Lesson 5 of 8
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5 Smartphone Camera Tips That Changed the Game

As much as we love “real cameras” (DSLR’s, mirrorless, etc) here at SPS, we also love our smartphone cameras. As the old saying goes:

The best camera is the one you have with you.


And since our phones are almost always with us, we figure we absolutely need to include some tips for these smartphone cameras in our Tiny course.

We’re just scratching the surface here, but let’s cover 5 of the most important iPhone camera features that help you get better day-to-day pics. Google Pixel and Samsung galaxy phones have very similar features, so these tips apply to all major smartphones.

1. Exposure Compensation

Controlling exposure (how bright or dark the picture is) is one of the most fundamental aspects of photography. And you’ll get far better results getting exposure right during capture as opposed to trying to brighten/darken via editing.

Most know that we just need to tap the screen where we want the camera to focus. But did you know that you can easily make the picture brighter or darker right after that “focus tap?”  Yep, and it’s super easy:

  1. Tap the screen at the point where you want it to focus
  2. To the right or left of the yellow box, swipe up to make the pic brighter. Swipe down to make the pic darker.
  3. Then snap the pic.

Super easy but you’ll use this all the time!  For more on this feature, click here.

2. AE/AF Lock

AE/AF stands for Auto Exposure / Auto Focus Lock.

To activate AE/AF Lock, all you have to do is long-press on the screen where you want the camera to focus. After 2-3 seconds, you’ll see the AE/AF Lock icon appear at the top of the screen (circled below):

As the name explains, now your focus and exposure are LOCKED until you reset it (by tapping somewhere else on the screen).  You can keep taking pics over and over, but the focus and exposure (brightness) are locked-they won’t change until you tap somewhere else on the screen.

  • Ever wish you could take a rapid succession of photos (like with burst mode, see below) without having to re-focus every time?  Use AE/AF Lock.
  • Ever get the exposure dialed in perfectly from the tip above (#1) but notice it resets after you take the first pic, but you wanted to take more pics? Use AE/AF Lock.
  • Ever miss an action shot because you were too slow (or the camera was) in focusing?  Use AE/AF lock.  Example: say you want to get a pic of your kid up to bat (baseball game). You’d long press when he’s in the batters box. This gets your camera pre-focused. When it’s time to swing, use burst mode to get a series of photos, all perfectly focused and exposed.

For more info on this point, check out this video (about halfway through).

3. Burst Mode

The iPhone can capture 10 pics per second, hence the name burst mode! It’s a great way to shoot an action scene or an unexpected event. With 10 frames per second, you’re much more likely to capture the perfect moment!

On older iPhones and on iPads, you simply tap and hold the shutter button at the bottom of the Camera interface for the duration of the scene that you’re trying to capture.

On the iPhone 11 series (and newer) you have to press the shutter button and drag it towards the square displaying the last image you shot (to the left in portrait mode, up in landscape mode).

For more info on burst mode, check out this video.

4. Night Mode

Image by Austin Mann

Shooting pics in low light is one of the main areas the camera phones struggled with. But that’s changing big time with night modes, available with iPhone 11, Google Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy.

Night mode uses machine learning algorithms to take crisp, clear photos even when lighting conditions are poor, such as at night. Though Night mode brightens photos, it also preserves the night time feeling, balancing the light and dark elements of an image.

Night mode automatically activates when the conditions are right, but you can click on the moon icon to fine tune the exposure, making for some really powerful results.

5. Portrait Mode

Finally, by far my favorite iPhone camera update ever has been Portrait Mode.  As the name implies, this mode is perfect for portraits…basically anytime you’re close to your kiddo (or anyone) and you want to take a pic that blurs the background.

We’ll be talking about why you want to blur the background in another tip, but for now, select Portrait Mode by swiping left just above the white shutter release button to select “PORTRAIT.”

Just this last past summer my daughter was a junior bridesmaid. I first saw her at a time when I didn’t have my real camera by me at the moment. But portrait mode came to the rescue:

Shot on iPhone (Portrait Mode)

For more on Portrait Mode, check out this video.

Okay, that’s all for today! See you in the next tip!