Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos with Your Phone

Cadillac mountain Maine

Traveling offers a treasure trove of moments waiting to be captured, and with the convenience of smartphones, everyone can be a photographer on the go. Here are seven tips for better travel photos with the smartphone.

1. Seek Out Good Light

Lighting is EVERYTHING in photography, and good light can make all the difference in your travel photos. Early mornings and late afternoons, known as the "golden hours," provide soft, warm lighting that can make your photos look magical. The Golden Hour is many photographers favorite time of the day to shoot...myself included!

The thing about travel is that we can't always time our shoot. If you do find yourself needing to shoot in "bad" light such as a midday sun situation, use the high contrast to your advantage. Try shooting in black in white and use the dramatic lighting to create drama.

Also, don't disregard rainy or overcast days when traveling. I have gotten some of my favorite images during overcast and rainy days.

2. Take Your Time with Composition

Composition is key to creating visually appealing photos. Take your time to frame your shot thoughtfully. Use the rule of thirds by imagining your frame divided into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines. Place key elements along these lines or at their intersections.

Look for leading lines, symmetry, and interesting patterns to enhance your composition. All smartphones have a grid feature you can enable in the camera settings, which can help you compose more balanced and interesting shots.

When photographing landscapes, often times there is not a specific subject to put on one of the intersecting lines. Instead, try positioning the horizon line either in the top third of the frame, or the bottom third of the frame. How to decide? If the sky is interesting, then position the horizon in the bottom third of the frame so more sky shows.

If the sky is boring white or all blue then I will position the horizon line in the top third of the frame so less sky will show.

3. Tell a Story with Your Travel Photos

Think of your travel photos as a narrative that documents your travel experiences. Capture a series of shots that tell a story – from the bustling streets and serene landscapes to the candid moments of locals going about their daily lives. Look for details and scenes that connect and flow together, creating a visual narrative that takes your audience along with you. Capture both close ups and wide angles and experiment with changing up your perspective for a variety of interesting shots.

On a trip to Napa, I tried to capture as much variety as possible, in both subject matter and angles. Grouped together as a collection, the images tell the story of my trip Napa.

4. Skip the cliche tourist photos

Besides photographing the iconic landmarks and famous sites, seek out some unexpected photo opportunities. Capture the essence of your destination by photographing hidden gems, and off-the-beaten-path locations.

This mirrored building in Paris caught my eye although it is far from a typical tourist photo.

This decaying court on Nantucket is another example of looking beyond the expected beach and rose covered cottage photos. Of course capture those images, but also look for unique images that everyone hasn't seen a thousand times over.

5.Try Some Add-Ons Like Filters or Special Lenses

Enhance your smartphone photography by using add-ons such as filters or special lenses. Clip-on lenses can provide wide-angle, macro, or fish eye effects, adding versatility to your shots. Experiment with different filters to adjust the mood and tone of your photos. 

One accessory I always travel with is a polarizing filter. It acts like sunglasses for your phone. Besides cutting down on glare and reflection, a polarizing filter will deepen the sky and water and make colors pop. Here is a link to the accessories I use including the polarizing filter I use. Linda's phone accessories.

6. Use the hidden features of your phone

Live Mode, Burst Mode and Night Mode are all features in your camera can that can take you beyond the standard "cellphone photo". My tip is to practice at home so when you are on your trip, you won't be struggling trying to figure out how to use the feature.

The photo below was taken with Night Mode during a clear night while on vacation in the mountains..

Waterfalls and moving subject matter look great shot in Live Mode and then turned into a slow motion photo. If you're not sure how to do that, I explain it HERE.

 7. Edit your travel photos for maximum impact

Editing is the final step to getting better travel photos. Even simple edits such as cropping, adjusting brightness or saturation will bring out the best in your travel photos. The native in-camera editing tool is fine if you're used to using that. My editing app of choice is Snapseed as it has more features than the in-camera editing tools. 

By incorporating these tips, you can elevate your travel photography and create memories that are not only vivid but also visually captivating. Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you, and with your smartphone in hand, you're always ready to capture the wonders of your travels. 

Looking to dive deeper into photography training? Check out my online class,

 Travel Photography with the Smartphone