Whether you are an amateur or a seasoned photographer, every time you are going on a trip, you probably expect to come back with a whole archive of incredible travel images from the trip. You hope that these photos would perfectly fit your portfolio and Instagram feed or at least remind you of how great it was to explore new places.  

Considering all these aspirations, some photographers take huge cameras and stuff backpacks with gear. Others go mirrorless for the sake of comfort but in reality, a smartphone is more than enough to get creative and capture a dozen professional travel images. Why? Turns out that the latest iPhones, Google Pixels, and Huawei’s phones are so advanced, that you can really afford to just stick to your phone for photography experiments.

Get equipped with these travel photography tips and plan your next trip to try all of them.


Basic smartphone photography tips for great travel photos

1. Get to know your smartphone

As insignificant as it may seem, the best thing you can do to take travel pictures like a pro is to get to know your smartphone. 

Before going on a trip or if you have a long flight, delve into the camera setting of your smartphone. Which modes does it have? Does it allow adjusting shutter speed and exposure manually? Is there an option to shoot RAW? All these features of a smartphone camera give you a sense of the kinds of shots that can be possible without the need to bring along bags of gear. 

Girl climbs the path

The majority of the latest smartphones have similar settings and capabilities as mirrorless or DSLR cameras and entitle you with more control over the image you take. If this is a viable option, you can quickly grasp when to relax and confidently travel with just your smartphone and when you should bring along more advanced gear to shoot. 

2. Stabilize your smartphone

There are many reasons why you need a tripod or a stabilizer for your smartphone. The main one is that it makes your images sharper. It also allows for a smooth movement when you are taking panoramic photos. What’s even more fascinating, with a tripod or a stabilizer you can capture unexpected angles and make your travel images look more creative and even cinematographic. 

The only downside is yet again bringing along a bit more gear but in the long run, you’ll see a noticeable change in images shot with a tripod and a smartphone, and the ones without especially if you’re dealing with low light conditions. 

3. Polish up the basic rules of composition

Sorting out your smartphone camera settings might seem like half the battle but this is only the foundation of what you need to know in order to take great travel photos. To move one step further with your travel photography, you need to polish up the basic composition rules up.   

The golden ratio rule will help you find a subject to focus on, while symmetry will add elegance and thought to your works. The great thing about polishing up on some basics is also understanding how you can break these rules with smartphone photography. Some of the most creative travel images don’t abide by any rules whatsoever. 

monkey jumping on the fence

You can learn or remind yourself of the basic composition rules in this article or read up more on breaking the rules of composition here

4. Use burst mode 

Pay attention to the burst mode of your camera. Although it might seem useless at first glance, it is actually the best solution for travel photographers who’d like to take some action shots. 

When a person, a pet or any other subject in the photo is moving, you can’t be absolutely sure that you will manage to press the shutter the very second the action takes place. However, you know that you can get this shot. In this case, burst mode is your saviour. It allows you to instantly take a dozen photos and provide you an entire series to choose from.  

5. Clean your camera lens

The main unspoken rule of photography: you should always clean your camera lenses. To do that, don’t use your T-shirt or a napkin you found on the table. Get a soft wipe that will remove all the dirt from the lens and improve the appearance of your images.

Make a habit to clean a camera lens every time you’d like to take a picture. You will notice that your images have contrast and sharpness they have not had before. 

Traditional architecture buildings

6. Let autofocus be an advantage

If you’re used to your DSLR’s manual mode, you might consider the smartphone’s autofocus to be a disadvantage. However, you can always change the way you look at things and use this to your advantage.   

For instance, the moment when your phone has trouble to focus, you can use it to create artistic and unusual images. This might be particularly useful when you take images of a popular tourist attraction that has been captured by hundreds of travel photographers from around the world. Blurry photos have their own ambients and the blinking Eiffel Tower might look twice as charming without a proper focus. Basically –  let the limitations of a smartphone fuel your imagination.  


Advanced photography tips for creative travel images

1. Get a different perspective on ordinary things

There are two ways to interpret this tip. On the one hand, you can take things literally and experiment with angles and viewpoints. You can bring a drone along and diversify your portfolio or Instagram feed with travel pictures from a bird’s-eye view. 

Forest mountain road - aerial view

On the other hand, you can apply your personal vision to top tourist attractions or capture ordinary things in an unusual way. What this means is that if you are caught by heavy rain in the tropics, don’t hide in your hotel and go on an adventure. You might get a series of unique shots illustrating the life of a southern location during a storm. Also, you can make a project about sunny weather in the UK and break the stereotype that it’s raining cats and dogs in London. 

No matter how you interpret this tip, you’ll definitely manage to take some creative travel images with your smartphone if you simply go against the grain and become open to possibilities instead of playing it safe. 

2. Let the sun do magic

While on a trip, you should definitely set time aside for some golden hour photography. The first hour of light after the sunrise and the last hour before sunset are indeed magical. During this time, the light is softer and you can experiment with many things, from backlighting to bokeh. 

One of the wonderful things about the last hours of light outdoors is that the light changes every second. Especially if you’re taking portraits, you will notice that you have a unique shot with natural lighting in all the shades and hues as you wait, move, focus, and capture. 

Rice fields on terrace

3. Think twice about using flash

Perhaps, this is the most controversial tip on the travel photography tips list, as there are more people who are against using flash than those who are all for it. However, flash can open up new opportunities and improve your photography. You only need to know when it is appropriate to use it. 

In addition to adding contrast to an image with colors and to make objects stand out, flash can also serve another purpose. It will create the contrast of light and separate the subject in the image, adding a 3D effect to it. 

In fashion photography, flash is often used to add some glamour and boldness to images. In travel photography, flash can be also applicable if you justify your decision according to the light conditions. You can do it by choosing a theme for a series of travel pictures you will take with flash. For instance, if you want to document the underground music scene in the city you’re heading to, you’ll definitely have to use a flash in dark streets or nightclubs. 

4. Find a theme

Do not deny the fact that one of the reasons you take so many images during your trip is that you want to post them on Instagram. Admit that you’re slightly addicted to likes and looking for appreciation more often than not. We’ve all fallen for the trap of accolades for our good work on social media, and there’s no shame in curating your content for this purpose.  

girl in a room

Philosophy aside, whether you’ll be sharing your series of travel pictures on Instagram or not, creating a coherent story out of it is a professional approach to photography. It makes all the images look great together and allows one to tell a story about the adventures you had, people you met or events you visited. 

In order to find a photography theme that would interest you, embrace some creative travel ideas from the points below. 

5. Embrace creative travel photography ideas

In a world where almost everything has already been invented, there’s little chance you would come up with a whole new photography genre, but you have a chance of breaking grounds with a photography style. For this reason, the best thing you can do is to embrace creativity and, as we said above, get a different perspective on ordinary things. 

Going on a trip to Germany? Explore the roots of the Bauhaus movement and capture a series of images of buildings from unique angles. 

Travelling to Georgia? Think of a series of honest close-ups of people and nature. Photograph the wrinkles the residents of mountainous settlements have, take portraits of donkeys they feed and experiment with macro photography of crops they cultivate or food they eat. Sometimes, details can tell you more than anything else. Keep in mind that honest close-ups is one of the main visual trends of 2020

Funny mini dnokey

If you are a foodie, you can concentrate solely on food photography and take images of local dishes, drinks, and kitchens.  

Do you think that landscape photography is boring during the day hours? Take some images during the sunset or after it. You can also approach street photography by concentrating on people, not buildings and tell a story nobody has told before. 

All these ideas can be developed further and transformed into a full-fledged travel photography project. However, you shouldn’t forget about editing and post-production which can easily be done with the help of mobile editing apps. 


The power of mobile editing apps

Although mobile photography is often perceived as cheating, it does not mean that your images don’t need any editing or post-production. In fact, you can drastically manipulate your original photos even with mobile editing apps such as Snapseed and VSCO. They allow doing basic editing (adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and sharpness), as well as more advanced post-processing of images using the available tools of the individual apps. 

fishing village in snowfall

In this article, we are happy to break down the myth that with a smartphone, you can only take travel images for your personal archive or for an amateur Instagram account. Indeed, the latest mobile devices offer a variety of settings that allow taking professional and high-quality images without carrying your heavy gear backpack around. 

Save these tips on creative travel photography with a smartphone and make your images look authentic, professional, and unique. 

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