Inside Rachel’s iPhone: The Native iPhone Camera

Poor Unwanted Apps Folder


Your iPhone came pre-loaded with the Apple camera app. (This is referred to as the “native” camera app, meaning it was already there living its life, hunting deer, and growing maize, and generally minding its own business when you arrived on the scene with Smallpox, but I digress.) Most of you use the native camera to take all your iPhone pictures, or your iPad 2 photos, if you shoot with that. Some of you may be shooting with the Hipstamatic or Instagram built-in cameras. Depending upon which iPhone you have, it’s a pretty good or even great starting point.


There are two ways to access the native camera. One is from your lock screen. Just touch the camera icon in the bottom right and make an upward swiping motion.

Launch the native camera from your lock screen.

The other is by clicking on the icon inside your iPhone. My icon sits in a folder marked “Unwanted” along with all the other Apple apps that come pre-loaded on the phone. Apple won’t let you delete them, and since I never use the native camera, into the Unwanted folder it goes.

(Don’t even get me started on the Newstand and the way not only are you unable to delete it, but Apple also won’t allow you to stick it in your Unwanted folder like you want.)

The native camera icon.


You can take both photos and videos using the native camera. The iPhone 4s has the best camera of all the iPhones. It takes the best photos and videos. It also features a built in video stabilization, which means it helps keep the video steadier when your hands/arms are not.

All this good photo/video quality only applies to the rear camera. This is the one on the opposite side of the view screen. The front camera is the one that points at you while you’re looking at the view screen. I don’t think I’ve ever used the front camera. The quality is just horrible when compared with the rear camera. Do yourself a favor. Have someone ELSE take your picture with the rear camera. Avoid the front camera unless you just like looking bad.

Grid and HDR can help you take better pictures.



The top left button (the lightning bolt) lets you set your flash controls. You have three choices: AUTO (the camera decides if a flash is needed), ON (a flash every time), and OFF (no flash ever). I usually keep my flash “off” unless I see that my picture is too dark without it.

Most flashes built-in to any camera are just too bright and because their brightness can’t be adjusted, they wind up ruining the photo. The iPhone flash is no exception. When the flash is too bright, it overpowers all the details and the color and every thing in the shot that you want to capture. My advice is to try taking a few shots without the flash first. If the shots are too dark, give the flash a try. Use very sparingly and never use unless you can’t get a good photo without the extra light.


The middle button is where the native camera gets a little more interesting. Clicking it gives you the option of turning on or off the grid and HDR images. The grid can be seen in the image. It’s the double vertical and horizontal lines that you see. Images are most pleasing to the eye when the important parts line up off to one side or the other. Rather than placing your subject dead center, try turning on the grid and lining them up with one of the vertical lines.


HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. Basically the camera doesn’t “see” as well as the human eye does. We see everything from very bright to very dark and all things in between. HDR images combine a very bright version with a very dark version of the same image, blending them together in such a way that the image displays a range of tones more like our own eyes view the world. When you turn HDR on, it will take two separate images and then produce one HDR image. Most “real” HDR images are a minimum of 5 differently exposed images blended, so this is a very basic form of HDR.

These shot differences are very subtle.

If you look at this image, the differences are very subtle. You can see the most difference in the upper right hand corner. On the “normal” picture it is darker, whereas the “HDR” image has brought the brightness back to that area. (I will do another blog post that covers HDR in greater detail in the future.) Give it a try sometime and see what you think.


Probably the most important function of your native camera is the small, blue square that appears when you touch the view screen. This is your exposure (brightness/darkness) adjuster. When you try to take a picture of a group of people standing in front of a window with a lot of sunlight coming in, the camera has to choose between making the people look dark (but the window look right) and making the people look right (but the window look too bright). Cameras are not very good at making this choice on their own, which is why you want to handle it on your own.

When you touch the view screen, the blue square appears. It will disappear after a few seconds. To adjust the exposure, “drag” the square with your finger to various parts of the image and it will make adjustments automatically. When you place the square in a dark area of the view screen, that dark area immediately brightens, and when you place the square in a bright area of the view screen, that bright area becomes darker. You have to drag that square around until the balance of light and dark looks right to you.

Drag square around until you find the right balance.

Here are two shots I took one after the other. For the top image I placed the square in the brightest part of the image (near the sun). The camera darkened the entire image to adjust for the overly bright sun. You can see all the details in the trees, but the sun appears less bright. The bottom image is brighter because I placed the square is in the darkest part of the image. The camera brightened everything in response to the dark area. The sun appears very, very bright and washes out all the details in the trees. In this comparison, the right exposure is going to be somewhere in between the sun and the shadows.

The last thing we need to cover on the native camera is the video camera. You can use the native camera to take still images (photos) or shoot video.  You just need to slide the selector between the two. The exposure square works fairly well for both still images and video. The native camera will automatically save both your images and your video clip to your camera roll as soon as you take the image or record the video.


Did you know that you can use the volume up button to snap your picture? When Apple upgraded their software to iOS 5.1, they added that as a special feature. You can also use the volume up button on your Apple headphones, which means you can be very sneaky about taking pictures of family members that hate to be photographed. Just hold your iPhone sideways like a camera and click that volume up button. Voila! Of course taking the photo is just the start of your journey towards improving your mobile photography. Don’t upload that picture to Facebook just yet. In the coming weeks, I’ll be showing you a few helpful hints and apps that will improve those images BEFORE you upload them.


Next Monday, I’ll show off the camera app that I love and use to take the majority of my images – Camera+ by tap tap tap.

Top! All images and content are © Rachel K. Ivey Photography.
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