Apple’s iPhone has largely resisted cluttering up its default camera app with too many features, but that changed last year with the arrival of a series of presets called Photographic Styles.
They first landed on the iPhone 13 series as one of many overall camera improvements, but are now also on the much more affordable iPhone SE (2022). That means photography styles are now more accessible than ever, but should you use them? And if so, how do you get the most out of Apple’s latest camera feature?
We’ve put together this handy guide to answer those questions and more. Styles can be found in the standard photo mode of the iPhone’s native camera app, and there are four different presets to choose from, each even more customizable to suit your personal preferences.
Unlike traditional filters, you can use them at the time of capture, which means using them every time you take a photo, as long as you remember to turn them off when you don’t need them. By default, the camera is automatically set to Standard, which Apple says produces a “true to life” look.
The other four styles give a more enhanced or stylized look and are similar – but not identical – to using typical filters you might find in other apps or software such as Instagram or Lightroom. Here’s everything you need to know about Photographic Styles, plus some tips on how to use them to give your shots more impact.
Which iPhones have photography styles?
They are also now available on the new iPhone SE (2022). As the smallest and cheapest iPhone to date, this means the photography styles are no longer just for those with bigger budgets, but are available to a whole new audience.
So far, Photographic Styles have not been added to older iPhone models such as iPhone 12 Pro through a firmware upgrade. It’s not impossible, but Apple may well keep this feature as a point of difference between its older and newer models.
Naturally, we can expect any new iPhone model, as rumored iPhone 14, are likely to include photographic styles in the future as well.
Photographic styles vs filters: what’s the difference?
Since Photographic Styles are very much like filters, is there an advantage to using them over something you might otherwise find in apps like Instagram or Lightroom?
Yes, in certain situations. The important difference is that these styles are added at the time of capture, rather than retroactively, and also leverage Apple’s computer processing. This means that your iPhone is able to apply styles intelligently to achieve the best possible results. For example, a style won’t necessarily be applied to all parts of the image if it might cause an odd skin tone.
In contrast, digital filters are usually applied one-sided and may require more work to make them look natural. Applying a filter at the point of capture can also save you time spent editing your photos.
You can also customize the styles to improve or modify them, depending on your personal preferences or their effectiveness with a given subject. We have much more detail on this later in our “how to master photography styles” section.
That said, despite their cleverness, Photographic Styles are relatively modest compared to many filters, in terms of variety and impact. They give a reasonably subtle effect compared to the default “Standard” option, which may or may not be what you’re looking for. Apple describes its four options as follows:
- Rich contrast: Darker shadows, richer colors and stronger contrast create a dynamic look.
- Vibrant: Wonderfully bright and vivid colors create a shiny yet natural look.
- Heat: Golden undertones create a warmer look.
- Costs: Blue undertones create a cooler look.
How to use Photo Styles
Photo styles are easy to use. You’ll find them in the native camera app, either by swiping up from the main window or by quickly tapping the little arrow at the top of the screen.
Tap the icon marked with three squares and you’ll then be given the option to swipe between the different styles available – starting with the default standard option, moving through Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm and Cool.
It is important to note that you cannot use Photographic Styles when shooting in Apple’s ProRAW format, so it must be disabled. You will, however, be able to record Live Photos using Styles, which can be turned on or off depending on your preferred shooting mode.
You are now free to use styles on your topic – here are some tips to get you started with them.
1. Do some first experiments
Before you start applying them to all your photos, it’s worth spending some time learning about the different styles to see what each one looks like. After all, photography is subjective, and you might want to make changes to Apple’s default settings or use them in unusual ways.
The easiest way to experiment is to just swipe between them, take pictures, and note the differences. Remember that different subjects may see styles applied slightly differently, so it’s worth trying a variety of different subjects.
Taking pictures with each of the styles applied gives you the flexibility to choose your favorite later and build muscle memory to apply the ones you prefer in particular situations.
2. Make adjustments for a custom look
If you like the styles, but want more control over how your final image looks, you can make adjustments to better suit your tastes. As you browse through the different styles, you will see sliders below the style name to adjust the tone and warmth.
As soon as you touch these sliders, you’ll create a custom preset, which will stay adjusted until you change it again or reset the filter. It’s worth moving these sliders up and down to see how they affect your image, with the preview displayed in the composition window as you do so.
You may notice that the name of an individual style changes as you adjust these sliders – for example, add a little warm to Vibrant and it will now be called “Vibrant Warm” instead.
3. Try styles for portraits (but not in Portrait mode)
One of the best applications for photography styles is portraits. As we mentioned, your iPhone will apply them intelligently and should keep natural skin tones, while enhancing other aspects of the scene, such as the background or the clothes your subject is wearing.
A good example of this is Rich Contrast, which adds a nice extra punch to your portraits, giving them a subtle but noticeable lift that can take them from good to great. Try pushing both the Tonal slider and the Warmth slider to make an even bolder difference in your portraits.
It’s worth making these changes in small incremental steps, adding +5 or -5 here and there to see how it impacts the image, rather than jumping from one extreme to the other. One important note, though: Photographic Styles can’t currently be used in the dedicated Portrait mode, unfortunately.
4. Discover the best styles for the right topics
You’ll probably soon discover that different styles suit different subjects, which you’ll learn through experimentation – and will likely depend on your personal preferences as well.
We’ve found that Rich Contrast works well for landscapes, Vibrant works well for generally bright subjects such as flowers, Warm is great for sunsets and sunrises, while Cool is great for cityscapes and shots. view in low light.
That said, try using styles that you don’t think would work to experiment with the results – Cool, for example, can make a typical landscape look unusual.
It pays to be aware of going overboard with certain styles and adjustments. For example, adding too much heat can tend to feel too crisp and unnatural and therefore less appealing in most situations.
5. Don’t Forget to Reset and Delete
Since styles can’t be deleted once you’ve captured them, it’s important to remember to turn them off when you don’t want to use them, otherwise you’ll find your camera roll is full of “cool” photos that you probably didn’t intend.
To stop using them, just tap the three-square icon at the top of the camera screen at any time and switch back to “Standard”.
It’s also worth resetting any adjustments you’ve made using the Tone and Warmth sliders, especially if you’ve made quite significant changes – a reset icon can be used to quickly return to default settings.