iPhone Photography For Dummies
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The camera in the iPhone can detect up to ten faces in a scene, placing a rectangle on top of each mug. Behind the scenes, the iPhone camera is balancing the exposure across each face.

If you want to lock the focus and exposure settings while taking a picture, press and hold your finger against the screen until the rectangle pulses. AE/AF Lock will appear on the screen. Tap the screen again to make AE/AF Lock disappear.

All current iPhone models include a focus pixels sensor. Think of it as a fancy under-the-hood tool to help the cameras focus faster and focus better.

For each and every model, Apple has upgraded the processors in the iPhone. The 7 and 7 Plus rely on an A10 Fusion chip from Apple. The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have Apple’s A11 Bionic chip, with a built-in image signal processor that Apple says can detect various elements in a scene — such as people, motion, and lighting conditions.

The iPhone X gets a big boost from dual optical image stabilization, which uses complex algorithms to help you compensate for the shakes. It too has an A11 Bionic chip.

The XR, XS, and XS Max step up to an A12 Bionic chip, with a neural engine that uses real-time machine learning. You don’t need to know what that means, but it affects the way you experience photos, augmented reality, and more.

The sensor in the XR, XS, and XS Max models also has more focus pixels, which promises to bolster image fidelity and improve low-light photography. When a sun icon is visible, you can drag your finger up or down against the screen to increase or decrease the brightness in a scene. You can change the exposure settings of a given shot and lighten or darken scenes for both still photos and video.

Apple upped its game yet again with the A13 Bionic in the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. It too relies on a neural engine and real-time machine learning to help your pictures sing.

The rear cameras in all the models since the 6s are 12 megapixels. And the 7 Plus, 8 Plus, X, XS, and XS Max models gets a second rear 12-megapixel camera.

The iPhone 11 has wide and ultra-wide rear cameras, each 12 megapixels. The 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max have triple-camera systems that add a rear telephoto lens.

The FaceTime cameras on all 7 and 8 models jump to 7mp. That’s the same megapixel count as the front-facing TrueDepth camera on the X, XS, XS Max, and XR models.

The TrueDepth camera on the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max raise the count to 12mp.

You can also exploit a feature known as HDR, or high dynamic range, photography. Tap the HDR button to turn on HDR if visible.

You won’t see the button if you’ve enabled Auto HDR in Settings on some models, or choose the next-generation Smart HDR option found in more recent models.

The HDR feature takes three separate exposures (long, normal, short) and blends the best parts of the three shots into a single image. In Settings (under Camera), you can choose to keep the “normal” photo along with your HDR result or just hang onto the latter. You can also tap an Auto HDR switch if you want the iPhone to capture such HDR pics.

The cameras in all iPhone 7 and later models let you take advantage of HDR on the front facing camera as well, which works on both stills and videos.

These models bring other goodies. With an f/1.8 aperture and six-element lens, they perform especially well in low light. And the image signal processor in them — think camera brain — can power more than 100 billion operations.

The X, XS, and XS Max have an f/1.8 aperture on their wide-angle lens and a f/2.4 aperture on their telephoto lens. The rear camera on these models has a six-element lens system. The XR, which doesn’t have a second rear telephoto lens, has a lens with an f/1.8 aperture as well.

The 11 also has a six-element wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture, along with an ultra-wide five-element f/2.4 aperture lens, which has a 120-degree field of view. That means you can capture up to four times more scene.

The aforementioned telephoto camera on the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max is a six-element lens with f/2.0 apertures, which Apple says capture 40 percent more light.

Apple will also tell you that Smart HDR leverages faster sensors, an enhanced image signal processor, and brainy algorithms to bring more detail to your pix. The next-generation version of Smart HDR that’s in the 11s model blends the best parts of separate exposures into a single pic. Why else would it be called smart?

Apple has been preparing a new software feature called Deep Fusion, which will supposedly be ready by the time you read this passage. One of the Apple’s top executives referred to Deep Fusion as “computational photography mad science.”

In essence, by exploiting machine learning and the neural engine inside the A13 Bionic, the iPhone automatically captures eight long and short exposure photos, even before you press the shutter. When you do press the shutter, a long exposure is also captured. All this information is meant to be smushed together in an instant to produce the most ideal possible image.

While you’re in the Camera settings, note that you can also turn on grid lines, which help you frame a shot using the photographic principle known as the Rule of Thirds.

The iPhone cameras from the front to the rear — and back

Most of the time, you’ll use the main rear camera while shooting pictures (or video). But you may want to capture a selfie, or a shot of your own pretty face, to post, say, on a social networking site such as Facebook or Instagram. Not a problem. Just tap the front/rear camera switch at the bottom-right corner of the screen to toggle between the front and rear cameras.

On the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, you can capture a slow-motion video selfie dubbed a slofie.

Apple used to call the front camera the FaceTime camera because you can use it for the FaceTime video calling feature. The rear camera used to be known as the iSight camera.

On the iPhone X and later, the front camera is called TrueDepth because it goes beyond FaceTime. For one thing, it can also exploit Face ID facial recognition by creating a depth map of your mug.

It can also analyze the muscle movements in your face to create funny animated animojis that mirror your facial expressions. The infrared camera, dot projector, and flood illuminator that are part of the TrueDepth system are concealed by a notch that is visible on the screen.

The iPhone camera flash

The iPhone has an LED (light-emitting diode) flash that controls pictures taken with the rear camera. You see a flash icon when you’re using the front camera on the 6s and later models.

When the button is available, tap it to change the setting to On, Off, or Auto. Try using the Auto setting, which lets the iPhone decide when it’s a good idea to fire up the flash.

The iPhone has not one but two rear flashes as part of a, um, flashy feature Apple refers to as True Tone flash. The two flashes — one white, one amber — work in tandem to match the flash to the ambient lighting in your shooting environment.

The system determines the light intensity and which combination of the two flashes to fire off automatically, with more than 1,000 possible combinations, Apple says.

The Quad-LED True Tone flash on the 7, 7 Plus, and later models is even brighter.

You don’t need to worry about any of this when you’re out taking pictures. Just turn the flash setting to On or leave it in Auto and trust True Tone flash to choose an appropriate combination.

The FaceTime camera also takes advantage of what Apple refers to as a Retina Flash. For just a moment, the Retina display on the phone brightens by three times with True Tone lighting to bolster those selfies you snap in dim settings, made possible by a custom display chip.

Night mode on the iPhone camera

On the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, Apple added a night mode feature that lets you shoot in dim light without firing up the flash. The results are often more satisfying than flash photography. The great thing about this machine-learning-driven feature is that it kicks in automatically; you don’t have to scratch your head wondering whether to turn it on.

When night mode is on, the moon icon turns yellow and you see a 1s, 2s, or 3s inside. That’s the iPhone telling you to keep still for 1, 2, or 3 seconds, respectively, while taking the photo.

And because these brainy iPhones can detect when they’ve been placed on a tripod, night mode can take nearly a half-minute.

So how does this bit of photo-wizardry happen? Night mode exploits the wide sensor on the 11 models to essentially grab multiple images that are then fused into a single killer image.

Using digital zoom on your iPhone’s camera

When you spread your fingers or bring them closer together on the screen, the zoom slider appears. Continuing to pinch or unpinch has the same effect of dragging the slider to the right or left. The zoom feature works when shooting video too.

You may not always love the results you get when zooming in. The 7 Plus and later models have optical zooms; older models have digital zooms. The quality distinction is enormous

On the 7 and 8, you can get closer to your subject by zooming in up to 5x. On the 7 Plus and later models, you can zoom digitally up to 10x. But what digital zoom is really doing is cropping and blowing up part of image, which can reveal fuzziness or blurring.

Not to sound harsh, but a subject’s imperfections — and any inadequacies on the photographer’s part — may come to light. Despite that disclaimer, the camera renders some pretty strong pictures.

The cameras before the iPhone 7 Plus also have a 3x video zoom that uses a higher quality crop zoom to allow the phone to get up to three times closer to your subject while helping to preserve the original image quality. On the 7 Plus and later models, the digital zoom for video is extended to 6x.

If you’re traveling to San Francisco, you’ll want a picture of the magnificent span that is the Golden Gate Bridge. In the Himalayas, you’d want a memento of Mount Everest.

At a family reunion, you want that epic image of your entire extended clan. For just such moments, try the panorama feature, which lets you stitch together a high-resolution image of up to 63 megapixels on the 6s and later models.

To get going, drag the screen so that Pano (panorama) becomes your shooting mode of choice. The word Pano will be in yellow, just above the shutter button. Position the phone so it’s at the starting point and tap the shutter button when you’re ready. Slowly and steadily pan in the direction of the arrow. (Tap the arrow if you prefer panning in the opposite direction.) Try to keep the arrow just above the yellow horizontal line. When the task is complete, tap Done and admire your handiwork.

iPhone camera panorama Steadily follow the arrow in one sweeping motion to produce a panorama on your iPhone.

The iPhone’s rear cameras

On the 7 Plus and after (except the iPhone XR), two rear cameras work as a team. With this dual-camera system, you tap the 1x or 2x button on the iPhone display to switch from a 1x wide angle (28mm-equivalent focal length) to a 2x telephoto (56mm lens) shot or back.

You are taking advantage of the optical zoom feature on the phone, which is more of a big-deal benefit compared to digital zoom.

Of course, you can put the digital zoom to work here as well, to a max of 10x. You can employ the pinch to zoom gesture (at which you now excel). Or, after tapping to get to 2x with the optical zoom, slide your finger in either direction to zoom left or right.

On the 11, you can tap controls labeled 1x or 0.5x; on the 11 Pro and Pro Max (with the third camera), the controls are 0.5x, 1x, or 2x.

When Photo is selected as your shooting format of choice on all the 11 models, you can swipe up on the screen to surface icons for the flash, night mode, Live photo, aspect ratio, self-timer, and filters. And if you tap aspect ratio, you’ll be able to shoot a "square” image, or images that have aspect ratios of 4:3 or 16:9.

Another benefit for the 7 Plus and later models — and one of our favorite features — is a depth-of-field portrait mode, which lets you keep your main subject sharp and in focus while the background remains blurry but only in an artsy way.

Photographers refer to this concept as bokeh. On models that have the feature, another shooting option, named Portrait, appears on the Camera screen (next to Video, Photo, Square, and so on).

Although it has only a single rear camera, the XR can also take advantage of portrait mode.

Meanwhile, the 8 Plus and the X and later models boast a feature called Portrait Lighting. When you choose Portrait mode on these phones, you can apply dramatic effects, either before or after you take a picture. It works like this: After you select Portrait, a wheel appears so you can choose effects labeled natural light, studio light, contour light, stage light mono, and stage light.

With iOS 13, Apple added a portrait lighting effect (for the 11s models) called High-Key Light Mono. With this exquisite effect, your main subject appears in black and white against a white background.

Incidentally, you’ll be able to exploit Portrait Lighting on the front or rear cameras on the X and later models. On the 8 Plus, the feature works only with the rear cameras.

The XR, XS, XS Max, 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max add an advanced portrait mode and a new Depth Control feature that let you adjust the background blur after you shoot. You can also adjust the aperture without affecting the exposure after the fact. When you tap Edit next to a picture captured in portrait mode, you’ll be able to drag a slider for the purpose of altering the bokeh effect. And that’s pretty cool.

iPhone camera filters

The beauty of photo software is that you can edit and doctor up pictures to make them look sillier, funkier, and prettier — or even go from color to black and white. You accomplish these enhancements by using editing tools included in the Photos app or in any number of third-party apps.

Apple lets you apply color effects before you take your shots. Even better, these handy tools are live filters, so you can see the effect of changing from one filter to another before deciding which works best for a given scene.

To apply a filter, tap the three-dot filters icon at the upper-right corner of the display, and then tap any of the thumbnails representing the nine available filters. These range from a black-and-white Noir filter to the slightly washed-out Dramatic Cool filter. Or tap the tenth thumbnail, Original, all the way to the left, to go back to the image you started with.

iPhone camera filter Apply a filter on your iPhone to change the way a picture looks.

Incidentally, in Camera Settings, you can preserve the last-used filter, light, or depth setting automatically, rather than having to choose these each time you shoot. Choose Settings → Camera → Preserve Settings and flip the Creative Controls switch to on. You can also preserve the last shooting mode by flipping the Camera Mode switch to on. Same goes for the Live Photo feature.

You can apply filters after you take a picture as well, as part of your editing suite. That way, you have a normal picture and the filtered one. If you apply a filter before you shoot, the camera will take a picture only in that filtered mode.

iPhone camera burst shooting

Even top-notch photographers need help sometimes getting that perfect action shot or sequence of shots. Burst mode provides that help. Shoot with confidence, knowing that you won’t miss Junior kicking in the game-winner in soccer.

Capturing pictures rapid fire couldn’t be any easier. On all but the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max models, when you’re ready to shoot, press your finger against the shutter button and keep it there until you’re satisfied that you have what you want.

An image signal processor inside the 6 and later models works with the camera and the camera’s software to automatically focus the burst photos.

On the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, pressing your finger against the shutter instead activates a QuickTake feature that lets you shoot video instead. Rest assured, you can still capture rapid-fire bursts on these models as well; you just have a different routine to follow.

Place your finger on the shutter button and almost immediately drag it towards the left or bottom of the display, depending on whether you’re shooting vertically or horizontally, respectively. Lift your finger to stop shooting.

You do have to be quick, lest you capture a QuickTake video instead; it may take practice.

With all iPhone 6 and later models, Apple lets you take advantage of this burst capability on the front-facing camera. For the vainest selfies or group shots, the iPhone will capture each and every one. Apple says every burst sequence is analyzed in real time for sharpness and clarity.

Burst mode is a great feature. But Apple recognized that in most cases, you’re probably not going to want to keep each and every photo you take during your shooting binge, especially when you end up with hundreds

Fortunately, the software in the phone processes the images in real time and suggests the pictures it thinks you’ll like the most based on factors such as clarity, sharpness, and even whether a subject’s eyes are closed.

So how does Apple surface the best pictures? So glad you asked. You can tell whether a photo is part of a shooting binge in three ways.

In the first way, tap the thumbnail preview in the Camera app of the last shot taken. The pic now takes up most of the screen and the word Burst appears above the image in the upper left, with a numerical count of burst photos in parentheses.

The second way is by visiting the premade Bursts album that Apple conveniently supplies inside the app for your bursts of expression. The final way is to tap Photos→All Photos in the Photos app. The thumbnail that represents this sequence of shots will appear as though it’s sitting on a stack of photos.

iPhone camera burst This picture is part of a burst sequence.

With Apple’s assistance, your next likely chore is to determine which burst represents the best-looking picture or pictures (in other words, the ones you're likely to retain). You see a Select button at the bottom of the picture from a burst sequence. Tap Select. The selected image from your burst appears front and center, bordered by the edges of other photos from the sequence.

At the bottom of the display is a strip of thumbnails, each representing a picture from this batch. Below one or more of these images, you see a gray dot, indicating that the photo is one that Apple has determined is the best or among the best of the bunch.

Scroll to the left or right to examine the other pictures in the grouping. A gray triangle above the thumbnails orients you to your location in the thumbnails strip.

As you scroll, if you agree with Apple’s suggestions and want to keep a selected image, tap the circle in the lower-right corner of the image so that a check mark appears on the thumbnail, which prepares the photo to be copied as a stand-alone image.

You can select other images in the burst sequence; as you do, each picture’s representative thumbnail gets a check mark too. After making all your selections, tap Done.

You are given the option at that point to keep all the photos that the iPhone captured as part of your burst sequence (by tapping a Keep Everything button) or just the one or more images that you’ve manually selected (by tapping a Keep Only x Favorites button).

Indeed, absolutely nothing is stopping you from checking off pictures that Apple has not elevated to chosen status so that they too become stand-alones in All Photos.

If you’re not satisfied with any of the pictures, you can deep-six them all. Open All Photos from the Photos app, tap the thumbnail for this particular burst, and tap the delete icon in the bottom-right corner. Apple will make doubly sure that you want to remove all the pictures in this sequence by making you tap a Delete x Photos button before completing the deed.

You can designate a favorite by tapping the heart icon below a burst image or any other image.

Using the iPhone camera’s self-timer

Many physical cameras have a self-timer that lets you be part of a picture, perhaps in a group setting with friends. The self-timer built into the Camera app adds this functionality to your iPhone, whether you’re using the front or rear camera. If anything, the addition of the self-timing feature might improve the quality of your selfies.

Tap the timer icon. (If you have one of the 11s models, you have to swipe up first to reveal the icon). Choose 3 seconds or 10 seconds as the time interval between when you press the shutter and when the picture is captured. On a self-timer-generated selfie, you’ll see the seconds count down. To turn off the self-timer, tap the Off button. Couldn’t be easier than that.

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