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How to adjust your iPhone camera's settings

Lauren Crabbe | May 23, 2014
Unlike a compact camera or a DSLR, your iPhone doesn't let you adjust the most popular settings: aperture, lens length, shutter speed, and white balance. That said, several tools within the Camera app (and other third-party programs) can aid you in taking very attractive pictures.

Unlike a compact camera or a DSLR, your iPhone doesn't let you adjust the most popular settings: aperture, lens length, shutter speed, and white balance. That said, several tools within the Camera app (and other third-party programs) can aid you in taking very attractive pictures.

Exposure and focus

Setting your iPhone camera's exposure (which controls the image's brightness) is a simple matter of tapping once on whatever part of the image you'd like to source. If you move, or if the view changes too much, the Camera app recalibrates and picks a new focus and exposure point.

If you're taking a macro shot (where one object is in sharp focus while the background is blurred), or if you want to focus on a bright area and leave the rest of the picture washed out, you can lock the exposure and focus on a specific point. Just tap and hold on that point until a yellow focus box appears and pulsates; then release. The words AE/AF Lock' appear at the top of the app. To clear the lock and change the focus, tap anywhere else on the screen.

Keep in mind that the Camera app forces you to lock the exposure and focus together; you can't set the exposure on one object and set the focus on another.

HDR

When using the iPhone's camera, you can enable HDR (high dynamic range) for your photos by tapping HDR On/Off at the top of the viewfinder. Dynamic range is the light spectrum that an eye — or a camera sensor — can read; it can be great for shots that have multiple light levels. A sunset portrait shot, for example, will capture both your subject and the fire-red sky. Apple's HDR setting takes three images at different exposures (under-exposed, overexposed, and in the middle) and combines them into an image that has more details in both the shadows and the highlights.

Though it may be tempting to leave HDR on all the time, each HDR photo takes several seconds to save, and the larger (and extra) images eat up storage space fast. If you have an iPhone 5s, consider using its HDR Auto setting instead; when it's enabled, the device automatically decides whether or not HDR is warranted.

HDR is effective in many instances, but there are a few situations to watch out for.

When capturing motion: If you're shooting a fast-moving subject or you move the iPhone while shooting, the final HDR image can show ghosting — in which the multiple shots are misaligned and objects appear in more than one place. To avoid ghosting, use a tripod.

When contrast is key: A good shot can create a sense of drama by contrasting light and dark — say, to play up the impact of a dark silhouette against a bright background. HDR shots decrease image contrast.

 

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