Live Photos was introduced with the iPhone 6s along with a 3D Touch-enabled display and an improved camera - but what is Live Photos, and how do you use it? Here, we explain exactly what Live Photos is, along with our tips and tricks to get the most out of the software.
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Live Photos tips: What are Live Photos?
Live Photos captures a second and a half of audio and video before and after you press the shutter for Harry Potter-like moving photos (that are actually low frame rate, 15fps videos).
Live Photos tips: Which Apple devices can take Live Photos?
Only the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus can take Live Photos.
You can use Live Photos with both the rear and front facing camera of those phones.
Live Photos tips: How to take a Live Photo
Open up the Camera app and Enable Live Photos by tapping the icon that looks like a bull’s eye at the top of the screen (between HDR and timer) it will turn yellow when it’s on.
Some reviewers have claimed Live Photos was on by default when they first used their iPhone 6s/6s Plus, but that wasn’t our experience.
There are a few things to be aware of when taking Live Photos. The second and a half of video starts actually before you press the button, so make sure you already have the shot in frame before pressing the shutter button or part of you photo will be you framing the shot. At the other end of the shot there’s another second and a half of video being taken so don’t click and immediately turn the phone towards the ground.
Also, beware; Live Photos captures audio at the same time. Shouting at the person to move while you take the shot will be heard loud and clear on the end product. People won’t expect that their voice will be recorded during what they believe to be a photograph, so beware of someone saying something incriminating in the background, it may make the Live Photos unshareable.
We recommend that you don’t keep Live Photos on all the time, especially if you have an iPhone with 16GB storage. To turn off Live Photos tap the bull’s eye at the top of the screen so it goes white.
Live Photos tips: What level of quality do Live Photos offer, and how much storage space do Live Photos take up?
Live Photos taken with the rear-facing camera on the 6s and 6s Plus are 12-megapixels. If you take Live Photos with the front facing camera it will be 5-megapixels.
When we imported Live Photos via Image Capture on a Mac we could see that each of the Live Photos is made up of a .mov file of around 3-4MB and a jpg of about 2-5.4MB. In most cases the video file was larger than the jpg, but there were a few cases where the jpg was bigger, we’re not at all sure why that would be the case. Normal photos are 1-2MB so the fact that these jpgs are larger suggests that they include more information than just the still image. An image taken on another iPhone 6s that was messaged to us weighed in at 4.6MB.
Whatever the logic behind the image sizes, they could certainly fill up a 16GB iPhone quickly if you became too trigger-happy. Although, it should be noted that the file sizes of Panoramas and Slow-mo videos are equally large, although perhaps people are less likely to leave those photo types on unintentionally.
Our recommendation: don’t leave Live Photos on all the time if you have limited storage space on your iPhone.
Live Photos tips: How to view Live Photos
Once you have taken a live photo you can view it in the Photos app on your phone (or tap the thumb nail of the image you’ve just taken in the bottom left corner to be taken straight to it).
Open the image and hard press on the photo to play it. We found that if you swiped to the next Live Photo it would play a few microseconds, but if you press throughout the playback you will see more of the recording. There appears to be no way to edit the final version even though this footage that is unseen by default it there.
You can view live Photos on other Apple devices running iOS 9 or Macs running OS X El Capitan. To view a Live Photo on an older iPhone or an iPad, use a long press to play the ‘video’. The problem with this is that your finger will obscure the photo you are playing.
We expected to be able to view Live Photos on an Apple Watch running watchOS 2, but unfortunately they only way to view it as a Live Photo was by setting the photo as a watch face. Pressing a photo in the Photos app on the watch didn't activate motion. This remains the case on the Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3.
It is straightforward to view any Live Photos on a Mac running El Capitan in Photos and Preview. Just click on the image.
Live Photos tips: How to find Live Photos on your iPhone
If you open the Photos app intending to view your Live Photos you may be surprised that there is no obvious way to determine if an image is Live or not. For reasons best known to Apple, the company hasn’t added a Live Photos album like it has for other photo categories.
Some reviewers suggest that there is a circular icon to identify Live Photos, but we didn’t see that on our phone, apart from when we had selected a photo for sharing, in that view we could see the Live icon.
We’d also heard you can search for Photos that are tagged with Live but that didn’t seem to work for us either.
Live Photos tips: How to share Live Photos
You can share your Live Photos to another iOS 9 device using iMessage, AirDrop, or by sharing a photo album via iCloud.
If you send Live Photos to another compatible you will be able to use 3D touch to activate the Live Photo by pressing on it hard. If you send the Live Photo to an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, or any other iOS 9 device, the live photo will play when you ‘long tap’ touch the screen.
You can also view Live Photos on the Apple Watch running watchOS 2, but only if you make it the Watch Face image or read it in iMessage. It doesn't play if you press and hold, or raise your wrist as we had expected.
Strangely, you can’t email Live Photos to any devices. The email attachment is always just a jpg. We wonder if this is something to do with Mail Drop – if an attachment is more than 5MB it will automatically use Mail Drop, so perhaps there is an issue with this.
You can send Live Photos to an older iPhone or iPad by AirDrop or iMessage, but it won’t play the video aspect of it, all you will see is the jpg.
Nor can you send Live Photos to a non-Apple smartphone. We tried sending one to an Android phone and the message didn’t even go through (perhaps MMS was unable to accept it). We also tried sending one via Whatsapp but all that was sent was the jpg.
Eventually there will be other ways to share Live Photos. Facebook has already announced that users will soon be able to use video as their profile pic, and this is likely to be a primary use for Live Photos. Apparently users will also be able to upload Live Photos to Facebook. Getty Images also plans to support Live Photos.
Live Photos tips: How to share a Live Photo with devices that can't view Live Photos
There is a way to view Live Photos on a pre-El Capitan Mac. Plug the iPhone in and open Image Capture and you will see a jpg and .mov file for each of your ‘photos’. Download the .mov file to see your Live Photos (which is essentially a movie).
You can take this .mov file and send it to any other device, or upload it to Facebook or any other social network. Of course you are really sharing a movie file, not a live photo, so you might be thinking you should have just videoed the moment and sent that.
Live Photos tips: How to edit Live Photos
You can’t edit Live Photos in iOS 9, if you try the edit feature says editing the image will turn off the live functionality.
However, the ability to edit Live Photos in iOS 10 is possible, allowing users to do everything from tweak the colours in the Live Photo to cropping it in the same way they would with a standard photo. iOS 10 is due to be released this autumn, possibly in September 2016 - you can learn more about iOS 10 in our guide: iOS 10 release date, new features and supported devices.
Live Photos tips: How to turn Live Photos into gifs
What if you've taken a great Live Photo, and want to turn it into a GIF for use on social media? While the functionality isn't officially offered by Apple, a recent addition to the App Store may be able to help - introducing Google's Motion Stills app, which turns Live Photos into GIFs and makes them look a lot better in the process.
How? Well, one of the biggest complaints about Live Photos to date is that they aren't stable - due to the low frame rate of the Live Photos, any motion is translated into big jumps and this can ruin the photo. However, Motion Stills analyses every frame of the Live Photo and automatically stabilises it for you, potentially turning a shaky view of the beach into a beautiful seaside GIF. Users can also stitch multiple Live Photos together, and have the option of exporting it as a video or a GIF ready for sharing.
If, for whatever reason you object to Google's Motion Stills app, you can turn your Live Photo into a GIF using your Mac too. Plug your iPhone into your Mac and open Image Capture. Download the .mov file to your Mac. Next you will need some GIF making software – we have an article on creating GIFs here.
Live Photos tips: Does Live Photo use up battery?
Live Photo starts recording as soon as you open the app in order that it can record those 1.5 seconds of footage before you hit the shutter button. For that reason we expect that it will be quite battery intensive – after all, the camera is one of the most battery intensive apps on the iPhone. We haven’t thoroughly tested this yet, but we’d suggest caution should be implemented when using the camera app if you are running short on battery. Don’t leave the camera on when you aren’t planning to take a photo, for example.
Live Photos tips: What conditions are worse for Live Photos?
In our experience Live Photos didn’t work well in low light. This is probably because the phone is recording 15fps video, so it can’t really take in a decent amount of light.
Live Photos tips: What conditions are best for Live Photos?
We think the ideal Live Photos would be where a subject is moving but other objects around them are stationary. Otherwise there may be too much going on in the Live Photo. You want the focus to be on the subject, just as you would with any photo.
Also, because we aren’t big fans of the audio element we recommend taking the Live Photo in a situation where there isn’t a lot of loud talking (and avoid shouting at your subject when you are taking the photo). We think a nice place to take a Live Photo would be in the countryside, with birds singing or a babbling brook.
Of course you could capture some great audio along with your Live Photo. Perhaps your Live Photo of your child also captures them saying something particularly amusing.
Speaking of children, this is where Live Photos really comes into its own. Kids (and for that matter animals) tend not to stay still for very long and Live Photos gets around this by taking a ‘picture’ that includes the movement.
One other use for Live Photos might be for taking pictures of people before they know you are taking a picture, for example your colleague who didn’t have time to raise their hands in front of their face before you hit the shutter, but obviously that would be evil.
Our wish list for Live Photo 2.0
We’d like to see the following features in the next update to Live Photos.
- We want an album specifically for Live Photos.
- We’d like to be able to edit Live Photos so we can choose where the video starts and ends.