Mastering iPhone Photography

Why the iPhone is my go-to backup camera for creative travel photography

The best camera is the one you have… and many times that’s your phone.
Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN

I’ve owned an Apple iPhone since the original was released in 2007. Back then, the quality of camera phones was still rudimentary, and I didn’t consider using it for creative photography. Thirteen years later, my iPhone is a critical part of my photography kit and iPhone photography is here to stay. In fact, I often refer to my phone as my “backup camera.” Last fall, I upgraded to the iPhone 11 Pro, and I have to say that it offers an incredible array of built-in features that are just amazing. Whether you have the newest iPhone or an earlier model, here are some of my go-to tips for iPhone photography.

Your iPhone can help you capture unique angles, perspectives, and locations

street corner in Coolidge, KS
Coolidge, Kansas

A great thing about any smartphone is that it’s very compact. For this reason, I’m often able to use my iPhone in places where it might be awkward to use my interchangeable lens Nikons. Smartphone photography is often perceived as less obtrusive while traveling, and I can sometimes use my phone in places that wouldn’t otherwise permit photography.

Another advantage of your phone is that because it is small and light, it’s easy to put it in places to get angles and perspectives that might be difficult to capture with a regular camera. Try shooting low angles, or over your head, including straight up. You can also easily press your iPhone against a window to reduce reflections from glass surfaces.

Bear in the Juneau, AK airport
I put my iPhone 11 Pro up against the glass display case to photograph this stuffed bear in Juneau, Alaska.

Use Location Services to Geo-Tag Your iPhone photography

An oft-overlooked feature of the iPhone is that the built-in GPS can geo-tag all of your photos. I use this feature all the time, especially when I’m scouting locations. That way, when I come home I can pinpoint my location on my computer maps. In your iPhone Privacy Settings, make sure Location Services is enabled for your Camera App. GPS data will then be automatically embedded into your photos. To view the maps location on your phone, simply swipe up on the photo You can then view your photos on a map, either in Apple Photos, Photo Mechanic, or Lightroom Classic.

how to show location in your iPhone photos
Swipe up on any image in your Photos library to see its location data.

Go Wide!

One of the best new features on the iPhone 11 Pro is the addition of a third, dedicated wide-angle camera. This new camera offers an angle of view equivalent to a 13mm lens in 35mm format. That’s wider than any lens I own for my Nikons, other than my fisheye lens!

beach sunset in California
Sunset in La Jolla, CA captured with the iPhone 11 Pro’s super-wide lens

If you don’t have the new iPhone 11 Pro, you can use the built-in Panorama mode to capture wide-angle scenes. Panorama mode uses the video capture system in your iPhone, and as such might not do well in low-light environments. Panoramic images can be uploaded to social media sites like Facebook to let your friends “look around” the scene.

iPhone panoramic image
Amache Relocation Center (Japanese internment camp), Granada, CO
iPhone 11 Pro Panorama

Long Exposure iPhone Photography

iPhone long exposure image of a waterfall
Use the Live Photo option to capture long exposures with your iPhone!
Glencoe Waterfall, Scotland (iPhone XR)
how to create a long exposure image with your iPhone
Choose the Long Exposure option after swiping up on an image captured using Live Photo mode.

Did you know you can capture long-exposure images with your iPhone? It works incredibly well, and you can use this feature to blur moving water and other objects from a hand-held shot. To make a long exposure with your iPhone, you’ll need to enable Live Photos in the camera app. With Live Photos, the camera captures about 3 seconds of video, allowing you to merge video with a still. Just hold your phone still while you capture a Live Photo, then swipe up on the image to reveal the Live Photo options and select “Long Exposure.” Your iPhone photography just got really cool!

Don’t be afraid of the dark: Night Mode on the iPhone 11

holiday lights
Holiday lights, Fullerton, CA (iPhone 11 Pro)

If you do have the new iPhone 11 (any model), it supports a new feature called “Night Mode.” Night mode is enabled automatically in dim/dark conditions and captures a 1-3 second exposure. (Update: you can extend that to 10 seconds via manual override.) Hold the camera steady, and the built-in image stabilization system does the rest. I was astonished at how well Night Mode really works. It’s perfect for dimly-lit museums where you can’t use a tripod with your regular camera.

Create Time-Lapse Videos

Flying into San Diego, California (iPhone 11 Pro time-lapse)

I love adding time-lapse video clips to my travelogues, and the iPhone has a built-in time-lapse video function right in the camera. The trick to a good time-lapse video is to hold the camera very still when possible. If I have a tripod, I’ll use a MeFoto Sidekick camera holder that fits in the Arca-Swiss clamp on my ball-head.

Get Creative With Post Processing

iOS13 image adjustment tools
The image adjustment tools in iOS 13 are quite powerful and include many special effects filters.

In iOS 13, the image editing features have been vastly improved. You can adjust images quite easily and add a variety of filter effects. However, if you really want to have fun with your iPhone photography, I recommend using the Snapseed App from Google. Originally developed by Nik Software, Snapseed lets you adjust images powerfully and mix and match many different effects, including pseudo-HDR tone-mapping.

barbershop in Granada, Colorado
Abandoned barbershop, Granada, CO (Processed in Snapseed)

Conclusion: Don’t be afraid of your iPhone

Recent technological advances make using a camera phone, like the iPhone 11 Pro, an indispensable tool for the traveling photographer. When I travel, it has become my de-facto “backup” camera, as well as a point and shoot camera for times when using my larger cameras can be cumbersome. iPhone photography is here to stay, so embrace it!

2 thoughts on “Mastering iPhone Photography”

  1. Do you still transfer them to LR to do your post editing and if yes what’s the easiest way to download into LR

  2. Hi Dino-
    The easiest way to get them into Lightroom is to use the Lightroom CC app on the iPhone or iPad, which then synchronizes to my main LR Classic catalog at home.

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