How to Improve Your iPhoneography


I love to shoot with my iPhone! I bring it with me everywhere and the image quality is surprisingly good. I even have an entire series dedicated to images photographed with it. Here are some tips for how to get better images with your smart phone.

Use Editing Apps but with Caution

I use VSCOcam, Mextures, Matter, and Filmborn to edit my iPhone images. When used right these editing apps can really enhance your images, but some filters can look awful. Most of my iPhoneography will have sharpening and contrast adjustments done in VSCOcam. I personally try to avoid filters that make the colors look unnatural in most cases. In the end your filters should enhance the photo; you can’t save a bad image with a ton of filters.

Realize Your Camera Phone’s Limitations

Smart phones sensors don’t work well in low light. Night shots and indoor images at night probably won’t turn out well when shot on your phone. These will usually result in underexposed noisy images. When shooting with your phone try to stay in well-lit areas.

Another limitation of smart phone cameras is there low dynamic range. In laymen’s terms it can’t keep details in scenes with extreme lights and darks. An example of this would be a landscape with a dark foreground against a bright sky. Your phone’s camera would only be able to retain details in the shy or the foreground. The HDR feature on many smart phones can help with some higher contrast scenes. In many scenarios you’ll only have detail in either the lights or darks. Even lower contrast light ensures details throughout the image. Intentionally letting parts of the image go pure white of pure black can make for interesting images as well.

Zooming on the iPhone 5s is the same as cropping. This cuts down on the quality of the image. Instead of zooming walk closer to your subject if possible. Avoid cropping in to far on the images as well.

Understand Composition

Understanding composition is critical to creating any good image. Avoid distractions in the background. Try having things frame your subject or use leading lines to draw your viewer’s eye to the subject. Do some research on composition before you go out and shoot next.

Find Interesting Subjects

Regardless of your equipment images with interesting subjects always look better. Aim to find interesting subjects.


I experiment with weird abstracted shots all the time. Sometimes these images work and sometimes they don’t. Play around and try to create something unique!

To see my latest iPhoneography follow me on Instagram @ryanwatkinsphotography.


Find this article helpful? Consider supporting Ryan Watkins Photography on Patreon. 

How to Photograph Fireworks

I usually have a lot of people ask me around this time of year how to take good photos of the Fourth of July fireworks. Here are some helpful tips so you can get some great images this weekend!

What gear to do you need?

You’ll need a tripod and a camera that has both manual focus and manual exposure. I love shooting with my iPhone but sadly this time it probably won’t cut it. An entry level DSLR or even a point and shoot camera with these criteria should work fine. Bring your phone or a flashlight to illuminate your camera so you can see all the buttons in the dark. Lastly remember to charge your batteries and bring plenty of memory cards.

Lens wise I usually bring my Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8. I like to switch between focal lengths to get a better variety of images. Also your location and proximity to the fireworks makes a big impact on what focal length you’ll be using as well. If you are farther away you’ll probably be using longer lenses. If you are closer you can get away with using wider lenses. Come prepared and bring a standard zoom and telephoto zoom lens.

What exposure should you use?

For fireworks you’ll need to use the Manual exposure mode on your camera. Finding the right exposure takes a bit of trial an error. I usually start with a 3 second exposure at f/11 at 100 ISO. Take a few tests shots and check your screen frequently to make sure your exposure is correct.

The longer exposure of 3 seconds makes it so the firework has time to explode so you get the trails. Shorter exposures will make the trails smaller. The opposite is also true that the longer exposure will make the trails longer.

The longer exposure makes your image more prone to increased noise so make sure to keep you ISO low. I usually shot at 100 ISO.

How do you focus?

Autofocus and fireworks don’t work well together. Just like auto exposure and fireworks don’t work well together. You’ll need to manually focus the image. The good thing is once you’re is in focus you won’t need to change it for the rest of the night if you stay in the same spot. Usually with fireworks you’re fairly far away so the correct focus is a little bit before infinity. Manually focus once the fireworks start.

How do you time the best firework shot?

To prevent blur I not only shoot on a tripod but also use a two second timer. This prevents the image from getting blurry because of me touching the camera. To time the perfect firework shot I press the shutter approximately 2 or 3 seconds before the firework explodes.

Best FREE iPhone Apps for Photographers

no images were found

Ever since upgrading to the iPhone 5s from my pay as you go phone back in December I’ve started to love iPhoneography more and more! These following apps are ones I’ve found very helpful for iPhoneography, business, and web presence.


Sample image edited using VSCOcam

no images were found

VSCOcam is hands down my favorite photo editor for the iPhone! I’ve used this for all of my iPhoneography since mid June 2014. It has a wide variety of black and white and color presets to choose from and lets you adjust exposure, contrast, sharpness, highlights, shadows, tint, saturation, and a handful of other options individually. You also have the option of purchasing other presets from them as well.

Sample image editing using VSCOcam

no images were found

Golden Hour

no images were found

Golden Hour is an incredibly simple app which tells you when sunrise and sunset start. Great for planning out shoots. It is more convenient than flipping thru the weather app to find the sunrise or sunset time.

no images were found

Pocket Light Meter

no images were found

Pocket Light Meter is a spot meter for your phone. This is great if you don’t own a handheld meter. It lets you lock down the appropriate exposure for an area and then change the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture to your desired setting while maintaining the correct exposure.


no images were found

Instasize being used to add frame to image

Instasize is great for getting your photos ready to be put on Instagram or other social media. It lets you create collages or create simple frames so you can put vertical or horizontal photos on Instagram. I use this all time when I upload my professional work to Instagram and want to keep the photo vertical or horizontal.

no images were found

Final image on Instagram after the white frame had been added in Instasize


Pass is a software program that lets you share photos with clients in eye-catching galleries. It is very popular amongst wedding photographers. The Pass app lets you edit your Pass galleries from your phone that is very convenient when you’re on the go.


The Dropbox app lets you view and update your Dropbox account from your phone. If you are not familiar with Dropbox it is a free service that lets you send large files over the Internet. I use Dropbox all the time for my retouching jobs and to send digital proofs so being able to access and edit my account from my phone is very convenient.

If This Then That

If This Then That is a great app to use to back up your iPhone photos to other accounts like Dropbox or Flicker. IFTTT lets you create Recipes so when you do one action it automatically does another. For example every picture your upload to Instagram could be saved to Dropbox.


no images were found

Skitch is a simple app that lets you draw on photos similar to how you would in Snapchat.


no images were found

Aviary is another photo editor for the iPhone. It has a variety of frames and a meme creator that VSCOcam doesn’t. I only use Aviary when I want a specific frame or want to create a meme which is infrequent.

Shutter by Stream Nation

Shutter is a fairly new app that gives you unlimited cloud storage for your photos. It also offers editing similar to VSCOcam and Instagram. A great way to backup your photos without using up all of your Dropbox space!


no images were found

The most obvious photo app. I love Instagram and use it all the time (@ryanwatkinsphotography). For those who don’t know Instagram is a social network for specifically sharing photos and also has a photo editor. Instagram recently updated the editor portion of the app so you can do more precise editing similar to VSCOcam. Instagram has a tilt shift blur feature and more filters compared to VSCOcan which lacks the tilt shirt blur and has less free presets. VSCOcam also has a Fade and Grain adjustment which Instagram doesn’t. Both are great for editing iPhone photos. I personally use VSCOcam for editing because I prefer their presets over Instagram’s filters.

Free Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi shows you places nearby that have free Wi-Fi. This can be very helpful when traveling to new cities for shoots.


GasBuddy shows you all of gas prices at stations near you. I have saved quite a bit since using it. Really nice when traveling.

Follow me on my social media pages, in the bottom left hand corner, for my latest blog updates!


Find this article helpful? Consider supporting Ryan Watkins Photography on Patreon. 

My 10 Favorite Products from Print Labs

A lot of photographers nerd out over photo gear and equipment; I obsess over all the different ways to showcase the final product. Here is a list of my ten favorite products from various print labs.

1. Vivid Metal Prints from Miller’s Professional Imaging

I love Miller’s Vivid Metal prints! These look great for giving color or black and white photos a great poppy look. Seniors love these. You also have the option of buying them with a float mount or stand so framing isn’t necessary. These are my most popular luxury print.

2. Wood Prints from Woodsnap

Woodsnap’s ready to hang wood prints are unlike any other print I’ve had made. Since I cater to rural mid-Michigan, I have a lot of clients who want something which is fitting for the rustic, woodsy décor of their home or cabin: these prints are the perfect fit. The wood grain shows thru on brighter parts of the photo. High key photos especially look great on wood. As with the vivid metal prints, these are ready to hang so no need for framing as well.

3. Frames from does a great job framing. They have huge section of frames from elegant to rustic. I always recommend clients use them for framing.

4. Flash Drives and Boxes from Photo Flash Drives

Photo Flash Drives makes flash drives and boxes, which you can get branded. I use these for giving clients Animoto slideshows. Inexpensive and they look amazing! I personally prefer their wood flash drives and boxes.

5. Slide Shows from Animoto

I know this isn’t really a “print product” but Animoto Slideshows are an awesome product. I use these during viewing sessions, offer them on my a la carte menu and in collections, and use them on my website and social media all the time.

To make these slide shows all you have to do is choose a theme, music, and then drop in your photos and text in and it is done. Super easy and amazing final product.

6. Photoshop Templates from Squijoo

For only $10 you can download as many Photoshop templates as you want from Squijoo. These templates are great for putting together graduation announcements, save the date cards, brochures, advertisements, and just about anything else you can think of. They even have ones for designing album pages and phone cases. Cheap and very useful.

7. Lux Business Cards from Moo

Moo’s Lux Business Cards are durable and very professional. I’ve had many clients be impressed by how thick my business cards are.

8. iPhone Cases from Black River Imaging

Black River Imaging’s iPhone Cases look great and are very popular with seniors.

9. Metal Ornaments from Nations Photo Lab

Around Christmas time metal ornaments from Nations Photo Lab can be a great product to add to holiday themed mini sessions. The quality is great. I sold several of these at a local art gallery during Christmas last year.

10. Miller’s Signature Album from Miller’s Professional Imaging

Miller’s Signature Albums are incredibly customizable and have outstanding print quality. They just recently added a bunch of new cover materials to choice from to. I offer these to both wedding and portrait clients. They are much higher quality than Layflat books.

Ryan Watkins Photography specializes in senior, family, child, engagement, and editorial portraiture, weddings, and real estate and architecture photography catering to Clare, Midland, and Mount Pleasant, Michigan. No location to far! To schedule a pre-session consultation or for inquiries about commercial photography contact Ryan here.


Find this article helpful? Consider supporting Ryan Watkins Photography on Patreon. 

10 Tips to Improve Your Pet Photography

This is the first of many basic photography tips and tutorials I’ll be posting due to several requests.



Everyone loves to take candid photos of their pets here are ten simple tips to improve your pet photography.


1.Focus on the Eyes


Keeping the eyes sharp is key to any successful portrait. Your pet’s eyes should, in most cases, be the main focal point of the image.



2.Use a Shallow Depth of Field


Using a shallow depth of field helps make your pet stand out from the background. Try shooting with apertures like f/2.8 or f/4 to throw the background out of focus to make your pet stand out. This will also make your shutter speed quicker minimizing motion blur if your pet is moving. The above photo was shot at 200mm f/4 to throw the background out of focus and emphasize the cat.


3.Use A Longer Lens


Longer focal lengths help throw the background out of focus putting more emphasis on your pet.


4.Remove Distraction from the Background


Before you start shooting remove anything, which could be distracting in the background of the photo. It is not worth your time and effort to spend hours retouching out things in the background you could have easily moved in the first place.



5.Get Out of the Direct Sun


Your pet will look a lot more flattering in the shade right next to the sunlight compared to if he or she was sitting out in the direct sun. The above photo was shot in the shade and I used an off camera flash to create the much nicer lighting than if they were in the direct sunlight.


6.Shoot in Well Lit Areas


If there is not enough light your camera has trouble focusing and it will have to use a longer shutter speed, which can lead to out of focus images. Staying in better-lit areas (like next to a window or outside in the shade) will help your camera focus easier and result in better photos. The above photo was shot next to a window to light the cat with nice soft light.


7.Have Someone Else Keep Their Attention


Have someone else keep your pet’s attention while you’re shooting. This will keep them looking the direction you want.



8.Get Down on Their Level


Get down on the ground with your pet. I was laying on the ground to take the above photo.


9.Make Sure They’re Clean


You wouldn’t go to a photo session without showering; neither should your pet.



10.Stay Calm and Be Patient


Pets are unpredictable and difficult to control you’ll need to be patient to get the best photos of them.


Find this article helpful? Consider supporting Ryan Watkins Photography on Patreon.