Stop Using Your iPhone Camera Flash and Try This Easy Hack Instead

Stop Using Your iPhone Camera Flash and Try This Easy Hack Instead

When it comes to taking photos on your mobile device in low light, the options are kind of terrible: a super bright flash that blinds everyone and a not so great photo or ambient light in a dark room where everyone ends up blurry or even grainy. This ridiculously easy iPhone hack will take your low light mobile photos to a whole new level.

Instead of using your phone flash, try using the actual flashlight instead. This isn’t a new trick, but it’s a great one. Every phone these days has a flashlight mode, and once you have a grasp on how to use it for photos, it will yield more control and better results.

You’ll need at least two phones for this, one to shoot and one to light. These days, most everyone carries a phone with them, so this is easy to do almost anywhere. Ideally, someone else is holding the light, but if you don’t have that option, you can also handhold the light yourself. 

The setup is simple really: just hold the flashlight phone about 45 degrees from wherever the person shooting is. If you point the flashlight directly at the subject, it will be a little harsh, so I like to skim the light past the subject or subjects slightly so it’s a little bit softer.

For the following photos, I was in a pitch black room with very little light coming in. The first photo is no light at all. You can see in the first photo that it is actually blurry. It was so dark in the room that the phone had trouble getting focus. The second photo is the iPhone flash. When the flash fired, it was so bright that I had to take several before I finally got one where the subject wasn't blinking. The third is using the iPhone flashlight. It was just the two of us, so I had to handhold the iPhone flashlight. It was in my left hand, and I stretched my arm to extend it as far out as I could while still maintaining control of my iPhone camera.

Here is an example lighting diagram of using one phone flashlight.

Image created via The Online Lighting Diagram Creator

One flashlight will usually be fine for photos with one to two people or subjects. If you are photographing groups of people, I like to have friends hold two flashlights, one on each side of the group. Here is a diagram:

Image created via The Online Lighting Diagram Creator

I especially love this trick because I rarely take my gear around with me in my personal life, so this is handy to have up my sleeve when I need it. I'd love to know if this is something you've tried before or if not, try in the future!

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44 Comments
Peter Gargiulo's picture

Great...if you have more than ONE phone! If you're carrying more than one, just carry a real camera.

Philipp Pley's picture

The photographer has a phone and more likely than not the subject(s) would each also own a phone.
Being stuck with one phone would probably only be an issue if you're trying to take a self-portrait.

Kelly Lane's picture

Exactly! I very rarely take my "real" camera out with me in my personal life!

Ryan Cooper's picture

Or just attach a small led flash light to your key ring. :)

Kelly Lane's picture

I have a small led light and even a small separate ring light but the problem is I never seem to have them when I need them so this is a helpful trick when I have nothing with me!

Tom D's picture

The odds of the subject not having a phone are slim to none. Unless it's a cat or something. It's good advice, even though you don't seem to think so.

Leigh Smith's picture

Once again, I ask myself why I come to this site.

Grant Schwingle's picture

... and why you take the time to post a negative comment....

Leigh Smith's picture

So that maybe the editors will take notice and stop posting this crap. They used to have a voting system for their articles, but I'm sure they got rid of that because they really only care about clicks not quality.

Deleted Account's picture

I think you've answered reason for this site being alive and well (advertising) but if the content isn't speaking directly to you then the main issue has less to do with Fstoppers and more with your inability to stop yourself from coming to the site.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Just because something is not relevant to you, doesn’t mean it cannot be relevant to others.

Personally, I have seen countless examples of cell phone photos where this would be helpful.

Kelly Lane's picture

Thanks for that! That's exactly the point. This is for everyday life when you typically aren't going to have your gear with you.

Leigh Smith's picture

Because it's only relevant to non photographers. And non photographers don't read photo sites.

Deleted Account's picture

Eh. I wouldn't go as far as to say only Non Photographers. Maybe Non Pro/advanced Photographers. The technique in the article could be an easy way to introduce someone to off camera lighting. Honestly though, I hadn't thought of doing this and I often find myself using my phone's camera.

Ryan Cooper's picture

That isn’t true at all. Are you under the impression that photographers don’t ever take casual photos with their phones in dark places?

Deleted Account's picture

Sounds like a personal problem.

Jay Jay's picture

Not a "hack", but a tip. I've used it in a pinch many times where there was very low lighting and i had my dslr on me, and it works well when placed at just the right angle and distance. Can also hold a napkin over the camera flashlight to give softer light. Now would that be considered a "hack"? ;)

Tom D's picture

The word "hack" has been completely and maddeningly debased.

Severin Samulski's picture

Litra light I carry one around just to give a kick to night photos when I can way smaller and more powerful the most cheap flashlights. Bonus I put it on mt GoPro head mount and use it as a headlamp. Great for your phone

Peter Gargiulo's picture

I love my Litras. I've got three of 'em. Great for carrying one around in a pocket, so compact but powerful.

Jon Kellett's picture

"This ridiculously easy iPhone hack..." - Hmm... Will it work for other phones, too? ;-)

Kelly Lane's picture

Yes of course and I reference that in the article. I just have an iPhone so it's my default :)

Bert Nase's picture

"The second photo is the iPhone flash. When the flash fired, it was so bright that I had to take several before I finally got one where the subject wasn't blinking. The third is using the iPhone flashlight."

Hmm, what's the difference between iPhone flash and iPhone flashlight? A bit confusing to me. And how is the other iPhones flash light (or is it the torch light?) triggered?

Kelly Lane's picture

The iPhone flash is when you are in the camera mode and have the flash turned on. The second image is taken this way. The iPhone flashlight not using the camera but actually using the flashlight mode on the camera so the light is constant rather than a burst like the flash. To do this, you have to use the flashlight mode on a separate phone other than the one taking the photo. I hope that helps!

Claire Whitehead's picture

I reckon if your going to take pictures on iphone and really rely on this technique you might want to look into mini rechargeable lights like a lumecube of Manfrotto Lumimuse.

Kelly Lane's picture

I know I know. :) I have separate lights but the problem for me is that I don't always have them when I want to take a photo. I've never run into an instance where someone didn't have a phone on them though

Tom D's picture

Sometimes you simply do not have your gear with you. Including your lumecube.

Stephen Kampff's picture

I do this all the time! Especially when people ask me to take their photo, and expect something better because I shoot for a living.

Another tip in restaurants: Shine the second light through a thin napkin for some diffusion.

Kelly Lane's picture

Love this!

Timothy Roper's picture

And Tim Cook thanks you in advance, for buying more than one iPhone.

Kelly Lane's picture

ha well technically it would be two people buying phones- the idea is that everyone has a phone on them so you can do this trick anytime anywhere.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

LoL in a group of 6 people where will be 8 or 9 phones because everyone already has one and some people have a work phone too, so no one will be buying another phone . Tim Cook is doing just fine.

Deleted Account's picture

It could be any phone as long as it has a flashlight mode.

Nesh Soni's picture

That’s so cool! I do this all the time and now my wife’s gotten into it as well 😁

Paul Scharff's picture

I have the Lumintop EDC01 flashlight that's just large enough to accommodate a single AAA battery which has three power levels going to 120 lumens. It goes on my keychain and costs less than $10.00 -- and even come with a detachable diffuser. So I use it a lot to add anywhere from just a kiss of light to something brighter on my cell phone shots. Since 2012 when I got my first almost-as-good Fenix E05, I've never had to use my cell phone flashlight, and it addresses the dynamic discussed in this article perfectly without requiring a second phone.

super steel_'s picture

I would not say that the final image looks good. for me the distortion is so horrible that it doesnt matter how many lights. I wouldnt even boast about the image. the person looks so warped. abd us as photographers would expect better. if it were shot landscape there would have been less of it.

Deleted Account's picture

I think they're comparing this technique, using a cell phone, to the default, using a cell phone. I don't think I've ever used my cell phone's camera other than to document something but we're living in a "selfie" world. :-/

Kelly Lane's picture

Sam basically said it. This is for on the go personal images shot with a mobile device only. I shot this in a worst case scenario to show what could be done. The room was basically pitch black and I shot this while holding the light myself. The idea is to give you a tip and to go make it your own.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Super steel- how would rotating the camera lessen any distortion?

super steel_'s picture

because the distortion/warping is harder at the edges. at the edges it pulls harder. just like a wide angle. lens. things that are at the endges are always pulled and warped. put the person on the middle and they look fine. they put the guys head at the edge and it looks horrible.
anyway you look it at it, its not worth the effort. theres no hair separation as well. I wouldnt even put the effort for it. I hold myself to a higher level that if its not done right, I wont waste my time.

Mike Shwarts's picture

I like this website. Informative with some good ideas, but have y'all considered hiring somebody to edit the articles before publishing them. Maybe an English major? They would probably enjoy work related to their academic field instead of flipping hamburgers.

Case in point. This article. It is a good article. Brilliant idea to use a second phone for light coming from a more pleasing angle. But the writing leaves a little to be desired.

"I was in a pitch black room with very little light coming in." Mmmm....yeah? Pitch black implies no light. "The first photo is no light at all." Wouldn't the photo be all black? Maybe you meant not much ambient light.

Mind you I am not trying to single out the author. This is just typical of the website's articles.

Jarrett Rathert's picture

are iphone flashes really that bad? My android flash photos turn out better looking that the photo using a flashlight.

Kasimir Szekeres's picture

More important is cleaning your lens first...

And don't use your smartphone led, this has noting to do with a "flash".
Buy the cheap Godox Ami or Godox A1 and really freeze light. :)
Sadly this thing does not work with the latest iPhoneXs stacked image processing.

Tim R's picture

Are there any off camera flashes available for phones using an app or hardware? Please share!

Edit: looks like the Godox A1 might be an option.