How to Improve Travel Photography With a Phone

Traveling around the world is an awesome pastime – there is nothing more exhilarating than jumping on a plane and jetting off to some unknown part of the world to explore and find adventure. Those who can travel frequently can count themselves as blessed – our world is a unique and fascinating place and there is so much to discover.

Many people who love travel also love photography – the two often go hand in hand. Whilst venturing into bustling cities, or trekking through epic landscapes, having a camera to hand to capture those exceptional moments is part of the fun. This article looks at travel photography using a smartphone and how you can improve your technique.

Why should you use a smartphone for travel photography?

For most travelers, a DSLR camera is the go-to accessory for travel photography. If you want the highest quality photos and greater freedom with your compositions, then a DSLR is undoubtedly the best choice. In today’s modern world, however, smartphone camera technology has come a long way and most smartphones now have high-quality cameras bursting with features.

Furthermore, smartphones are much more convenient – you can literally carry your smartphone in your pocket and you don’t have to carry a camera bag or a host of accessories. Carrying a DSLR and spare lenses can be tiresome and it can take up space needed for other important items. If you want to travel light for a particular trip, using your smartphone could be a great stress-free alternative.

How can you improve your smartphone travel photography

How can you take magnificent photos using your Smartphone? The following are some important tips and considerations that should help you improve your smartphone travel photography tenfold:

Make use of the capture button

Most people make the mistake of taking their photos by simply touching the capture icon on their smartphone screen. Whilst this is perfectly acceptable, if you want photos that have no motion blur then it is advisable to use the actual button (like your volume button) in the same manner that you would press a DSLR shutter button. This will help reduce camera movement and ensure that your photos are crisp and in focus.

Consider using non-standard camera modes

Most smartphones actually have some cool camera modes that you can use to create artistic or interesting effects. Two effects in particular that are useful are HDR mode and Panorama mode. HDR mode allows you to combine different exposures of the same photo together to create a balanced end product. This is useful in travel photography, particularly when shooting landscape pics. Alternatively, panorama shots combine several photos together to create a wide-angle scene – this type of photo is again suited for landscape travel photography.

hdr non hdr photo

For example, the difference between HDR and non-HDR photo

Manually focus on your subject

Smartphones generally have an auto-focus feature that will automatically focus on what it interprets as the main subject. To focus properly, and to focus on the subject you want we advise focusing manually – touch the area of the photo that you want to focus on and a green box should appear when it has focused properly. Using manual focus can give you greater control and allow you to focus on unusual objects or angles during your travels.

For example, if you’re taking photos in the dark, tap on the light part to set your focus and exposure

Use natural light and avoid using the flash

Travel photography looks that much better when natural light is involved – imagine taking a photo of The Empire State Building in NYC for example bathed in light. The shadows created adds an extra dimension to your photo. Always try and use natural light to enhance your travel photos where possible and never use your smartphone flash. A flash can be a useful tool, but smartphone flashes are generally not as complex as a proper DSLR flash – they create a lighting effect that looks harsh and unnatural. This type of flash makes photos look poor quality and unprofessional.

Consider your composition

Photo composition is of great importance, especially for travel photography. Smartphone travel photos can benefit from unusual compositions. When using your smartphone, try and look at architecture and landscapes in a different way – use unique angles and capture small details such as patterns and textures. Let your imagination run wild and use the greater mobility of a smartphone to really let your creative juices flow.

Consider third-party camera app

Most of smartphone’s default camera app shoot in auto mode. But if you could look at your camera settings you could actually improve the quality of your photos. If your native camera app doesn’t allow you to change settings (like an iPhone Cameras), try to search for a third-party app which would have DSLR-like manual controls. Those apps allow you to do have much more control over your smartphone – shoot in RAW mode, check other settings such as white balance, focus mode, and exposure/aperture. By tweaking your settings, you can give yourself an optimal setup that will allow you to take high-quality photos.

raw mode settings

Manual Controls of free VSCO App

Use post-processing software afterward

Most people make the mistake of assuming that you cannot edit smartphone photos because they have been taken on a smartphone – this simply isn’t true! Even your native camera app do some improvements automatically, and in addition you can do some adjustments by yourself in your built-in editor. Use post processing to clean up the photos, crop or straighten the photo and also to boost the colors and contrast.

As you can see, there is a host of minor changes and configurations you can make that can improve your smartphone photography greatly. Simply understanding the camera features of your phone and its settings is a great way to start. As with any photography, consider your compositions, take your time, and also take multiple shots to ensure you have redundancy if one photo is of poor quality. We hope you have found this guide useful – next time you set out on an adventure, see what snaps you can take with your smartphone.

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