Live Wallpapers are one of iOS’s neat if underused, features. It’s fun—and very Harry Potteresque—to have a bit of motion on your lock screen. But setting any old live photo isn’t going to give you great results: here’s how to make sure you’ve got a good one to use for wallpaper.

How to Set a Live Wallpaper

To set a live photo as your wallpaper, go to Settings > Wallpaper > Choose a New Wallpaper and then select your Live Photos album.

Select the live photo you want to use, make sure “Live Photo” is selected, and then tap Set > Set Both (or either “Set Lock Screen” or “Set Home Screen” if you only want it on one).

And just like that, you’ll have live wallpaper. Now, let’s look at getting a good live photo to use.

Taking a Good Live Wallpaper Photo

A live photo is, first and foremost, a photo. Most of the time your background will be still. This means that you need to make sure the still photo part looks great. You also want the transition to when the wallpaper is in motion to look natural. There are a couple of other key things you need to bear in mind:

  • Wallpapers are vertical on iOS. For one of the first times ever, I’m recommending you shoot with your iPhone held vertical.
  • A Live Photo records a few seconds before and after when you take the photo. This means you need to have a shot set up before you press the shutter button.
  • For the transition to look good between the still and motion parts of the live photo, you need to keep your iPhone as still as possible while you take the shot. If you’ve got a tripod, use it. Otherwise, brace or rest your iPhone as well as you can.

The easiest good live photos to take are landscapes, especially if there’s moving water. You have plenty of time to line up the shot, make sure your camera is stable, and, since the motion is cyclical, they almost always look good.

RELATED: How to Take Good Landscape Photos

Staged portraits are a little trickier but still possible. Make sure you’re in a well-lit place—anywhere with a big window normally works great—because live photos look particularly grainy in low light and then have your subject pose. I’d recommend you have them pull a silly face, relax back to a normal smile, then pull another silly face. If you take the photo when they’re smiling normally, the live photo should capture the two silly faces. That way, your wallpaper will look normal, but when it’s in motion, it’ll be packed with personality.

RELATED: How to Take a Good Portrait Photo

Pets and natural portraits are by far the trickiest to get right. There are so much motion and action that normally, either the still photo or the video will look off. You also can’t brace your iPhone to keep things stationary. If you want to use a live photo of a pet or your playing child, I’d recommend you go with the tried and true sports photography method: keep shooting until you get something good. It might have taken a few days, but I eventually ended up with this nice live photo of my dog giving me the side eye.

Like any photo, you can edit live photos. You can also change which frame appears as the still photo, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. The video frames are lower resolution than the still image from the camera.

RELATED: How to Edit Live Photos on Your iPhone

Play around with different live photos until you get one that works for you. It can be quite finicky to get one that looks good as a wallpaper. It took me a few tries to get the ones I’ve demoed in this article.

Profile Photo for Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
Read Full Bio »