Turn Your iPhone into a Webcam with Shortcuts and Camo

Automating boring tasks is easier than ever. Say you’re on a lot of video calls, and instead of using the webcam that came with your computer, you want to use the camera that’s on the back of your phone. With about five minutes of work, you can turn your iPhone into a webcam. With about 10 minutes more work, and a sticker, you can even make it automatic.

TLDR For Nerds Like Me 🤓

Below, I’ll show you how to use an NFC sticker, a Shortcut on iOS, and a partner Keyboard Maestro Macro on macOS to turn your iPhone into a fantastic webcam for your Mac. The best part is that you don’t have to click or tap anything whenever you want to set it up. The physical act of plugging in your phone does all the work.

Why You Might Want to Try This

You can totally skip this part if you want.

We’ve been doing a lot more video calls lately, and that got me thinking about how to make them better.

Laptop cameras are… not great. Even the ones on nice laptops. Especially the ones on nice laptops. You can help them out by improving your lighting. But even in great lighting, they’re just meh.

An easier way to look great on video calls is to use the way better camera on the back of your phone. It’s better than every laptop camera and every plugin webcam you can buy as a consumer.

But it’s a bit of a hassle to use your phone’s camera. Any time you want to make a call, you have to open an app on your phone, open an app on your Mac, plug the phone in, put it in a mount, and probably fiddle with the camera app’s settings. While you’re doing that, you should probably also put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode to keep your fancy new camera from randomly buzzing during your calls.

What a pain.

If you’re willing to put in a few minutes of work up front, you can save yourself the hassle and reduce the setup process to three unfiddly steps:

  1. Put the phone in the mount.
  2. Plug the phone in.
  3. Strike a pose.

How To Make Your New Camera Setup Automatic

To make this work, you’ll need a few ingredients. As with any recipe, you can swap out most of these pieces for others that you like better. I assume that something like this can be done on Android (probably a lot more, in fact), but that’s not where I spend my time. If you have great Android automation stories, I’d love to hear them! This is what you’ll need:

  1. An iPhone with two apps: Camo & Shortcuts (formerly known as Workflow)
  2. A Mac with two programs: Camo Studio & Keyboard Maestro
  3. A phone mount and a lightning cable
  4. An NFC sticker (I’ve got 29 to spare, if you happen to be in the Grand Rapids area)

Level 1: Set up Webcam Mode with a single tap.

Shortcuts is an app that lets you string together a list of actions that your phone will run whenever you like. Here’s how you can use it to put your phone into Webcam Mode:

  1. Open Shortcuts on your phone.
  2. Tap the plus button to add a new Shortcut.
  3. Add a few actions:
    • Turn on Do Not Disturb (so your phone doesn’t randomly buzz during video calls).
    • Turn the orientation lock off (so you don’t accidentally appear sideways).
    • Set the brightness to 0% (because you won’t be looking at the screen anyway).
    • Open Camo.
  4. Give your Shortcut a name. Maybe “Webcam Mode 😎”.

Congratulations! You’ve just done a bit of programming. 🧑‍💻 You can try out your Shortcut by tapping it in the main screen of the Shortcuts app.

Level 2: Now make that zero taps.

Your phone is going to be the main actor in this automation. Every iPhone since the XR has had a built-in NFC reader that’s always looking for NFC tags to read. Mostly, it’s just used for Apple Pay. But with Shortcuts, you can use those little tags to automate just about anything.

Today, we’ll use a strategically-placed NFC sticker to turn the action of putting your phone in its mount into a digital trigger for our Webcam Mode shortcut.

  1. Open Shortcuts on your phone.
  2. Tap the Automations tab.
  3. Tap the plus button to add a new Automation.
  4. Tap Create Personal Automation.
  5. Swipe down a bit and tap NFC.
  6. Press the button to scan an NFC tag and wave your phone around the NFC sticker until Shortcuts recognizes it. On most iPhones, the NFC reader is towards the top middle of the phone.
  7. Add the Run Shortcut action to your Automation and pick the Webcam Mode shortcuts that we made earlier.
  8. Now stick the sticker to the phone mount in such a way that when you mount the phone, the NFC reader will naturally come near the sticker.

Level 3: Put your Mac in Phone Camera Mode with a single click.

The Mac is full of powerful automation technology. From shell scripts, to Automator, to the upcoming Shortcuts for Mac. Lately, I’ve been playing around with Keyboard Maestro, which adds a crazy amount of triggers and actions.

Here’s how to set up a Keyboard Maestro Macro to put your Mac into Phone Camera Mode:

  1. Open Keyboard Maestro on your Mac.
  2. Beneath the Macros column, click the + button to add a new Macro.
  3. Add the following Actions:
    1. Pause Until Conditions are Met. After triggering our Macro, we’ll wait for your phone to be plugged in. Tap the green + icons inside the action and select “USB Device Condition.” Enter “iPhone” into the text box under “with exact name”.
    2. Activate a Specific Application. Choose Camo Studio as the application to activate. Here, activate mostly means “Open or Bring to the Front.”
    3. Optionally, kick Camo Studio once by pausing for three seconds, quitting Camo Studio, pausing again, and re-activating Camo Studio. With any luck, this step won’t be necessary when you’re reading this. Back when I first set up this automation, Camo Studio had an annoying habit of getting stuck when I would open it for the first time each day. Quitting the app and opening it again fixed the problem every time. That was really annoying, but with Keyboard Maestro, I just baked it into my automation and never thought about it again.
    4. Move a Window. If you have more than one screen, you can add an action to your Macro that will move the Camo window so that it’s near your phone mount. Now you can check your shot and make sure everything looks good without manually dragging the window around every time.

And that’s it. You’ve now done a little bit of programming on macOS! 🧑‍💻 You can try out your new Macro by clicking the triangular Run button in the toolbar.

Level 4: Now make that zero clicks.

So now you can set up your phone for Webcam Mode with zero taps and your Mac with just one click. But we can do better.

Keyboard Maestro Macros can be triggered in a dizzying number of ways. The coolest one for our purposes here is the Remote Trigger. Adding that to any Macro will generate a (very) long URL. If you paste that URL into any web browser anywhere, the Macro will run on your Mac!

You want to be careful with this URL because I really do mean any web browser. The URLs are long enough that it would take a ridiculously long time for anybody to guess them, so you can treat them as though they’re mostly private. Still, I probably wouldn’t use remote triggers to do anything super sensitive. Opening a specific app is no big deal, but maybe don’t add a remote “Delete all my stuff” trigger, just to be safe.

It turns out that you can load a URL in Shortcuts. Because you can do that, the Webcam Mode Shortcut from earlier can trigger your new Phone Camera Mode Macro all by itself!

To set it up:

  1. Open your Phone Camera Mode Macro in Keyboard Maestro and add a new Remote Trigger. Click on the control that says “this Mac only” and change it to “shared.”
  2. Click the Copy button to copy the new Remote Trigger URL. Put it somewhere that you can get to from your phone, like Notes, Drafts, Craft, Bear, or another app that you like. If you have Universal Clipboard turned on, you may not even need an app.
  3. Open Shortcuts on your phone and tap the three dots to edit your Webcam Mode Shortcut.
  4. Add a new “Get Contents of URL” Action to the list and paste in the URL that you copied earlier.

Finish: Revel in your new powers!🧙

Let’s try out the whole setup! With your phone unlocked, pop it into its mount and then plug it in. You might need to shift around the NFC sticker to find just the right spot. But, once you find it, you’ll be able to go from “hey, wanna hop on a Zoom call?” to video chatting in glorious 12-megapixel clarity in seconds, with zero taps and zero clicks.

I hope you’ve had as much fun setting this up as I did putting it together in the first place. And if you’ve gotten this far, then congratulations! You’re now a proficient automator and you’ve done some programming

What else can you dream up? The sky’s the limit.