6 iPhone Photography Tips to Improve your Home Photos
Part 3 of a 3 Part Series
If you’re into renovating or working on your home the chances are good that you’ve taken pictures of your projects at some point.
You may have found that sometimes your pictures have a funny color – blue, orange or green or they are very bright or very dark. In this post, I explain how to fix or prevent those issues and take better pictures of your home – the rooms, the things in your rooms, and the exterior.
In case you haven’t stopped by my About page, this is a good place to mention that I spent 16 years as a professional photographer, so I know a thing or two (gee, that sounds like a Farmer’s Insurance Ad LOL) about taking pictures. And I’ve had a lot of practice in the last two years with my iPhone, which has been my exclusive camera since I retired.
To better understand the principles in this article, I strongly suggest that you read Parts 1 & 2 in this series about how your camera works:
My camera – for this tutorial, I’m using an iPhone (7 plus to be specific). The principles I describe here can apply to virtually any camera. But, if I provide specific instructions, they may apply to the iPhone in general or iPhone7 specifically.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Picture?
Check out the comparison pictures below. In the first, the room is too dark. In the second the window is too bright, but the last has a good balance of lighting and neutral color. Which would you rather view?
If you’re interested in some tips that will help you produce better pictures, this post is for you – keep reading!
How to Take Better Pictures – Here We Go!
TIP #1: Keep your Camera (Phone) Level & Steady
Taking a picture that is creatively on an angle is fine, but when a picture really should be straight but isn’t, that’s distracting.
Here’s an example. The picture on the left was shot with the camera pointing down. The lines on the china cabinet are more skewed than the other picture which was shot from a more level position.
It may just be me, but once I see a crooked line in a photo (that should be straight) I just can’t un-see it.
For some photos, a tripod is helpful. I have one and do occasionally use it. However, if a tripod isn’t handy and you’re not feeling really steady, try leaning against a wall or other solid surface.
TIP #2: Find a Good Spot
Some factors in picking your spot:
- It needs to be one that you can get to and occupy. In a small room, that alone can sometimes pick your spot for you. In a larger room, try to pick a spot where you can photograph 1 or 2 walls.
- Be aware of where the windows are. If you can, pick a spot where the windows are angled more than 45 degrees away from you. That will minimize window brightness.
- Lastly, pick a spot where the photographer doesn’t show up in any mirrors that you may be photographing. This happens to me more than I imagined it would.
How to find that spot
Sometimes it’s obvious. If it’s not, I shoot a picture from each of the room’s 4 corners (if possible). If none of those results in a picture that pleases me, I move away from the corners a bit and try again.
Experimenting always seems to find the best spot.
Example: This is my sunporch, from 4 different angles. The picture that I used for the feature image in that room’s post was the last one. I thought that picture had the best view of the room and allowed me to show off the most important features of the room.
TIP #3: Shoot Exteriors in Full Sun
- If I’m taking pictures of my full house, I’ll try a number of different angles to see what looks best. The angle may also depend on the surroundings – quite often there are cars parked in front of our house and my goal is to avoid capturing them in the shot, though I’m obviously not always successful 🙂
- Most often outside I’m taking pictures of my gardens, always a treat in the summer when everything is in bloom.
Bright sunlight, when you’re outside, bounces off the gardens, houses and trees and just kinda makes you feel warm. In the picture of my front porch, though the porch is shaded the splotches of sun make the pops of color that much brighter.
TIP #4: Try Portrait Mode for Close-Ups
- A formal definition for DOF: the amount of distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear in acceptably sharp focus in a photograph.
- My simplified definition: the main subject is in focus (so that’s where you eye goes) and everything behind it is blurred.
Using Depth of Field is a powerful tool and can radically transform an ordinary photo into one that literally wins hearts.
Best of all, it is super easy to use portrait mode on your iPhone. If you’re too close, too far away or the area is too dark, the camera lets you know. Here’s what to do:
Using Portrait Mode
- Open the default camera app.
- Swipe to Portrait Mode.
- Focus on the object you wish to photograph.
- Take the picture.
You can even remove the portrait effect if you want to. Here’s how:
Removing Portrait Mode
- In your photo library, Select the photo that you want to change.
- Tap Edit.
- Tap Portrait at the top of your screen.
- Tap Done at the bottom (right) of your screen.
If you change your mind and want to re-add the Portrait mode effect, go back to Edit and tap Portrait, then Done again. Easy Peasy.
Examples of Depth of Field: 2 sets of pictures follow. In each set, the first picture was taken in Portrait mode (with DOF) and the second was not (no DOF). In each picture with DOF, the main subject is in focus and the rest of the picture is not.
This effect is just so darned easy and so effective that it’s one of my very favorites when photographing close-ups.
TIP #5: Avoid Color Casts
In photos, especially when you aren’t photographing people, there is a lot of leeway in regards to color. Sometimes you want color to be deeper or bluer or warmer or just different. You could be going for a particular mood in a photo. That’s called artistic license.
But, generally, unless you are exercising your artistic muscles, you want your whites to be white and your blacks to be black.
The best way to tell if you have a color problem is by looking at an object in the picture that is supposed to be white.
If the object has a hint of blue, orange/yellow or green, there’s a color cast. This happens when the camera’s white balance is unable to adjust for the lighting conditions.
When this happens
A few examples:
- Photographing indoors especially in either low light (the color could be too cool) or you turn on an incandescent light (the color could be too warm).
- Photographing outdoors on an overcast day (the color will be cool).
- Using your flash, especially indoors. The color cast will be warm.
I explain how your camera sees and adjusts for color in the How Your Camera White Balances post.
3 ways to deal with a color cast
- Change your lighting
- Correct the white balance in the camera before you take the picture
- Correct the image file(s) after you take the image
For purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to share how to focus on the first two. Look for how you can correct an image file in a future post.
Change your Lighting
- If you are indoors and incandescent lighting is causing a warm color cast, turn off the lights. If, as a result, there is not enough light in the room to take a good exposure as a result, add another more neutral light or use the on-camera flash.
- If you are indoors and using only natural light but the room is so dark that there is a blue color cast, turn on the room lights to add more light and warm up the colors.
- If you are outdoors in the shade, use flash.
When adding flash, you may need to white balance your camera so that it adjusts for the flash or you’ll have a new white balance issue. See ‘How to Correct White Balance in the Camera’ below.
Correct White Balance in the Camera
This is where you correct the white balance before you take the picture so you don’t need to fix it after. Always a win.
The iPhone’s default camera app does not have the ability to adjust the white balance. All this app can do is Auto White Balance (AWB), which usually works pretty well but is not always enough.
When that is the case, you need to use a third party photo app. Sorry, there’s no choice. But, there are quite a few that will work. Here’s a short list (personally I use Camera +):
Using White Balance in the Camera+ App
- AWB (Auto White Balance)
- A Preset or
- Custom (the Kelvin wheel)
AWB – works well in bright, even light and is also available in the iPhone default camera app. If you choose to use it in the Camera + app, just click the WB button on the bottom right of the screen. AWB is the default and is automatically selected.
Presets are still really guessing at what the camera thinks the color will be under that lighting condition but they can be very effective. To select a preset,
- Click the WB button.
- You’ll see the presets with little icons next to them (see image below).The presets are: Shade, Cloudy, Flash, Daylight, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Sunrise/Sunset and Candlelight.
- Select the preset that best fits your lighting situation (you’ll have to swipe left to see them all).
- You’ll see the color change in your viewfinder. If it doesn’t look right to your naked eye, change to another preset.
- Take the picture.
Custom is actually the last icon in the preset list. Again, you need to swipe left to get to it.
- Click the WB button.
- Swipe the presets all the way to the left until you see the + (custom) icon.
- Select it. You’ll be presented with a scale (see the last image below).
- Move the scale from left to right until you find the color in your viewfinder that best matches what you see with your naked eye.
- Take the picture.
(A) Light: natural light only; White Balance setting: AWB
(B) Light: natural light + incandescent light; White Balance setting: AWB
(C) Light: natural light + incandescent light: White Balance setting: Custom (I turned the color wheel until the picture in my viewfinder matched the picture I could see with my naked eye)
My Approach with White Balance
Photographing outdoors on a sunny day
I set my camera to AWB.
Photographing outdoors on an overcast day
I set my camera to cloudy or use the Custom setting and turn the color wheel until the color looks good to me.
Photographing outdoors in the shade
I set my camera to cloudy or use the Custom setting and turn the color wheel until the color looks good to me. I may choose to use flash and then would adjust the white balance with either the flash preset or Custom if necessary.
Photographing indoors with room lights on
I use the Camera + app, set the White Balance to Custom and turn the color wheel until I see the colors I want to see.
Photographing indoors with natural light
I set my camera to AWB. If I find the colors are a little too cool, I would use the Camera + app, set the White Balance to Custom and turn the color wheel until I see the colors I want to see.
It’s always easier to avoid a color balance issue by either changing up your lighting or making the adjustment in the camera. It’s possible to correct it in the file if you prefer to do it there but it’s much more complicated correcting it there. For those who are really adventurous, I’ll be providing instructions for manipulating files in a future post so stay tuned!
TIP #6: Find Good Light
6a. Natural Light or Flash?
The Case for Natural Light
There’s something about natural light. It’s just pretty and generally darned effective:
- It creates areas of light and shadow through the room, which conveys a sense of depth.
- Natural light also gives the viewer a better sense of what the space really looks like in person.
- There is usually sufficient light bouncing around a room from the windows.
- Using flash can create harsh shadows and a color balance challenge.
Examples: Here are a couple of pictures I took with and without flash.
The Case for Flash
Sometimes, either because there are few windows or because of the time of day, a room is not well enough lit on its own.
There are two types of flash (basically) – the built-in flash in your camera and off-camera flash. Most professionals use the latter when photographing interiors. It provides more flexibility in your photos and solves a lot of potential problems but it’s both an additional expense and a learning curve that I’m going to avoid in this tutorial. So, whenever I use flash here I’m referring to the flash on the iPhone.
My breakfast room is a great example of a room that is too dark on its own. So, to photograph this room, I used flash.
How to Choose
I always go for natural light first. If it’s not enough I try the flash and compare.
I may need to do a bit more (keep reading) if neither is quite what I’m looking for, but a glance at the initial results will tell me which direction is best for the space.
6b. Finding Good Natural Light
Time of Day
I have found that the best time to photograph inside my house is usually very early in the morning before the sun is really bright and while the light is more diffused. My second choice is later in the afternoon, as the sun is going down but that can even still be a bit too bright.
The windows in your house are much brighter than the rest of your rooms, even on days when the sun isn’t out.
The fact that almost any room in your house won’t be evenly lit creates a challenge for your camera so you want to minimize that challenge as much as possible.
If you missed my article on how your camera’s exposure works, click here. I explain all about even and uneven lighting.
Below are a couple of pictures of my guest bedroom.
The first is a picture I took in the early morning. I used no flash, no lights were on in the room, I used no special settings at all. I did brighten the walls a tad in Photoshop Express (more on that in a future article!). The windows and surrounding area are a little bright but barely overexposed. I would consider this to be a decent exposure.
The second picture was taken in the afternoon in the same room. It’s not a huge difference but the windows and everything else around are more over-exposed, the walls are a little darker and the lighting is overall different.
It’s not difficult to see that WHEN you take your pictures can really impact how they look.
If the weather is overcast, so much the better. In most cases there will still be enough light coming through your windows, and it won’t be so bright that you’ll have to deal with exposure issues.
A bright sunny day in the summer is more difficult to deal with when working with interiors. If you’re shooting outside, sunny is actually better.
So, weather can have a bearing on your indoor pictures. An overcast day can sometimes give you more time to photograph since diffused light is not as bright.
You need to combine the direction (North, South, East, West) your room’s windows are facing with the time of day.
Example: if your room is facing East, the sun is going to be strongest in that room in the early morning and least strong in the afternoon. I know that I have to get pictures of my East-facing rooms as early as possible in the am or the light will be too bright.
The best advice I have is take pictures of each room at different times in the early morning and later afternoon (I would generally avoid Noon and the hours before and after). You’ll get a decent idea of the light situation in each room.
Sometimes all you need to do is experiment with the time of day that you’re photographing and take into consideration the weather and the direction your room is facing. If you get a good image using just this technique, that’s a win.
Still need help? See the Summary and For More Information sections below.
Interior lights – on or off?
The challenge with leaving interior lights on is that you’ll create a mixed lighting situation that you may need to white balance. But, sometimes a light fixture is of particular importance in a room, in which case it’s important to show it off by lighting it. Except in those cases, most of the time I leave the interior lights off. But it’s a personal preference. Often I’ll take a picture with them on, then without and decide which I like best.
In the example below, I prefer the picture with the lights on (the right). Not only does it show off the light, which is an important feature, it warms the room a little.
A clean space is a happy space. I don’t know anyone who lives in a perfectly clean, uncluttered space all day, every day, though. So if you’re going go through the effort of taking a picture of your space, be sure to de-clutter as much as possible. Here’s a quick set of pictures where I took a picture ‘as is’ then took a few seconds to clean things up a bit. It makes a difference!
Shoot in Landscape Mode
The human eye sees the world in a landscape ratio so our brain finds the horizontal/landscape view more pleasing than vertical pictures. It’s probably easier to take vertical pictures because that’s how we naturally hold our phones, but horizontal is better most of the time when photographing interiors, architecture or landscapes.
In the example below, the landscape orientation is definitely more pleasing than the vertical (on the right).
Stay tuned, my next post will take this topic to another level. I’m going to share the most common problems with your photos – and how to fix them – in the camera and in post processing by adjusting the image files.
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How about you?
Do you have any great iPhone tips? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below!