General Travel Tips

Taking Better Travel Photos with Your Smartphone Camera

Hello! Today I’m pleased to announce a guest post from Max Therry at Max writes about photography tips, editing advice, and news related to photography. If you are interested in improving your photography skills, definitely check out his awesome blog! Today he has written us an article about how to take better photos with your smartphone camera. Enjoy!

Smartphone cameras no longer provide pixelated, low-resolution photos with poor exposure. We can now use smartphone cameras to take some epic photographs, and the quality of these devices has increased ten-fold.

As you can imagine, smartphones are now the perfect photography tool for travel. If you don’t want to carry a huge DSLR and relevant gear, a smartphone can provide a low-hassle alternative. You can fit your smartphone discreetly in your pocket and still use it to take some astounding travel photos.

A smartphone can be a traveler’s best friend, especially if you know how to make the most of your camera and its functionality. This article provides a host of amazing tips for mobile travel photography from composition to specific types of photography.­­­

General Mobile Travel Photography Tips

The most basic tip we can offer is to practice as much as you can. There’s lots of quality internet tutorials on getting the best out of your smartphone photography, so do some research.

If you intend to use your smartphone for your travel photography then you must be comfortable with using it in different situations, which means using your smartphone camera at every opportunity. Play with the settings, try different angles and features; get to know your smartphone camera and its limitations.

Make sure you have enough space in your storage or memory card so you don’t have to delete your photos in the middle of your trip. It’s a good idea to take some spare memory cards and storage for back-up.

Finally, consider buying some smartphone accessories for your camera. The best accessory to purchase is a small mobile tripod. A tripod can provide you with a fantastic level of stability, and ensure that there is no motion blur in your travel pics.

You can buy mini tripods specifically built for smartphones such as the Gorillapod Mini. You could also purchase a macro lens or zoom lens that could allow you to take high-quality non-standard photos with your smartphone.

One more thing: clean your lenses before taking a picture. It might sound silly and obvious, but how many of us think to clean our smartphone camera lenses before we take a shot? It can make a big difference to the image quality.

Specific Mobile Travel Photography Tips

Now that you have a little more knowledge about mobile travel photography in general and your smartphone, we can start looking at specific types of photography. When traveling, there are certain types of photographs that always create beautiful and stunning shots, and also help you capture the true essence of the place you are visiting. The following are some of the main types of travel photography, together with tips relating to them:

Get a Mobile Camera App

Your phone’s built-in camera app is ok, but it doesn’t give you a great deal of control. Consider downloading a third-party camera controlling app, such as VSCO, ProCamera App or any others. These apps allow you to control your camera manually, and you can change shutter speed, ISO, white balance and more. The only thing you can’t change is aperture, because your phone’s lens is a fixed one.


VSCO controllers

Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is often the bread and butter of travel photography. Landscape shots with a smartphone can be easy, and smartphones often excel at this type of photography. The main thing that can help you to get you a good shot is exposure control. Exposure basically means how dark or light your image will come out overall. If you don’t adjust your exposure correctly, you might find either washed-white or totally black areas on your photo.

When you tap on your screen to set the focus, your iPhone will automatically set the exposure. However, sometimes you’ll need to fix exposure by yourself – to do this, slide your finger up or down the screen.


Take a look at the sky, this photo is clearly overexposed


After setting the focus and exposure

To help balance the light and dark parts of a landscape, also consider using a smartphone HDR composite mode. This is useful for things like sunsets and sunrises, or lighting situations where there are a lot of bright areas and dark areas at the same time. HDR mode will help to adjust the shadow and highlight areas to get the best exposure.


HDR Photo. At first sight, you’ll might see not much difference, but try to look closely at the details and textures

One more helpful feature for landscape photography is grid lines. This will help you to level out horizontal or vertical lines to keep horizon straight and also find a better composition; see the rule of thirds.



Photo by Jean Baak

People Photography

Portraits and natural shots involving people are another superb type of photo to take during your travels. When walking through a city center or a local market, for example, people provide action and a sense of scale.

If you intend to shoot people with your smartphone camera always ask permission first – not everyone is comfortable with having their photo taken. Furthermore, try and get them to act natural and continue their activities, as natural shots look more realistic than staged photos. Finally, be considerate and don’t take too long shooting, or disrupt what they are doing. Treat people as you would like to be treated, and you’ll get a lot more out of a situation.

Important note: it is also advisable to check if there are any restrictions about photographing people or publishing images in the country you’re visiting; sometimes these regulations are quite strict.

Street Photography

As with people photography, street photography can help truly capture the life and soul of a destination. Imagine taking shots whilst walking through the streets of downtown Amman in Jordan, or exploring a bazaar in Marrakesh.

When taking your smartphone into the unknown to explore streets you must be ready and alert – you never know when an opportunity may present itself. Work quickly and always be respectful of your surroundings and any people involved.

Furthermore, look for unusual angles, colorful patterns and strange textures that would look interesting on a photo. Streets in far-off destinations are often full of wonderful things such as these so you can really let your imagination and creativity run wild.


Night Time/Low Light Photography

When traveling, night time photography can present a whole different set of photos and show a location in a totally different light. It also requires a different approach to daytime images.

Taking your smartphone out on a nighttime stroll is a fantastic way to get some intriguing images. First and foremost, never use flash at night – a camera flash will simply produce a glaring and harsh effect that will look unprofessional, and won’t light up more than a few metres in front of you.

Secondly, you’ll have to be very still to avoid the blur. Consider getting yourself a tripod – holding your smartphone and trying to take a shot of a bright cityscape in the dark, for example, will often result in a blurry photo that isn’t in focus. This is due to the need for low shutter speeds in low light, and to get a sharp image you will need to invest in a tripod or stand.

When you photograph luminous objects, set your focus on the light source, otherwise you’ll receive washed out light. Pay attention to exposure as well – your phone’s camera will try to expose for the shadows which will make everything look brighter than it should.


Photo by Paul Hermann

Photographing Moving Objects

Finally, there is the challenge of taking photos while you are in motion, or of moving objects. Often when traveling, you will have situations such as this when movement is involved. For example, you may be traveling in a jeep on a safari in Africa, or maybe you are taking in the scenery from a train window. Just because you are moving, this doesn’t mean you can’t still take amazing mobile photos.

If you traveling by car and it it’s safe enough to open the window, go for it. The glass can often cause glare and harsh reflections that can ruin a shot.

If opening the window is not an option, remember to focus on subject outside, not on the window. Another thing that may cause reflections are your clothes, so if you know you’ll spend a lot of time on the vehicle, try wearing dark clothes to avoid bright spots and reflections.

Your smartphone camera will have several different settings that can help for shots involving movement. Burst mode, for example, can take multiple shots in a short period of time and thus help capture many frames of a moving object.

If you can’t get a sharp shot from a moving vehicle, don’t despair – embrace this instead! Some of the best and most creative shots have some motion blur in them – look at Andreas Gursky’s mobile phone images caught from a train window. Gursky is, admittedly, one of the world’s best photographers, but it goes to prove that sharpness isn’t everything in an image.


Post Processing

Yes, even smartphone images need some post-processing to crop and adjust color, exposure and contrast. Your phone will likely have an image editor already, or you can download one. If you can bear to wait until you get home, it will really benefit your images if you work on editing on a PC instead of the phone.

You can see so much more detail on the large screen of the computer or laptop, and this will help you see which areas need adjusting. It will also give you an idea of how your images will look at full size – lots of people still view photos on a computer screen rather than a smartphone or tablet, so it makes sense to make sure your images are as good at full size as they are on your phone screen.

Final Thoughts

We hope you have found this article useful, and that it’s inspired you to get out and get practicing. Mobile travel photography really can produce some amazing results providing that you know how to work your smartphone camera. Next time you set off on an adventure, why not use these tips and try your hand at mobile travel photography?

Read more from Max at


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