How to Take The Perfect Instagram Photo With Your iPhone

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We are all familiar with the saying “the best camera is the one that is with you” and nowadays, many are opting for the convenience of carrying and using their smartphones only to capture their moments.

Statistics show an incredible amount of photos are being captured and shared on smartphones daily, most notably the iPhone, and with the remarkable evolution and quality of iPhone’s native camera, it is not surprising.

Samah El Ali (@poeticwordvomit) owns various film cameras and purchased her first SLR in 2010, however since joining the photo sharing app Instagram in late 2011, she has maintained shooting and sharing images that have been shot using various models of the iPhone only, which have earned her features on Buzzfeed, Mashable and most recently on Sydney local news channel, Channel 7, where she shared some key iPhone photography tips.

Today, we are delighted to share Samah’s great iPhone photography tips in depth with our ink361 readers!

1.) Always Use The Grid
This is a very simple yet extremely effective tool within the native camera that assists with both alignment and composition. In saying that, while it is challenging and satisfying to always aim for perfect alignment when composing and taking a shot, at times it may be impossible to achieve this OCD level of perfection with lines for a variety of reasons, such as not having enough distance from your subject or enough height to frame it perfectly from your position. In rare cases like this, the user friendly app SKRWT comes in handy for any perspective and alignment adjustments.
Fellow iPhone only ‘grammer @huxsterized nails composition and alignment in each and every post and also always shoots with the grid on, occasionally using SKRWT if need be.

image by @poeticwordvomit

image by @huxsterized


2.) Don’t shoot auto; adjust your focus and exposure manually.
The native camera will always auto focus and expose for you and while it is sufficient and produces great results, being in control of both aspects and taking the time to focus and expose manually allows you to produce even greater results and can significantly lessen the amount of post processing.
Manually focusing on your subject is simply done by tapping on the screen prior to shooting. Wherever you tap will become your focus point and since the iOS8 update, a feature to take note of and one of Samah’s personal favourite updates to date is the ability to also adjust the exposure once you have selected the area you want to be in focus.
This is done by simply sliding your finger up to add exposure (brighten) and down to underexpose (darken).

Controlling your focus and exposure works really well with silhouettes, as seen in this capture by @bluemoanin where he was able to manually expose and ensure the silhouetted subjects were not entirely black.

image by @bluemoanin silhouette manual focus and exposure

image by @poeticwordvomit silhouette manual focus and exposureProcessed with VSCOcam with h6 preset


3.) Lock your focus/exposure

Another feature many iPhone users don’t know exists is the ability to lock your focus and exposure. To do this, tap and hold the area you want to be in focus for a few seconds until you see “AE/AF LOCK” appear at the top of your screen. Using this feature and combining it with burst mode allows you to capture movement such as the below underground shot in Berlin and most importantly, it stops the camera from auto refocusing after each capture, meaning you can continue to move (while ensuring your focus is not affected), adjust the exposure and snap until you’re happy.

image by @poeticwordvomit manual focus and exposure + burst modeProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

image by @poeticwordvomit locking manual focus and exposure


4.) Search for unique perspectives
It is easy to become lazy and impatient and simply shoot a subject from an obvious or well known perspective, however taking the time to explore your surroundings in search for a unique perspective will produce satisfying results that will motivate and inspire you to continue pushing yourself creatively.
Photos captured on a smartphone can appear somewhat flat but all it takes is a little extra thought with your composition to create more depth. To achieve this, simply take time to notice any play with natural light to try achieve a combination of layers and depth in your capture, add a human element to elevate the mood or provide a sense of scale, or compose with a leading line or lines which are a great way to draw your viewer in.

One of the first things Samah noticed about @pketron’s work which turned her into an instant fan was the clever compositions and play with lines.

image by @pketron leading linesProcessed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

image by @poeticwordvomit leading linesProcessed with VSCOcam with m6 preset


5.) Take multiple shots of the same subject
Don’t be afraid to fill your camera roll with multiple shots of the same subject. Samah does this often, especially when the capture has a moving human element and upon reviewing her captures, she finds that a simple detail such as the position or motion of the subject’s body can take an ordinary shot to another level.

image by @poeticwordvomit multiple shots (spent 18 minutes under the stairs at Apple store Sydney and took over 20 shots until I was happy with this!)Processed with VSCOcam with h3 preset

image by @poeticwordvomit human element (took 8 shots as my subject moved the position of his hands/body and this was my fav)


6.) Experiment and try using various apps or accessories
To date, Samah’s account on Instagram is full of images taken with an iPhone, which she explains has been both fun and challenging. She believes photography is not and should not be defined by the equipment one uses and for her, anything that can be shot and produced on a SLR, such as macro shots or certain long exposures, can also be attempted with the iPhone and the results can certainly be great – you simply have to be willing to try.

Tripod + Slowshutter App

Samah attaches a nifty little attachment to her tripod and uses the app SlowShutter for long exposures.

image by @poeticwordvomit Tripod + Slowshutter App, Long Exposure

image by @poeticwordvomit Tripod + Slowshutter App, Long ExposureProcessed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

The olloclip is another accessory that is frequently used by iPhone users, especially for Macro shots.

image by @poeticwordvomit Olloclip Macro lens

image by @poeticwordvomit Olloclip Macro lensIMG_5346

The Optrix case is fantastic for underwater photography. @ryanpernofski uses this case often and completely blows his followers away with his epic wave shots, all taken on an iPhone equipped with this case.

image by @ryanpernofski OptrixProcessed with VSCOcam with c6 preset

image by @poeticwordvomit OptrixProcessed with VSCOcam with f3 preset


7.) Don’t forget to look up, look down and get low!
Early on, the main subject on Samah’s account was architecture and almost half of these captures were of look ups taken all over Sydney. She came to realise it’s a whole different world and there were an incredible amount of opportunities to produce refreshing and unique perspectives. She now finds herself looking up and down wherever she may be, rarely shooting at eye level, in search for a unique take on what otherwise may be considered an ordinary place.

image by @poeticwordvomit look up

image by @poeticwordvomit look down


8.) Embrace HDR… just a little bit!

The HDR feature basically takes 3 exposures; an over exposed, auto exposed and under exposed image and blends all 3 together which result in softer light and finer details. This is useful if you want to avoid harsh light in order to capture clean and soft sunlight at sunrise or sunset. Test it out and see the difference!

image by @poeticwordvomit HDR onProcessed with VSCOcam with m6 preset

image by @poeticwordvomit HDR onProcessed with VSCOcam with m5 preset


9.) Edit with apps. These are Samah’s go-to apps:

SKRWT – great for perspective adjustment.
SnapSeed – the selective adjust tool comes in handy!
VSCO – whilst Samah mainly edits within Instagram nowadays, some of her favourite filters can be found within this user friendly app.
CortexCam – requiring a steady hand, this app produces sharp images and is also fantastic for capturing movement, working in a similar way to SlowShutter


10.) Interact, inspire and be inspired

One of the best aspects of Instagram is the constant waves of inspiration and interaction amongst the users. The talent, advice and creativity, by users using all sorts of equipment, is limitless and any craving for inspiration can easily be satisfied. In terms of who or what inspires Samah, the list is endless. Whether it be the minimalistic and fun creations by @pchyburrs, the consistent low light mood and tone produced in @dromelot’s captures, the diverse subjects and clean edits shared by @theuphill, or the seemingly effortless, perfectly composed still life captures and sense of calm she receives through @quietpoem’s work, she finds that each person she follows and the many accounts she randomly visits on Instagram, regardless of the equipment used, inspire her in their own unique way and sometimes, in more ways than one.

image by @pchyburrs

image by @dromelot

image by @theuphill

image by @quietpoem


This blog post was written by Samah El Ali. She is a full time travel consultant with a passion for photography that developed in her early teens. Her feed is a mixed bag, mostly known for her keen eye for symmetry and composing lines in a visually appealing way but she can often be found appreciating and capturing the beautiful little details that she comes across in her travels and day to day life.




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