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How to avoid taking lousy iPhone holiday photos

Christopher Breen | Dec. 23, 2014
There's an old wheeze that's routinely bandied about in regard to digital photography: "The best camera is the one you have with you." Ask a qualified photographer about the value of this advice, however, and you might get a less-than-enthusiastic reply along the lines of "Why represent a great moment (and potentially great memory) with a terrible image?"

Once you've arranged the scene, stay away from the zoom and get as close to your subject as you need to. The iPhone's digital zoom simply increases pixel size, making your images less sharp. For better images, step up.

About the flash

"You want us to go outside!? It's cold here, bub! Just use the flash!" some may suggest.

Please don't. Or at least not when the room is dark.

Apple put a flash on the iPhone mostly because every other smartphone manufacturer had put a flash on their devices. The iPhone's flash is not great for use in low light. Yes, it will allow you to capture an image that can't be captured in any other way — when you're attempting to take a picture in total darkness, for example. But it doesn't carry very far and so when you shoot from a distance you're not going to illuminate much. And if you get too close to your subject, the flash will wash out the scene and make your image very flat.

It is, however, useful as a fill flash — a flash you use to illuminate objects in the foreground when the background is bright. To use it this way, launch the Camera app, tap the flash icon, and then tap On. If you leave the flash set to the default auto setting it won't fire in daylight. Note, again, that the flash isn't terribly powerful so when using it as a fill flash, get close to your subject — within three feet, if possible.

Use the controls available to you

When people take photos with their iPhones they typically fire up the Camera app, tap on the screen to focus on their subject, and trigger the shutter, thus relying on the iPhone to do all the work. But the Camera app offers a couple of manual options that you might consider.

The first is exposure control. Just tap to focus and hold briefly until a sun icon appears next to the focus box. Drag this icon up to increase the brightness or down to decrease it. When the iPhone insists on an exposure that's a little too much or not quite enough, using this control can help create a better image.

You can also lock exposure and focus — something you might want to do when first setting up a shot, arranging things exactly as you want, and then pulling away the iPhone to tell little Chumly to don a funny hat. To do this just tap and hold on the screen to focus on your subject. As you hold, a yellow bar appears that reads AE/AF LOCK. To remove the lock, just tap on the screen.


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