How to take great travel photos on your mobile phone
When travelling to any corner of the world, especially for the first time, there will be sights that completely take your breath away. On walking holidays, you’ll find yourself discovering some of the best off-the-beaten-path sights of other-worldly beauty. You’ll certainly want to preserve those unique moments to show loved ones and friends back at home.
You may feel as though you need professional camera equipment and training to get frame-worthy shots. However, most of us have all the technology we need right in our pockets - our mobile phones. Mobile phones now have incredible capabilities and can capture beautiful shots while travelling the globe. As well as not having to compromise on quality, they’ll also take up less room and be easier to carry on your hikes than more traditional cameras.
We spoke to a range of photographers for their top tips on taking quality travel pictures with your phone camera. You too can take amazing holiday photos like the professionals.
Photography advice from the experts
Big Birds Travels
We spoke to Josh and Nanu, travel bloggers and camera phone photographers at Big Birds Travels. They told us why everyone should take photographs whilst they travel: “Travelling is one of the most amazing things we can do, for many years we have loved the quote by Mark Twain, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness’.
“Travel helps you truly open your mind to different food, cultures & places; it can influence and alter everything about us. However, these moments often slip by so fast, and at the time it can be challenging to absorb each one. This is what inspired us to shoot video and photos. Just like a smell or sound that evokes memories, when we see a photo or video of an experience we had whilst travelling, although that exact moment cannot be relived, we can replay it again and again in our minds and often continue to grow and learn from it.”
“Think about the emotion or feeling of that moment and try to capture it in any way possible.”
We then asked Josh and Nanu what their number one tip for people trying to improve their smartphone photography is: “There are many technical things we could mention, but more than often the best thing about any photo is not how technically brilliant it is, but how well it captures the emotion of that moment. Mobile phones make that easier than ever as we always have them on us and are in a position to capture each moment, so our top tip would be: THINK about the emotion or feeling of that moment and try to capture it in any way possible.
“For example, maybe you are by the sea listening to the waves whilst watching the sunset, so don’t just snap the sun setting, think of different ways to capture the whole moment. So maybe get down low, shoot the sand with the waves lapping up in the foreground in focus with the setting sun on the horizon, this will help evoke the memory of you being on the beach with the sound of the sea whilst watching the sunset.”
“When you shoot a photo make sure the bright sections are clearly in focus.”
Josh and Nanu then shared their top tip for ensuring you get the brightness and contrast balance just right.
“Often people get the exposure wrong, the photo is too blown out, so when you shoot a photo make sure the bright sections are clearly in focus. In post editing, bringing back the shadows or darker areas is quite easy, but to bring back the detail in overly exposed bright parts is next to impossible.”
“Position the important elements of the photo using a ‘rule of thirds.”
If you’re looking to give your photo a slightly different composition, Josh and Nanu recommend trying the ‘rule of thirds’, which is a sure-fire way to give your photos an artistic edge:
“Imagine a grid over your photo, with lines dividing it into three both vertically and horizontally. Often on smartphones, there is an option to turn this on so you can see them whilst taking photos. You should then position the important elements of the photo along one of those lines or at the point where they meet.”
We also spoke to Kinga, a travel blogger and photography enthusiast at Adventure Catcher. She told us why she thinks everyone should take photographs when they travel: “I think that photographs are the best souvenirs. By catching a moment in a photograph, it will stay with you forever. It is like seeing something with your own eyes and then capturing that moment and the feelings associated with it, with your camera. I like to come back at the images that I took a few years ago and reflect upon the special days with family, friends or on my own.”
“Pay attention to your surroundings and notice the little things.”
Kinga then offered her top tip for mobile phone photography: “You don't need an expensive large camera to take great photos. I often use my phone to capture the best moments of my travels. One of my top tips for taking good pictures with a phone is to pay attention to your surroundings and notice the little things that make the image outstanding. Also, try viewing the main object from different angles. The more you experiment taking good images on your phone, the better you will become.”
“Use a mobile tripod and photo editing apps.”
Finally, we asked Kinga for any other tips she may have: “In order to take hands-free photos, time-lapse footage videos, as well as selfies, I always travel with my mobile tripod. Also, it allows me to take photos from unique angles like tree branches or poles. Once, I have taken my photo, I use photo editing apps on my phone which takes my images to the next level.”
Another expert we spoke to was Sam from Coastal Curiosity. Sam travels with her fiancée Allie, and together they love exploring the outdoor world, especially the ocean! We asked Sam why she believes everyone should take photographs while they travel: “It's the best way to capture your memories and stunning scenery. Make sure you're featured in your photos too though and that it's not just photos of the scenery. You want to remember that you were there and who you were there with!”
“Clean your lens.”
Sam’s one top tip for mobile phone photography was: “CLEAN YOUR LENS! It's such an easy thing to do that will make such a huge difference. Your phones camera lens gets so dirty from being in your purse or pocket and from touching it all day. Just clean it with your shirt before taking a picture and it'll really help step up your photo quality!”
Quick tips for improving your mobile phone photography
Turn your screen brightness up
Although a small thing, this can often be overlooked. We often turn our screen brightness down to conserve battery but when taking photographs, it’s good to have your screen brightness up high. This will mean you are able to better see your subject and the intricacies of your photograph whilst taking it.
Make sure you have a portable charger
When snapping one-of-a-kind photos on your phone, the last thing you’ll want is to run out of battery. We recommend taking a portable charger with you when heading out on any trips. Lightweight and easy to use, you’ll be grateful for the extra battery life when heading out for a long day and night of exploring!
Don’t think too much
The great thing about smartphone photography is the spontaneity it offers. With this, sometimes it’s better to not think too much whilst snapping. Yes, you can spend a long time setting up a gorgeous landscape shot with your mobile, but sometimes, it’s better to just capture the essence of a moment. The smile when you reach the summit, the laughter after someone falls into a puddle, the exhausted faces when you arrive back after a hike. These moments, just like the beautiful views, are well worth capturing and remembering forever.
Find another angle
Compared to many cameras, phone cameras are incredibly light and portable; many are even water resistant. This means you’ve got more of an opportunity to take advantage of an exciting range of angles. Get a shot above the crowd, or down low for an artistic angle. The portability helps too - you can pop your phone in your pocket and clamber onto a nearby rock, or down to the side or a brook easily to take a great snap.
Consider your composition
Just as it’s important when using a traditional camera, you should still consider your composition when using your phone. In fact, most smartphones make it a lot easier to work with – many will automatically lay a grid over your viewing field helping you align your subject to the centre of the frame. By considering your composition you can ensure the viewer’s eye is not distracted by miscellaneous objects in the background and can capture the perfect photograph where your subject is the main focus.
The best photography apps and equipment
There are many great apps out there that can not only help improve your photography skills when taking shots, but also help with post-production and even inspiration. Whether you choose to use free apps or paid apps, you can upgrade your phone to have a lot of the capabilities of computer-based editing software. This article by iPhone Photography School lists some of their recommendations: The 10 best photo editing apps for iPhone (2019 Edition)
Sam also had her own, great suggestion: “When it comes to editing photos on your phone, Lightroom CC is the best. It's also free which is a huge plus!”
Tripods, gimbals and selfie sticks
Tripods, gimbals and selfie sticks are all great options for getting the perfect group or solo shot, giving you more angles and heights to play with. Whether you’re taking a smooth video of the stunning landscape overhead or even taking a great selfie while you’re out exploring, these little gadgets are sure to help you show everyone back home what they are missing out on.
Prices range from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds, if you are just starting out with using phone mounting equipment then we suggest looking at the low end of the price range until you figure out what equipment is best for you and pinpoint what it is you’re looking to achieve with your photography.
Depending on how much room you have in your rucksack an what kind of pictures you want to take, there will be different features you may be looking for when purchasing equipment, but any of these things (tripods, gimbals and selfie sticks) can certainly enhance your photography skills effortlessly.
Although you may think you’re stuck with the lens you have on your phone camera, there are ways you can adapt it and upgrade to better suit your needs. If you are struggling with macro images, or perhaps wish you could get some fish-eye shots, there are companies that sell attachable lenses that can help.
Josh and Nanu recommend their favourite type of lens: “The best in our opinion is Moment Lenses (they also have a native Moment App to go with these lenses). You can purchase one of their cases then attach a wide, super wide, zoom and macro lens to it and take your mobile photography up to the next level.”
If this article has inspired you to explore smartphone photography further, then take a look at our walking holidays for the perfect opportunity to put your new found skills in place.