Camera, Photos, & Video: Chapter 6 - iPhone: The Missing Manual

by David Pogue

The iPhone is a computer—and you know what that means: Things can go wrong. This particular computer, though, is not quite like a Mac, a PC, or a Treo. It's brand-new. It runs a spin-off of the Mac OS X operating system, but that doesn't mean you can troubleshoot it like a Mac. There's very little collective wisdom, few Web sites filled with troubleshooting tips and anecdotal suggestions.

Until there is, this chapter will have to be your guide when things go wrong.

iPhone: The Missing Manual, Third Edition book cover

This excerpt is from iPhone: The Missing Manual, Third Edition. The new iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3.0 software have arrived, and New York Times tech columnist David Pogue is on top of it with a thoroughly updated edition of iPhone: The Missing Manual. Each custom-designed page helps you use your iPhone for everything from web browsing to watching videos. The iPhone is packed with possibilities, and with this handy book, you can explore them all.

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This chapter is all about the iPhone's ability to display photos copied over from your computer, to take new pictures with its built-in camera, and (on the 3GS model) to capture videos.

You've probably never seen pictures and movies look this good on a pocket gadget. The iPhone screen is bright, the colors are vivid, and the super-high pixel density makes every shot of your life look cracklin' sharp.

The camera on the 3GS has been significantly improved from the one on the earlier iPhones. The photos can look every bit as good as what you'd get from a dedicated camera—but not always. With moving subjects, it's pretty obvious that you used a cameraphone. Even so, when life's little photo ops crop up, some camera is better than no camera.

Opening Photos

In Chapter 14, Syncing the iPhone, you can read about how to choose which photos you want copied to your iPhone. After the sync is done, you can drill down to a certain set of photos like so:

  1. On the Home screen, tap Photos.

    The Photo Albums screen appears. First on the list is Camera Roll, which means "Pictures you've taken with the iPhone."

    Next is Photo Library, which means all the photos you've selected to copy from your Mac or PC.

    After that is the list of albums you've brought over from the computer. (An album is the photo equivalent of a playlist. It's a subset of photos, in a sequence you've selected.)

  2. Tap one of the rolls or albums.

    Now the screen fills with 20 postage-stamp-sized thumbnails of the photos in this roll or album. You can scroll this list by flicking.

  3. Tap the photo you want to see.

    It fills the screen, in all its glory.


If you hold down your finger on the photo, a Copy button appears. That's the first step if you want to paste an individual photo into an email message, an MMS (picture or video) message to another phone, and so on.

Flicking, Rotating, Zooming, Panning

Once a photo is open at full size, you have your chance to perform the four most famous and most dazzling tricks of the iPhone: flicking, rotating, zooming, and panning a photo.

  • Zooming a photo means magnifying it, and it's a blast. One quick way is to double-tap the photo; the iPhone zooms in on the portion you tapped, doubling its size.

    Another way is to use the two-finger spread technique (the section called “Pinch and Spread”). That technique gives you more control over what gets magnified and by how much.

    (Remember, the iPhone doesn't actually store the giganto 12-megapixel originals of pictures you took with your fancy digital camera—only scaled-down, iPhone-appropriate versions—so you can't zoom in more than about three times the original size.)

    Once you've spread a photo bigger, you can then pinch the screen to scale it down again. Or just double-tap a zoomed photo to restore its original size. (You don't have to restore a photo to original size before advancing to the next one, though; if you flick enough times, you'll pull the next photo onto the screen.)

  • Panning means moving a photo around on the screen after you've zoomed in. Just drag your finger to do that; no scroll bars are necessary.

  • Rotating is what you do when a horizontal photo or video appears on the upright iPhone, which makes the photo look small and fills most of the screen with blackness.

    Just turn the iPhone 90 degrees in either direction. Like magic, the photo itself rotates and enlarges to fill its new, wider canvas. No taps required. (This doesn't work when the phone is flat on its back—on a table, for example. It has to be more or less upright.)

    This trick also works the other way—that is, you can also make a vertical photo or video fit better when you're holding the iPhone horizontally. Just rotate the iPhone back upright.


    When the iPhone is rotated, all the controls and gestures reorient themselves. For example, flicking right to left still brings on the next photo, even if you're now holding the iPhone the wide way.

  • Flicking (the section called “Tap”) right to left is how you advance to the next picture or movie in the batch. (Flick from left to right to view the previous photo.)

Deleting Photos

If some photo no longer meets your exacting standards, you can delete it. But this action is trickier than you may think.

  • If you took the picture using the iPhone, no sweat. Open the photo; tap the button. When you tap Delete Photo, that picture's gone.

  • If the photo was synced to the iPhone from your computer, well, that's life. The iPhone remains a mirror of what's on the computer. In other words, you can't delete the photo right on the phone. Delete it from the original album on your computer (which does not mean deleting it from the computer altogether). The next time you sync the iPhone, the photo disappears from it, too.

Photo Controls

If you tap the screen once, some useful controls appear. They remain on the screen for only a couple of seconds, so as not to ruin the majesty of your photo, so act now.

  • Album name. You can return to the thumbnails page by tapping the screen once, which summons the playback controls, and then tapping the album name in the upper-left corner.

  • Photo number. The top of the screen says, "88 of 405," for example, meaning that this is the 88th photo out of 405 in the set.

  • Share icon. Tap the button in the lower left if you want to do something more with this photo than just staring at it. You can use it as your iPhone's wallpaper, send it by email, use it as somebody's headshot in your Contacts list, send it to another cellphone, or post it on the Web (if you have a MobileMe account). All four of these options are described in the next sections.

  • Previous/Next arrows. These white arrows are provided for the benefit of people who haven't quite figured out that they can flick to summon the previous or next photo.


In iPhone 3.0, a slideshow button (►) no longer appears beneath each photo. Instead, you can play only an entire album or Camera Roll (you can see the ► button shown in the center shot on the section called “Opening Photos”).

A slideshow is a great way to show off your photos and videos. You can specify how many seconds each photo hangs around, and what kind of visual transition effect you want between photos, by pressing the Home button, and then Settings→Photos. You can even turn on looping or random shuffling of photos there, too.

While the slideshow is going on, avoid touching the screen—that stops the show. And remember that you must let each video (iPhone 3GS) play to its conclusion if you want the show to continue. But feel free to turn the iPhone 90 degrees to accommodate landscape-orientation photos as they come up; the slideshow keeps right on going.


What kind of slideshow would it be without background music? On the Home screen, tap iPod and start a song playing. Yank out the earbuds so the music comes out of the speaker instead.

Now return to Photos and start the slideshow—with music!

Copying/Sending/Deleting in Batches

Those clever Apple software elves sure have been busy! In the iPhone 3.0 software, you can select batches of photos at once. That's great for sending several pictures in a single email (up to 5); for pasting them as a group into another program; for pasting one into an outgoing MMS message; or for deleting a bunch of pictures in one fell swoop.

The fun begins on the page of thumbnails that appears when you tap an album or Camera Roll. Tap the button.

A new button sprouts across the bottom. First, however, tap the thumbnails of the photos or videos you want to manipulate. With each tap, a checkmark appears, meaning, "OK, this one will be included." (Tap again to remove the checkmark.)

Now you can tap one of the bottom-row buttons:

  • Share. When you tap Share (5) (or whatever the number of selected photos or videos happens to be), you're offered a new choice of buttons: either Email or, on recent iPhone models, MMS (the section called “Three Ways to Send Photos or Videos”).

  • Copy. Tapping this one copies the indicated number of photos to the invisible iPhone clipboard. Now you can switch to another program—like Messages or Mail—and paste the selected photos or videos. (You may be able to paste them into non-Apple apps, too.)


    Pasting photos into an outgoing email message like this is the only way to send full-resolution pictures. When you use the normal Email Photo function, by contrast, the iPhone automatically shrinks them down to a size it considers more convenient for emailing (640 x 480 pixels—not enough to print).

  • Delete. Here's where you can delete a bunch of photos at once. (Here again, you can delete only photos or videos you've taken with the iPhone—not ones that you transferred from your computer.)

Photo Wallpaper

Wallpaper, in the world of iPhone, refers to the photo that appears on the Unlock screen every time you wake the iPhone. On a new iPhone, an Earth-from-space photo appears there.

You can replace the Earth very easily (at least the photo of it), either with one of your photos or with one of Apple's.

Use One of Your Photos

Open one of your photos, as described in the previous pages. Tap the button, and then tap Use as Wallpaper.

You're now offered the Move and Scale screen so you can fit your rectangular photo within the square wallpaper "frame." Pinch or spread to enlarge the shot (the section called “Pinch and Spread”); drag your finger on the screen to scroll and center it.

Finally, tap Set Wallpaper to commit the photo to your Unlock screen.

Use an Apple Photo

The iPhone comes stocked with a few professional, presized photos that you can use as your Unlock-screen wallpaper until you get your own photographic skills in shape.

To find them, start on the Home screen. Tap Settings→Wallpaper→Wallpaper. You see a screen full of thumbnail miniatures; tap one to see what it looks like at full size. If it looks good, tap Set. (How did Apple get the rights to the Mona Lisa, anyway?)

Three Ways to Send Photos or Videos

You can send a photo or video by email, by picture message to another cellphone, or to a Web page—all right from the iPhone.

That's useful when you're out shopping and want to seek your spouse's opinion on something you're about to buy. It's handy when you want to remember the parking-garage section where you parked ("4 South"). It's great when you want to give your buddies a glimpse of whatever hell or heaven you're experiencing at the moment.

Once a photo is on the screen before you, tap the button. Now you have a bunch of options:

  • Email Photo (Email Video). The iPhone automatically scales, rotates, and attaches the photo or video clip to a new outgoing message. All you have to do is address it and hit Send.

    (The fine print: Photo resolution is reduced to 640 x 480 pixels, unless you use the tip on the section called “Copying/Sending/Deleting in Batches”. Using the steps on the section called “Slideshows”, you can send up to five photos at once. Void where prohibited.)

  • MMS. One of the best bits of iPhone 3.0 news is that it lets the iPhone 3G and 3GS do what ordinary cellphones have done for years: send a photo or video as a picture or video message. It winds up on the screen of the other guy's cellphone. (The geek name for this feature is MMS, for multimedia messaging service.)

    That's a delicious feature, almost handier than sending a photo by email. After all, your friends and relatives don't sit in front of their computers all day and all night (unless they're serious geeks).

    Tap MMS and then specify the phone number of the recipient (or choose someone from your Contacts list), type a little note, and off it goes.

  • MobileMe. If you're paying $100 a year for one of Apple's MobileMe accounts, then a special treat awaits you: You can send photos from your iPhone directly to your online Web photo gallery, where they appear instantly, to the delight of your fans.


    Free photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Snapfish let you upload photos from your phone, too. For example, Flickr gives you a private email address for this purpose (visit find out what it is). The big ones, including Flickr, also offer special iPhone add-on programs (Chapter 12, The App Store) that make uploading easier.

    Keep in mind that this system isn't as good as syncing your camera shots back to your Mac or PC, because emailed photos get scaled down to 640 x 480 pixels—a very low resolution compared with the originals (2048 x 1536 on the iPhone 3GS; 1600 x 1200 on the earlier models).

    There's some setup required; it's all covered in Chapter 14, Syncing the iPhone. Note, too, that you can't post stuff to MobileMe when you have only a cellular Internet connection; you have to be in a Wi-Fi hot spot.

    Once that's all set up, though, you can tap the Send to MobileMe button that appears when you tap the button.

    You're offered the chance to type in a name and a description for your picture. When you tap Publish, a screen appears that lists all the MobileMe Web galleries you've set up (or at least the ones you've opened to public submissions by email or the iPhone). Tap the album name you want.

    The iPhone flings the photo on the screen straight up on that Web album, for all to enjoy. When the uploading is complete, the iPhone offers you buttons that let you take a look at the published items online—or send an email link to them to your adoring fans.


You can also post photos and videos to other people's MobileMe galleries, if they've turned on the option that permits such craziness. The process is different, however: You're supposed to email your photos and videos to the Web gallery's private address. Your buddies will have to supply that info.

Headshots for Contacts

If you're viewing a photo of somebody who's listed in Contacts, then you can use it (or part of it) as her headshot. After that, her photo appears on your screen every time she calls.

To assign one of your iPhone's photos to someone in your address book, start by opening that photo. Tap the button, and then tap Assign To Contact.

Your address book list pops up so you can assign the selected photo to the person it's a photo of.

If you tap a name, you're then shown a preview of what the photo will look like when that person calls. This is the Move and Scale screen. It works just as it does when you set wallpaper, as described earlier. But when choosing a headshot for a contact, it's even more important. You'll want to crop the photo and shift it in the frame so only that person is visible. It's a great way to isolate one person in a group shot, for example.

Start by enlarging the photo: Spread your thumb and forefinger against the glass. As you go, shift the photo's placement in the frame with a one-finger drag. When you've got the person correctly enlarged and centered, tap Set Photo.

Taking Still Photos

The iPhone's camera is the little hole on the back, in the upper-left corner, and the best term for it may be "no frills." There's no flash, no zoom, no image stabilizer. In short, it's a lot like the cameras on most cameraphones.

The camera is capable of surprisingly clear, sharp, vivid photos (2048 x 1536 on the iPhone 3GS; 1600 x 1200 on the earlier models)—as long as your subject is sitting still and well lit. Action shots come out blurry, and dim-light shots come out rather grainy.

Now that you know what you're in for, here's how it works.

On the Home screen, tap Camera. During the 2 seconds that it takes the Camera program to warm up, you see a very cool shutter iris-opening effect.


If you use the camera a lot, you should assign the Home button's double-press shortcut to the Camera function so you can bypass the Home screen (and a bit of hunting) when you want to fire up the camera. Details are on the section called “General”.

The first time you use the camera, you're asked if it's OK to geotag your shots (record where you were when you took them). Unless you're a burglar or you're having an affair, tap OK.

Now frame up the shot, using the iPhone screen as your viewfinder. (At 3½ inches, it's most likely the largest digital-camera viewfinder you've ever used.) You can turn it 90 degrees for a wider shot, if you like.


Self-portraits can be tricky. The chrome Apple logo on the back is not a self-portrait mirror, unless all you care about is how your nostril looks. On the other hand, the shiny plastic back of the iPhone 3G and 3GS works pretty well as a big reflective surface for framing your self-portrait.

iPhone 3GS Goodies

If you have an iPhone 3GS, then you have an additional step to consider. See the white box in the center of the screen? That's telling you where the iPhone thinks the most important part of the photo is. That's where it will focus; that's what it examines to calculate the overall brightness of the photo (exposure); and that's the portion that will determine the overall white balance of the scene (that is, the color cast).

But often, dead-center is not the most important part of the photo. The cool thing is that you can tap somewhere else in the scene to move that white square—to make the camera recalculate the focus, exposure, and white balance.

Here's when you might want to do this tapping:

  • When the whole image looks too dark or too bright. If you tap a dark part of the scene, you'll see the whole photo brighten up; if you tap a bright part, the whole photo will darken a bit. You're telling the camera, "Redo your calculations so this part has the best exposure; I don't really care if the rest of the picture gets brighter or darker."

  • When the scene has a color cast. If the photo looks, for example, a little bluish or yellowish, tap a different spot in the scene—the one you care most about. The iPhone recomputes its assessment of the white balance.

  • When you're in macro mode. If the foreground object is very close to the lens—4 to 8 inches away—the iPhone automatically goes into macro (super closeup) mode. In this mode, you can do something really cool: You can defocus the background. The background goes soft, slightly blurry, just like the professional photos you see in magazines. Just make sure you tap the foreground object.

Taking the Shot

When the composition looks good, tap the button. You hear the snap! sound of a picture successfully taken.

You get to admire your work for only about half a second—and then the photo slurps itself into the thumbnail icon at the lower-left corner of the screen. That's Apple's subtle way of saying, "Tap here to see the picture you just took!" In the meantime, the camera's priority is getting ready to take another shot.


Technically, the iPhone doesn't record the image until the instant you take your finger off the screen. So for much greater stability (and therefore fewer blurrier shots), keep your finger pressed to the _ button while you compose the shot. Then take your finger off the button to snap the shot.

To look at other pictures you've taken, tap Camera Roll at the top of the screen. Camera Roll refers to pictures you've shot with the iPhone, as opposed to pictures from your computer. Here again, you see the table of contents showing your iPhone shots.


For details on copying your iPhone photography and videos back to your Mac or PC, see the section called “The Photos Tab (Computer→iPhone)”.

Capturing the Screen

Let's say you want to write a book about the iPhone. (Hey, it could happen.) How on earth are you supposed to illustrate that book? How can you take pictures of what's on the screen?

For the first year of the iPhone's existence, that challenge was nearly insurmountable. People set up cameras on tripods to photograph the screen, or wrote hacky little programs that snapped the screen image directly to a JPEG file. Within Apple's walls, when illustrating iPhone manuals and marketing materials, they used a sneaky button press that neatly captured the screen image and added it directly to the Camera Roll of pictures already on the iPhone. But that function was never offered to the public—at least not until the iPhone 2.0 software came along.

Now it's available to everyone. The trick is very simple: Start by getting the screen just the way you want it, even if that means holding your finger down on an onscreen button or keyboard key. Now hold down the Home button, and while it's down, press the Sleep/Wake switch at the top of the phone. (Yes, you may need to invite some friends over to help you execute this multiple-finger move.)

That's all there is to it. The screen flashes white. Now, if you go to the Photos program and open up the Camera Roll, you'll see a crisp, colorful, 480 x 320-pixel image, in .PNG format, of whatever was on the screen. At this point, you can send it by email (to illustrate a request for help, for example, or send a screen from Maps to a friend who's driving your way); sync it with your computer (to add it to your Mac or Windows photo collection); or designate it as the iPhone's wallpaper (to confuse the heck out of its owner).

Recording Video (iPhone 3GS)

It's one of the biggest perks—if not the biggest perk—of the iPhone 3GS: It can record video as well as still photos. And not just crummy, jerky, microscopic cellphone videos, either; it's smooth (30 frames per second), sharp, colorful video that does surprisingly well in low light.

Using video is almost exactly like taking stills. Pop into the Camera mode. Then tap the / switch so that the is selected. You can hold the iPhone either vertically or horizontally; it doesn't care if your video is tall and thin or wide and squat.

Tap to compute focus, exposure, and white balance, as described on the previous pages. Then tap the Start/Stop button in the middle ()—and you're rolling! As you film, the button blinks red and a time counter ticks away in the corner.

Obviously, you can't zoom in or out (except by walking). But look at the bright side: There's no easier-to-use camcorder on earth. You can hold the phone in either portrait or landscape orientation. And man, what a lot of capacity! Each individual shot can be one hour long—and on the 32-gigabyte iPhone, you can record 17 hours of video.

Which ought to be just about long enough to capture the entire elementary-school talent show.

When you're finished recording, tap the button again. The iPhone stops recording and plays a couple of notes; it's ready to record another shot.

Editing Video

If you want to review what you just shot, then tap the thumbnail icon at the lower-left corner of the screen (or lower-right if you're holding the iPhone horizontally). This opens up the video playback screen. Tap the big ► button to play back the video you just shot.

What's really cool, though, is that you can edit this video right on the phone. You can trim off the dead air at the beginning and the end.

To do that, tap the screen to make the scroll bar appear at the top. Then drag the vertical trim marks inward. Adjust them, hitting ► to see the effect as you go, until you've isolated the good stuff—and then tap Trim.

(The edit is permanent, however, so be careful.)

Uploading Your Video to YouTube (or MMS, Email…)

Now here's something not every cellphone can do: film a movie, edit out the boring parts, and then upload it to YouTube—right from the phone!

Call up the video, if it's not already on the screen before you. Tap the button. You get four choices: Email Video, MMS, Send to MobileMe (these are described earlier in this chapter)—or Send to YouTube.

If you tap that one, the iPhone asks for your YouTube account name and password. Next, it wants a title, description, and tags (searchable keywords like "funny" or "babies"). Finally, tap Publish.

After the upload is complete, you're offered the chance to see the video as it now appears on YouTube, or to Tell a Friend (that is, email the YouTube link to a pal). Both are excellent ways to admire your masterful cinematography.


Mention to a geek that a gadget has both GPS and a camera, and there's only one possible reaction: "Does it do geotagging?"

Geotagging means "embedding your latitude and longitude information into a photo when you take it." After all, every digital picture you've ever taken comes with its time and date embedded in its file; why not its location?

The good news is the iPhone can geotag every photo you take. How you use this information, however, is a bit trickier. The iPhone doesn't geotag your photos unless all the following conditions are true:

  • The location feature on your phone is turned on. On the Home screen, tap Settings→General. Make sure Location Services is turned On.

  • The phone knows where it is. If you're indoors, the GPS chip in the iPhone 3G or 3GS probably can't get a fix on the satellites overhead. And if you're not near cellular towers or Wi-Fi base stations, then even the pseudo-GPS of all iPhones may not be able to triangulate your location.

  • You've given permission. The first time you use the iPhone's camera, a peculiar message appears (shown on the section called “iPhone 3GS Goodies”). It's asking, "Do you want to geotag your pictures?" If you tap OK, then the iPhone's geographical coordinates will be embedded in each photo you take.

OK, so suppose all this is true, and the geotagging feature is working. How will you know? Well, there's no way to see the location information on the iPhone itself. It's embedded invisibly in the photo files. You can see it only after the pictures have been transferred to your computer.

At that point, your likelihood of being able to see the geotag information depends on what photo-viewing software you're using. For example:

  • When you've selected a photo in iPhoto (on the Mac), you can press ⌘-I to view the Photo Info panel. At the very bottom, you'll see the GPS coordinates, expressed as latitude and longitude.

  • If you export a photo and open it in Preview (on the Mac), then you can choose Tools→Inspector to open the Inspector panel. Its center tab offers a world map that pinpoints the photo's location.

  • If you click Locate (on the Preview panel shown on the previous page), you pop into Google Maps online, where you get to see an aerial photo of the spot where you snapped the picture.

  • Once you've posted your geotagged photos on (the world's largest photo-sharing site), people can use the Explore menu to search for them by location, or even see them clustered on a world map.

  • If you import your photos into Picasa (for Windows), then you can choose Tools→Geotag→View in Google Earth to see a picture's location on the map (if the free Google Earth program is installed on your computer, that is).

    Or choose Tools→Geotag→Export to Google Earth File to create a .kmz file, which you can send to a friend. When opened, this file opens Google Earth (if it's on your friend's computer) and displays a miniature of the picture in the right place on the map.

Better Geotagging

iPhone geotagging is wicked cool, but it's not without its glitches. First, when you email a photo from the iPhone, all EXIF data (invisible time, date, and camera-settings details) are stripped away—including geotagging information. Those coordinates are preserved only when you sync your photos with iTunes.

Furthermore, there are some glitches in the way the iPhone stores geotagging information, which can confuse programs like Flickr.

You can resolve both problems by using programs from the App Store (Chapter 12, The App Store) instead of the iPhone's built-in Camera program.

SmugShot, for example, correctly geotags your photos and sends that data (along with the photo) directly to (membership required), which can show you the photos' locations using Google Maps online.

Better yet: AirMe correctly tags your photos, preserves the geotags when you email a photo, and auto-uploads your shots to Flickr or And it's free.

Get it? Get it!

If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of iPhone: The Missing Manual, Third Edition.