iPhone Photography: Make Your Pictures Stand Out | Mariya Popandopulo | Skillshare

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iPhone Photography: Make Your Pictures Stand Out

teacher avatar Mariya Popandopulo, Photographer & Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

21 Lessons (32m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Clean your lens

    • 3. Get the focus right

    • 4. Setting the exposure

    • 5. Clean the phone's memory

    • 6. Light

    • 7. Camera grid

    • 8. Background

    • 9. Add some action

    • 10. Create bokeh effect

    • 11. Use layers and frames

    • 12. Move close

    • 13. Try different angles

    • 14. Play with shadows

    • 15. Experiment with light

    • 16. Magical backlight

    • 17. Make silhouettes

    • 18. Timeless black&white

    • 19. Editing in VSCO

    • 20. Your project

    • 21. Conclusion

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About This Class


Shooting on the phone camera really pushes you to improve and develop your photographer’s skills, as you can not fall back on expensive lenses or other professional photography equipment. The great thing is, it is possible to get better with the same phone camera which you have now!

In this class I will cover a few practical tips, a few creative ones, like adding shadows, shooting backlit or incorporating action into your shots. And I will also talk about editing and show you my editing process. Although some technical points are specific for the iPhone, the creative advice and editing sections are relevant to any other phone camera too!

So, lets take your mobile photography to the next level!

Oh, one more thing! 

For those who want to upgrade to premium membership, get 3 months of Skillshare Premium for only $0.99  Here is my link to use that offer.

For those of you who are not on premium membership, here is a link for a free enrollment in this class =) There are 20 free places currently.

Have a great day! =)

Meet Your Teacher

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Mariya Popandopulo

Photographer & Illustrator


Hi! My name is Mariya and I am photographer and illustrator based in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

I never could quite decide what do I love more - photography or illustrations, so Im doing both =D

I have illustrations portfolio on Behance

My preferred social media currently is Instagram (no surprise here =D)

I also post comics and doodles under Pinks&Roses name

See full profile

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1. Introduction: Shooting on the phone camera really pushes you to improve and develop your photographer skills as you can look full back on expensive lenses or other professional photography equipment. The great thing is, it is possible to get better with the same phone camera which you have now. Let me show you an example. These are my images made with my iPhone approximately two, three years ago. Right. Okay. Now, these are the images made more recently. Can you see the difference? And guess what, it is still the same phone. My name is Mariya and I'm a photographer from Almaty, Kazakhstan. In this class, I will talk about iPhone photography. I made this class for beginners and those who want to advance their mobile photography. We will discuss a few practical tips, a few creative ones like edit shadows, shooting backward or incorporating action into your shots. And then we'll also talk about editing and show you my editing process. Although, some technical points are specific for the iPhone, the creative advice and editing sections are relevant to any other phone cameras too. So let's take your mobile photography to the next level. 2. Clean your lens: Let's get practical. In this section, some of the things, or maybe even all of them will seem obvious. But usually what I observe is that most of these things are usually most often overlooked. Tip number one, a super easy one and a very obvious yet I see people doing this kind of mistake over and over again. Clean you lens before you take the shot. The lens on the phone camera is so small that people forget that it is still a lens. You wouldn't go shooting pictures on your DSLR if your camera lens was all covered with fingerprints, would you? The quality of the images wouldn't be that nice, same with phone camera, but even to a greater extent. As normally, lens is not protected with cap or hood and it is in constant touch with other things and your hands. Here is an example. The first image was taken without lens being cleaned. It looks okay, but now compare it to the second image. Here, I clean my lens before taking the shot. See how much more contrast this picture has. There was no editing done to any of these pictures, and the difference is purely because the lens was cleaned. Here's another example. See the difference? Normally, I don't even have a cleaning cloth to clean the lens, although I strongly encourage you to have one because it's the right thing to do. When I'm out and about, I use any fabric I have at hand. Typically it will be my t-shirt. Thing to remember, if you take an image and it appears to be hazy and not very sharp, first thing to do, clean your lens. In most cases, it will be the reason. It can also be that you shoot against light. But we will talk about backlight in the following sections. 3. Get the focus right: Moving on. Always select a focus point on your screen by tapping the desired area with your finger. Don't leave it to your camera to decide, what's important and what's not, especially, when it comes to portraits, focus on the face. iPhone has some good micro capabilities. Of course, it is not a substitute for proper DSLR with a macro lens, but it will cover your desire to take pictures of flowers, leaves, or even bugs, and bees, but sometimes you will encounter a case, when your phone will refuse to focus simply, because the item is too small or thin. For a camera, it is really hard to find the focus you have in mind. If the object is too small, you can tap your finger on your screen for a long time, and it still wouldn't focus. Here's a little trick for you. In order to focus, use your hand. See, hand is a large object. You can focus on it, fixing the focus point by pressing for a few seconds. If the exposure is not right, use the exposure correction too by sliding your finger up or down the screen, remove your hand from the picture. Be careful not to move your phone too much so that the focus will stay sharp, and take a shot. Here is a little video of, how I do it. 4. Setting the exposure: Setting exposure on an iPhone can be a bit tricky. The basic principle of iPhone exposure is that if you want your image to be darker, set exposure for the brightest parts. If you want your image to be lighter, set exposure to the darkest parts. Basically, if you set the focus manually by tapping on the object on the screen, iPhone will set exposure correct to that focus point, which most of the times would be okay as your main object has to be properly exposed but sometimes for more creative pictures, it won't work. Here's the algorithm you have to now. Focus on your main object by tapping your finger on the screen where the object is. If the image is over or underexposed, use exposure correction tool by sliding your finger up, for making image brighter or down, to make it darker. 5. Clean the phone's memory: Finally, practical tip number four: don't forget to clean up the phone memory and export your images regularly. I know, this is a really obvious one, yet I can see from my personal experience, this is my biggest problem as my iPhone capacity is 16 gigabytes. And my battle for free space is ongoing and I lose constantly. Before you're going on a trip or a place you potentially may want to take pictures, export your old images, and get that free space. Now, let's discuss the composition and light. 6. Light: iPhone does not give you a lot of power over zoom, or aperture, or shutter speed. iPhone images are all about composition and light. Let's talk about light first. Light is obviously the most important part in any photography, but so much more in mobile photography. Lack of good light can ruin your image as iPhone camera does not handle well low light photography. Images taken in poor light conditions, will have more noise. Noise in the picture is when your image becomes greeny on the image on the right. There are programs to reduce noise, but no noise reduction program will ever match the quality of the picture taken in a good light conditions like the image on the left. That being said, don't be afraid to shoot when light is not perfect, just be aware of the quality of the image. Another thing related to light quality, is that the less light camera receives, the more blurry your picture would be if you, a) move your hand while taking a shot, b) your object or model will move while you're taking the shot. If you need your image to be as sharp as possible, you have to make sure you, as a photographer, hold your phone steady, even using a tripod and your object or model will not move as well. As a general rule, iPhone performs best in evenly lit situations. This is especially true for portraits. Here's an example. The image on the left, was taken in direct sunlight, the shadows are quite visible and it is not very flattering, especially for a girl's portrait. The second image, was taken in a shadow where the light is even, see how much more flattering It is. However, this doesn't mean you always have to opt for evenly distributed light. Shooting with contrast or against light is fun and can produce some awesome results. We'll talk about it in the creative section. One more point about the light. When using direct, mid-day light is a good thing. Well, direct mid-day light is great for action shots, for moving objects or for objects that can potentially move because the camera would be able to use fast shutter speed to freeze the moment. 7. Camera grid: Now let's talk about composition. Your iPhone has a grid that can help you compose your images. It is especially useful for rule of thirds composition technique. If you want to learn more about rule of thirds, you can go to MySQL shared class on still life photography and check out the video named composition. There I talk about different composition techniques in a non-technical terms, including rule of thirds. But let's get back to the camera grid. If it's not on, you can activate it through settings. Just go to Settings, scroll down to photos and camera, and turn on the grid slider, it has to become green. Camera grid is super useful for two reasons. First of all as I mentioned, it allows you to compose your image in accordance with the rule of thirds. Just a quick reminder, the idea is that intersections of those lines you see on the screen, are the perfect spots where your main object should be placed, it will look more pleasing to the eye. Of course, rules are meant to be broken, and you sure should go your own way. But in my opinion, it is easier to start with some well established composition techniques while learning and then do something of your own. Speaking of composition, if you shoot for an old school Instagram, that is making square pictures, you may also want to ignore the rule of thirds and put your main object straight to the center. Square is an interesting format, but again, the grid on the camera, will help you place your objects in a perfect center too. Second reason why you should use grid is to address the following horizon issue. By this, I mean, avoid this happening. Just align your horizon with one of the horizontal lines of the grid when taking a shot to make a better composed image. 8. Background: Watch for your background. I have talked about background a lot already in my previous classes I know, but it is part of the composition and particularly important when you shoot on your phone. If you have already seen my previous classes, you may as well skip this video, but if you want to refresh your knowledge with some new examples that are specific to phone camera, please do continue watching. Let me show you an example. Here is a picture taken with 35 Millimeter lens on my DSLR. I used the highest aperture value available for this lens, 1.8. You can't really see what's going on in the background as it is blurred to the point when you can't identify the objects behind, just colors. Now, here is the same shot with an iPhone. All right, now we can see a lot and probably more than we want to. Phone camera takes much more into focus, so it is hard to isolate and highlight your main object if the background is busy. Depending on your situation, always consider background because it will be part of your picture. If the background distracts from your main object, try different angle or different directions like I did in these two images. In addition, it's not only the objects in the background that can be distracting, but colors too. Here is another example. Here on the image on the left, you can see something yellow in the background. To me, this yellow is not really contributing to the overall color scheme of the image so I moved a little to hide it behind the tree. This may be a little thing but it will contribute to making your images better. Here's an example with a portrait. The image on the left was taken from some distance, while the image on the right is a much tighter crop. You can see that the second image is better composed as nothing distract from the main subject. Obviously, it is unlikely that you will have a bunch of balloons to hide anything unwanted every time you shoot a portrait, so if you're fine taking a portrait in a destructive background, either recompose, move closer or change the direction of shooting. Whenever taking a picture, always remember that iPhone area of focus is quite large and unless you don't want something to distract from your picture, recompose or remove anything unwanted. 9. Add some action: Now we're on the creative part. There are a lot of things you can do to make your images interesting, like adding layers or shadows, making silhouettes, and many more. So let's add some magic to your pictures. Add some action or movement. Adding movement and action will make your images more dynamic and interesting to look at. Yawning cat is always a good option. So what do we mean by adding action? Here is an example I took last summer. The image on the left was my first stage. I loved the morning light that's why I took the shot. However, while trying different angle, I saw a bird approaching and was quick enough to take a second image, the one on the right. Now, both very similarly composed with same main objects, the statue, same lighting colors. However, the second image is much more interesting and complete. The bird almost seems like a part of the statute. It follows the direction of the hand of the rider and adds quite a bit of dynamics to the image. So sometimes you have to wait a little bit to add that action. One shot for moving objects. Can any of those be included in your image to make it better? A few more examples, adding moving object to the simple straight shot or even adding a hint of movement like on the image on the right, I could have just took a shot with the flip flops and the flower and it was still a nice image. But putting footsteps, just as we took a story to an image. Sometimes you are just lucky to capture a moment like with this double splash. Remember we talked about images being blurry due to the lack of light. Well, in some cases, adding a few glory details can contribute to image dynamics like here on the image on the right. My dog usually is not the one for still life. He moves fast so I had to move fast too. However, because I was in a hurry, part of the image is blurry due to my hand movement. I actually think it makes picture more interesting and captures the moment better than if it was all in sharp focus. Now, the two examples of blurry movement. Again, most of the times your moving object will not be there and you'll have to wait a bit if you want to add that little extra to your image, like with these two images. Finally, another way to add movement and action is to capture work in progress. Someone doing something like cooking or gardening, taking pictures. You don't have to get to the whole person or make a portrait to show the action. Hence, a great way to capture the moment. Again, on the picture on the right, you can probably guess why the blur occurred. The image was taken at around 6:00 AM in the morning and there was not enough light. However, I think it works as adding some movement helps translate the feeling of the work in progress better. 10. Create bokeh effect : Camera effect with bokeh. Okay. Yes. For those of you who don't know, bokeh is that blurring that occurs in the background or the foreground, like here. You don't really see what happens in the background on the image on the left, which was taken with a DSLR. The background of the image on the right is quite blurry too, which was taken with an iPhone. Of course, a phone camera cannot match the DSLR with a prevalence in terms of quality. However, you can get that camera feel with your iPhone with a simple trick. Create more depth in your image by placing some objects very close to the camera, like in these two images. In the first image, I focused on the flowers leaving the background slightly out of focus. On the second image, I specifically opted to focus on branches in the middle to leave both far background and some of the foregrounds out of the focus. Just a quick note. To achieve a bokeh effect, you have to have something in the background, something that can be blurred and something that is in some distance from your object. Obviously, if there is nothing in the background, the background is too simple. All of the backgrounds are too close. You will not get the effect however close you should like on the second image. 11. Use layers and frames: Add more depth to your image with layers, try shooting your main object through other items like leaves, grass, anything that can add a frame and additional layers to your image, like the picture here. Instead of just taking a picture of a cat, I took a step back and found session angle where green plants would be in the foreground because they're so close to the camera and are not in focus, they are blurry, and instead of distracting from main subject, they draw more attention to it by creating a soft frame. They also work nicely with eyes of the cat in terms of color. So adding some sort of frame is a good technique to draw attention to your main subject. Here are a few more examples, the image on the left was taken in the park, and the composition is made in such a way that green leaves take up the most part of the picture, and leave the viewer's eye to the main object, framing the model on the bench. Again, this creates more levels and volume in a picture and makes it more interesting. The image on the right shows a more noticeable frame which also occupies the majority of the image, yet, because of its contrast and composition it actually makes the main object, the red and white chimney, stand out even more. Let's see more examples with layers in the image on the left, a simple shot with the coffee is more pretty with flowers, especially because some flowers are unfocused while others being too close to the camera aren't, and together it helps create the depth of an image. The image on the right is a great example how different layers can help to tell a story. First of all you see the dog looking up, and then you see that cat who sits on a wooden stairs, looking back at the dog, and then the relative of other objects like books and shovels, creating additional frames and layers, and all of it contributes to an interesting image. 12. Move close: As I mentioned before, iPhone has some good micro capabilities and sometimes to show us the best of an object, it is better to move really close. In the image on the left, you can see that it is a blossoming tree. However, the flowers are really lost on the background, so instead of trying to take everything into the frame and ultimately not focusing on anything in particular, try make a real close up. On the right, you can see separate flowers and it shows the spring feel mood of the picture better. 13. Try different angles: Try different angles. Sometimes to add that little extra to your image, changing an angle is a good idea. On the image number 1, you see the field and sunset through old stamps. The plants closest to the camera creates some sort of bouquet. You can see individual plants yet you still get the feeling that there is a wide field in front of you. Shooting from a lower angle helped created more depths to the picture. Just compare it to the second image taken from the same spot, but from a normal angle. That is I was standing tall. It is okay. Beautiful sunset and you can see a lot of field in front of you. However, I think it just doesn't translate the feeling of a warm summer evening as well as the first image does. When taking an image, try different angles. Sometimes the most obvious one can be the most boring one too, so don't be afraid to experiment. 14. Play with shadows: Play with shadow forms. I love adding shadows. They're graphical and somewhat whimsical and bring that extra bit of magic to an image. This is a case when direct light, which we talked about earlier, is beneficial. Strong direct light, that is light that comes from one source, like sun, will make shadows more pronounced and the overall effect stronger. On this image, you can see the shadow of the hand. The image was taken outside, in the midday, when the sun is high, and the light is quite strong. Here are two more examples, both made indoors. First image was taken on a window sill and is a great example how shadows can show an object in different dimensions on the same image. The second picture, was taken late in the evening, when the sunset sun was shining directly from the window on the right here. Hence, the shadow is quite intense. 15. Experiment with light: Experiment with uneven light. Uneven light is amazing, it makes images so much more interesting and complex. Remember I told you that even light is the best for iPhone. Well, it is still true, however, that doesn't mean you should not experiment with different kinds of light. In fact, even light is a safe option when you need to capture every detail, make the image as noise free as possible, or capture a flattering portrait. Uneven contrasty light is about fun and creativity. It may be harder to master, but you will get there. It is better to show you what I mean with a few examples. As opposed to previous sections, shadows here are not the main focus of the picture. They don't have distinctive shapes. They are dark, and their purpose here is to provide a sound contrast to your main object. You have to keep in mind that the right exposure is the key to this kind of images. In this example, I was exposing for apples and hence the background which is in shadow, is almost black. It is very easy to miss the exposure, and as a result, you may end up with apples that are overexposed in background, which is abnormal exposure. Always expose for the main object of the picture, to do so, I set the focus manually by tapping on the screen where the main object is, we talked about it before. In case the camera still overexposed the main object while holding your focus, move your finger down, it will bring the exposure down. Here are two more examples where I expose for the main well-lit object while everything else is in deep shadows. Again, you see that shadows do not play a creative or interesting part, but they provide a contrast and a frame for your main object, a pie on the left and sunly tree on the right. Here is a comparison of two shots, one with shadows and another without. Although both images are fine and the light quality is good in both, the one on the right is more interesting to look at because of the graphical shadows. How do you get this kind of light? Well, you have to be observant of your surroundings. My favorite places for such light are window sills with pleated window shades, or window shades with interesting patterns. Like on the image on the left, light will come unevenly through the shades, creating a lighter and darker areas. Another favorite of mine is dappled light coming through the leaves, like in this example. Once again, watch out for your exposure. Here, my main object is the cat and her exposure is correct. However, the book is overexposed, but I don't mind because it is not the main object. If there was no cat in the picture, or I decided that the main object would be the book, then exposure for the book would have to be corrected. Like in these two examples, you can see that these images are much darker and that is because the book pages are very bright, as opposed to cat. When light hits them, they can easily be overexposed. Hence, the exposure has to be brought down. 16. Magical backlight: Try backlight. Backlight is my favorite lights set up in both DSLR in ISIL, backlight can create stunning results as long as you watched for your exposure and edit you images. Just to refresh your knowledge, backlight set up is when light comes from behind your main object, like here, the Sun shines through the tree creating warm and colorful image because shooting directly at their source of light may make your images very hazy, like on the image on the left, you can partially hide the source of the light behind something like trees on the right. This will help you get more contrast from your image. 17. Make silhouettes : Take your backlight to another level and make silhouette pictures. That means, you have to shoot against light but you don't have to worry about the main subject being too dark because for a silhouette the darker, the better. Two conditions have to be met. First, the already mentioned, you have to shoot against light and second, the light behind your main object has to be relatively strong for you to get a silhouette. If your main subject is a person and you want the outline of his or her body to be sharp, focus on this person manually, we talked about how to focus. It is very likely that camera will try to set exposure right for the person and it will make image overexposed. To solve this, just bring down the exposure manually. Like in this video, you see the exposure is too bright so you just slide your finger down and bring the exposure down manually until you get a clear silhouette picture. 18. Timeless black&white: Add variety with black and white pictures. Black and white images do have this kind of timeless feel to them. Iphone does very good black and white photography. Black and white can also be a solution if there is an interesting story in the picture but the colors are just off. What's great about this kind of images is that it teaches you to see the story, the lines, the subjects and the motion. You cannot use color to show your point. You have to learn composition and proper light to make a very good black and white image. When taking session image, think what story it will tell. It is a good exercise to any photography but black and white just helps concentrate on it more by taking away colors. 19. Editing in VSCO: We're at the final part of the class. My most favorite section editing. I will show you my editing process in VSCO app, It is a good app with great tools and filter,. some filters you have to pay for, others are free. Let's start with this image. The easiest thing to do, is obviously choose the filter and apply. The filter would add needed contrasts or saturation or tint depending on the filter and picture will be transformed instantly, like in this case. I really love how C1 filter works in this picture, here is a before and after. One thing I might want to do here, is to go to manual settings, you just press this small arrow, and then go here and I will use a sharpened tool, this triangle right here. Typically I use one or two, I never go overboard because it just looks unnatural. I will leave it like this. However, sometimes filters do not work very well, especially in pictures with contrast. Like this picture, as seen. Filters would apply additional contrast and as a result, light parts may become too bright and dark parts can become almost black, like here. If I apply the F2 filter, I love F2 filter, but for this picture, probably is not working really well, because the background is too dark. Here's the original image, and this is the edit. Three things you can do. Either use filter partially. You just press on the filter and you can scale it down like this. Personally I don't really like this option. Another thing that you can do, is choose another filter, the one with less contrast. Maybe something like this. Here, the background is still dark, but you can see much more details in the background. This is it before and after, or you can go and check all filters, just pressing on the first one, and edit the picture fully in manual settings, which I do quite a lot. For this picture, I would probably increase the temperature because I want to show that it was a warm, beautiful spring morning, I will also increase the contrast just a bit, and maybe add a bit of saturation like this. Finally, I will use the sharpened tool, the triangle, because I always use it, and we're done. Here is before and after. Here is another example of an edit in the manual mode. The backlight image from the class. First thing I will try here is to up the contrast. Maybe a bit more. Once again, I love my backlight images to be warm, I would probably increase the temperature as well, maybe to three. This will give me a nice golden globe. As you can see, I don't really have a formula and my editing is all about trying sittings that I think would fit and deciding on the best balance between them. Next, I will probably increase a saturation. Maybe to three, Yeah, this looks okay, and I will add some red tint. For a tint, if you go to the right, you will get the red tint. If you go to the left, you will get the green tint. I usually prefer red one like this. As usual, I sharpen the image just a little bit. This is it before and this is after. Here is an edit of a still life. I go to manual mode as well. To me, this picture right now looks a bit too dark. First thing I do here is increase exposure. Now the image lacks contrast. I'm going to fix it by adding some contrast. I will use the sharpened tool as usual, and now I think that my picture is a bit too warm, so I will reduce the temperature. This is it before and after. As you can see, my process is almost always the same. First of all, I brighten the image, adjusted the temperature if needed. Most likely I will increase contrast, but just a bit. I may add some saturation if the contrast still did not give enough boost. Finally, I will use the sharpen tool to give image more professional look. Before, after. 20. Your project: Your project will include a few steps. I want you to choose free creative suggestions, I talked about in this class and try each one day at a time. For example, on Monday, you will try to incorporate shadow forms into your image. On Tuesday, you will look for action and movement and make a dynamic picture. Finally, on Wednesday, you can do black and white image, and concentrate on a story without colors. This is just an example. You can choose any free topics mentioned in the creative section and do them any day of the week depending on the situation. For example, for shadows, you would need strong light, if the day you wanted to make this picture is overcast, choose another device to practice. You can post all of your images at once, when you complete the free day challenge or post one at a time. Let's get creative and I can't wait to see your pictures. 21. Conclusion: One final thought. Although I'm all for making pictures better, choosing the light and composition, a lot of times, you will find an interesting situation where conditions would be far from perfect for your phone camera, and I say, go for it because it may not be an Instagram quality picture, but it will be precious to you and it is nice to make personal images too.