10 Tips to take Amazing Smart Phone Travel Photos

Ann at sunset

A beautiful travel picture can be with you for the rest of your life: on your laptop, on your desk or even on the wall, as an element of interior design.

Even if you are not a photographer, you can create high definition images with a smartphone, and can easily be the best camera for your travels.  Prepare for your trip by following these guidelines to give your photography the edge on your next trip.

You really CAN take stunning travel photos with your Smart Phone!

Maximize your chances of taking amazing travel photos with these 10 tips to bring home the best memories with your Smart Phone.

What is your cameras’ purpose?

Travel photography is about documenting your travels and experiences so that you are able to share them with family and friends.  Some may use the photos to post to social media, and while the image resolution and quality might be higher on a DSLR, the Smart Phone will always win with portability and convenience.

The most important aspect of travel photography is to record the journey, so if you’re thinking of taking a large digital camera on your next vacation, you might want to reconsider.

1. Research Your Destination

Plan your travels.  Good travel photography starts before you leave home.  Research your destination well!

Get to know the interesting hot spots, the architecture and natural features that would make good photo shoots for your photos. Plan the timing of your photos.  If you know dawn is the best time to capture the perfect photos, be there before dawn.  Don’t miss out on great photo opportunities.

Check what the weather will be like and what time the sun rises and sets. The Golden hours are usually the best times of day for taking photos, especially in hot climates where it can become hazy and steamy during the main part of the day.

In certain countries there are photography restrictions so be aware of the rules.  Understand what’s allowed, and what’s not.  Be respectful of any dress codes, such as religious customs ie: women to wear scarfs around their heads, sarongs to cover their legs.  It’s wise to be familiar about the country’s religion and culture before visiting so that you don’t cause offense in the country you’re visiting.

2. Use Social Media

Have a look at the social media communities have to say about your chosen destination.  Let your followers know where you’re going next and ask for personal opinions about locations to visit, places to eat, and what to see and photograph in that area.  Often there will be a gem amongst their advice and recommendations.

You’re sure to find people who will be happy to help you find great locations to shoot. You never know, they might even offer to meet up and show you the sights!  Is that something you’ve ever done before?  Have you ever met someone you’ve previously encountered online?

3. Prepare Your Camera

Before you head off on your travels be sure to set aside some time to prepare your Smart Phone for the trip. Do you have enough space on your phone?  Back up existing photos, and make sure you have cloud storage available as an additional back-up.  I use Google Photos for my cloud storage, and auto upload when connected with WiFi.

Battery life is also important as you might be out shooting all day with your Smart Phone.  It’s often a good call to purchase a portable battery charger to give you additional hours of shooting.

Use airplane mode to optimize the battery usage.  This way your Smart Phone won’t drain the battery trying to keep you connected all the time.  I recently spent 8 weeks in the States utilising only the WiFi connections for contact, charging my phone every night and never once ran out of battery during the day – and took some amazing photos!

Be sure your Smart Camera lens is clean. Wipe the lens gently with a clean lens cloth to ensure your photos are crystal clear.

4. Think Outside the Box

Fink Desert RaceIt’ll be much more interesting if you take unique shots of popular travel destinations.  Consider different angles, opt for shots that show that you have a creative mind.  Don’t do the typical tourist locations with typical photos just like everyone else!

Experiment with more appealing angles and viewpoints that make your photos that little bit different.  Shoot from a low angle to show a scene from a perspective that people don’t normally see from standing height.

Look for unique photo opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take the shot. If it doesn’t work out you can delete it, but if you don’t take the photo in the first place you’ll never know how it would have turned out.

5. Shoot the Local People

Peace be with you

A great way to capture the essence of your destination is to take portrait photos of the locals. If you’re shooting from a distance this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you want to take close-up portraits it’s polite to ask permission first.

Remember to ask if it’s okay to photograph others.  If they don’t agree, thank them and move on.

For a softer approach, I suggest a quick study of the language first. Learn the basics such as, “hello,” “please,” “thank you” and “how are you?” Once you know some key phrases to break the ice, start communicating in the local language. You don’t have to be fluent, but a simple “hello” in the person’s native language will make them feel more comfortable with the situation.

Photographing people in their own environment with interesting elements in the background or foreground will help to contextualize the portrait, and help tell the story.

Whether you’re photographing people in wide open desert or amongst the hustle and bustle of a busy city or street market, always aim to tell a story in your photo. You’re not just photographing the person, but documenting your travel experience.

6. Just add People

Go with an open mind - if it rains .. enjoy!Having a person in your travel photos makes the images more interesting. It also adds a more humane perspective to the journey that you’re documenting and can act as a focal point in a scene that doesn’t have an obvious main subject.

It’s not always possible to photograph local people, so if you’re traveling with others, ask them to pose in the scene when you take a photo.  Not only does this add an interesting focal point to your image, but it creates wonderful memories of the people you travelled with or met along your journey.

When you come across a scene that looks stunning in real life, you might find it difficult to convey that beauty in a photo. Landscapes and beach scenes can appear very “ordinary” without a main subject or focal point.  Including a person in the scene is the perfect solution to adding a sense of depth to the photo.

If you’re traveling alone, don’t worry! You can always use yourself as the subject in your photos. A small tripod and the self-timer feature in the camera app is all you need.

7. Capture the Little Things

Boston LibraryWhen taking photos on your travels, you’re likely to shoot a lot of typical holiday shots such as landscapes, tranquil beaches and busy street scenes.

It’s the small details that will turn your photos into real holiday memories.  Keep your eyes open for traditional elements unique to your destination, such as details in architecture, local costumes, materials, food, colors, textures and patterns.

Often these will tell a more intimate story, giving the viewer a better sense of the environment that you experienced. Close-up shots of architectural features are a great way of adding variety to your photo album.  This shot was about showing the grandeur of the Boston Library.

If you’re at a beach or in the countryside, look out for small elements in nature, such as flowers, leaves, pebbles or shells. Get up close to capture the fine detail.

8. Tell A Story With Your Photos

ThiefA good photo tells a story, and travel photography is the perfect opportunity to tell interesting stories with your pictures.

Compose your shot well and capture the subject at the perfect moment.  You often need to act quickly before the moment is gone.  Always have your camera ready and take advantage of burst mode to take a series of shots in quick succession by simply holding the shutter button down.

Storytelling is all about getting the viewer interested in what’s going on in the scene. Create intrigue and leave some imagination for the viewer to connect more with your photo while they wonder about the story behind it.

Another way of telling a story is to shoot a series of related images such as a sequence of images that tell your story for you portraying your experience.

Shoot wide angle shots of the entire scene, close up shots of small details, and anything else that helps to tell a complete story of your chosen theme. Think of how you’d like to tell the narrative of your journey, and capture the theme in your pictures.

9. Document Your Entire Journey

Cocktails you must try in New OrleansTell the stories that are happening around you.  Family members saying goodbye, old friends meeting after many years, business people running to catch their plane, people sleeping or waiting due to long delays.

Photographing planes is another obvious choice at the airport and once you’re up in the air, you can take pictures inside the plane and out of the windows. Don’t forget the proverbial selfie of ‘me on a trip’.

If you’re going on a road trip, take lots of pictures along the journey and include yourself or your traveling companions in some of these images.  If you’re traveling by other means, such as a boat, train, bicycle or motorcycle, remember to document the journey.

Take photos of the places you stay, especially if they have interesting features or perhaps a little quaint. It’s the small details that will be wonderful reminders of your trip.

10. Fill Your Camera Roll

Take as many photos as you possibly can! There’s no such thing as too many pictures of your trip.

Traveling can sometimes be the one chance you get to see and experience a specific place. So make sure you experiment with different shooting angles and composition to maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot. There are many times when traveling that you’ll stumble across an interesting scene or a fleeting moment, so always be ready with your Smart Phone. If you’re not sure whether to take the shot, take it anyway.

Using burst mode is a good option when shooting busy scenes and moving subjects. You’ll end up with a lot of photos in your camera roll, but you can select the best ones and delete the rest.

It’s a wrap!

A Smart Phone is the best camera for capturing every scene that you encounter because it’s so accessible and easy to use.

I’ve traveled through Asia, USA and Singapore and many places in Australia with only my smart phone and captured some killer photos along the way.  You may be surprised at how clever your Smart Phone really is!

Don’t worry about being seen as a ‘tourist’  taking lots of photos.  It’s much better to return home with a phone full of images than to regret not taking many pictures of your trip.  Remember the old saying … the best camera you have is the one you have with you!

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Have you thought of using your Smart Phone as your ‘go to’ camera when traveling?  Consider it!  You may be surprised with the results!