Lesson 28: Power Rules

I  shoot with the iPhone 4S.  I’ve had it for about 2 years now and one of the problems I sometimes encounter is the annoying low battery warning coming on when I’m in the middle of taking pictures.  It seems inevitable that right when I get to where I most want to take a photo, my phone shuts down.

Since you can’t get any photos without power, this is an important consideration as an iPhon(e)ographer.  Here are some rules that will help reduce the chances of this happening:

  1. Think of your phone as your camera.  One of the problems of using an iPhone (or any smartphone) as your camera is that there is a tendency to forget it’s your camera.  By this, I mean when I’m getting ready to go to a shoot with my DSLRs, I always have at least one spare battery fully charged for each camera in my bag.  When I’m just going out, I grab my phone because I always grab my phone.  I’m not necessarily thinking like I’m going to a shoot.  Start thinking to yourself, “I’m going somewhere and I might want to take pictures” before you get far from a charger.  Plug the phone in before you go.  Leave with the phone fully charged.  If you really want long battery life, consider an external battery case that can double your battery life (personally, I find these too bulky).
  2. Turn off the stuff you don’t need.  If you’re going out, you probably don’t need your wifi on.  You may not need your bluetooth.  And, if you have a bunch of apps running that use location services, turn them off.  Any reminders that are set based on location will also consume more power.  If you’re going to be away from a power source all day and being able to take pictures is really important to you, you might even consider putting your phone in Airplane mode to consume the least amount of power.  If you’re going out in the woods where you can’t get much of a signal anyway, you’ll really burn through battery life as your phone continually tries to unsuccessfully connect.   You can also save this extreme step of turning your smartphone into a brick that takes photos until your battery starts getting low–it will save a lot of power consumption.
  3. Charge when you can.  Let’s say you’re like me and you can’t find your way to more than a half-dozen places in your car and you really need to run a GPS app to get where you’re going.  These apps not only use the location services and GPS, they also do network searches, and they keep your screen on while in use, making them some of the heaviest power consumers.  Have a car charger and use it if you’re using one of these power-hogs.  You’ll arrive where you’re going with a fully charged phone and get there without getting lost.
  4. Use the sleep button.  The button on the top of the iPhone puts the phone to sleep, sort of.  Many things keep running, but the screen turns off and this can save battery life.   Use it!  Especially when you are using a camera app.  I can’t tell you how many photos I have that look like this:
    The secret world inside my shirt pocket
    The secret world inside my shirt pocket

    This is the inside of my pocket (with the flash on)!  These kinds of random photos not only waste battery life, they also waste your time deleting them!

  5. Manually control the flash.  In whatever camera app you’re using, make sure the flash is not set to “Auto.”  The flash consumes power and, if you fail to follow rule 4, may go off in your pocket.  You can turn it on if you need it, but when it comes to conserving battery power (and taking better photos) it’s better for you to decide when to use than to let the phone decide.
  6. Consider the battery before you shoot.  If you’re out for a 10 minute walk with a fully charged phone, take as many photos as you want.  Try every angle you can think of.  Try 14 different camera apps with 10 different settings each.  It’s a great way to learn.  But, if you’re out on a trail all day long, you might be a little more selective about how many apps you use and how many photos you take of the same thing.  It’s also helpful to know if there’s something particularly spectacular (like an overlook) coming up that you want to be sure to save power for.  This is one of the things I like about out-and-back hiking routes–I can take photos judiciously on the way out and then shoot to my heart’s content on the way back because I know what to expect along the way.

Your Assignment:  Double-click the Home button at the bottom of your phone.  The screen display will slide upwards and expose all the apps you currently have running:

SunsetReflection2 3

Hold your finger on one of the apps until all the apps start wiggling and have a red-and-white “-” on them.

The “-” appears when you hold your finger on a app for a few seconds

Tap the “-” to close all the apps that are running.

When all apps are shut down, this is what you'll see
When all apps are shut down, this is what you’ll see

If you’re not familiar with where to turn off bluetooth, etc, go to the “Settings” app.

The settings app icon looks like a gray gear
The settings app icon looks like a gray gear


Check out the Airplane, wifi, and bluetooth settings at the top.

SunsetReflection2 7

Also scroll down to the Privacy settings, tap it and check out the Location Services.

Finally, pick a day when you’re not going to need to take pictures at the end of the day.  Note the time you unplug your phone.  Use your phone normally all day, but don’t charge it.  At the end of the day, if it still has charge, start taking photos.  See how many photos you can take before the phone dies.  This should give you an idea of how important it is to recharge before going out after an average day of use.