Smartphones have come a long way and now take better and better photos than before. Sometimes, I can’t even tell the difference anymore. Especially when these photos are uploaded to social media platforms.
Smartphones are very handy for travel photos
As a travel content creator, you would think my number one gear is a camera. But to tell you the truth, I have not brought a real camera since traveling in 2015. I kid you not.
I invested in the best phones (that I can afford at that time) and took my photos with it. In my mind, why the hell would I spend more than Php30,000 for a camera, when I can take good photos with my phone? So all my travel photos you see in my Instagram page are all taken by different phones from different times – mostly iPhone 7 and XS.
I never had a real camera until October 2020 when a friend of mine gave me his old Nikon D3300 and a couple of hardcore lenses. Unfortunately, we entered a time when travel is a risk so I have not taken my camera out yet for any adventures.
Why would you want to take travel photos with your phone if you have a camera then? For a few reasons. One, it is not practical to take your camera everywhere and anytime with you. Two, some things can’t wait for you to take out your camera, adjust the settings and take photos. Three, if you’re a social media content creator like me, then you’d know the pain of trying to take videos with your phone and then switching to a camera for photos. Most times, if I’m eating outside, I’ll just shoot all the contents using my phone.
However, no matter how great your smartphone (or even if you have the latest Sony Alpha), the outcome of your photo heavily relies on your ability to take good photos.
Now the question is, can you take incredible travel photos with a smartphone? Hell yes. It’s easier, it’s quicker and your phone does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to settings. You just need to know how to use it to your advantage.
Disclaimer: We are currently living in times when travel is not encouraged. This post is for future references when we can all start exploring again. However, some of these tips are still applicable to taking photos when you go out for necessities and even from your window. Challenge your creativity.
Tips for taking travel photos using a smartphone
1. Wipe your camera lens
I hear you saying “no duh” but I can’t tell you enough how important this tip is. And while it’s one of the most important things, it is also taken for granted a lot. Wiping your camera lens with a microfiber cloth or your eyeglass cleaning cloth can do wonders. I can’t count the number of times I told myself “wow, I didn’t know it can get cleaner” after wiping my lens.
2. Research your destination
There’s a reason why Pinterest posts are for pinning and Instagram has a save feature. They’re there for FUTURE references. Both these platforms offer more than a good amount of useful information about your destination and if you want an Instagram-worth photo, check those articles and pictures out.
Not only do you learn a bit of tips and tricks about your destination, but you also get more ideas where to visit. Influencers in the wild are amazing at finding good photo spots in a place so I suggest you save their content for inspiration.
Another example below from @theadventuresofanexpat
3. As with traditional cameras, lighting is everything. So schedule your photo walks and sessions.
Harsh mid noon lights aren’t very flattering in photos. It might also blow up some parts of your photo which would be hard to edit post processing. I find that natural daylight before 10am and afternoon light starting from 4pm is soft, flattering and sometimes would even bring you magical skies. Here’s a photo I took from around 6-7 in the morning:
If you’re shooting indoors, go to a spot where you get most of the natural light – by the window or door. However, If you’re like me who lives in an apartment with very little natural light, a regular ring light will help you do the trick.
4. Avoid using smartphone zooms
I know smartphones have progressed a lot in the last several years but the zoom technology still can’t compare to real cameras. Although I’ve seen the new Huawei phone and it has a really good zoom, I would still recommend not to use it unless you really have to.
Below is a photo that my mom took in Boracay. She used zoom in iPhone 7 and look how it went hahaha
5. Composition makes the difference.
A lot of photos, even taken by the priciest phone, will still not look good if the composition is off. I know sometimes you just have to take a quick point and shoot, and you will really see the difference compared to thought off photos.
Check out this photo I took from 2015. The place was so beautiful but I didn’t compose it well and it turned out like a random swamp.
That being said, you don’t have to overthink quick travel photos. Try these three main considerations when you’re composing a photo:
Rule of thirds – The rule of rules in photography. Placing subjects and balancing background will become easier when you follow the rule of thirds. Explore your phone camera settings and turn on the grid guide and place the subject or the focus point of the subject where the lines cross. It makes the photo more dynamic but also balanced even without symmetry.
Dead Center – A lot of people avoid dead center composition, but I think for Instagram travel photos a dead center composition can really be stunning. You can do this in spots where the background is not big (landscapes) or if you find a really good material for framing. @__my_neverland__ has a lot of good examples of this.
6. Dont be afraid of negative space
Some people like a lot of their photos, some people embrace the negative space. I encourage you to embrace the negative space. It draws attention to your subject and it gives you out an awesome minimalist output. @bananas_fortravel makes great use of negative space and her photos turns out awesome!
7. Experiment with angles
If you have more time, try out different angles. You’ll be surprised as to how photos can turn out when you get more creative with angles. Depending on your goal, it would help you make your photo look moody or happy. @destinationchaser, one of my favorite content creators is really good at experimenting with angles.
Like I mentioned above, your smartphone camera will do the heavy lifting when it comes to settings. It automatically detects the environment and will adjust automatically based on this.
However, if you are like me and like to edit photos in Adobe Lightroom I would suggest you to underexpose your photo rather than overexposing it.
It’s easier to bring back the details from underexposed parts than the blown out parts of your photo. If you are not going to edit, try turning on your HDR mode so it will properly expose most of the spots in your photos.
9. Include a subject, create depth and write stories
One of my favorite things about travel photos is that you have the opportunity to showcase culture and stories of your local destination. You can do that by adding a subject, tell a story with the photo, and immerse with the place. Check out the wonderful stories from @bananas_fortravel, @life.of.sofia and @jaimyfrances photos.
10. If possible, bring a portable/adjustable tripod
There’s a lot of this kind of tripod in the market already and they’re becoming more affordable and accessible. Not only will it help secure the phone when you are taking photos of yourself, it will also help you get sharper photos especially in low light situations. @prettywellpacked is really good at taking photos by herself using a tripod. Check out her photos below.
11. Always bring a powerbank
The great thing about smartphones is that it is your map, computer, camera all in one. But that also means it will run out of battery faster than the older phones. Power banks are not lighter, smaller and have higher power. You don’t have to bring a big bulky one anymore to bring 10,000MAH of power. Even the ones with 20,000MAH are small and light now. I personally just bought a slim Aukey power bank of 10,000MAH and I love it. It’s lightweight and compact. So always bring a powerbank with you.