Make Stunning iPhone Photos with Lightroom CC

Stunning iPhone Photos are Possible as long as you have realistic expectations and work around the limitations of the tiny sensor. For a test, I shot some assignments with the iPhone X and more or less was more or less happy with the results. Here’s what I learned.

As photographers, we must challenge ourselves constantly to grow. You might just be starting out or maybe you have some years of shooting under your belt. Regardless of your skill level, challenging yourself to make some good, usable work with your iPhone is an excellent exercise in photography.

Creating your best art means facing your inner demons head on. It takes courage to face your fears but to do so you need to take risks and make some bold moves. When new cameras come out it’s easy to fall into the trap of not feeling good enough because you don’t have the latest camera. A good solution here is to shoot some amazing photos with a camera you most likely have, an iPhone.

Using the iPhones Limitations to Your Advantage

Creating within the constraints of an iPhone can help spark your creativity and find some new elements of photography you love. There’s not much control with mobile photography and it can be uncomfortable to leave your dedicated camera at home (or in your bag) but doing so will force you to change your perspective for a bit and in doing so help you see the world differently and that will make you a better photographer.


  • When possible shoot with lower contrast light. The iPhone has a smaller sensor and small sensors mean lower dynamic range so to compensate you’ll want lower contrast light. A cloudy day is perfect for this but if you are blessed to live in a spot with sunny weather most of the year, aim for shade.

  • Shoot in raw. Newer iPhones have the ability to capture raw data from the sensor which is going help squeeze every bit of color and tonality the tiny iPhone sensor can see. In post, you’ll be able to pull back some highlights and lift some shadows which can make all the difference. Shooting in raw with the iphone will also help you avoid over-saturated cartoon colors. Apps like Halide are highly functional raw capture camera apps and Adobe CC even has a raw HDR mode built in which is incredible.

  • Create real depth. With the iPhone 7 Plus Apple introduced the depth effect and it looked like crap. It was beta so no one was expecting perfection and even today, the depth camera still looks fake. To create real depth use the telephoto lens and position objects close to the lens. This will help give the illusion of depth and add some character to the image. I like to do this with objects I find in the scene rather than props but on occasion I’ll use a vintage Cokin filter for creative effects.

Think, "built in film grain" and you'll be a step ahead ;-)

Think, "built in film grain" and you'll be a step ahead ;-)

  • Embrace image noise. Even with the best noise reduction, you’re still shooting with a phone. No matter how much light you have and how well exposed the image is, there’s no avoiding the fact that you’re shooting with a very tiny sensor. Your dynamic range is going to be compressed and the image will have plenty of noise, even at bars ISO. What I found that works for me is simply to embrace the noise. Noise reduction will mush up the detail in the shot so I just turn noise reduction off and embrace the nose. This is the same mindset I have when shooting film. I don’t take the scanned film into post just to ruin that beautiful grain structure. I accept that I’ll have film grain and I use it to my advance. Same with the iPhone.

  • Have realistic expectations. Serious shooting on an iPhone can be fun and a creative challenge. When you nail it the results are not bad at all although I would not expect much when it comes to making a print. Understand that you’re using a phone for photography and that things can crash, you’ll feel weird shooting with it and the image quality is sub standard compared to a dedicated camera which brings me to my last point.

Based on ergonomics, the iPhone, can never replace a dedicated camera but it’s fun to know what can be created with a smartphone. With a dedicated camera you’re getting real, physical buttons and you won’t be interrupted with a call or notification while you’re working. If you shoot processionally, clients take you seriously with a dedicated camera. Clients are ok if your support staff shoots BTS with an iPhone sometimes but your assistant and yourself are being hired as professionals who use pro-grade tools.

Image Gallery

Vision First

There’s no arguing that software on smartphones like Lightroom CC will continue to get better but it will also continue to get better for dedicated cameras. Software will do it's best to simulate the effects a dedicated camera provides. A dedicated camera uses custom hardware with a larger imaging sensor and higher quality glass in the lens that is designed to capture light in the best way possible. At the end of the day photography is about your vision. How you see light is unique to you and how you show that unique vision is to capture it and share it. It is possible to get killer shots with an iPhone and it’s a fun change from using a dedicated camera, just understand the limitations going in and you’ll do just fine.

A question to You

Make pretend that the iPhone gave you everything you could want, file-quality wise, with photos. Would you give up owning a dedicated camera and why?