Great iPhone Photos

I took a couple of photography classes in school, know my way around a digital SLR, and I love using my 1970s film camera, but, I’m not a professional photographer. I am a mom, and I am obsessed with taking photos of my two kids. As with many of us these days, sometimes the only camera I have on hand during a moment of magic, is my iPhone. I don’t want to pause or miss the moment to run and grab my “big camera,” and sometimes I’m not even home to be able to get it at all, or let’s be honest, just too lazy. I have figured out how to get better photos, using my iPhone camera, and a couple of great photo editing apps on my phone. Here’s how I do it.

Taking the photo:

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset
With this photo, I intentionally framed it so that the tub covered the girls enough to make a bath time photo, family-friendly. Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset.

First, I take a bazillion photos. OK, maybe not, but I always take at minimum 3, usually more. If something great is happening, I take a bunch of photos, and hope that at least one is in focus. These toddlers of mine move around a lot! I don’t often use the photo burst option though, because it takes too many of nearly the same photo, and it’s too many for me to wade through when I’m selecting my favorites.

For this photo, the colors were too distracting to my eye, so I used a black and white filter. I also liked the way the bubbles looked in black and white. I also cropped it from a portrait orientation to a landscape orientation.

While I’m taking photos, I make sure to change angles if I can, refocus on little faces (or on whatever I want the focus to be), and I pay attention to the lighting. If I can get natural light on faces, that’s the best! Looking out a window, being outside on an overcast day, etc.– the normal photography lighting advice applies.  That doesn’t mean that the rules always have to be followed, though. For me, too many rules affect my creativity adversely, so I break the “rules” often. Some backlit photos, or low light, indoor photos, still turn out great.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset
This photo was taken in a room with a ton of beautiful, natural light streaming in through big windows. Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset.

Another thing that’s important, is framing the photo. Thinking about how it will look as a “big picture.” If you want a close-up of your baby, get close, get her sweet face nice and crisply in focus, and snap. Don’t rely on taking a far-away photo and cropping in closer later– when that’s done, the photo is often too out of focus and just not as nice-looking. I also prefer to see more of the scene in the original photo, so I rarely crop very much out. I think a lot of times, people rely heavily on cropping, and while it can be useful to crop a bit, photos that are framed correctly in the first place look better.

Next, it’s time to edit.

Processed with VSCOcam with b2 preset
For this photo, I cleared off the counter and used a filter I knew would black out the background, to remove distractions and give it a polished feel. Processed with VSCOcam’s b2 preset.

My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing:

Once I have taken a few photos, I go through and select my favorites, and pull them into VSCO Cam. The first thing I do, usually, is sharpen the photo just a bit. Not too much, or it starts to look weird, but enough that it makes the photo look a little more crisp. I usually choose between a 1-3 on the VSCO Cam sharpening tool (the one that looks like a triangle). I also admit that my photos aren’t always 100% perfectly in focus, so this helps. Next, I often up the exposure between 1 and 3 stops, unless I took the photo outside. I think brightening the photos up a bit gives them more life, and I like the way a brighter photo looks.

I brightened up this photo, and cropped in just a bit, to remove the distractions on the deck, and focus on my daughter’s cranky face.

Then, it’s time to add a filter.

My absolute favorite VSCO Cam filters are:

  • B2
  • X2
  • C2
  • HB1
With this photo, I wanted all focus on the sweet interaction between cousins. To do this, I removed the distraction of lots of color by using a black and white filter, I cropped in just a tiny bit, and I used a round tilt shift focus on the girls, making the rest of the photo out of focus.

Often, a photo captures amazing light, hitting things in interesting ways, and I know that a black and white filter will show the light off in a really beautiful way (I’m partial to black and white). If the colors in a photo are too distracting to me, I’ll choose black and white, too. Sometimes, if my green-eyed 2.5 year old is outside in front of greenery, I know her eyes will look amazing with a nice, lightly color-enhancing filter (I’ll probably use C2). If I take a photo that’s a bit moody, I know that one of my favorite, flatter, more muted black and white filters, will enhance that moodiness I’m trying to express (B2 or X2). I took a photo in the dark last Christmas, of my girls playing with the Christmas lights. I knew that I could use a black and white filter and that the Christmas bulbs would give off just enough light to see the girls, and make the photo look really cool.

I knew this photo would look really cool with a black and white filter. I used VSCO Cam preset X3.

After I’ve filtered the photo, I export it back to my phone’s camera roll, and I decide if I need to straighten it or crop it. For me, it’s distracting if a photo is obviously crooked, so I’ll fix that. I do any necessary cropping at the same time.

This is a selfie! I liked the way the light was hitting my face through the window that day, so I snapped a quick photo, knowing I could crop it, and use a black and white filter to hide the background, and make the light really stand out.

Occasionally, I also like to add a tilt shift/ point of focus to a photo, using “focus” in an app called Photo Editor-, by Axiem Systems. Every once in a while, I’ll also use the photo stamping tool in TouchRetouch by Adva-Soft, to remove something distracting in a photo, like an outlet on the wall behind my smiling baby, or a stray dirty sock on the floor. If I remove something, I do that before editing in VSCO Cam. It’s not easy to perfectly remove something from a photo using an iPhone tool (at least for me it’s not), so editing and using filters on the photo afterward, hides it better. If I’m adding a tilt shift, I do that as the very last step, after VSCO Cam edits, because then I know exactly how the finished product will look, and whether I want to use the tool for sure or not.

That’s it! That’s all I do to try to get, and make the best of, some great shots with my phone.