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Photography

How to Use Your iPhone Like A Pro: Manual Photo & Video

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This post is part of a series called How To Use Your iPhone Like a Pro.
Smartphone as Camera: Embracing Photography's New Visual Vocabulary
How to Use Your iPhone Like A Pro: Hardware Add-Ons

The iPhone has always been a great tool for photographers to carry everywhere. As well as being able to predict the weather, control your DSLR and calculate exposures, the iPhone has a great camera. Unfortunately, that camera had some major shortfalls: you couldn't manually control the camera’s shutter speed, ISO or exposure. iOS 8, however, has changed all that. Third-party apps can now manually control the camera settings. This opens up some exciting creative possibilities.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to take control of your iPhone’s camera and use it like a pro to capture photos and video.

The iPhone as a Camera

It’s a tired cliché that the best camera is the one you have with you. What is true is that an astounding amount of photos are being taken with iPhones. Apple is now the most popular camera manufacturer on Flickr with more pictures being taken with the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5 and iPhone 4s than any other devices.

Apple has shown they are dedicated to the iPhone as a camera. Each successive generation of iPhone brings improvements that push the limits of what is possible with smartphone cameras.

Apple is now the most popular camera manufacturer on Flickr

At the moment there are four iPhone models for sale: the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 5S and 5C. On paper they all have similar technical specifications, but the newer models have better image. All four iPhones have an 8 megapixel camera, but the newer models have better image quality because they have larger sensors. The cameras all have a fixed aperture 4mm lens; f/2.4 in the 5C and f/2.2 in the 5S, 6 and 6 Plus. Given the crop factor, the lens is equivalent to a 30 to 35 mm lens on a full-frame camera.

The iPhone has a shutter-speed range of 1/2000 of a second to 1/2 a second. The ISO range is 34 to 2000 in the 5S and 5C and a slightly wider range of 32 to 2000 in the 6 and 6 Plus.

For video recording, the 6 and 6 Plus can record 1080p at up to 60 frames per second and slo-mo 720p at 240 frames per second. The 5S can record 1080p at 30 frames per second and slo-mo 720p at 120. The 5C can record 1080p at 30 frames per second and can’t record slo-mo.

Better Photos With Manual

To really take advantage of the new iOS features you need manual control. Many third-party camera apps have been updated to include new manual features, and new ones have been released, too. My personal favourite is Manual which I’ll show you how to use in this tutorial. It’s $1.99 and requires iOS 8.

Manual is designed for one purpose: to enable you to take full control of your iPhone’s camera. Many of the other camera apps are focused on adding filters after the picture is taken; Manual keeps it simple and is all about getting the best picture in camera.

With Manual you control the camera’s shutter speed, ISO, white balance, focus and exposure compensation. There are also some tools to help you get better photos such as a rule-of-thirds grid and a live histogram. I use Manual instead of the iOS Camera any time I want creative control over my shots.

manual app
The main screen of Manual.

Everything is accessible on the one screen. At the top you can tap on an icon to bring up the controls for flash, focus and white balance. Flash can be turned off, on or set to fill. Focus can be controlled manually with a slider or set to auto. White balance can be set to auto, sunny, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash or any Kelvin value between 1000 and 8000.

ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation are controlled at the bottom of the screen, just above the shutter button. The controls are tricky at the start but once you get the hang of them, you can quickly change shutter speed and ISO.

To adjust them, hold down on the shutter speed or ISO value. Sliding your thumb up raises the shutter speed or ISO, sliding it down does the opposite. The controls are highly sensitive, you only need to move your thumb a few millimetres to change from one value to the next. The exact range of settings is determined by what model of iPhone you have.

Just above the shutter button is the live updating histogram. Use it to ensure you don’t clip your highlights or shadows.

If you set your ISO and shutter speed to auto, you can use the exposure compensation. Located just below the shutter speed, it is controlled in the same way. You can compensate by 4 or 8 stops either way. You can also direct the autofocus by tapping on the screen.

Taking photos with Manual is more work than just using the Camera app, but you have far more control over the pictures you do take. If you want to take great pictures with your iPhone, it’s the way to go.

Better Video With FiLMiC Pro

The features that make a great video recording app are different to those that make a great photo app. FiLMiC Pro is one of the best available. It costs $4.99 and requires iOS 6.1 or later.

FiLMiC Pro gives you almost total control over how your iPhone captures video. While Manual makes it easier to take great photos, you can’t take great video without an app like FiLMiC Pro. You don’t get quite the depth of control over the exposure settings as you do with Manual, but you get huge control over how the footage is processed and encoded.

With FiLMiC Pro you can set focus and exposure independently using the two reticules. The one resembling an aperture ring is exposure, the square one is focus. Tapping the corresponding button in the bottom left corner locks focus or exposure. The third button—with the square and two triangles—locks white balance. The lightbulb turns the fill light on and off. The filmstrip and gear cog access captured footage and settings respectively.

filmicpro app
FiLMiC Pro main shooting screen.

You can zoom using the Plus and Minus symbols on the right of the screen. Tapping on a numbered button creates a shortcut for your current zoom level. You smoothly switch between different zoom’s by tapping the numbered buttons again. To clear a saved zoom hold down on the relevant button.

The real power of FiLMiC Pro comes in the settings screen. You can select from more than 20 preset combinations of capture frame rate and output frame rate; if that’s not enough, you can create entirely custom set ups with the settings yourself. There are presets for regular, slo-mo and accelerated motion footage.

filmicpro settings
FiLMiC Pro settings screen.

In the settings you can also select the bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the more information that gets saved. There are four options offering between 12 mbit/s with Economy and a television-broadcast standard 50 mbit/s with FiLMiC Extreme. To get the most form your iPhone, you should be using the highest bitrate you can. Be careful though, if you are using a 16GB iPhone, you will fill up the hard drive in ten minutes of shooting at 30 frames per second with FiLMiC Extreme.

FiLMiC Pro also records audio. If you use an external microphone, it can even handle stereo. Otherwise, it just uses your iPhone’s microphone.

There is a steep learning curve with FiLMiC Pro. At first, all the options available are overwhelming. Once you get the hang of it though, you will be able to record amazing footage. People are making some great films just with iPhones.

Conclusion

The first step to using your iPhone like a pro is to get as much work done before you even start shooting. Using apps like Manual and FilmicPro you have far more control over the shots you take. If you get it right from the start you’ll never have to worry about fixing overexposed or poorly focused material in post. If you don’t, no amount of filters will make your photos or videos look professional.

These are the two apps I swear by, but there are others out there that are just as good. If I’ve missed your favourite, let me know in the comments.

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