iPhone 15 Pro photography hacks for optimal photo quality and settings

The camera smarts in Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro are downright intimidating, but this phone produces amazing photos once you get familiar with them. I’ve only become more in tune with this phone’s tricks since I wrote my iPhone 15 Pro review this past fall. And since I don’t spend much time away from my iPhone 15 Pro Max, and tend to take a ton of photos everywhere I go, I thought this was a good time to impart some wisdom.

Read on for my favorite tips and settings that help make your photos and videos the best they can be. And if you want to make sure you know about all the new features that dropped last year, check out our guide to the iPhone 14 Pro’s camera.

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max have lots of great features, but our favorite photo tricks include extra “virtual” cameras in the main sensor and the ability to switch Portrait mode on after the fact.

Before we dive into the technical stuff, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about these basic iPhone camera tricks that everyone should know.

This might be obvious, but tap to focus. You’ll always get the best results that way, as you let the camera know what you care about the most, which helps it capture the best shot. Make sure you’re framing your image properly. Tap Photo to make sure you’re in that mode, then swipe “Photo” away from the shutter button to open up a menu. Here, you’ll find many important settings, but the second from the top is crucial if you ask me. I’m partial to images with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and so I tap that second button (yours may say 4:3) and switch to that ratio. Those planning for the original Instagram format should choose Square. Allow yourself to obey the golden rule of thirds by enabling the Grid view. A commonly held belief is that if you vertically and horizontally divide an image into thirds, you get a way to help compose an image, which is rooted in Archimedes’ Fibonacci sequence. I position my subject in the upper right-most intersection of these grid lines. For landscapes, though, the Grid also helps you simply divide your photos and video into the background up top, foreground on bottom and the region you’re focusing on in the middle. To enable the Grid view, open Settings, tap Camera and then turn on Grid (under composition).

You might be used to swiping left to open your camera from the lock screen, but the iPhone 15 Pro’s Action button can be a photographer’s best friend — if only because you can set it to always open your favorite camera mode. This can allow you to get your camera open even faster, which can make all the difference when it comes to capturing a big moment before it’s gone.

How to set it up: Open Settings, then tap Action Button. Now, select Camera and tap the menu underneath. Your options are Photo, Selfie, Video, Portrait and Portrait Selfie. You can also set the Action button to open up a shortcut to your favorite third-party camera app instead (I love Halide).

While you might think the iPhone 15 Pro’s main camera is the same as the iPhone 15’s main camera because both feature 48-megapixel sensors, they’re actually quite different. For starters, the iPhone 15 Pro’s main camera features a 24mm focal length, which gives you a wider point of view than that of the iPhone 15’s main camera. It also has three “extra” virtual lenses that help you get better shots, the 28mm and 35mm options, without losing quality.

The folks who love their DSLR cameras may roll their eyes at any sort of digital zoom, which can result in blurrier photos. But since all three of these settings create 24-megapixel photos, it’s hard to argue with Apple’s call to use a different set of the same megapixels in the sensor to gain the same amount of detail.

How to set it up: Tap on the 1x button to cycle through the 24mm, 28mm (1.2x) and 35mm (1.5x) lenses, which will get you slightly cropped views that don’t lose any visual detail from the standard 24mm cut. Don’t be afraid to tap the 1x button to crop before you shoot.

This can help everyone out, even on older and non-Pro iPhones. Recently, walking down Sixth Avenue in New York City at night, I stopped to take photos of the Jefferson Market Library, which looks like a castle sitting in plain sight. My iPhone 15 Pro Max, however, automatically enabled its low-light Night mode setting, which resulted in captures that were far brighter than what my eyes saw. Disabling this setting and taking another shot resulted in much more natural photos. Night mode may have its place — like if you’re in a barely lit cafe and trying to take a moody portrait shot — but it isn’t always your best option.

How to set it up: Open Settings, tap Camera and select Preserve Settings. Now, switch Night Mode to off. Otherwise, tap the yellow oval icon with a seconds measurement next to it in the camera app.

If you were confused that Apple’s 48-megapixel main camera takes 24-megapixel photos, well, we get it: It sounds like you’re using a sledge-hammer to place a nail for a framed photo. Fortunately, Apple’s got options to let you shoot in 48MP with its own ProRaw and HEIF Max settings. The latter is a more efficient format, while the former will be more compatible with other devices and applications. Most people won’t need to play around here, but if you want to edit your images in apps like Lightroom, these options will get you far more detail by changing your exposure settings later on.

How to set it up: Open Settings, select Camera and tap Formats. Under Camera Capture, select High Efficiency for HEIF or Most Compatible if you’re not worried about file sizes. Then tap Pro Default to select a default mode for your Pro photos, though a long press on the Pro button in the Camera app will let you switch it up.

When you shoot photos of people, cats and dogs, you might want to remember my advice to tap to focus. When you’re taking shots and see the f-stop symbol (ƒ), your iPhone has recognized that your image may benefit from portrait mode’s bokeh effects, which blur the background of your shot and let your in-focus subject pop that much more.

How to set it up: Tap to focus on a person or pet when taking photos normally. Then, in the Photos app, tap the Edit button. Then tap the small Portrait button, which is the same row as Adjust, Live, Filters and Crop. Next, tap the big gray Portrait button to turn it yellow and actually enable Portrait mode.

A new option for those shooting ProRes video, Log video on the iPhone is a dream come true for many a filmmaker. That said, you won’t want to go near it unless you’re willing to spend some time adjusting your video’s color and such in post-production. That’s because Log video gives you a color profile that’s far from lively — more toward the flat end of the spectrum. These video settings also create extremely large files.

How to set it up: To shoot in Log, open Settings, select Camera and then Formats. Under Video Capture, turn on Apple ProRes, select the ProRes Encoding option and tap on Log.

Admittedly, the iPhone 15’s Action mode arrived with the iPhone 14, but unless you upgrade every year, you may not know what I’m talking about. After enabling this feature, you’ll create smoother clips whenever you record footage, which is especially important for those of us tracking a moving subject or trying to get a series of angles.

How to set it up: In Video mode, look for the button of a running person in the top right corner. Tap it to enable Action mode.

The Camera app may warn you that there is “more light required” when shooting in darker conditions. If that can’t be avoided, open Settings and select Camera and then Record Video to turn on the Action Mode Lower Light setting.

So, yes, the iPhone 15 Pro’s cameras — including that nifty 5x zoom that the iPhone 15 Pro Max lords over its smaller sibling — are mighty impressive. Apple’s focus on making photography simple to jump into, though, means a little extra effort is required to dig out those hidden features and make the most of your expensive new phone’s excellent cameras.

Personally, I get a lot of use out of the multiple virtual lenses within the iPhone 15 Pro’s main lens. It’s probably the most surprising feature of this new set of cameras. I can’t wait to find a situation where I can get the most use out of action mode too. I’m sure it will help make videos of my favorite four-legged friends even more exciting.