A Guide to Smartphone Travel Photography

People are often surprised when I tell them my travel photographs are taken from a smartphone. I’ve been traveling for a while now but up until my very recent trip to Morocco, I only used my smartphone for all my travel photography. I now have a mirrorless camera but I still continue to use my Android smartphone out of habit (probably something I won’t stop doing in a hurry). Here are my top tips for smartphone travel photography and what has worked for me.

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Lights (Camera, Action!)

There’s a reason lights is first in this saying! Lighting can truly be the difference between a beautiful picture and an average one. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a prescribed way of using light since it really depends on the type of picture you want to create.

Smartphone Travel Photography
This picture of Porto wouldn’t have been as bright if the sun was on the other side

When it comes to certain types of photographs (i.e., one above), unless I am going for a backlit/silhouette look, I always try to position the subject so that the light is in front as this avoids shadows.

Also don’t dismiss golden hour – the hour after sunrise and before sunset. This is a great time to create those glowing portraits.

Smartphone Travel Photography
The magnificent Hungarian Parliament during golden hour
Old town Edinburgh illuminated during golden hour

Here are a couple of tips on lighting and travel

  • If it’s raining and your activities are flexible, do the indoor ones on the rainy day and save the outdoor ones for when the sun is out again
  • Your window to use natural light is very limited during winter. Plan your itinerary to accommodate this

Composition

This is something that I am very passionate about. The rule of thirds is a well known concept about composition where an image is divided into thirds (horizontally and vertically) and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines, or along one of the lines itself. In addition to this rule, I generally follow the tips below

  • If I want a certain subject dead centered, I ensure the space on either side is equal
  • Unless it is an intentional decision, lines/horizons are always straight
  • Pictures are not cropped off in weird places (like tops off the doors)

Tip – Turn on your phone camera’s grid line function to help with the rule of thirds or to center your picture.

Check Back

I always go back and check the picture I took. Since smartphones are so light, a slight shake in your hand can make the picture blurred. Checking back at the place you took the picture itself gives you the opportunity to take another picture before leaving in case your first picture is blurry. My phone sometimes tells me that my “last shot maybe blurred” but I always check nevertheless.

Smartphone Travel Photography
Always check back!
PC – My friend Savini

Clean the Lense

This is an obvious one and my previous tip about checking back will also help discover any unclear pictures because of fingerprint covered lenses. You may be able to enhance a lot of aspects of your smartphone travel photography but pictures smudged by fingerprint may be difficult to edit out.

Patience (is Indeed a Virtue)

I sometimes see people taking pictures in front of a monument or a beautiful scenery and there are literally a hundred people between them and the monument or scenary. I personally don’t like seeing random strangers in my pictures and will wait patiently for people to move or a space to free up before clicking.

Stick Around

If you have ever witnessed a sunset at a famous location you know there will be loads of people standing for hours waiting for the sun to go down. I’ve seen that most people leave the minute this happens. However, I have found that the most beautiful sunset pictures actually happen a few minutes after the sun actually sets. Stick around you will be able to not only capture some beautiful pictures but also enjoy the moments minus the crowds.

Filters

This is personal preference and there is nothing wrong with using filters but I don’t use them. When I edit my pictures, I usually edit the brightness and saturation. Again this is very personal but I believe editing just these two things enhances a picture’s natural beauty while still preserving the shot as it was seen by the naked eye.

If you do like using filters and like a consistent look for all your pictures, Adobe Lightroom Presets is a great way to achieve this.

Clothing

Wearing the correct shade of clothing can enhance your photograph and make you stand out. This is especially true during the winter when the scenery is usually drab. Wearing a bright red or yellow jacket can really make your pictures pop out.

Smartphone Travel Photography
Yellow really stands out again this cobalt blue
Smartphone Travel Photography
My red jacket pops out against this volcanic crater in Iceland

Backup

Really learned this the hard way in Portugal when my phone got stolen and I hadn’t backed up my pictures in 3 days. Now I have got into a habit of backing up every time I take a few pictures. I also set a reminder on my phone to backup my pictures nightly. My favorite way of doing this is through Google photos. Google photos will back your pictures up even if you are not connected to the internet. All you need to do is to open the app.

Helpful Equipment

External Battery Packs

I pack a couple of external battery packs and carry one with me everyday. The best part about these battery packs is that you can even get solar powered ones. Not only do you get to charge your phone on the go, the battery itself is also charging on its own!

Smartphone Travel Photography

Waterproof Case

The right case can really protect your phone from any water damage. How do you know it is the right case? Test it out! Place some tissue inside the case, close it up, fill up your sink and completely submerge the case in water for a couple of hours. You know you have a good case if the tissue is bone dry when you take it out of the water. HERE is a link to the case I have.

Smartphone Travel Photography

Extra Memory Cards

There’s nothing worse than getting the “memory full” warning just when you are about to take a beautiful photograph. Carry an extra memory card for two to counter this. Especially if you shoot using the manual mode function. Raw images take up a lot more space.

External Lenses

I personally haven’t used one yet but have heard great things about them. I bought one just before my trip to Iceland only to find out it was for an iphone and not an Samsung (even though the site said it would fit an Samsung too) so I had to return it.

Did you find this smartphone travel photography guide and tips useful? Please let me know by liking/commenting below or sharing this post on social media! Thank you!!

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