10 tricks to make your photos look as stunning as the 'shot on iPhone' ads

Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” campaign displays stunning photos on over 10,000 billboards across 25 different countries. The ads feature crisp, nearly perfect photos shot on iPhones — and it’s likely the company will debut a new round featuring photos shot on the iPhone 7/7S.

Still, it should be clear that your photos won’t all be as perfect as the ones shown in the ads. Most of your friends probably aren’t models, and lots of life’s experiences are pretty mundane in comparison to the campaign’s vibrant images. But when you’re out on an adventure, it pays to know how to wield your iPhone to best document it. It might just end up on a billboard one day.

Here are some tips to up your shutter game.

If you have an iPhone 7 Plus, make use of the telephoto lens.

Andri Koolme/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

The iPhone 7 Plus comes with two cameras, one of which is a telephoto lens. That lens increases the 'focal length' of the camera, giving you a zoomed-in effect.

Zoomed-in photos have a lower depth of field, which means that objects focused on in the foreground will be sharper than anything in the background. The background, thus, will sometimes have a pleasant 'bokeh' (blurry) effect.

If you have an iPhone 7, try using the telephoto lens for portraits. You'll find that your subjects will end up crisper and easier for viewers to focus on, while the background will be a bit more out of focus.

Turn on the rule of thirds grid.

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When getting a good photo, working out your composition is half the battle.

A good rule of thumb (which you'll learn in almost any introductory photography class) is that many good photos have major elements that divide the shot into thirds. That's what's commonly called the 'rule of thirds.'

Though the rule is not ironclad, turning on your camera's grid will at least put you in the right mindset for composing your shot -- and remind you that the most striking elements should be organised in thirds or align with something else in the shot.

Make use of your focus lock.

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Say you're taking a portrait of someone and don't want the camera to refocus on a different area between shots -- just hold and press the area you want to focus on until the AE/AF box comes up on the top of the screen.

That AE/AF lock comes in handy when you're taking multiple shots of the same subject. Once it's on, you can then change the brightness from shot to shot without the camera refocusing on other elements.

Toggle the brightness slider until your exposure is just right.

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Usually when focusing, the camera will automatically guess what exposure is best for the shot. But you might sometimes want a moodier, less exposed shot. Or maybe it's underexposed and you want to brighten it.

iPhone cameras allow you to toggle the brightness of any given shot by focusing, then sliding your finger. When you bring your finger up, it will brighten the shot, and swiping down will darken it.

Avoid using the flash unless absolutely necessary

Mike McCune/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

While smartphones cameras are getting more light-sensitive, you still have to pay attention to lighting when pressing the shutter.

Unfortunately, you can't rely on the flash to get a good exposure -- the iPhone's flash, unless properly reflected or bounced off a reflective surface, will usually give your subjects an unflattering, pasty complexion.

Though sometimes flash is the only option, your photo will look much better if you can move to a place with better lighting.

Focus on getting contrast.

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The parts of a photo that have the most contrast guide your eyes' attention to the right place.

To get the perfect amount of contrast, focus on toggling the exposure of your shot so that dark areas are dark and highlights are bright, but not white. You can do this by taking the shot first, then opening up the edit panel in your camera app. Then, press the dial icon and adjust shadows and highlights accordingly.

Take note, though -- if you can't get a perfect exposure, it's easier to salvage details from dark shots than overexposed ones.

If lights are washing out a photo, try switching on HDR.

RVS1966/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

This image is a typical iPhone HDR photo, in which both the sky and dock are relatively well exposed. But if this same scene were in a non-HDR shot, you'd have to make a choice -- if you exposed the sky well, the dock would turn black, and if you exposed the dock, the sky would look washed out.

HDR, which stands for high-dynamic range, usually produces shots with high ranges of exposure, so that highlights and shadows all maintain the same amount of detail. In many HDR photos, that can yield too much detail -- so much that the shots often look unnaturally exposed.

Fortunately, the iPhone's HDR feature doesn't go overboard -- most of the time it just makes sure that brightly exposed elements, like skies, don't blow out.

So if you're shooting a dark subject under a bright sky, it's worthwhile to turn HDR on to lower the contrast.

Only use the portrait orientation for portraits.

Kevin Mao/Apple

Most of the shots taken on professional cameras are in landscape orientation, but because iPhones are held vertically, many people tend to shoot everything in portrait format, to the annoyance of video watchers worldwide.

There's a reason why the portrait orientation is called portrait: It's best suited for photos of people. For everything else, it's easier to compose pictures in landscape mode. You'll get more out of your shot that way.

Give the impression of movement.

Thomas Leuthard/Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

While lots of the 'Shot on iPhone' photos look like still portraits, many actually give viewers a sense of movement, which makes for a more compelling photo.

Showing movement gives the impression that something in an image isn't static and doll-like. That can be done in a lot of ways -- capturing ruffles in fabric, diagonal perspectives, and angles that aren't straight on are great strategies.

A good way to practice capturing movement is by taking street photos. Get a shot of someone running or take a photo of a person in front of a fast-moving train. If someone's in the middle of doing something fun, compose your shot, wait for the perfect moment, and capture them doing it.

Become familiar with your subject so you'll know when the decisive moment arrives.


Most of the world's greatest photos are a combination of happenstance and good instinct. French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's most recognisable work -- a photo of a man in mid-jump over puddles -- demonstrates that the best shots capture life in the middle of being experienced.

The trick to those kinds of shots is knowing when the 'decisive moment' is, and you can only achieve that by putting yourself in the right places and paying very close attention to what's going on around you.

Photographer David duChemin writes, 'The key with timing is not merely waiting for it, though that's important. The key is anticipating it and recognising it when it arrives, and for that there's no substitute for knowing your subject intimately.'

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