Home Camera Settings 9 iPhone Camera Features for Outdoor Photography

9 iPhone Camera Features for Outdoor Photography

Smartphones are ubiquitous in American culture, and in fact, around the world. Everyone has one, and everyone is always snapping photographs using their phones. Smartphone photographs and videos have captured rare occurrences, been used as evidence in courtroom trials, and of course, preserved millions of special moments.

Additionally, you’re always likely to have your phone with you for those impromptu moments when you just have to get a picture or video. Smartphones are more convenient than carrying around camera equipment, and the technology and quality is improving practically every day.

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The iPhone has been an industry leader in smartphone technology from the beginning. There are more than 100 million people in the US who own iPhones, and part of the brand’s popularity is because of its camera. The newest models have some great features, particularly for those who like outdoor photography. Here are 9 iPhone camera features that are useful for the outdoor photographer:

 1  Quick Open Camera

Anyone who uses their iPhone for photography has suffered the frustration of trying desperately to get your phone open, get to the camera app, and get that great shot. Quick access is really important for outdoor photography, because conditions change fast, people and animals move, and that perfect shot disappears quickly. If you have to fumble with your phone, it’s already too late! But, that’s not a problem anymore with the iPhone camera app. There are several ways to get the camera open quickly:

Slide left

If you’re phone is locked, just slide left and the camera app will appear. You can start shooting immediately without having to enter a password.

Home screen docking

If you’re already using the phone, you can put the camera app icon on the dock–that’s the area at the bottom of the home screen where the 4 apps you use most frequently are stored. There, you can find it quickly to use. 

Add the camera icon to the dock by tapping and holding on the icon until it starts to jiggle. Then you can drag the icon to the dock. It only stores 4 apps so, if it’s full, you’ll have to remove one of the other icons.

Control center

If you’re using another app and you want to use the camera, you don’t have to close out of the other app. Simply swipe down from the top right of the screen to open the control center where you can tap on the camera icon. From there, you can shoot to your heart’s desire!


If you’re an outdoor photographer, you know it’s all about the light. But, sometimes you know better than the camera. With iPhone’s exposure slider, you can override the camera’s automatic exposure settings to get the shot you want. You can correct the brightness for underexposure or overexposure to achieve effects like a silhouette.

iPhone outdoor photography features include the exposure slider which allows you to adjust exposure for effects like a silhouette pictured here.

You find the exposure slider by tapping on the screen to select a focusing area. When you see the white box appear, you’ll also see a sun icon appear beside it. When the square turns yellow (like the sun), you can move your finger up or down to change the exposure. You’ll see a real time change in the scene as you do this, so you’ll know exactly how much to move it for the shot you want.


Sometimes neither you nor the camera can get the exposure just right. This is especially true in high-contrast lighting situations such as those that occur with sunset, sunrise, and overcast conditions. Whenever you have tricky lighting situations, HDR (high dynamic range) is one of the best iPhone camera features that helps a lot. This feature causes your phone to take three photographs, one with normal exposure, one darker, and one lighter. Then, it merges the  three shots together to create a vivid photograph with the perfect exposure. You’ll find the settings for HDR at the top of the screen.

iPhone outdoor photography features include burst mode which allow you to capture fast moving subjects such as this hummingbird in flight

  Burst Mode

Another challenge for enthusiasts of outdoor photography, particularly those who are wildlife photographers, is moving subjects. If you don’t click at the right second, the photo will be blurry, and by the time you realize it’s not good, the action has moved on. But, with the iPhone burst mode, that’s not a problem. And, it’s simple to use. You just press and hold the shutter button. The camera will continue to take pictures until you release your finger, and you’ll get a clear shot of your fast-moving subject.


Another challenge for outdoor photography is composition, and iPhone can help with that too! The camera has built-in gridlines to aid with composition. It has two horizontal and two vertical gridlines that divide the screen into thirds, top to bottom and side to side. That will help you to apply the rule of thirds–that is, you can offset the main subject of the photograph and divide the scenery into thirds. The gridlines help with that since you can use them to position the main subject.

iPhone outdoor photography features include gridlines that allow you to offset the main subject such as this shoreline view with the cliff to one side.

Enabling the gridlines also activates a leveling tool that helps keep the photo straight when shooting straight up or straight down. It consists of two crosshairs. When you’re shooting up or down on a subject, bring the two crosshairs into alignment and the camera will be parallel to the ground or the sky as the case may be. 

To activate the gridlines, open the settings app and select camera, then tap on the grid button so it turns to green. Then just close the settings and open the camera app, and you’re set to go.

  Versatile Shooting Modes

The iPhone camera also has multiple shooting modes and choosing the correct mode can significantly improve your photos. To choose a shooting mode, swipe to the left or right at the bottom of the screen. You can choose from Photo, Video, Square, Pano, Portrait, Time Lapse, and Slo-Mo.

iPhone outdoor photography features include modes to shoot square photos such as this seascape


This mode lets you capture those stunning photos you will want to hang on your wall. You’re probably already used to this style as it is the most common format.


This mode captures square photos instead of rectangular ones like the Photo mode. This is really an advantage in the digital age. Before that, getting square photographs meant cropping negatives in the darkroom (and losing quality) or using a 6 X 6 cm format medium camera. With digital technology, it is now possible to take square photos. They can improve composition, are perfect for Instagram, and give you more flexibility for creating the images you want!


This mode lets you take super wide panoramic shots. It’s a great tool for landscapes or cityscapes. Just tap the shutter button with the camera held vertically and then move across the scene you’re shooting in the direction of the arrow.


This lets you take videos when a single shot just won’t do, such as when you’re capturing the action at a live music concert or taking video of a friend’s 40th birthday party!

One of the biggest advantages to iPhone outdoor photography is that you don't have to carry a lot of equipment to events such as this concert pictured here.


This lets you capture video in slow motion, a great effect! And, some argue that this is one of the camera features that is even better than many DSLRs for shooting slow motion.

Time Lapse

This creates sped-up video footage if, for example, you want to capture how something changes over time, like the movement of the stars or the burning of a candle.


This mode blurs the background in your scene as you focus on the main subject. It creates an elegant effect.


Your iPhone offers dozens of native app filters that you can use in live mode. That means you can apply the presets while you’re taking pictures, so you can see the effect immediately. You can also change your presets without affecting the quality of your image. Unlike with the use of third party apps, the use of the iPhone filters doesn’t simply overlay a new filter on an existing filter–it replaces the old filter. That prevents oversaturation with unnatural colors. 

You have several choices of filters with iPhone. You can make your image more vivid and more dramatic, or you can remove the color altogether with filters such as the Mono, Silvertone, or Noir filters. You can shoot with one of these filters already applied, and then if you decide you don’t like it, you can remove it or change it. 

To find the filters, open the camera app and tap the icon with three overlapping circles at the top right-hand corner of the screen. Then, simply choose from dozens of available filters.

  Optical Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is always a challenge when you’re shooting without a tripod, and this is particularly true for certain challenging outdoor locations. The optical image stabilization (OIS) allows the iPhone to utilize longer exposures while preventing image blurring. It is available for use with both photos and videos, and combined with a larger aperture (f/1.8) that allows in more light, the result is sharper images in low-light situations, something that is also common with outdoor photography.

  Six Element Lens

Elements refer to the individual glass elements within the lens itself. More elements can better control for optical defects. Because lens surfaces are spherical, this results in image distortion. To correct for this, optical systems such as cameras and microscopes utilize combinations of positive and negative lens elements that are cemented together to form compound lens groups. More elements improve the resolution of the images. Thus, the six element lens on newer iPhones will result in improved images with sharper resolution.

One of the advantages of iPhone photography is that you are less likely to forget to bring your phone with you. It’s easier to forget your camera or you might not be planning on using it, but then that special moment arrives and you’re kicking yourself because you don’t have your camera. But, nowadays, it’s almost a given that you will have your phone with you, and if that phone is an iPhone, you’ve got loads of great features to get high quality images. 

First, iPhones are built well, with six element lenses and optical image stabilization. Then, they have multiple filters and shooting modes to choose from, and they have features such as gridlines and the exposure slider that help you compose and light your subjects for great photographs. When neither you nor the camera can get the exposure right, there’s the HDR feature that will take the best elements from several exposures and combine them for perfection. Finally, when you have fast-moving subjects or situations–as is common with outdoor photography–the burst mode and quick open camera features mean you won’t miss the shot.

If you may like to learn more, here are some useful articles about iPhone Photography:

  1. iPhone Photography Classes
  2. How to Get Professional Looking Photography on an iPhone
  3. iPhone Photography Tips

Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither
Catherine Gaither is a professional bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.



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