5 iPhone Camera Secrets That Improved My Travel Photos


Learn 5 iPhone camera secrets that improved my travel photos.  Since the advent of the digital age and the introduction of the iPhone, I have left my “big” cameras at home and traveled solely with my iPhone camera.  The result is that I now focus much more on the experience of being in new places rather than on trying to be a photographer.  Yet I still capture photos from my experiences without having to lug around an extra device, regardless of the size.  Over time I have learned a few secrets of the iPhone camera that have helped me come home with much better photos.  Here are a few of those tidbits that work with my iPhone 7 Plus and are similar for most iPhone models.

Hold the Camera Steady

Getting sharp photos depends so much on holding the camera steady—especially when indoors or when the light is low.  I found it was much easier with the earlier iPhones that were smaller. 

Now that I am using the Plus size model, I have developed my own standard camera grip using both hands.  Since I am right-handed, I hold my iPhone with my left hand with the speaker end in the palm of my hand, my thumb on the top edge of the phone and my pinky finger on the bottom edge of the phone. 

My right hand is then free to wrap my fingers around my left hand and create a two-handed brace for the camera and my thumb is free to navigate the screen and press the shutter button. 

At the same time, my elbows are held snug to my ribs.  When possible the shutter is then pressed immediately after I exhale with a smooth touch of the on-screen shutter button.

This grip works for me in either the horizontal or the vertical mode and has improved the sharpness of my photos. 

Of course, there are times when a one-handed grip is necessary or when other shutter release techniques are used.  But this is my go-to grip to hold the camera steady.

See the Screen

When in bright sunlight the screen can be hard to see which makes composing photos and navigating the settings more difficult.  When this happens, I finally learned to go to the home screen, swipe up from the bottom and get the control center screen.  Here there is a simple slider setting to manually brighten the screen to its maximum setting. 

It may not brighten the screen enough to see perfectly in sunny daylight.  It does make a difference though and when I finally learned to do this I wondered why it took me so long to learn this step—one of those iPhone camera secrets that is more just common sense.

5 Ways to Release the Shutter

There are actually 5 different ways to release the iPhone camera shutter than I have found.  Each of these has its own use and once you know all of these iPhone camera secrets, you may be filled with creative ideas on how you can put them to use in different circumstances.

  1. Use the on-screen shutter release button..
  2. Use the self-timer option so that the shutter is released either 3 seconds or 10 seconds after pressing the shutter release.  Works great for getting yourself into the photo, releasing the shutter without moving the camera and even setting the camera in a location where you can’t get your body (maybe at the back of an open mailbox, at the bottom of a garbage can, etc.)
  3. Using the volume up or down buttons on the edge of the phone.  Good for discreetly taking candid photos.
  4. Using the Apple supplied headphones (or any headphones with a volume control capability) and releasing the shutter with the volume control buttons.  This is even better for discreet photos, especially when your phone is muted so the shutter release makes no sound.
  5. Use a 3rd-party blue tooth shutter release button.  This allows you to be in the photo without having to use the self-timer.  It also allows for some discrete image captures.

Set Your Focus Point

The iPhone camera automatically determines what focus point to use.  If faces are in the photo it usually tries to focus on the faces.  The autofocus usually works fairly well.  Yet there are times when it used to drive me crazy by focusing on a point that left a more important point out-of-focus.  That issue was solved when someone taught me how to set my own focus point.  Simple pick the most important focus point in your scene and place and hold your finger on that point until the highlighted yellow square appears on the screen.  The camera is now focused on that point unless something changes in the scene or until you release the shutter which returns the focus selection to the camera software algorithms.   

Changes in the scene can cause the camera to change the focus point.  To avoid that problem you can lock the focus at your determined point by simply holding your finger on that point for a few moments longer until you see the yellow AE/AF LOCK message appear at the top of the screen.  Then your focus is locked on that point and will stay locked on that point regardless of what happens in the scene.  It will also stay locked on that point for succeeding photos.

Advanced Focus Set Secret:  If your focus point is too small for the yellow focus box to determine the exact focus point, there is a solution.  You can use two fingers on the screen in a reverse pinching motion to digitally zoom in until your desired focus point is large enough to fill the focus highlight box.  Hold your finger down until the AE/AF LOCK message appears, use your fingers to pinch the screen back to the normal (no zoom) view and take your picture.  The focus will be locked on the point you set.  Cool huh?

Set Your Exposure

iPhone camera software is sophisticated and normally does a great job by itself.  However, there are times when you may want to brighten or darken the subject in a different manner than the automatic result.  You can do it. 

Remember the yellow focus box highlight discussed above?  Once you tap the screen and set a focus point, you can then hold your finger on the screen and slide it up to brighten the settings or slide it down to darken the settings.  This works for individual photos and also works then the AE/AF LOCK is engaged (at which time the exposure is locked too).  After all the AD/AF LOCK stands for autoexposure/autofocus lock.

Capture the Right Moment

So you are taking photos of your child, a large group, or even action or sports scenes and you don’t want to miss the exact right moment.  No Problem.  All that is needed is to use the iPhone Burst mode.  In Burst mode the camera will record 10 photos per second!  You can then quickly review the photos, select your favorites from the sequence and delete the rest so your memory isn’t filled up with unwanted photos. 

This lets you maximize your chances of getting a moving subject (or subjects) in the perfect pose or position.  If you have an iPhone XS, XR, or older just hold down the shutter button to engage burst mode and the camera will keep taking photos until you release the button.  If you have the iPhone 11 for above simply slide the shutter button to the left.

Photos taken in Burst mode will appear in their own album where you can select the sequence, slide the photos across the bottom, mark the ones you want to keep and delete the others. 

This is such an awesome feature that even my expensive DSLR camera cannot accommodate.

These are some of the iPhone secrets that I have learned over the years which have helped improve my photos.  Since I am not a photographer, I never have to worry about lugging around a lot of camera gear.  My travels are for the experience and the journey.  But having my iPhone camera with me at all times allows me to capture some of the experiences and relive them at a later time. 

Yes, there are a few other iPhone camera secrets, or tips, like learning how to open the camera from the lock screen, how to use the panoramic mode and remembering to have spare power bank battery when needed.  But you can look those up as your homework if interested.