Taking Creative Control of the iPhone Camera

Advanced iPhone Camera Applications


In the second post of my iPhone Photography series – Getting to Know the iPhone Camera, I explored the capabilities of the native iPhone camera application and even got out and about to take a few photos and determine if I was truly prepared to leave my camera gear home on an upcoming business trip.

Overall I found the performance of the iPhone camera to be quite good and even enjoyed testing out a few of the more advanced features such as Portrait Mode, Long Exposure and HDR. As I concluded in the previous post, I felt the iPhone native camera application is a great Point and Shoot alternative. For most photos, the iPhone camera proves perfectly adequate. You just hold up your phone, point it, and shoot. The exposure and focus are almost always correct, or at least correct enough. 

Of course, as a photography enthusiast, I am still looking to have a little more manual control over my photography, even if I do choose to use the iPhone. I want to be in a position to capture the best image quality possible.

Killing Time on the Plane

The first leg of my trip had me traveling to Thailand which gave me a bit more than 9 hours to dig into some advanced camera applications that would give me a greater level of manual control over my photography.

Before departing Sydney, I downloaded an eBook called The Ultimate iPhone DNG by Brad Nichol which, two hours into my flight had me captivated. Brad’s book covers RAW (DNG) shooting with the iPhone in comprehensive detail as well as providing one of the most in-depth tutorials for editing with Lightroom Mobile.

This book should be on the virtual bookshelf of every photographer that wishes to add the iPhone to their arsenal of shooting tools. It guided me in selecting the Camera Apps I would use to gain greater control of my iPhone Camera.

To begin with, a couple of the key features that must be offered by the camera application includes:

  • The ability to shoot RAW (DNG)
  • Offer manual controls such as ISO & Shutter Speed
  • Displays the Exposure Settings
  • Exposure Compensation
  • White Balance adjustments

The features listed would be what I would consider the minimum requirements to have control over your photography and will provide you with a bit of creative freedom beyond what the simple iPhone Camera app can offer.

Armed with a greater level of knowledge from Brad’s book, I was now able to focus my attention on learning how to use a couple of advanced camera apps. As with any camera, knowing your gear is essential to capturing great images

Lightroom CC (Mobile)

For me this seemed the obvious place to start as I already have the Adobe Photography Plan subscription which includes the Lightroom Mobile functionality and auto synchronization back to my Lightroom Catalogue. In addition to meeting the minimum requirement of being able to capture RAW (DNG) images there are a variety of capture modes available in Lightroom Mobile that includes:

  • Automatic – All exposure and focus are done automatically but still offers the flexibility to change the focus point and adjust Exposure Compensation.
  • Professional – This mode has the greatest level of control, allowing you to adjust shutter speed, ISO, White Balance and Manual Focus adjustments. The slowest shutter speed in this mode is 1/4 a second.
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) – In this mode the camera takes three images at different exposure levels and blends them together to give the image a higher dynamic range, capturing more details in the highlights and shadows.
  • Long Exposure – Provides the ability to adjust shutter speed between 1/2 second and 5 seconds, white balance and manual focus. It also has a stabilization setting, but a tripod is essential when using this shooting mode.
  • Depth Capture – This mode is only available on iPhones with a dual camera – letting you capture HEIC images with depth maps as well as a new selective tool that leverages depth maps captured with the Lr Camera or other capture tools. The new Depth selection tool lets you quickly turn a depth map into a selection that can be modified with a brush, and then use the same editing tools available with other selection tools to modify your image. 

In addition to the various shooting modes, the Lightroom Mobile Camera App allows you to change the Aspect Ratio of your images from 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and 1:1 for square images. You can set a 2, 5 or 10 second timer to assist you in keeping the camera steady when shooting, or if you want a bit of time to get into the images yourself. You can display a grid and level to assist in composing your images and keeping the straight. There is a Highlight Clipping feature that allows you to adjust the exposure levels to avoid blowing out the highlights. Of course iPhones with a dual camera will also have the added feature of being able to select the lens you wish to use for a wide angle or telephoto effect. There is also a small range of filters that can be applied when taking the image.

One of the major advantages of using the Lightroom Mobile Camera App is that it fits nicely into my Lightroom workflow. Images are automatically uploaded into the Adobe Cloud and downloaded to my desktop version of Lightroom Classic (Adobe subscription required)

Camera+ 2

The Camera+ application has been around for a number of years and is highly regarded as an advanced iPhone Camera Application. It was recently overhauled to include more of the advanced functionality with dual cameras and depth Capture. It has been re-released as Camera+2 and is available on iTunes for around $4.

Camera+ 2 expands on the features that are available in the Lightoom Mobile application to provide an ever greater level of functionality. this includes:

  • Macro – The ability to get even closer to your subjects.
  • Long Exposure – The Long Exposure mode on Camera+ 2 allows you to push the shutter speed out to 30 seconds.
  • Action Mode – Keeps subjects sharp and in focus with subject tracking
  • Portrait Mode – Available with iPhones with dual cameras, includes depth mapping adjustments.
  • Smile Mode – recognizes faces in your image and takes control of focus

One fantastic feature that is available within each of these modes is the capability to see the exposure settings the camera has selected. This includes ISO and Shutter Speed. Being able to see the exposure settings gives you more information in which to make your creative decisions, allowing you to see for example, when you may need to place the camera on a tripod if shutter speed is too slow.


Armed with a Range of Cameras

Having access to the native iPhone Camera App, Lightroom Mobile and Camera+ 2 was light having 3 seperate cameras at my disposal, all with their own unique capabilities. I was now quite confident in my knowledge of how to use each of the apps and the wide range of shooting capabilities they collectively offered. 

Stay tuned for Part 4 – Travelling with the iPhone Camera – the moment of truth!

Would you like to learn how to shoot better images with your iPhone Camera? The Complete Pixel 1/2 – day iPhone Photography Workshop can get you up and shooting better iPhone images quickly.





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Brian Bird
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