iPhone Photography 101: Live Photos

Go to any public place and you’ll see tons of people taking pictures with their phones. From selfies to dog pictures to artistic landscape shots, the smartphone revolution has given everyone the tools they need to be a photographer.

As someone who’s taken a lot of pictures, both with my iPhone and my DSLR, I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge about photography. This post is the first in an ongoing series where I’ll share some ideas to help you improve your iPhone photography skills. A lot of what I’ll talk about is specific to the iPhone, because that’s what I have and what I’m familiar with. But if you’re an Android user you’ll probably be able to pick up some useful tips as well that you can apply to the features on the Android camera.

Today’s topic is going to be Live Photos, which I think is one of the most under-appreciated features on the iPhone camera.

What is a Live Photo?

Put simply, a Live Photo is a combination of a picture and video. When you take a picture with the feature turned on, your phone takes a short video clip from a moment before and a moment after the time you pressed the shutter button. At first, it looks like a regular picture, and you can use it as a regular picture if you want. But you can also play the video (by force-touching or long-pressing on an iPhone) and see a bit of motion to go with your picture.

Why Would You Use a Live Photo?

Live photos are perfect for situations where motion is important. Some examples of this might be a street in a bustling city or when your dog is playing with a toy. Of course, you could take a video in these situations, but one thing I like about this feature is that it’s easy to share it as a normal picture too. A lot of times when I take a Live Photo, I’m not sure whether the motion is actually going to add anything to the picture. In those cases, it’s nice to have the choice of either a still image or an animation.

On a recent trip to New York City, I left the Live Photo setting turned on almost the entire time. They don’t call New York City “the city that never sleeps” for nothing–something is always in motion. Taking a Live Photo on a street in the city gives a really cool sense of the nonstop movement and activity.

How Do You Turn It On?

It’s easy to turn the Live Photo feature on. On the top bar of the iOS camera app, you’ll see a circular icon. Just tap that to enable Live Photos. Personally I don’t leave it turned on all the time, but I’ll turn it on if I expect to be in a situation where I would want to use it.

Tips For Using Live Photos

When you’re taking a Live Photo, it’s important to remember that motion matters. That means that you have to be especially careful to hold the camera steady. I try to think of it more like taking a short video rather than a picture.

It’s also important to think about the scene and try to time your photo so that you capture the most exciting part of the motion. When you take a Live Photo, the video clip actually starts from before you pressed the shutter button, and continues for a moment after you pressed the shutter. So you already want to be holding the phone steady and in the right position to capture motion before taking the picture.

An example of how I would consider these things is in taking a picture of a city street. I’d aim the camera at the street and wait until a car had traveled part of the way across my screen before taking the picture. That way the Live Photo would show the car moving across the frame, making for a cool effect. And because it can also be a normal photo, I could also use it as a picture of a car driving down the street.

How Do You Share a Live Photo?

If you’re sending a Live Photo to someone with an iPhone, it’s easy–you just send the picture as you normally would. They’ll be able to force-touch the image to see the live version. However, if you want to share the picture on a social media site or with someone on Android, they won’t be able to see the motion in the photo by default.

To change the Live Photo into a GIF that you can share online, you’ll need to apply an effect to it. When you’re looking at a Live Photo in the Photos app, you can swipe up on it to see a few effect options. The first one, Live, is the normal behavior of a Live Photo where it will act as a still image when you share it. However, the other options, such as Loop and Bounce, turn the Live Photo into a GIF. Now you can easily share your Live Photos as animations. Pretty cool! (As a side note, you’ll need iOS 11 to see those options, so make sure you’ve installed the latest update on your phone).

Try It Out

Live Photos are easy to take, and with a little forethought, you can use them to show off some exciting moments that a regular picture wouldn’t capture. Give it a try!


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