A few weeks ago Julie and I were so incredibly fortunate to take our 3 littles to Disney World. We’ve been there before, but never like this.
This time we were getting the full enchilada. You know, “The Disney Experience.” The resort, the meal plans, the fast passes, and all theme parks meticulously planned out thanks to our incredible Disney travel agent.
So if you go to all this extent to plan the perfect vacation (and pay for it), the big question on my mind:
“What camera am I going to take?”
It’s true though, right?
I debated long and hard, and ended up only taking my iPhone X.
Crazy, I know, considering I have multiple cameras and lenses each worth thousands. But aside from the incredible convenience, size, and weight advantages of my iPhone, truth is…I also knew it would push me to learn, to be creative, and ultimately be a better teacher.
All the pics you’ve seen on this post were shot (and edited) on my iPhone X only. No extra lens add-ons or anything else either. I also shot exclusively in the native Apple Camera app.
So was it worth it?
What did I learn that I can pass on?
Would I do it again?
There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’ll take a few blog posts to get through it (and we will). But for now, let’s talk about some key tips and some key takeaways.
6 Key Tips: How to photograph Disney with only your iPhone.
1. Lock your focus and exposure BEFORE the moment.
Do you ever get hacked off that you keep missing the “perfect moment” because your camera is so dang…SLOW!? By the time you get it focused and exposed correctly, that smile, laugh, or moment is gone.
Well, there’s good news.
You just need to lock in your focus and exposure before hand. That way when you press the “take the picture button” it snaps the pic IMMEDIATELY!
You lock focus and exposure by:
- Pressing and holding on where you want the focus set to
- Swiping up and down to adjust brightness
There’s a couple nuances here that are better shown than written.
2. Know your iPhone’s sweet spot.
Your iPhone is like any camera/lens combo and has a certain type of pic is does really well, and lot of other pics it doesn’t do really well (but perhaps okay). I could say a lot here, and have in other places, but let me jump to the biggest practical point I can:
iPhones are great for wide angle photography. After all, its lens is a 28mm lens equivalent. Translation: it’s a wide angle lens. Which means it’s best suited for landscape images, cityscapes, and photojournalism.
But when it comes to “proper” portraits, the kind where you fill the frame with just your kids head and shoulders, you’ll have to get so close to your subject that the wide angle lens will do some funky distortion to your kids face shape and whatnot. You’ve probably never noticed it because…you’ve never shot with a proper portrait lens, which is honestly 85mm and longer. To see what I mean though: here’s and example from our iPhone Photography Course For Parents where we take a “proper portrait with an iPhone and then and 85mm lens:
So, when taking pics of your kids with an iPhone, “environmental” portraits are best. Meaning, stand far away enough from your kids to where you’re not distorting their face. This most likely means you’ll need to be at least a few steps away from your kid and you’ll have to then include some background.
But with some good compositional technique, you can choose your backgrounds wisely and thus make it more like “environmental portraits” (where the background is well placed to add context and great story elements) instead of portraits with a bunch of “noise” in the background. Which brings me to the next point.
3. Go back to the basics of composition
When you have a wide angle lens, it’s critical that you get a handle on the basics of composition. If you don’t, your pictures will just be info overload. If you do, you’ll craft pictures that draw the viewers eye to your subject.
These basics include:
- The Rule of Thirds
- Leading Lines
- Negative Space
The best place to start understanding even a couple of these (which even a couple will make a huge difference) is with our FREE 7-Part [Snackable] Photo Course.
4. Go back to the basics of lighting
Ditto point #2 but with lighting. You absolutely must learn a few key tricks to place your kiddo in soft, open, beautiful light with your iPhone.
Again, the 60 second tips in this free email course will get you onto the right path the quickest. It’ll teach you the main trick to get your kids in beautiful soft light every single time.
5. Use portrait mode
For those of you with an iPhone 7 Plus, 8 Plus, or X, you can place a big ole’ “exception” beside point #1 above. These iPhone versions actually have a second 50 mm lens on the rear facing camera. This gives your iPhone camera more reach (zoom), and thus less facial distortion for those “proper” portraits.
And it gets better.
Nearly all of the images on this page were shot on portrait mode, and then further edited to make them look like I shot them on $5,000 camera/lens combo. Speaking of editing…
Bonus Tip: EDIT your pics!
If you’re not doing a few simple edits to your pics, you’re leaving a TON of impact and improvement on the table. Plain and simple.
If I showed you the “before edit” and “after edit” pics of the worlds best photographers, your jaw would drop. Whether you like it or not, editing is a huge part of creating amazing images.
But this is good news! Truth is, you’re probably already taking some amazing images, you just need to learn a few editing tricks!
Every single one of the images on this page were edited in Instagram. For two of these pics, I also used the Retouch App to remove some people from the images. Stay tuned for a blog post coming in the near future where I’m going to walk you step by step through my editing process for these pics.
Would I take only my iPhone next time?
So with all of the tips out of the way, I did want to make a mention of just 2 key takeaways. The first is for all the dozens of folks who wrote in asking me if I’d only take my iPhone again (who were on their way to Disney soon).
1. Fancy cameras (DSLRs, mirrorless, etc) are indeed better for two main reasons:
- Responsiveness. Everything about my fancy camera is just faster. And not just faster, but more responsive. Focus acquisition happens instantly and stays locked on far better with my fancy camera. Way less shutter lag (the time it take to actually take the pic after pressing the “take the picture button”). And changing settings to get my picture dialed in exactly how I want it is just…much faster…on my fancy camera.Bottom line: yes, I would have gathered many times more “keepers” with my fancy camera compared to just my iPhone. No doubt about it folks. No doubt.
- Low light ability. You’re in low light a LOT at Disney. All the rides and restaurants. And there’s no doubt that my fancy camera would’ve faired way better in these situations. I would have been able to focus quicker and better in low light, as well as get a cleaner file after. And I would have been able to avoid blurry pics in these dark situations.
Sure, there’s other advantages to the fancy camera. At the end of the day the quality is better, the bokeh would’ve been way better, the entire deal would’ve been “better.” But…at the expense of lugging around a heavy camera, and lenses, all in a big bag, over 20,000 steps a day…and on rollercoasters. So it’s a matter of weighing the costs. Perhaps the iPhone IS good enough… ?? 😉
2. Understanding Photography is more important than fancy cameras.
This of course is a no brainer. At the end of the day, I’m amazed at the iPhone and the pics it allowed me to capture of such a precious time in our family’s life. Your camera should get about as much credit for your great pics as your oven should get for your great pies.
And that’s good news for all of us and for all our cameras, which are just tools. Learn to use these tools, and even more, learn the fundamentals of photography in general, and you’ll be well on your way to creating priceless pics of your family, kids, and all the memories along the way.
That said, stay tuned for more from this little iPhone only adventure. As mentioned, we’ll have some follow up posts to this one, including how to use Portrait mode as well as an editing walk through. Click here to be notified of when those posts go live.