Using the iPhone Camera

I have been taking pictures with the Apple iPhone for several years now, ever since the iPhone 6. Throughout this time I really had no clue about some of its features. For example, I really never know what the little yellow rectangle represented. Nor did I know that you can "stop down" with the iPhone, for much better photos. Further, from time to time "AE/AF Lock" would show up in the display. I had NO idea how I invoked it, and how I could get it "on purpose".
 I purchased an iPhone 7 recently, and took some time to read the manual. What an lens-opener this was!
So, in the words of Siri, "here's what I found":

Want to quickly launch the camera from the screen that appears when you first tap the Home button?
 On iPhone 6/6s, swipe up on the small camera icon that appears on the bottom right.
 On iPhone 7 and up, place your finger on the far right of the screen and swipe left.

You can snap a picture or start/stop a video with either of the two volume control buttons!

The little yellow rectangle represents what the instrument will focus on, as well as the point where it will "meter" the light.

The little image of the sun on the right of the yellow rectangle can be used to adjust the exposure darker or brighter.

Selecting a location on the display, and holding your finger on it, locks the exposure and the focus ("AE/AF Lock").

NOTE: All pictures below were taken with an iPhone 7.

Focus Region and Brightness Adjust


When you are in "Camera" mode (photos/videos), you will notice that a little yellow rectangle appears briefly. The iPhone has selected a portion of the image to focus on; it will attempt to make the objects or persons in this area have the sharpest focus. This will be the focus "distance". If, for example, the selected portion of the image is about 5 feet away, then all objects approximately 5 feet away will be in the sharpest focus. People or objects that are closer or further than this may not necessarily be in as sharp.
 But you can select another area simply by touching it on the screen. The yellow rectangle will re-appear briefly in the newly selected area. For example, if you are trying to photograph a bird in a tree, and the iPhone has perhaps selected some leaves in the foreground, simply touch the bird. The rectangle will appear over the bird, and it will now appear sharper.
 The instrument will also use this portion of the image to "meter" the available light. It will try to optimize the brightness based on what's inside this area. So, if this region is darker than the rest of the image, it might over expose the rest of the image in order to make this region look its best.
 Note that you can adjust this: see the next paragraph.

This yellow rectangle also has a brightness/darkness adjust. It's the line with the "sun" in the middle. Simply touch to the right of this line and slide your finger up or down to lighten or darken the exposure.
 Notice that the "sun" is now slightly below the center of the rectangle in this screen shot.
This is how you can "stop down"! Stopping down can dramatically improve and add contrast to your images, particularly those taken outdoors. Please see my "Landscape Photography Tips" link on the front page of the Wrackline Blog for several examples of this technique. I think you'll find "stopping down" to be the best trick you will have encountered for improving your landscape photos!


Stopping Down with the iPhone

not stopped down

 Here are two pictures taken from a flight in October 2018.
  This picture on the left was not corrected. The exposure was determined by the iphone itself. The iphone (as well as most SLR cameras), tends to take pictures on the bright side.

 In the picture on the right, I have darkened the image by sliding the "sun" down on the brightness/darkness line. You have no control over how much you can "stop down" (darken) like you do with an SLR camera, where you can select "stop down -1/3", or "stop down -2/3" and the like.
 But the effect is just as dramatic! This image has much more contrast between the light and dark areas.

stopped down

"Locking" the Exposure and the Focus


If you touch a given area and perhaps brightened or darkened the image a bit, the iPhone will use these settings as long as you hold it relatively still. But if you move the iPhone around, it will soon select another area - the yellow rectangle will briefly re-appear, and the instrument will change the focus distance and/or the brightness level.
 You may want this, or you may not!
 If you are taking a picture of a scene outdoors, and you want to darken it a bit to make it more dramatic ("stop down"), you may want the iPhone to keep it that way while you snap various portions of the scene. To do this, touch an area and hold your finger on it for a second or two. The words "AE/AF Lock" will appear on the top of the screen. Now adjust the brightness by sliding the "sun" up or down. The setting will remain even if you move to other areas.
 "AE" = "Automatic Esposure" (brightness and darkness)
 "AF" = "Automatic Focus"
 To cancel AE/AF Lock, touch another area.

 Additional note: If you are taking landscape pictures, where most of the scene is far away, you can quickly adjust the brightness/darkness by merely selecting various portions of the scene.
  If you select the sky or other bright area, the entire image will be darkened. Why is it darkened if you select a bright area, you might ask. It's because the iPhone camera is setting the exposure level as if the entire image is that bright. It's "metering" the light based on what is inside the yellow rectangle.
 Note that the focus distance will change as well, but it won't matter if most of the scene is further than, say, 20 feet away.
  If you select some trees or another darker area, the entire image will be brightened.

It's Gadgit Time!

Well, you can take pictures and videos with smartphones, but they're not the best instruments for doing so. You have to grip it while at the same time not getting your fingers over the lens or touching some part of the display that does things! (Such as selecting the rear camera and suddenly you are looking at yourself, or selecting multiple color/tint options and suddenly there are 9 images patterned over the display in different tints!)
 Furthermore, while you are trying to hold the thing you are awkwardly trying to touch the photo/video button.
 And then there's the wind. If it's windy - and on the Pacific Coast it's always windy - your video will have that annoying whistle in the sound. You can try to cover the lower part of the smartphone with a tissue or a rag, but that just makes the whole process even more awkward.
 So it's gadgits to the rescue!

The Viewflex Smartphone Grip solves the handling problem.
UPDATE, 5/2021. As discussed in the next paragraph, a newer product very similar to this is the Movo PR-1 grip.

The Rode VideoMicro Compact Mic has a wind sock and also greatly improves the audio.

On the left is the Viewflex VF-H series Smartphone Grip. It accomodates small smartphones like the iPhone 7 up to larger phones like the iPhone 8 Plus.
UPDATE, 5/2021: Apparently this product is no longer available. But an almost identical grip is the Movo PR-1. A link to view/purchase the PR-1 is below.

But the main point is that either device lets you firmly grip an otherwise squirrely, slick, expensive smartphone and not constantly worry that the shrieking Pacific winds are going to whisk it out of your hands and fling it against the volcanic rocks you're standing on while trying to film the wave action!

Plus, you'll look cool showing up on the beach with all this paraphenelia. They'll think you actually know what you're doing!

And on the right is the Rode mike. I'll shed light on it in the paragraph below.


Here's a side view of the combined assembly. Mounted atop the Viewflex VF-H3 Grip is the Rode "VideoMicro Compact Mic"

The microphone itself is a very good cardioid condenser type. It improves the audio quality considerably compared to the built-in mic.

The mic is directional, and will greatly reduce peripheral noise coming from the sides.

It has an aluminum body

The red structure is the included "Rycote Lyre Suspension Shock Mount", and helps reduce noise from handling.

Included (but not shown) is a wind sock with synthetic fibers over a foam base. This takes care of the wind whistling.

It is necessary to purchase separately a special cable for connecting to the iPhone. This is the "Rode SC7 3.5mm TRS to TRRS Patch Cable". That's the red coiled cable shown in the image. It plugs into the white "headphone to lightning connector" cable that is supplied with the iPhone. Notice that the cable is squeezed into one of the slots of the tightening knob (directly underneath the mic). This helps stabilize the microphone when you have the wind sock mounted.
 And what is "3.5mm" and "TRS to TRRS", you might ask. This is terminology pertaining to connectors.

3.5mm refers to a "mini plug". This type of plug is ususally associated with headphone and stereo speaker jacks.

TRS is "Tip-Ring-Sleeve". The plug has a tip, one ring, and one sleeve. This is the most common headphone/speaker plug.

TRRS is "Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve". The plug has a tip, two rings, and one sleeve. This is Apple's special connector. The extra ring might have something to do with using the "lightning" connector to attach headphones or external microphones.

You may have noticed that my iPhone shown above is sporting a case. That's because the unadorned iPhone is incredibly slick; holding one is much like trying to hold an oiled ice cube! So I typically buy some sort of case that I can GRIP.
 For my iPhone 6, I bought the leather case from Apple.
 But for my recently purchased iPhone 7, I wanted something even better. Some research produced the case shown on the right. It's the Urban Armor Gear "Monarch Series" Ruggedized case. The image shows the back side, as well as the box.

The case fits 7, 8, and iPhone SE (2020). But the company also has cases for other smartphones as well.

The backside has leather accents underneath metal trim, and the sides are rubber, while the four corners (along with the multilayer construction) provide excellent protection against drops.

What I like also is that the extensions for the volume buttons and the sleep/wake button are very responsive; you feel like you are pressing the actual button itself.

This case makes the iPhone a substantial, easy-to-grip object that can be confidently picked up and carried around (and it looks cool, too).


Ordering links

(As always, the Wracklineblog is completely ad-free!
But if you purchase through the Amazon links on this site, this helps support me, with no increase in price to you.)

Here's the link for the Movo PR-1 smartphone grip. It is very similar to the (discontinued ?) Viewflex grip. Note that the item is available with other configurations, including some with an included microphone.

Here's the Rode external microphone. It comes with the flexible mount, the wind sock, and a red connecting cable.
 The connecting cable, however, is for SLR cameras. It is necessary to also purchase the "TRS to "TRSS" cable (SEE the discussion above for more info).

The TRS to TRSS adapter cable for iPhones.

And here's the Urban Armor Gear iPhone case.

Another interesting iphone case, by "Zizo", which also includes a belt clip.

Movo Rode mic Rode cable Case Case

Copyright © 2021 J.A.