5 Tips for Shooting Landscape Photography With Your iPhone

1) Know your iPhone’s strength’s and weaknesses.

For me, this is the most important factor I consider when shooting with my phone. There may be a shot I see that would look incredible if I had my DSLR with a big lens, but the reality of capturing that on my phone is just not possible, whether it’s because of the sheer distance between the subject and I, or the light conditions not being right. This isn’t meant to be a deterrent to stop you from taking those photos you see in your mind, but once you accept the limitations of your iPhone, you can start to learn how to work around them. 

So, what are some of the things an iPhone struggles to capture? Low light has always been a weakness, although major improvements have been made with the recent generations of iPhones. Shooting directly into the sun is also usually not the greatest idea if you want to avoid ghosting and the little flares that the iPhone lens commonly gets. Because the sensor still isn’t what you’d expect from a DSLR, you will also find that composing photos where there are drastic differences in lighting conditions might result in something other than what you’d hoped for. Or, you might end up with something totally awesome. Because the lens on the iPhone is relatively wide, distance has always seemed to be my biggest enemy when shooting with it. My 60mm Moment lens is a lifesaver in situations where I can’t get any closer to my subject, but usually, the best thing to do is to get as close as possible to whatever your trying to shoot (kind of my own personal rule in general when taking photos with any camera). 

The iPhone loves balanced lighting and performs incredibly well in terms of landscape photos when there are some clouds in the sky to diffuse the sunlight. It’s dynamic range is also just insane, I often find myself reaching for my phone first when trying to capture close up details/textures because it does that incredibly well with just one tap. Another big strength of the iPhone comes in it’s ability to be moved around, angled, and placed in ways you just can’t or wouldn’t want to place a big, expensive camera. 

2) Define and streamline your post-processing workflow.

A challenge I faced for awhile when shooting with my phone is that I often felt like the photos were just throwaways, good for a quick Instagram post or story but not actually anything more than that. Some people might think that way, but there are also countless photographers who shoot exclusively with their phones and their work transcends far beyond the realm of social media. It’s really up to you to define the value you want to place in your mobile photography.

One small habit I have as a photographer is anytime I travel for an extensive period of time, I take an hour or two during flight time when traveling home to go through my photos and mark the ones I see as my strongest photos. When editing, one thing I can recommend is to note what tools and presets you think work best for your style so you can retrace your steps. I use Lightroom Mobile for curve adjustments and VSCO for pretty much everything else. 

The post-processing flow can be challenging to outline but it can and should also make what you do run like a machine. Everyone’s process will look different, but one thing I can recommend is to note what you think works best so you can retrace your steps. VSCO makes it easier now with Recipes to create your customized presets, but in general, I think it’s good to know what you’re doing and why it makes your photos look the way you want them to. I have played around with so many different apps, and there are a bunch that are very good at doing one or two specific things, but if I can recommend anything at all, it would be VSCO and Lightroom Mobile. I now almost exclusively use VSCO with the addition of the HSL settings. Lightroom is still a necessity since it has curve adjustments and it’s nice to use because of how well it works between a desktop/laptop and your phone. I have personally always loved VSCO for the community of artists that they’ve fostered and the clean, distraction-free space they’ve maintained. 

3) Manually dial in your settings

This is probably the biggest piece of advice I can give in terms of using your phone intentionally as a camera. While there are going to be moments where you don’t want to waste time with manual settings in order to not miss the shot, with landscape photography in mind, there is generally some time to experiment and play with your settings. The iPhone is very good at automatically exposing and setting white balance, but there are certain things it still can’t do. Maybe you want to shoot long exposures, or capture a motion blur rather than freeze your subject. Maybe you go for higher key images, or dark and moody—these are intentional choices that (right now) only a human can make. Whatever it might be, I recommend learning the basic functions and using an app that allows you to pick your settings manually. 

ISO - measures the light sensitivity of the image sensor. The lower this number is, the less sensitive your camera will be to light.  

Shutter Speed - how long your shutter stays open when taking a photo. The slower your shutter speed is, the longer your exposure time will be.

Aperture - the size of the opening of your lens. Think of this like your eye’s pupil. The smaller your aperture number is (f/1.4), the wider the opening of your lens will be, letting in more light. Shutter speed and aperture are used together to control how much light enters your camera’s sensor, and for how long. Aperture is also used to control your depth of field which works like an inverse relation (smaller aperture number equals wider opening, which results in a shallower depth of field. Conversely, a large aperture number (f/16) results in a smaller aperture size and therefore a deeper depth of field).

These are the big three you’ll want to know if you’re just starting out with photography—I am boiling their definitions down to be short for brevity but there is much, much more you can learn about how cameras work and I highly recommend just Googling these three terms to get a more thorough explanation. 

4) Share beyond social media

One thing that has made me really value my phone as a camera has been making prints of the work I’ve created with it. Whether they are just for personal keepsakes, or if you’re selling prints, there’s no greater feeling than holding a photograph you made in your hands or placing it on a wall. 

Share your printed work with friends and family, keep photo albums, frame your work. At some point in time, whatever feed you’re existing on will vanish (trust me). Even if you have all of those photos saved and backed up, it’s just worthwhile to have your work exist in a space other than Instagram, for no one besides yourself. 

5) Tell your story (when the time is right)

This one might sound a bit cliché, but I really believe this is where the iPhone’s biggest strength is. There’s the old saying that “the best camera is the one you have with you.” Your phone is with you all of the time. This means if you’re willing to view it as a camera, you can use it in some pretty powerful ways. Let your camera tell your own story, not the one you think other people might like. I will often go out and shoot in airplane mode (also a good tip for battery’s sake) just to avoid any of the distractions my phone might provide when using it as a camera, or to avoid the urge to share something. Sharing is good, but sharing everything you produce constantly can become detrimental and I believe distracting from your strongest work. It’s equally as important to simmer, think about your work, let a story unfold, and share it when the idea feels fully realized.

These are just some things I’ve realized over the last 10+ years of a life centered around photography. The iPhone is just one of the many cameras I use, and it is as much an asset to me as it is a pain in the ass sometimes. And if you’re ever feeling like your phone isn’t a good enough tool to be a photographer, please remember this one thing: an iPhone 7 has more than twice the number of megapixels than the first DSLR I spent all of my hard-earned teen savings on.