How to Photograph and Retouch iPhone Mockups

Lifestyle photography in app marketing is often overlooked and that's a real shame. Using great photography can help give a lot of context on how and where an app is supposed to be used, not to mention the aspirational aspect to it all. For example, a running app would be much more inspiring if it were seen in a joggers hand as opposed to a screenshot on a white background. 

A perfect example of lifestyle photography vs a static screenshot can be seen with the Apple Watch.

Lifestyle photography is the norm in advertising circles, yet as app developers we've largely ignored it and have been fairly slow to catch on. With the forthcoming Apple Watch it's now more important than ever that you start to consider how best to show your app in context.

Taking the time to shoot your own photography is well worth the effort it requires as these photos can be reused time and time again. You can use them in promo websites, press kits, App Store screenshots, advertising, or even when presenting app concepts to clients.

In this article I'm going to briefly cover a few things I've learnt while photographing Macs and iOS devices for app launches. After that I'll show you how to retouch a typical iPhone photo and comp in an app screenshot.

Tips on Photographing iPhones

I'm certainly not a pro when it comes to taking photos, but I thought it'd be useful to share some of the things I’ve learnt over the past few years while photographing Macs and iPhones. To start with I’d highly recommend using a decent DSLR camera. I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and have a bunch of different lenses. The photo below was taken with a 40mm pancake lens. I find the Canon 24-105mm lens to be a good all rounder and perfect for device photography.

Good lighting is also a really important aspects of taking great shots, you honestly don't need big expensive lights or fancy flash guns. Try to shoot outside or in a well lit area with plenty of natural light. I find rooms with big windows on a sunny day are the perfect environment to take lifestyle shots in which might be one of the reasons why so much app photography is done in cafés and restaurants!

Photograph the device with the screen on but with the brightness all the way down. If the screen is too bright it can appear blown-out and give off a halo type effect. Having the screen brightness down low instead of off helps with making sure the device is in focus, it also acts as perfect guide when retouching later.

And finally, I always shoot way more photos than I need. There’s nothing worse then getting back to your Mac, importing everything and not getting the perfect shot you were after.

Here's a quick recap along with a few extra pointers:

  1. Try to shoot on a sunny day, overcast days or evenings often produce poor results. 
  2. Aim for good even lighting, avoid harsh shadows if possible. 
  3. Clean and polish the device as smudges and smears look amateurish. 
  4. Shoot with the device screen on but lower the brightness to avoid exposure problems. 
  5. Don't use a built-in flash as it can often be too harsh and produce shadows and screen glare. 
  6. Take plenty of shots. It's easier to discard the bad ones than have to go back and set everything up again.

Retouching iPhone Mockups

Once you have a photo you're happy with it's time to take it into Photoshop for retouching. Spend time using the clone and heal tools to remove any blemishes, scuffs, or defects that are visible to get your shot looking nice and tidy. I find photos can sometimes be a bit flat and boring straight from the camera, so you may want to tweak the colours and contrast to get the things looking a little punchier.

The final look of the shot is often down to personal taste and the type of app you’re trying to sell. A business app should probably be bright and clean, while a photography app might have more of a retro cross-processed look to it.

Because this next part would be pretty lengthy and boring to explain, I thought I’d do a quick screencast to show exactly how I go about comping screenshots onto devices.

Even if you’re not too familiar with Photoshop the screencast should have been easy enough to follow so that you can use the same technique on your own photos. If you get stuck or have questions feel free to ping me on Twitter.

Need Some iPhone Mockups Right Now?

If you don't have a DSLR camera or the desire to shoot your own, don’t worry. I have an entire collection of iPhone, iPad, and Mac Mock-ups available. All the shots are retouched with smart layers in place so you can literally download, open in Photoshop and drop in your app screenshot.

If you’ve got any questions or have used one of my iPhone mockups when marketing your app I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on twitter at @dancounsell.