Business & Education

The Beginner’s Guide to Professional iPhone Photography

27th December 2013 by Alex Ingram

More than 300 million iPhones are currently active and being used around the world – and that number is increasing at a rate of approximately 400,000 every day. People say a baby is born every minute, but Apple sells more iPhones than humans make babies – an unbelievable statistic but 100% correct.

Taking these numbers into account, Apple are correct in stating in their iPhone 5 advert, ‘Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera.’ With this in mind, we’ve taken the liberty of compiling a cheeky comprehensive guide to iPhone photography, with help from the experts, so you can take professional quality images without the gear. So let’s dive straight in.


The fact is that a professional photograph has nothing to do with the camera, model, subject or app – it’s all to do with the photographer.

Everyone is constantly on the lookout for the latest camera app for the world’s favourite smartphone. So here are our top 5 iPhone photography apps – some free, some paid but affordable, and some very expensive. These bad boys are the cream of the crop.


Photoshop Express by Adobe (free)

Adobe has created a brilliant app to serve as the iOS Photoshop equivalent. It’s free but does feature a paid pack which can be bought, featuring extra filters and a couple of extra tools. But it’s still pretty perfect without, so don’t feel pressured into buying the add-on if you won’t use the tools. This is the must-have iPhone photo editor!

Camera+ by tap tap tap (£1.49)

Features the ability to set exposure on one spot of an image and focus on another, a stabiliser which waits until it’s steady before taking the photo, a grid to eliminate crooked shots and for post-production, filter effects, cropping tool, rotate, border and the app’s built-in auto corrector “Clarity” to bring things out of shadows and into the light.

Slow Shutter Cam by Cogitap Software (£0.69)

Until now, long exposures and light trails have been exclusively for SLRs, but Slow Shutter Cam is the best slow shutter app we’ve tried and it’s a bargain for less than 70p. You’ll love the effects it creates with car headlights at night, bustling traffic and pedestrians. If you don’t have a steady hand, be sure to invest in a tripod of some kind or you’ll end up with nothing but a blur in the end. And if can’t swing the 70p, there are a few free alternatives available too.

VSCO Cam by Visual Supply Company (free)

VSCO is one of the best iPhone photo editing/filter apps on the market, and it’s free! But, sadly, extra filters are only available as in-app purchases – the unbought filters still show in-app to show you what you’re missing. Worth buying every filter set, in our opinion. A very good all-rounder.

iPhone Native Camera

And our last entry into our iPhone photography apps collection is the built-in iPhone camera app! We know it doesn’t really count, and we could be using this space to tell you about something else cool and expensive, but this is to make a point. The iPhone’s native app is always going to be the quickest thing to access (by swiping up from the lock-screen) so it’s the app we use when we need to take a photo fast. And to most photographers, seeing that moment in front of you and racing to snap a pic is the difference between being a pro and an amateur. Since the overhaul it got after the iOS 7 update, it’s actually a pretty good app for whatever you need. We find ourselves taking most of our pictures with the native camera, as well as using it to apply filters and resize or crop images. In reality, all you need is this and a keen eye for what makes a nice image and you’ll be just fine.


Rule of Thirds

Turn on the grid on your camera and align your subject onto one of the crosses where the lines intersect – you’ll notice your photo looks instantly more professional. This is a general rule in photography, due to the number Phi (not to be confused with pi). It’s the golden ratio – divine proportion. Phi = 1.618 (and lots and lots of non-recurring decimals) which, if you spilt a line into thirds, would correspond to the ratio of two thirds to a third. This number is important, as it’s something we see every day in nature – the shape, size and position of rose petals can be worked out with phi. Fun fact: Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man was a diagram representing this number. Try it yourself, measuring from the tip of your finger to you shoulder, timesing by 1.618 and you’ll have the distance from that shoulder to your other hand – spooky, huh?

If you’re struggling to find the grid lines option since the iOS 7 update, don’t worry – we spent a good half an hour questioning their existence too. But they can be enabled under Settings>Photos and Camera>Grid.


If you’ve ever set foot in a professional photo studio, you’ll have noticed that the camera seems to be the least important part. The thing you’ll notice first is the lights – mainly because they’re huge in comparison, but also because a few are often used together to create the perfect lighting conditions for the scene. You’ll hear many photographers saying the only thing that makes the difference between a professional photo and an average phone photo is lighting. So here are some ways you can recreate these effects at home for minimal cost.

Buy a £5 desk lamp and throw in a bright 40w bulb, point it toward the side of your scene rather than directly at your model and try covering a serving tray in tin foil to use as a board reflector/bounce card. Cover one side shiny-side-up and the other blurry-side-up – and you can flip it round, whether you want to reflect hard light of soft light. If you really want to go all-out, try looking in a Hobbycraft store for some coloured tin foil to reflect different parts of the light spectrum. In other words, using a gold or red bounce card to create warm glows or blue tones to create a cool look. You could even hang a sheet in front of your light source to diffuse the light, experimenting with cotton and synthetic sheets, as the differences in thickness will allow more or less light through. You could even create your own softbox with a sheet and an old picture frame to stick in front of your lamp. Be careful not to actually cover the lamp, though, as it’ll catch fire and could end very badly indeed.

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is created through a mixture of focal length, aperture and the distance between your camera and subject – the latter being the only thing in our control when using an iPhone instead of an SLR. For this reason, we use a cheeky trick people have been utilising for a while now – Instagram. Its blur function is brilliant for this and can capture a single object in detail and blur out the rest, allowing you to control the position, angle and size of your focal area.


But remember – if you want it to look legit, you’ll have to get up close and personal – as if you were creating Depth of Field with a camera – otherwise any photographer will see straight through your fake DoF, and we don’t want that. So don’t try and create Depth of Field on one or two objects in the same position in the foreground – this isn’t how it works and people will instantly spot it for a fake.


And that’s pretty much it.

Using the apps mentioned in this piece will allow you to give your images a super-slick professional finish to your iPhone post-production – but the apps themselves do not create a perfect picture. The rest is up to you. As a photographer, you can use these rules to great effect, creating stunning and exceptional quality images. The most important thing of all is a sharp eye for photo opportunities – infinitely more valuable than the most expensive camera and studio.

Practice makes perfect – so what are you waiting for?