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How to Take the Best Travel Photos With Just a Smartphone

Social platform Instagram has completely changed the game when it comes to travel photography. Long gone are the days of 35mm film snaps on the beach only seen by family and friends. Today, inspirational travel images are saturated, glossy and easier to achieve than ever.

Smartphone technology evolution now means that mobiles are built with the kind or jargon we see on DLSR camera adverts. The latest Samsung Galaxy has a 12-megapixel camera, f/1.7 lens and Optical Image Stabilisation. It can also shoot 4K video and has a MicroSD slot for added storage. Tech aside, using your smartphone to take your travel photos will mean no extra expense on a separate camera and it can be easily stored. But, how do you take the best photographs with a mobile phone?

How to Search for a Shot

If you are new to smartphone photography visiting a new destination can be a sensory overload. Actively seeking a standout image will often result in failure. It is best to take snaps as you would on any other trip and you will naturally find unique moments worth shooting. Also, review your photographs every day. There could be some hidden gold in your camera reel.

Understandably, you are going to want to capture the location’s must-see sights in photographic form. However, you can mix things up by shooting at a different angle or avoiding the predictable selfie. Look for colour, silhouette, unique shapes and reflections that are involved in the tourist site. Move around and take snaps of the ancient relic, sacrosanct building or wonder of nature at all angles.

If it is your first time taking serious holiday snaps, let alone on a smartphone, the rule of thirds will help immensely. It is the first thing most newbie photographers learn and it is all about composition. Imagine lines dividing an image into three equal parts – vertically and horizontally – to create a grid of nine segments. It is best practice to place the focal point of the image in a position where the lines intersect, away from the centre of the frame, for a more balanced composition.

How to Make the Most of Lighting

Granted, a flaw of smartphone cameras is the inability to adjust aperture and shutter speed like you can on conventional cameras. However, being able to spot impressive natural light is a key skill for smartphone photography. Chances are, if you find the shadows, highlights and colours of a scene attractive, the camera will pick this up too.

Light determines the quality, feeling and richness of colour in a photograph. High contrast images containing the darkest shadow and whitest highlight are particularly dramatic and these can often be shot in the hours after sunrise and before sunset, known as ‘the golden hour’. Colours at this time of day are usually also warm and rich. The time around midday often results in a more neutral whiteish light and incredibly sharp shadows.

Natural light is by far the most mobile-friendly, but artificial lighting can create a specific atmosphere in itself. Most people turn their nose up at the blue-green cast of fluorescent lights, but many mobile snappers are surprised by just how effective different forms of indoor lighting can be at creating different moods.

How to Shoot When Light is Lacking

The flash on smartphones is brutal. We have all been blinded by the photography foe and been given the dreaded red eye in the snaps. More often than not it can affect focus and also wash out the image. Although the starkness can be a photographic look in itself, it’s most likely you want some spot-on smartphone photographs and there are two ways to get around this.

HDR, short for High Dynamic Range, is an option that can be found in most smartphone camera settings. It is a great way of bringing depth and detail to photographs that would otherwise appear dull due to lack of lighting. Instead of taking just one photo, HDR captures three images at different exposures and merges them together. Essentially, this results in the best possible image but be aware it won’t look exactly like what you are seeing through the display view.

Landscapes and people-free images are best captured with HDR. However, if you do wish to snap a portrait when the lighting is lack-lustre get some help from a friend. Get them to shine their smartphone from a distance away. Or, place a single ply of white napkin over a torch to make your own impromptu studio lighting.

How to Capture a Sense of Place

Enveloping an entire destination’s culture into one image is a lot to ask for. Luckily, our smartphone cameras are usually in our hands, allowing us to catch candid moments of local life inconspicuously. However, always ask if you wish to take a photograph of an individual or group of people.

A photograph that has captured a sense of place will tell a story. As a traveller, take time to people-watch and observe the behaviours, interactions and happenings around you. Some of the best places for these kinds of photos include cafes, markets and special celebrations or holidays.

How to Edit and Manipulate

We previously mentioned the rule of thirds, every new photographer’s favourite guideline. However, it is okay to throw away the rulebook. Instagram has re-popularised the square image format which was born of old Polaroid and 120 mm medium format camera film.

Instagram itself has a built-in editing feature when you can apply a pre-set colour filter or tweak the shadows, highlights and saturation of an image. It is an easy to use in-app editing suite for giving your holiday photographs a boost.

If using an iPhone, download Snapseed, Filterstorm Neue or the very popular VSCO for your photo editing needs. Running on Android? Pixlr, Aviary and Bonfire are great options to get manipulating.

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