How to Use Your iPhone as a Camera

Ever wonder how so many of your friends take amazing pictures of casual moments or objects without even having a camera in their hand? The truth is, if you have an iPhone, you already have one of the most powerful photography platforms of all time. New models of the iPhone, all the way through the iPhone 4S, feature a photographic lens and features that, coupled with a few specific apps, can turn your photographs into something approaching professional quality. I had a few minutes to sit down and talk about using an iPhone as a camera with Kris Krug, who has had photography published in National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Business Week, the Financial Times, USA Today, and the LA Times (just to name a few). Though Krug still uses traditional cameras , he strongly believes that the best camera is the one you always have with you. After meeting Milla Jovavich one night without his camera, Krug made the decision to always carry around a traditional camera — and not just his phone. However, he says that for most people, an iPhone works just as well — especially since it collapses the ability to “capture, edit, distribute, and archive into one single device.” While we chatted over breakfast, Krug detailed how using simple photographic techniques with a few specific apps can help you use your iPhone as a camera.

For those who are new to photography, Krug urges iPhone users to start by considering a few basic photography techniques. He actually spoke at Gnomedex in 2008 detailing a few of these tips and tricks — well before the iPhone emerged as the ideal camera — though the advice holds true even with the emergence of the new technology. Krug emphasizes knowing how to find and use light sources to capture the best features of the subject, or even using it to capture the subject in reflection. Other tips mentioned include how to use your surroundings to hold steady, such as bracing yourself on another object, standing on something else, or even lying down. Krug also explains a few other tips for beginnings, such as the rule of thirds, and the trick that all former MySpace residents know: that everyone looks better from above. (For a complete lesson in photography basics that you can apply to shooting photos with your iPhone, check out Krug’s full session from Gnomedex below.)

Once you get a handle on the basics of shooting photos (with any device), and are ready to start using your iPhone as your camera, you’ll want to find and familiarize yourself with a few apps that help you capture, edit, distribute, and archive your photos. With these apps, Krug says you “can seamlessly, quickly, and with very little effort take a photo, make a few edits and adjustments, send it around to everyone you know, and have added to your archives.”

There are several great apps that help replace the normal standard function on your iPhone to capture photos. While the native functions are decent, there are a few beautifully designed apps that augment these features. One such app, Night Camera, helps users capture images in dark lighting conditions; it eliminates shaking and blur by firing the camera shutter when the camera comes to rest and is absolutely still. Another great app for capturing photography beyond the built-in features of the iPhone is 360 Panorama, which allows you easily create a panoramic shot and capture a much wider field of view than is possible with the standard camera function.

The native iPhone camera also presents a few editing features, such as the ability to rotate an image. However, there are other apps that can help you perform advanced editing of images right on your phone. Krug suggests Photoshop Express, a free app that is loaded with killer features such as the ability to crop, straighten, rotate, flip, adjust color (such as exposure, saturation, tint, and contracts), add filters and effects, and even add borders. Krug also says that he’s a “huge fan of Takayuki Fukatsu’s apps” for editing, including Toy Camera and Old Camera. He says these provide classy effects with beautiful design.

How to Use Your iPhone as a CameraAfter you have captured and edited a photo to create the perfect picture, you’ll obviously want to share your picture with friends and family, and of course save it, too. Krug says he prefers to save his photo on Flickr and then share his photos via Twitter and Facebook. He says that “Flickr gives me the best long-term storage and organizational options but there are other options as well.” (You can find Flickr’s app for the iPhone free in the iTunes App Store.) Additionally, popular apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic — which also feature editing functions — offer options for both archiving and distributing your photos to all the major social networks. Krug also likes the 8mm Vintage Camera, available in the iTunes App Store for $1.99, for making “rad retro videos.” Other great apps to consider for all around awesome effects include Pic Grunger (for Rock n’ Roll album covers) and Diptic, which takes two or more of your photos and combines them side-by-side.

For those of you who are serious about using your iPhone as your default camera to take photos, you’ll want to make sure you have a strong, protective case. Krug says that iPhones seem to “just jump out of your hand and then spontaneously explode upon hitting the ground. The chances you’ll drop and break your phone will only increase the more you use it as a camera.” Carrying additional battery power is also a good idea, though you’ll want to ensure that if you buy a backup battery case that it doesn’t impact the quality of the photo. Some types of these cases can cause photos to be darker due the depth of the case around the cutout for the photo lens. (Mophie’s backup battery cases seem to impact the quality of photos less than others, though you may find your experience to vary.) There are also add-on lenses and adapters, but Krug has yet to see results that justify the added complexity. Other power users of the iPhone for photography find a need for tripods, stabilizers, and extenders. Your needs for these types of accessories will vary depending on your use of an iPhone as a camera. However, be sure that you actually need the functionality of a specific type of accessory before starting a collection.

If you’re considering using your iPhone as a camera, you have the chance to use a variety of apps and techniques to really get creative and develop your own unique style of photography, while easily sharing your photos with the world. Krug notes that having the right tools and knowing how to use them is just the first step. After you familiarize yourself with the process, ask yourself: what is it that you have to share with the world?

Do you use your iPhone as your camera? What are your favorite techniques and apps? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments.

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  • ‘Tis Moi

    Very nice- I always appreciate ideas for new apps & programs in an article.

    Now~ is there a similar article for us ‘Droid users? I have just recently gotten the Samsung Galaxy S2…

    Cheers!

  • ‘Tis Moi

    Very nice- I always appreciate ideas for new apps & programs in an article.

    Now~ is there a similar article for us ‘Droid users? I have just recently gotten the Samsung Galaxy S2…

    Cheers!

  • Curtis Coburn

    I get this 100%. I mainly use my iPhone as a camera. Almost all the time. And I would rather use it then my digital camera for many reasons.
    1. My iPhone has more memory then my camera. (Stock, without buying SD memory for camera)
    2. My iPhone takes better pictures or higher quality rather then my 14 Mega Pixel camera.
    3. My iPhone does better dealing with taking in more light and adjust to what I want to take a picture of, and unlike my digital camera, will just capture too much light, and it will look like crap.

    Number 3 is big for me, because when I want to post a picture of something I am selling on ebay.com, I will take a picture of the item in my room. In my room, there is a lot of light because the light is very bright and right under what I take a picture of. So, having the camera take in just the right amount of light is just what I need, otherwise it will look too bright, and nobody will really care for buying the item I want to sell.

    I may just sell my digital camera for the money I can get off of it. It will help me buy a new computer, and someone else will be happy with it. But I don’t really want to because my Grandma bought me the camera, and I just don’t want to sell something that she bought me as a gift.

  • Annamarcolin

    The only problem I have with using my iPhone as a camera is it causes red-eye issues every time the flash is used. I know there is an edit option but it is not very effective-any tips please?