’ve reached the limit.

Slo-Mo

Action in slow motion looks a lot more dramatic than at regular playback speeds, and using the Slo-Mo mode, you can shoot at 120fps at 720p resolution, and slow down your clip to play 1/4th the speed. The benefit of using this mode is that the higher frame rate ensures smooth video even when slowed down significantly, whereas simply slowing down regular 30fps/24fps video will result in choppy video at that playback speed.

To shoot a slo-mo video clip:

  • Launch Camera and swipe to switch to Slo-Mo mode.
  • Tap the red record button to begin shooting, and tap it again when you’re done capturing your clip.
  • To view your video, tap the Camera Roll button at the bottom left of the screen and press Play. You’ll notice a bar with blue handles above your clip — slide the bars to indicate which part of the video you’d like to see in slow motion (the parts of the clip outside the handles will play at normal speed).
    Preview your slo-mo clip in Camera Roll by using the blue handles to select which part you want in slow motion
    Preview your slo-mo clip in Camera Roll by using the blue handles to select which part you want in slow motion

Now, sharing this directly from Camera Roll will result in a video that only plays at normal speed, and you won’t be able to show off any slo-mo goodness. To get your clip to play just the way you want, you’ll need to edit it in iMovie, a free Apple iOS app for video editing.

  • Download iMovie from the App Store.
  • Launch iMovie from the home screen.
  • You’ll find all your video clips from your Camera Roll here. Tap any of these clips to create a new project, then tap the Share button, and finally, tap Create Movie.
    Select a video in iMovie to create a new project and edit it
    Select a video in iMovie to create a new project and edit it

Unfortunately, making your video slow down at a certain point and then resume normal playback isn’t as easy as it is when viewing a Slo-Mo clip in Camera Roll. On the Edit screen in iMovie, you’ll need to separate your video into clips and then assign them different playback speeds. So, for example, if you have a short video of you talking to a friend who then demonstrates a trick on his skateboard, you’ll want to clip the video into two parts, have the first part play at normal speed and then have the skateboard trick part play at 1/2 or 1/4th the speed.

  • Scroll through your clip and choose a point where you want the slow motion playback to start.
  • Next, tap the video clip at the bottom, and swipe down on the clip to cut the video at that point.
    Tap your video, select a point to clip and then swipe down to cut it there
    Tap your video, select a point to clip and then swipe down to cut it there
  • Once you’ve done this, double-tap the clip and tap Speed at the bottom of the screen. This allows you to adjust the playback speed of the selected clip, right down to 1/4th the original speed. Make clips of your video and adjust the speed as necessary. You can have a normal speed clip at the beginning, a slow clip in the middle and then an ending clip at normal speed again.
  • In our skateboard example, you’ll want to keep the first clip (of you talking to your friend) at 1x, and then have the skateboard trick clip at 1/4x.

    Select a clip and adjust its playback speed
    Select a clip and adjust its playback speed
  • To play your movie, press the rewind button, or scroll back to the beginning of the video clip timeline and press Play.
  • When you’re finished editing your video, tap the Back arrow at the top left corner. You can once again preview your video, tap the Share button to save your video to your Camera Roll or share it via Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, email and more.
    Save your masterpiece or upload it immediately from iMovie
    Save your masterpiece or upload it immediately from iMovie

That covers the basics of using the Camera app on your iPhone. Got a question about how to take or edit better pictures and video? Let us know in the comments!