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Turning ‘Meh’ Lighting into MAGIC with an iPad | Jen Abert Photography

Often, when I tell people I’m a photographer, they ask what camera I shoot with. I always tell them about my trusty Nikon D3oo, but I rarely give credit to the camera I use (and love) the most: my iPhone.

It’s true that the best camera is the one you have with you. And if you’re a skilled enough photographer, you can get some pretty incredible shots with whatever camera you’re given. I’m not saying I’d shoot a wedding with my iPhone any time soon (though it’s been done before), but my Nikon doesn’t exactly fit in my back pocket. Plus, I can’t go on Instagram with it.

With all that in mind, the key to getting great shots on whatever camera you’ve got is to learn to use it to its fullest potential. Whenever an update comes along, I read about any new features of the camera app. Stay tuned for a series of tips on getting the most out of your iPhone camera (many of which can be applied to other phones and tablets). Today, though, I’m going to talk about how to turn bad lighting into magic.

I was babysitting my friend’s toddler the other day, and when it was time for his nap (which, as with any 2-year-old, he was opposed to), I sat next to him on the bed while he drifted off to sleep to the sights and sounds of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy review video, en español, on his iPad. I was going back and forth between Pinterest and Facebook on my iPad, when I got a text from his momma asking if he went down for his nap okay. As is often my habit, I decided to answer with a photo instead of a simple “yes.” So I flicked open the camera app on my phone and snapped this:




Now, I’m sure many of you recognize this picture. No, not specifically THIS picture. I mean the phone picture. Bad lighting. Grainy/noisy. Weird color cast. You know it; you’ve taken it.

I sent it to Momma. “Perfect,” she says.


I set his iPad aside, set up a slightly better angle with my phone, tapped the screen to the area I wanted exposed/focused properly, and took a couple more (I love burst mode on my phone).



Hmm…still grainy and splotchy, if a little brighter. Sure, this picture would show up in a message just fine, because our phone screens are smallish and forgiving. But this is no different than a picture that anyone could take with their phone of their sleeping child.

So, armed with my understanding of lighting, I opened up a blank web page on my iPad (I actually ended up having to Google Image search “blank white page”), turned the screen brightness all the way up, and placed it where I wanted to light that sweet, angelic, unconscious face.



As you can see, the horrible, splotchy noise is gone, and the iPad screen illuminates his face so that the iPhone camera can see and expose it correctly, then the light falls gently off around his hair and his shoulders. But those poor red cheeks! Little man’s been sneezing up a storm all day. So I hit the edit button, picked a black and white filter*, and sent this one off to his mom:

Use an iPad screen to illuminate your subject when taking a photo with your iPhone

“And I’m in love with you,” was the response I got back.

These are the words I like to hear. I took a few more, changing up my angle and repositioning my “softbox.” And then he turned over, and we were done.

The point is, I could have just stuck with that first picture. My friend would have loved it just because her boy looked so sweet and peaceful in it. But I had the tools to make something a little better, with very little extra effort. Seriously, I didn’t even move from my spot. Just sort of scooted and shifted a little.

So, to recap:

1. Make sure your tablet’s screen brightness is all the way up, and navigate the browser to a blank white page – OR – download a softbox app (which I discovered I already had on my iPad after all of this). The nice thing about an app is that a lot of them will let you change the color, so you can get some cool lighting effects, or match the screen output color to odd ambient colors.

2. Position tablet so that it illuminates your subject to your liking. The great thing about this kind of lighting is that you can immediately see it and adjust as needed.

3. Take the shot!

4. Edit as needed.

Thanks for reading!


*A note about the black and white filter: I used to be very particular (read: stubborn) about using pre-set edits, but now I’ll go through the available filters and adjust if needed. There are myriad apps in which you can edit your photos, but I’ve found that if you have to get too heavy into editing, you should probably just try and retake the picture and make it better from the snap. 🙂