How to Use the iPhone Camera

Tips for using the world's most popular camera

If you own an iPhone, your smartphone camera is pretty impressive. Modern iPhone models sport cameras that rival standalone devices that cost thousands.

The iPhone camera has evolved over the years. The original iPhone took photos, but not much more. The iPhone 4 added features like flash and zoom, while the iPhone 5 added panoramic images. Later models added burst mode, portrait mode, higher megapixels, extra lenses, and more.

Whichever feature you're interested in, here's how to use the Camera app that comes pre-loaded on every iPhone.

The tips in this article apply to various iPhone models with modern and older iOS versions. Read the note in each section to see if your iPhone supports that feature. The Camera app is also available on the iPad and iPod touch, although different models have different features based on their hardware.

Switch Cameras on Your iPhone

All recent iPhone models have two cameras:

  • One is above the screen and faces you. It's used for taking selfies, using FaceTime, and similar tasks.
  • The back-facing camera is more feature-packed and is used for taking other photos and videos.

It's easy to change between the two cameras on your iPhone so that you can take selfies, record video, or perform some other task. Just tap the camera button that shows a refresh symbol.

Switching between the back-facing and front-facing camera works on all iPhone models since the iPhone 4.

Switch Lenses on Your iPhone Camera

All iPhones since the iPhone 4 have a front and a back camera. With the iPhone 11, Apple introduced additional lenses.

  • The iPhone 11 features a wide-angle and an ultra-wide-angle lens on the back of the device.
  • The iPhone 11 Pro has a third telephoto lens on the back, making a total of four lenses, including the front-facing camera.
  • The iPhone 12 offers the same arrangement between the standard and Pro models.

If you have one of these models, you can switch between lenses by selecting one of three buttons above the Photo tab in the Camera app:

  • .5 refers to the new ultra-wide lens.
  • 1x selects the standard wide lens.
  • 2 refers to the new telephoto lens.

The telephoto lens is only available on the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Zoom In With Your iPhone Camera

The iPhone camera can zoom in and out to better capture the photo you want. It's similar to how you zoom up on web pages and pictures.

With the camera open and viewing something, pinch two fingers together to zoom out, or drag your fingers away from each other to zoom up.

Another way to use the digital zoom feature of your iPhone is to pinch either direction to reveal a zoom bar at the bottom of the screen. Drag the bar to the left to see more of the picture or to the right to zoom closer.

Camera zooming is supported in iPhone 3GS and newer models.

Use the iPhone Camera Flash

The iPhone camera picks up details in low light. Still, you can get great low-light photos with the built-in camera flash. Recent models of the iPhone include multiple flashes, which deliver better, more natural colors.

In the Camera app, the camera flash icon is the lightning bolt at the top of the screen. Tap it to reveal these options:

  • Auto: Uses the flash only when it's needed to take a good picture, as determined by the iPhone camera.
  • On: The flash is used for every picture.
  • Off: This is the default setting for the camera. The phone doesn't produce a flash, regardless of the lighting conditions.

These camera flash details are relevant for all iPhone models from iPhone 4 and newer.

Use Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting on an iPhone

Some iPhone models have a dual-camera system on the back that delivers high-quality photos that apply lighting techniques and depth-of-field effects.

Portrait Lighting on iPhone
Apple Inc.

Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting work with iPhone 7 Plus and newer iPhone models.

Use HDR Photos

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos deliver better-looking, more detailed images by taking multiple exposures of the same scene and combining the images.

Your phone gives you some control over HDR photos. Tap Settings > Camera, and then do the following:

  • Move the Smart HDR slider to on/green to use HDR photos for all the pictures you take.
  • Move the Keep Normal Photo slider to on/green to keep a non-HDR copy of your photos (this isn't necessary, but some photographers prefer it).

HDR photos are available on iPhone 4 and newer models.

Apply the Camera Focus on an iPhone

To apply the camera's focus to a particular part of a scene, open the Camera app, then tap the object or person you want to focus on. A square appears on the screen to indicate which part of the image the camera is focusing on.

The focus feature automatically adjusts exposure and white balance to deliver the best looking photo, but you can also control this. Tap the screen to display the focus square, then swipe up and down to adjust the brightness.

Focusing your iPhone camera on an object is available on iPhone 4 and newer.

Take Panoramic Photos on an iPhone

Want to capture an immersive vista that's more detailed and spectacular than the standard image size offered by iPhone photos? Use the iPhone's panoramic photo option. Even though it doesn't have a panoramic lens, iPhone uses software to stitch together multiple photos into a single, large image.

  1. From the Camera app, swipe through the text below the viewfinder to select Pano.

  2. Tap the button used to take photos.

  3. Follow the on-screen directions and move the iPhone slowly and steadily across the subject you want to capture in the panorama, following the line you see on the screen.

  4. Tap Done when you're finished to save the panoramic photo to your Photos app.

The photo will look small on your iPhone since the screen isn't big enough to show the full-size image. Share the image to a device with a larger screen to see the full-size photo.

Panoramic pictures can be taken on iPhone 4S and newer devices with at least iOS 6.

Use Burst Mode on an iPhone

If you want to capture several photos quickly, like when photographing action, use burst mode. Instead of snapping a picture every time you press the button, it takes up to 10 pictures every second.

Using burst mode is like using the Camera app normally, except when you take photos, you'll tap and hold the shutter button. The on-screen count rapidly rises, indicating the number of photos you're taking.

When finished, go to the Photos app to review your burst mode photos and delete any you don't want.

iPhone 5S and newer models support burst mode.

Apply Photo Filters on an iPhone

Some popular photo apps apply stylish effects and filters to photos to make images look cool (hello, Instagram!). The iPhone's Camera app has a set of filters that you can apply without using another app.

Man with surfboard walking on a beach
alongoldsmith / RooM / Getty Images

Access the iPhone camera filters by selecting the three interlocking circles from the corner of the Camera app. Scroll through the filters to see how each looks, then use your camera as you normally would.

Any image you take a picture of will be saved with the filter you selected.

Photo filters work with iPhone 4S and newer on devices with iOS 7 or higher.

Take Live Photos on an iPhone

Apple's Live Photos format combines animation and audio to create fun, engaging snapshots. You can also apply filters that loop the animations or bounce the action back and forth.

iPhone 6S and newer models support Live Photos.

Capture Square Format Photos

Your iPhone can take Instagram-style square photos instead of the rectangular photos the Camera app normally captures.

To switch to square mode, swipe the words beneath the viewfinder until Square is selected. Then, use the camera as you normally would.

iPhone 4S and newer can take square photos if it has at least iOS 7.

Use a Grid to Compose Better Photos

Want some help taking better-looking photos? Turn on the grid feature built into the Camera app to get on-screen composition assistance.

Enabling a grid in the Camera app puts a grid on the screen while you're taking pictures. The grid isn't saved with your photos. Instead, it breaks the image up into squares to help in composing photos.

Turn it on in the Settings app by tapping Camera > Grid.

Using the camera grid is supported on all iPhone models back through iPhone 3GS.

Use AE/AF Lock

The Camera app also includes an AE/AF lock feature to lock in your current auto-exposure or autofocus settings.

To find the settings in the Camera app, tap and hold on the screen until AE/AF Lock appears at the top. Tap the screen once anywhere to turn it off.

AE/AF Lock is supported on iPhone 3GS and newer models.

Scan QR Codes With an iPhone

Modern iPhones no longer need a separate app to scan QR codes. No matter where you see one, use the built-in Camera app to read QR codes.

To do this, view the code on your camera and tap the banner that explains what the code goes to. You'll immediately complete the action that the QR code was built to do.

Person using a phone to scan a QR code
Westend61 / Getty Images

QR code scanning was introduced in iOS 11.

Record Video on an iPhone

Besides being a great still camera, the iPhone is also a terrific video camera. Recent models can capture ultra-high-resolution 4K footage, slow-motion video, and more.

To take a video on an iPhone, open the Camera app, slide to Video, and use the red button to start and stop the recording.

Some still photography features, like HDR photos or panorama, don't work when recording video, though the camera flash does. You can also take still photos while recording video.

Videos taken with the iPhone camera can be edited using the phone's built-in video editor, the Apple iMovie app, or third-party apps.

Record Slow-Motion Video

Along with burst mode, this is the other major improvement delivered by the iPhone 5S and newer models. Rather than taking videos that run at 30 frames per second (fps), newer models can capture slow-motion videos at 120 fps or 240 fps on some models. This can add drama and detail to your videos.

To record slow-motion videos, swipe the row of options below the viewfinder to Slo-Mo, and then record as you normally would.

Slow-motion video recording works with iPhone 5S and newer models.

Record Time-Lapse Video

Slow-motion isn't the only cool video effect that's built into the iOS Camera app. There's also time-lapse video that lets you record video that looks like time is passing quickly.

To record time-lapse video on your iPhone, open the Camera app, then swipe the text below the viewfinder until you reach Time-Lapse. Record as usual to make the video.

iPhones with iOS 8 and higher can record time-lapse videos.