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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?"

Set it and forget it

Unless you intend to fill your picture-taking time with relatives clutched in uncomfortable selfies, you're not going to appear in your own photos and videos. One way to become part of the party is to put your iPhone in a position to capture the action — pointed at the dinner table or dangling mistletoe — flip it to video mode, and tap the record button. Let events unfold and you might capture something special.

Another option is to use the time-lapse feature built into iOS 8 (launch the Camera app and swipe all the way to the left to reveal it). Again, place the iPhone in an unobtrusive place and start recording. The results will be, as expected, a typical time-lapse video with motion speeded up. But there's nothing to stop you from importing the video into an editing app and extracting individual frames from it.

In each case you'll find it helpful to have an iPhone-compatible stand. There are a load of these available, including small portable stands that you can place on a piece of furniture or countertop, mounts you can use with a traditional tripod, and, of course, a longtime favorite, one of Joby's bendable Gorilla stands.

Go beyond the Camera app

With iOS 8, Apple provided ways for developers to more deeply control an iPhone's camera — letting you manually adjust focus, exposure compensation, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. The Camera app doesn't take advantage of all of these capabilities but some third-party apps do.

Visual Supply Company's VSCO Cam (free, with in-app purchases) offers manual control over all of these elements as well as provides a handful of filter presets. Tap tap tap's $3 Camera+ is another versatile camera app. With it you can separately adjust exposure and focus, lock white balance, and, after the fact, choose from a variety of scene modes. It also includes a Clarity mode that brings out more detail in your images.

Play with each and you'll find that your iPhone's camera is more capable than you imagined.

Give yourself a gift

With each iteration of the iPhone, Apple improves its camera. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are no exception. Each of these cameras offers f/2.2 aperture (versus f/2.4 aperture in the iPhone 5s and 5c), making them better low-light shooters. The iPhone 6 Plus includes optical image stabilization, which helps to ensure that any low-light shaky shots appear less so. They also offer 1080p video at 60 frames per second and 720p slow motion at 240 fps, thus letting you impose some cool slo-mo effects when later editing your holiday videos.


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