A guide to making better images with your iPhone

When using your smartphone (or even some fancier point-and-shoot cameras), here are a couple quick notes to keep in mind from the start:

  • If you’re using your phone, using the in-device native camera is a great option!
  • Don’t use Instagram/Hipstamatic or other programs that add filters — it’s far better to have the flexibility to tone on the computer afterward than to be married to a light-blue haze over that killer frame.

If you’re interested in a great iPhone app, we like to use ProCamera.

+ ProCamera is an app for your iPhone that make better quality images than the camera that comes with your phone.

The best thing about ProCamera? It allows you to control the exposure and focus of your image. Buy the app here.

When you first open ProCamera, the exposure and focus are locked together. To separate them simply drag the circle (exposure) out of the square (focus).

+ Exposure is the amount of light captured by your camera.

Typically, you will want to place your exposure near the brightest spot in your image (1). But you can also use the exposure to brighten a dark room (2).

A demonstration of the ProCamera app on the iPhone

*A good rule of thumb is to place your exposure on the main subject matter in your frame.

+ Focus is the sharpest point in your frame.

This means you can set your focus where you want, and therefore guide the viewer’s eye, to objects in the foreground (1) or in the background (2).

A demonstration of the ProCamera app on the iPhone.

A demonstration of the ProCamera app on the iPhone.

How to hold your iPhone to make a focused frame

It’s important to keep your camera steady when making a photo. Holding it horizontally in your hand turns your fingers into a human tripod. Plus, horizontal images are king on the web — they work better with standard formatting, and make it easier to see the whole photo without having to scroll.

Start with good form: Hold your phone horizontally, and with both hands.

Check out how Kainaz is doing it here:

Notice how Kainaz is wrapping her fingers around the phone to gain stability.

Notice how Kainaz is wrapping her fingers around the phone to gain stability.

Try not to move when making an image, to ensure the image is sharp. It can help to take a deep breath and release it before snapping that photo — you’ll be relaxed, and it’ll make it easier to keep the phone still.

Customizing settings

On the first screen of settings, make sure your aspect ratio is set to 3:2. Activate anti-shake to help minimize blur. Use the grid with the “9” in the middle, it will help you with leveling your horizons.

Activate rapid fire if you want to make a series of images in quick bursts.


Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.07.52 PM

Next, open the “Settings” and select “More”

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  • Slide the the anti-shake all the way to stable.
  • Change the file format to high quality, JPEG 100%.
  • Turn off the Fullscreen Trigger.
  • Turn off Photo Zoom.
  • Change the copyright to — Your Name/NPR

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.10.22 PM

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Filing your images to your visual editor

Don’t be shy with your camera — the more images you make, the more chances to get a clear, interesting photo — plus, your visual editor will thank you for all the options! When you’re sending photos to your visual editor, remember THEY WANT TO SEE THEM ALL in their raw, unfiltered form. Please don’t crop or tone your images in your device — you (or your editor) will have better control on the computer!


  • Make a folder on your desktop with a unique name and date and save the images from your assignment.
  • Whether you’re sending your images to your digital producer or keeping an archive of your images on your own computer, a good practice is to include a separate text file in your folder of photos that includes captions for each image, as well as the appropriate credit (even if that’s you — full bylines will help if anyone else has to access those images down the line).
  • If you’re handing your images off to someone at NPR, contact the Visuals team and your NPR web producer. It’s imperative to let us know:
    • Where the images live & the folder name
    • The assignment (a newsflex ID helps if you’ve got it) and at least a brief synopsis
    • A general description of what we’re seeing in these photos, or tell us if there’s a text file with full captions included
    • Who shot the photos — sometimes it’s the reporter, and sometimes it’s the producer, so full names are really helpful

We will read your story, chat with your digital editors, make an edit, tone your images and come back to you with any further questions!

Examples of iPhone images on our story pages

How The Taliban Is Thwarting The War On Polio

The second is a great example because this image was the only one made with the iphone but works well with the other images from Jackie’s Canon G10.

Editor’s Note

Practice, practice, practice and be thoughtful with what you are making an image of. Think about the story and what you need to convey visually for the viewer. Also, here are some tips on what makes a good image, how to make images in the field and different photographic techniques to make your images more compelling.

One last thing — photography is about RELATIONSHIPS. It’s about capturing the emotional essence of your story. Do not let the gear bog you down or prevent you for having fun. You will make mistakes and things won’t work out all the time. It’s a language and takes practice. But I promise, the more you see, the more make images, the more you will love this aspect of storytelling.

Kainaz Amaria is the former Supervising Editor for NPR Visuals.