How to Take a Great Travel Photo Using Your Phone

Example of how to frame shot

I am not a professional photographer by any means, but when I’m travelling I do spend a lot of time snapping up photos of my adventures, and I’ve picked up a few tips on how to make my travel photos the best I can using just my phone.

Amalfi view Italy
A favourite photo from my travels in Amalfi

1. Clean the lens

Okay, let’s start with a really simple, but easily forgotten, one. Our phones spend a lot of time rolling about in our bags and pockets, so it’s bound to end up covered in some dust and smudges. Yet we expect to pull it out of our pocket ready to take the perfect picture. Give your lens a wipe down before you start shooting for some truly sparkly snaps.

2. Adjust the Settings

Cameras are an important feature on smart phones these days, most smartphones will have a camera of at least 8mpx, and some much higher. Most phones will also have a lot of additional camera settings to help you take the best picture. These range from sport to night to landscape. Get to grips with the different settings available on your phone and always make sure to pick the best setting for the type of image you’re taking. Most phones also offer a panoramic setting which allows you to take a panoramic shot of a wide view – perfect for capturing incredible skyline shots.

3. Pick a subject

To create an interesting picture you have to pick one or two key subjects to be the focus of your picture. If you’re taking a landscape shot pick out one or two features of the landscape which will be the focus – perhaps a tree or a mountainside. Once you’ve decided on your subject apply the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is a common photography technique which means splitting your image into three – both horizontally and vertically. You should aim to place the subject of your image along the imaginary gridlines or the intersections where they meet, rather than in the empty squares. Some smart phones allow you to add the gridlines on your screen so you can see them in practice. The key is to make sure you have a clear photo subject and your image isn’t too crowded, so your audience knows where to look first.

Example of photo with a subject
Make sure your photo has a subject

4. Now focus

So now you know what the subject of your photo is, make sure it’s in focus. Focusing your camera is crucial in creating a clear, sharp image. On most phones it’s as easy as simply tapping your screen on the area in which you want to focus. Make sure to hold the phone steady too, and keep it steady for a few seconds after taking the picture to avoid a post-photo blur.

5. Create depth

The most engaging images have depth to them, opposed to looking flat. The easiest way to create some depth in your image is to use leading lines which direct your audience’s eyes. Travel photos work particularly well for using leading lines and the options are endless – you could use a rail track, a winding staircase, a twisting river. Experiment with different ideas and you’ll find what works best.

Example photo of using leading lines in photography
Use leading lines to create depth

6. Find your angle

Similar to creating depth, you should look to take images from different perspectives – don’t just point and shoot straight ahead of you. Crouch down to take in images from below, or point your phone downwards from a height to get an interesting bird’s eye view. Mix up your images with portrait shots, landscapes shots and even try some diagonal shots.

7. Frame it

Another way to make your image more engaging is to frame your subject. There are loads of creative ways to do this – try an archway, a window, a gap among the trees. Framing your picture adds a sense of intrigue and more atmosphere to your image – have a go at trying different framing techniques to capture some interesting and unique shots.

Example of how to frame shot
Frame your shot in an interesting way

8. Be aware of the background

Nothing quite ruins your lovely picture of the Lake District, like capturing a stranger slap-bang in the middle of your photo blowing their nose or waving their selfie stick in the air. Always be aware of what is happening in the background of your image and try to avoid having other people or unsightly objects in the way. If you’re taking a photo in a very busy tourist area it can be difficult to capture a picture without anyone else in it, but if you really can’t avoid the crowd at least try to avoid having anyone centre focus in your shot. Wait until passers-by have walked a bit further into the distance, rather than have their head blocking out your view – and avoid including anyone walking towards you and looking directly into your camera, as this will draw focus to them instead of the view you were capturing. Basically, if someone or something is distracting focus from the subject of your image go for a different angle, and don’t be afraid to politely ask someone if they can step to the side so you can get your shot.

9. Don’t zoom

Avoid zooming on a camera phone – phones don’t have a digital zoom (like cameras) which means that rather than actually zooming in closer to the scene, it is just cropping the image it has captured from afar, and is essentially guessing what the scene looks like close-up rather than actually capturing the details. If you want to get a close up shot, just move in closer – you should aim to stand 1 to 2 feet from your subject for the clearest image.

10. Take a few shots

The great thing about digital photography is that you can take as many pictures as you want – so take advantage of that. Take your time trying out different angles and perspectives, wait a few minutes and see if anything changes in the scene that makes a better picture. The important thing is to have patience – if you just point and shoot one quick picture of the scene you’d be very lucky for that one picture to be the perfect shot. Spend some time taking in the scene, capturing multiple shots and then picking out your favourites.

Example of multiple shots
Take multiple shots of the same scene and then pick your favourite

11. Get snap ‘appy

There are so many apps available these days to edit your pictures, meaning you can enhance your pictures afterwards with a click of a button. Most phones will have an edit feature in your camera app, and Instagram is another popular and easy-to-use photo editing app. Just be careful not to overdo it. Rather than going with the pre-made filters, have a play around with adjusting the brightness, contrast and shadows to create a more natural and unique look. But remember, a photo editing app can’t fix everything, so don’t rely fully on editing to make your image look good – try to get the best image you can and then enhance it with an editing app.

12. Accessorize

As phones become a more and more popular way for people to take pictures, a plethora of new camera phone accessories have emerged. Of course there’s the trusty selfie stick to help you get that perfect shot of you and the background, but you can also buy some great tools including a clip on lens and a mini tripod, helping you get that professional photo finish.

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