[GUIDE] iOS Camera 101: Settings and Modes


Dec 25, 2011
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The Camera Guide
Firstly, all the examples given and settings given are from an iPhone 7 Plus that I use as a daily driver. There are numerous videos and Q&A's about iOS's camera features, but how often do you see all the information in one single guide? That's the point of this guide, to give you all the information you need to fully understand the capabilities of the iPhone's camera. You can do a lot more than just point and shoot with your iPhone, with this guide I plan on breaking it all down in an easy to understand way. To accomplish that I'm going to separate this guide into the various areas you can make changes to take full advantage of your camera and take the best photos possible. So without further ado, let's get into it.


General Settings
General settings are a little different from the in camera settings. Most of the general settings are permanent changes so you only need to change them once. Most of these settings pertain to quality and storage, to get these settings just go to the Settings app and scroll down to Photos and Camera. Here are all the general settings you can change.

iCloud Photo Library: Turning this setting on will allow your iPhone to automatically upload and store your photos to iCloud. As long as this setting is turned on you will be able to see your photos in iCloud from any device.

Optimize iPhone Storage: Turning this setting on will keep all your original photos on iCloud while keeping a smaller size file on your iPhone to limit the space taken up by photos.
Download and Keep Originals: As the setting says, this will keep the original file on your iPhone instead of in iCloud. This is something you will want on if you do much photo editing on your phone or want to upload larger files somewhere.

Upload to My Photo Stream: This is a feature that most people would want on I believe. As long as this setting is turned on, your photos will sync between devices as long as it turned on those devices and connected to WiFi.

Upload Burst Photos: This is an option I keep off personally. While this setting is turned on all the photos from a burst shot will be uploaded to your photo stream. If it's off then only the burst shots you want to keep will be uploaded to your photo stream.

iCloud Photo Sharing: Here is a pretty straightforward setting. With this setting on you can create albums that you can easily share with other people or subscribe to someone else's albums.


Summarize Photos: Summarize photos will have the photos app take a smaller section of your photos to represent a larger collection. So say you have fifty cat photos, Summarize photos will take that and show just a few of them to clean up the clutter of looking through your photo stream.

Show Holiday Events: This is pretty much what it sounds like. You only need to have Memories turned on first. Once Show Holiday Events is active, any day that is a holiday in your home country will have Memories populated for that day. For example, any pictures taken on Thanksgiving will populate a Thanksgiving Memories video.

Preserve Settings: These settings will set a few options more permanently. They can be changed within the camera app still, however, these settings set a standard state upon opening the camera app.
1. Camera Mode: Turning this on will save the last camera mode you had open in the camera app and will open to that same mode next time.
2. Photo Filter: Like Camera Mode, this will preserve the last filter you used rather than resetting the filter to none.
3. Live Photo: Again, this setting will preserve the Live Photo setting. I personally leave Live Photo off so this setting is on all the time so Live Photo stays off.
Grid: This option will show a three by three grid on the camera screen. This is good for people wanting to build photo composition skills. Or if you just want a handy guide for following the rule of thirds.
Record Video: This setting will allow you to set the default definition of your video recordings. You can choose between a few options depending on which iPhone you have. The iPhone 7 Plus has 720p HD at 30fps, 1080p HD at 30fps, 1080p HD at 60fps, and 4K at 30fps. Also on the iPhone 7 Plus you can lock the camera lens to prevent the iPhone from automatically switching between the lenses.
Record Slo-mo: Here you have only a couple options for default definition. The iPhone 7 Plus has 1080p HD at 120fps, and 720p HD at 240fps.

Keep Normal Photo (Portrait Mode): When you take a Portrait Mode photo, which uses depth effect, you actually get two photos. This setting is to tell your iPhone whether or not you want to keep the standard photo with the Portrait Mode photo or just the Portrait Mode photo.

Keep Normal Photo (HDR): Just like Portrait Mode, HDR photos will also get you two photos. This setting is to tell your iPhone whether you want to keep the normal photos and HDR photo or just the HDR photo.


The Camera App
Along with all the general settings, there are a number of settings within the camera app itself to help with taking the best photo you can. We're going to start with the options you can find at the top of the camera screen.

Flash: When you click on the flash icon you are given the choices of turning the flash on, off, or auto. Built-in flashes have to be used just right or they can blow out your photos so I personally just leave the iPhone's flash off all the time. Below are three examples of flash on and one example of flash off for the same item in the same spot with the same lighting. These photos were just taken at different angles.

Flash on 1

Flash on 2

Flash on 3

Flash off

HDR: HDR options are the same as flash, on, off, and auto. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and using this will take three photos at three different exposures levels and combine them into a single image. This will increase the amount of time it takes to snap a photo, but if done correctly will give you a much more balanced photo. It may take some practice to get better using HDR. Below are examples of HDR on and HDR off, notice in the picture with HDR on how the decreases the light in the background and increases it in the tree.

HDR off

HDR on

Live Photos: Right in the center, you have the option to turn Live Photos on or off. Live Photos will not only take a picture but also a short three-second video of the second before, the second of, and the second after the photo. You can view Live Photos by using 3D Touch on the photo, or long pressing on a device that doesn't have 3D Touch. Below is a screen recording of a live photo playback.

Timer: The timer also has three options, ten seconds, three seconds, or off. This is great for taking photos that you want to be a part of. Set your phone up, preferably on a tripod, set the timer and get in the photo. There are other uses for the timer and that's completely up to the user.

Filters: Filters are different in iOS 11, and I am currently on the first developer beta for iOS 11. With iOS 11 you can see what your photo will look like with a filter in real time. Just select the filters option and you can scroll through all the filters that iOS offers and see how they will affect your photo before you take it. On iOS 10 and earlier you have to take your photo first then you can edit your photo and scroll through the filters.

On the bottom of the screen, there are only three actions. On the right, you can switch between the front and rear-facing cameras, in the center is your shutter button, and on the left, you can see your most recent photo and tapping on it will take you to the Photos app. You can also use the volume buttons to take a photo instead of using the virtual shutter button. On the viewfinder itself right in the center at the bottom, you have your zoom control and all you have to do is pull it up and slide to the left to zoom in and slide to the right to zoom out. With the iPhone 7 Plus you can just tap the 1x zoom and go instantly to the native 2x zoom, tapping on it again takes you back to 1x zoom. Now let's jump into the shooting modes.

Photo: Photo Mode is your basic point and shoot mode. This is how most people will use the camera as it is quite simple to use. Just point and shoot. Here is an example of a standard photo taken using Photo Mode.


Portrait: Portrait Mode is exclusive to iPhone 7 Plus right now, it's also called Depth Effect, and what this does is create an artificial bokeh effect. Bokeh is a fancy word to describe a blurred background with a sharp in-focus foreground or subject. This mode shines through the best when taking portrait photos, but it can be used creatively a number of different ways. In the example here notice how the background is blurred while making the tree pop .


Square: Square Mode is another straight forward point and shoot mode, with the exception of shooting a square cropped photo. This creates a nice even square photo that could easily be printed into an even square crop print like a 4x4. Another good use for this mode is Instagram as Instagram forces you to square crop your photos anyway, so using Square Mode will allow you to use your full photo in Instagram. Here is the same tree again taken using Square Mode, notice how it's a smaller crop.


Pano: Pano is short for panoramic, and Pano Mode takes panoramic photos. A panoramic photo is a long narrow photo best used to take landscape photos or even cityscape photos, and again there are plenty of other ways you can use a panoramic photo. iOS makes taking a panoramic photo really simple. You start at the left edge your photo and once you hit the shutter button you slowly start panning right. It's important to note that if your panoramic photo isn't taken nice and level, you will run into some image splicing issues and moving objects within your photo will also distort. Apple makes keeping your photo nice and level simple as well. There is an arrow on the screen with a line in the middle of the bar in the center of the viewfinder. All you have to do is keep the arrow on the line and your photo will come out just right. Panoramic photos are best taken using a tripod with a swivel to keep the camera level and stable. Below is an example of a panoramic photo.


Video: Here again is another basic mode, Video Mode is the simple press-record-and-go way of taking videos on your iOS device. Here is an example of a standard video.

Slo-Mo: Remember all those Slo-Mo settings back in general settings? This is where they come to life. Slo-Mo mode is another easy press-record-and-go mode, it just plays back the video much slower. Slo-Mo mode also keeps the first couple seconds at normal speed to create a more cinematic effect. This is an example of a Slo-Mo video

Time-Lapse: Time-Lapse Mode is going to be the most battery intensive thing you can do with your iOS camera. This mode will take the video it records and play it back faster. The longer the initial video, the longer the time-lapse will be. This mode is great for videos of sunrise/sunset, and other things that take time to occur. This is why it is battery intensive, and it's probably best to use this mode with a power connected to your iOS device and have it on a tripod. While the other sample were ten and fifteen second long, this one was closer to a minute in real time, notice how much quicker it is than real time.

These are all the iOS camera settings and what they do, I hope this helps you understand the camera a little better. Keep in mind that all these settings are the settings you will find on an iPhone 7 Plus, some settings such as quality settings will vary by device. Just take a look at your settings for your particular iOS device and you'll see the minor differences. If you liked this guide and would like to see more let me know. I am more than happy to write up a photo editing guide and even a guide to help take better photos with your iOS device.
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