Type and press Enter.

The 8 Different iPhone Shooting Modes and When to Use Them

Parent taking photo of a baby with smartphone

Reading Time: 7 minutes read

With just a few taps, an iPhone camera is ready to photograph almost anything. The shutter button is front and center once the camera app is activated. Yes, it’s true, some moments need to be captured immediately as they’re gone as quickly as they arrive. In those instances, that shutter button can’t appear fast enough. But often, there’s ample time to choose proper iPhone camera modes to capture amazing photographs. 

To take your photography game to the next level, it’s helpful to understand what your iPhone camera is capable of. To put this in perspective, say you purchased a new car but didn’t have the salesperson talk you through all the amazing features. You might drive that car for years without knowing you could activate the heated or cooled seats. Or, realize there were charge ports for your devices all over the place. 

This article aims to be your pressure-free salesperson who walks you through the various iPhone camera modes. You’ll also learn when it’s best to use those modes. Stop skimming the surface of what your iPhone camera is capable of. Read on for a deeper understanding and mastery of your iPhone photography. 

Photo Mode 

The default mode the iPhone camera app opens in is photo mode. Simply tap the shutter button and that’s it. Moment captured. The camera automatically focused the image and adjusts the exposure of what you pointed the camera towards. Besides simply tapping the shutter button, you can also zoom into your subject and tap a specific point to focus on. If you want to keep focus and exposure in the same spot, press and hold on the screen until you see AE/AF Lock. 

Live Photo Mode 

Within photo mode, iPhone users have the option to capture photos that come alive when you touch them. Your iPhone achieves this by recording 1.5 seconds before and after you tap the shutter button. The result is a photo with a touch of movement and sound. Just look for the concentric circles icon in the upper right of the camera screen indicating live photo mode is active.  

The resulting live photos can be found in the Photos app under albums. Open a live photo to create some easy animations with effects. Swipe up and turn a live photo into a video Loop, rock it back and forth with Bounce to see if play as it happened, then instantly play in reverse. Use Long Exposure to create visuals that capture elements of time and movement. Watch a live shot of a waterfall become a magical blur.  

Burst Mode

Burst Mode

Another excellent feature found within photo mode is burst mode. Burst mode is the best way to capture action photos. Your iPhone takes multiple high-speed photos leaving you with a range of photos to choose from. It’s the best alternative to asking your subject to do something again and again to get the one shot right. Shots are taken in fractions of a second and you’ll be surprised at the detail you capture with burst mode. 

To capture burst photos, simply touch and hold the shutter button while your subject is moving. Let go and then discover the variations captured by tapping the thumbnail. On some iPhones, press and hold the volume up button to take burst shots. It’s important to note, burst mode can fill your photos app as multiple shots are taken in seconds. If storage space is tight, tap the thumbnail and delete those that didn’t work. Here’s more on capturing burst mode photos.   

Portrait Mode 

Portrait Mode

One of the more popular iPhone camera modes is portrait mode. With portrait mode your iPhone camera creates a depth-of-field effect. This effect lets you compose a photo that keeps your subject sharp while blurring the background. The Camera app lets you know when you’re too close, too far away, or if the area is too dark. You can also use True Tone flash, set a timer, and apply filters. 

Once a photo is taken, use the built-in editing features to crop the photo and auto-enhance. To better understand how your camera works, take a look at your iPhone camera settings.

Square Mode

Square mode limits the frame of your camera screen to a square. This is one of the more ideal  iPhone camera modes for use in many social media apps. When you take a photo, the frame shows you exactly what you might see in your favorite social media platform. If you’ve got a lot of followers hungry for content, square mode can be your best friend. 

Pano Mode

Panoramic mode

Panoramic mode, or “pano” for short, is a great iPhone camera mode used to capture wide swaths of subject matter. Pano mode is the ultra wide-angle setting to capture breathtaking landscapes. It’s also really helpful when you don’t have any room to back up to get everything in frame. I’m sure we’ve all wedged ourselves into a corner with a phone pressed to our chest hoping to get a photo of the entire room. Or, everyone is gathered for a team/group shot and you’re telling the people on the ends to crowd in toward the center. Say you’ve landed the biggest fish of your life and it doesn’t fit in the screen. Capture everything easily using pano mode.

There’s a guide bar in the middle of the screen to help you take your photo. There’s a helpful arrow that lets you begin the photo from either the left or right. If it’s pointing left, begin at the right, tap the shutter button and slowly move your camera in a straight line to the left. Or reverse that process if the arrow is pointing right. Try to keep the arrow on the yellow guide bar. A tripod will stabilize your camera and produce sharper images. 

Night Mode

Night mode automatically turns on when your camera detects a low-light environment. It’s special icon at the top of the display turns yellow when the feature is active. Your iPhone might take a night mode photo quickly or several seconds depending on how dark the scene is. 

Holding your iPhone steady until the capture completes will produce better results. Place your iPhone on a solid and secure surface, or use a tripod to increase stability and control of the exposure clarity. With iOS 14, if your iPhone detects movement when you’re trying to capture a photo, simply align the crosshairs in the frame to help you reduce motion and improve the shot. 

HDR Mode (High Dynamic Range) 

HDR Mode

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a moment that involves high-contrast lighting like overcast skies, sunrises, and sunsets. Manual adjusting or even automatic adjustments are failing to get the correct exposure. Similar to how burst mode captures more photos when your subject is moving, HDR mode takes three photos with different exposure levels. The first is normal exposure while the other two are brighter and darker. Then, your camera composes them together to create a vivid image with proper exposure. This happens faster than you can say exposure. 

Get Comfortable With All the iPhone Camera Modes

The camera modes built into your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch help you take the best photo or video. A simple swipe left or right on the camera screen lets you switch from mode to mode. Some modes are found within others, but exploring the variety of modes is the perfect way to maximize the performance of your camera. The better you understand what each mode excels at, the better the photos you’ll end up with on your camera roll. Before long, you’ll find yourself automatically switching to the proper iPhone camera modes for every photo you take. Your photos will amaze not only you, but everyone who sees them. 

Unfortunately, your improved iPhone photography skills only lead to more photos. The great photos we all take fall victim to being pushed down your camera roll. Once they were a few frames down, easy to find. After a while, they become many, many scrolls down. Rescue those photos by putting them in a printed photo book where they can be easily enjoyed anytime. 

Motif baby photo book

Create a photo book in just a few minutes. From your iPad and iPhone, simply download and open the Motif Photos app and choose the photo project you want to create. On your Mac, simply download and install Motif. In the Photos app, select a photo, album, or memory then choose File then select Create then choose either Book, Calendar, or Card then select Motif. Motif magically places your best photos into stylish layouts. Add your own personal touches, then sit back and relax. Motif prints and ships your project to your door.  

Latest posts by Pete (see all)