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Welcome to my new diary series, Bob's iPhone Photography. As a lot of you know I do a monthly diary where I highlight the photography by Pete Souza and his staff of White House photographers and then occasionally post diaries of my own work.

I have been a photographer for over 30 years now. I started shooting 35 mm and 2 1/4' negatives, processing them in my own dark room, then moved to digital about 8 years ago.

Back in August of 2011, after being challenged by the Mojo Friday crowd to post more pictures, I started using my iPhone more since that was the camera I had with me all the time. Over the past few years I've piled up quite the collection of iPhone pictures. I started so I'd have a place to share some of my favorite shots from the past few years. For this new diary series I'll be selecting images from my site that I've taken since mid 2012. (I had posted diaries for pictures from before mid '12 here (1), here (2), here (3) and here (4)).

A diary I did last year after Netroots Nation '12 got a lot of attention. People wanted to know how I did it and could I teach them how to take better pictures with their phones. I've really struggled with how I could do that without having you all come to San Diego for a photography workshop. I thought that maybe the best way to do this would be to post some of my images and talk about the rules and techniques I used to get that particular shot. We can then continue the discussion in the comments, answering your questions etc...

So, follow me below the squiggle:


In my opinion the first rule of photography is the "Rule of Thirds." Composing the image properly in your viewfinder (or in this case, iPhone screen) is one of the most important things you can do to take a great picture. Putting your main subject right in the middle of the shot is what my old high school photo teacher referred to as the "bulls eye syndrome."

In this image of the rose you can see that I put the main focal point of the image, the middle of the rose blossom, in the left vertical third and almost in the lower horizontal third of the picture.

To help train your eye to divide your subject into thirds turn the grid on which you can find in the options section of the camera app.

When I've taught beginning photography in the past it's the first rule I teach and my students must carry that rule on through all of their remaining assignments. Do I break the rule occasionally? Sure, but it's only when I have no choice.

You can view a full sized image here.


Lighting is another big issue and to be honest learning when the lighting is perfect is part art part experience. Avoid taking pictures in mid-day direct sunlight if you can, it's terrible. If you are taking a snap shot of your friends at Disneyland, sure, don't worry about the light, but the rest of the time you should be paying attention to where the sun is and what the overall quality of the light is like. Defused light is better than direct light. Overcast, rainy days are the best. With the very best light occurring in that short time span of when it stops raining and the sun starts to burn though the clouds, it only lasts for minute or even seconds, but that's the light landscape photographers wait all day for.

Can you wait around for the best light all the time? No, but when it's drizzling outside grab your iPhone and head outside. Try to keep it as dry as possible though, iPhone's really don't like getting wet.

Please note that the middle of the flowers run real close to the top horizontal third line of the picture.

Full sized image here.

Around Water:

Ok, so you can actually shoot with your iPhone in and around water, just make sure you put a water proof case on first. I have tried several kinds and I feel the LifeProof Case is the best. I attach a Snow Lizard Tek Tab to the back of my LifeProof Case so I can attach a lanyard and hang my iPhone around my neck or while under water to wrap around my wrist.

When shooting in water it's a complete crap shoot, just take lots and lots of pictures and hope that you get one good one. The touch screen doesn't work underwater so you'll need to use the volume buttons to release the shutter.

Full image here.

Of course even when I'm not under water I still use my water proof case for pictures like this:

When out in the water taking pictures of my kids I make sure that the iPhone's grid pattern is turned on. This helps me keep the horizon line level but also helps with the Rule of Thirds. In fact I'd recommend you turn on that function for all of your pictures while you learn to compose your pictures properly.

Again with the Rule of Thirds, my son is in the right vertical third of the picture while the horizon line runs along the bottom third of the picture. When taking pictures with a horizon line, at the beach, of a sunset, etc.... always make sure to line up the horizon along the bottom or top third of your image.

One last thing while on this picture; When I shoot with my regular equipment I demand that all of my images be in sharp focus. When shooting with my iPhone I've learned to be more relaxed with that. My son is not perfectly in focus in this shot, but sitting in the water as the wave passes over me while taking the picture makes it kind hard to focus and shoot at the same time. I can live with that.

Full image here.


Believe it or not there is action in pictures even if the thing you are taking a picture of is not moving. In this case the action is my dog Ally looking to the right. When you first looked at this image you looked at Ally's eyes. That's what we humans do, we always, always, look at the eyes first. (So, side tip here, always focus on the eyes when setting up a shot). In this shot you looked at Ally's eyes, then at all of her and then you followed where her eyes were looking to see what she was looking at, even though you can't actually see it. That's how we look at shots like this. What is important to learn here is that you need to have space in the shot for people to "look." If I had composed this image so that the right side of the picture was lined up with her nose it would have felt odd to look at. You'd follow her gaze right off the picture, it would feel out of balance.

This action rule ties in very closely with the Rule of Thirds. Ally's head lines up in the left vertical third and her eyes and nose line up in the top horizontal third. Giving the viewer all of the right third of the picture to look into.

Full image here.

Black & White:

I'm old school, I still love black and white images. I use a program called Dramatic B&W to convert my color images to black and white. That program gives me the ability to easily burn in the edges and create high contrast images like I used to do in the dark room.

The main rule for good black and white pictures is to remember that you need to see pure white, pure black and greys in between on your image. Hold a piece of white paper up to every Ansel Adam's picture you've ever seen and you will find the white. Same goes with the black.

In this image you can see that the faucet is lined up in the upper left third of the image. Right at the intersection of the left vertical and top horizontal third lines. The drip is just slightly off from the left vertical third line.

Also note that there is about half of the picture dedicated for action, ie, space for the drip to fall into.

Full image here.

Close Up:

For the most part digital zoom is worthless. You might as well shoot your shot with no zoom and then crop it in camera or on your computer later. There is an exception though and that is when you want to get close on something like a snail. The camera is able to focus within about a foot of something but does not do a good job of isolating small objects within the frame. So what I did in this case was I used the digital zoom, moving the slider about 10 to 15% from the left to the right. This gives me the ability to get in close enough and make the main image big enough so that the camera will focus.

I set my iPhone right on the ground next to the snail, aligned it's body along the bottom third line and it's shell in the left vertical third and this is what I got. After all of that I was still able to leave at least a little bit of room in front of the snails head so that it still had some room to move into.

Full image here.

I will stop here. I plan to make this a weekly diary, at least for awhile. In the future I'll cover some more rules and techniques while continuing to reinforce the ones I discussed today. I will also dive more into iPhone specific issues and address the different apps I use. If there are topics you'd like me to go into more depth on in a future diary please post it in the comments.

With this diary I have also started a new group here on DKos, "iPhone Photography." Feel free to follow this new group if you are interested in iPhone Photography and if you happen to be an iPhone Photographer yourself and would like to contribute to the group with future diaries please let me know and I'll add you as a contributor.

Originally posted to Bob's Blog on Wed May 22, 2013 at 09:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Photography, iPhone Photography, and J Town.

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