We’ve teamed up with Adorama to bring you a series of photography tutorials called “Master Your Craft” to be featured on their Youtube Channel. Subscribe to see more of our videos on their channel that covers all things photography-related from lighting and posing to editing to help you hone your skills and master your craft and don’t forget to check out our playlist to watch the entire series! In this video, I’ll be taking on the Minimalist Challenge again. This time, instead of a camera and lens, I’ll be showing you how you can take a great iPhone portrait while on the go.

Video: The Minimalist Challenge: The iPhone Portrait Edition

The Minimalist Challenge

The rules for this challenge are simple. Previously, I’d photograph a model using a single lens and body. However, I’m going to mix it up a bit and this time, I’ll be capturing iPhone portraits of my friend, Alyssa using nothing else but the environment around me. The purpose of this challenge is to learn to think creatively under constraints and focus on technique. It’s easy to get bogged down by too much gear and feel like we have to use them all. This challenge forces us to look for what already exists and make the most of our environment.

Be sure to check out Creative Photography 101 from our Premium Channel. This is an entire course on how to take and edit stunning photographs using just your phone, much like we’re doing here.  We’ll also be editing these photos using Adobe Lightroom Mobile. Let’s dive in.

  1. Grungy Scene
  2. Black & White
  3. Natural Reflector

What Not To Do When Taking an iPhone Portrait

I’ll start with what not to do when taking iPhone portraits. This is what I call the “walkup shot.” While we have the walls leading the eyes to Alyssa who I placed right in the center, the shot isn’t that interesting. The photo was also taken at normal height so it doesn’t offer any unique perspectives. Instead, we’re going to turn a little bit and pick out a better background.

Image #1: Grungy Scene

iphone portrait grungy scene

Just to our right was a chain fence and a grungy looking scene with a “Private Property” sign which I liked. Pair that with Alyssa’s edgy outfit and we have an already interesting shot.

iphone portrait rule of thirds

I got down low and framed Alyssa on the right third line. This places her against the blue sky in the background. I asked her to give me a strong, open stance. Since the light was coming from the left side, I had her look that direction to get the highlights on her face.

iphone portrait scene images

I pulled the exposure up a touch by holding the screen until AE/AF lock appears and I dragged the dial up. We then captured these great shots.

Editing the Photo

First, it’s a good idea to load your presets onto your desktop Lightroom so that it appears on your mobile version automatically. I started with Visual Flow’s Mood Pack: Soft Light.

In the Light panel, I increased the exposure. Then, in Selective Edits, created a radial filter to create a vignette. then, I kicked up the clarity a touch.

iphone portrait grungy scene before after

Check out the comparison between the final image and the walk-up shot. You can drastically improve your photos by keeping these techniques in mind:

  1. Match the clothes to fit the scene.
  2. Change the perspective to give the subject presence.
  3. Pose the subject to match the intention.
  4. Edit the photo to match the vibe.

Image #2: Black & White

One of the benefits of taking photos with a phone is its size. For example, because the phone is so slim and small, I can squeeze the lens into spots I wouldn’t be able to otherwise with a full camera. I fit the camera in the space between the fences and switched to portrait mode.

iphone portrait through the fence

I framed the image to get Alyssa looking at the camera through the gaps in the fence.

Editing the Photo

I started with VF Presets > Mood Pack > Black & White. I created a vignette using the radial filter, added contrast, and a bit more clarity.

iphone portrait black and white before after

This edit was super simple and the results came out fantastic.

Bonus Tip:

Always be sure to wipe your camera lens between or before shots. If you ever encounter haze, it’s likely leftover oils from your fingers or other stains so be sure to keep the lens clear.

Image #3: Natural Reflector

I found beautiful lighting a few steps down the alley. I took a basic image with Alyssa being lit by the bounce light from the wall and the results are nice. However, there is room to make the image even better.

iphone portrait hairlight

I moved Alyssa into the sun to catch the hairlight. I wanted to capture a strong pose but it’s a good idea not to crop at the hips or any joint. To get Alyssa’s legs in the shot, I got a little lower as you can see here.

Editing the Photo

In Lightroom, I added VF Presets > Modern Mobile > Soft Light and I made the same basic adjustments: Exposure and vignette.

iphone portrait final before after

You can compare the walk-up shot to the final image here.


I hope you enjoyed this article/video. The phone offers so many possibilities for great images that often go overlooked. I encourage you to spend a day taking photos with just your phone and see what creative concepts you can come up with. By focusing on your technique and environment, you too can take incredible iPhone portraits. For a full course on phone photography, be sure to check out Creative Photography 101 from our Premium Channel. Be sure to also check out Visual Flow where we have presets designed for any lighting condition. These presets are compatible with Lightroom Mobile so you can edit great images at home or on the road.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!