These expert smartphone photography tips will help you capture your most memorable travel moments in eye-catching images that deserve to be both shared and framed.
By Michelle Rae Uy
Picture this: You’re on a stunning stretch of quiet beach along the Florida Gulf Coast at sunset with sand sparkling in the sun, the emerald sea lapping against the shore and tiny baby turtles making their way to the water. Before you sit down to bask in the moment, you take a few photos with your smartphone to capture the picture-perfect scene before you.
Yet, no matter what you do, your photos fall short of doing it justice. One of the many joys of traveling is the privilege of taking a piece of your experience home with you through photographs, but it’s all for naught if your images come out dark, lopsided or worse, blurry. You wonder if it’s just your phone, that it just isn’t powerful enough to take quality photos.
Not quite so. Having the top equipment for photography helps, but it won’t guarantee excellent shots. A great photographer makes for great images, whether it’s taking photos with a professional digital single-lens reflex camera or with a smartphone. Luckily, to be a better photographer, you need only to practice and keep a few suggestions in mind.
Here, award-winning photographer and author Jack Hollingsworth shares some of his top tips and tricks for better smartphone photos.
Content Trumps Craft
There is not one ideal camera setting to capture a single scene because it depends on what you’re trying to convey or what effect you want to achieve. Know that blurry doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and underexposed doesn’t necessarily mean there was an error. As Hollingsworth puts it, “What a picture says [content] is far more important than how it was created [craft].”
“I would rather see the right content with the wrong settings than the wrong content with the right settings,” he adds. In fact, many professional photographers experiment with the “wrong” settings to get the photo they want. So be patient, take your time and don’t be afraid to do try different settings yourself.
Shoot Now, Edit Later
“While you are in capture mode, be in the moment,” Hollingsworth says. “Give it your full creative attention. Stay focused on taking photos, and don’t get distracted by post-processing and Instagram sharing. Edit and share later.”
Capturing a photograph is the first and most important step in your creative process, and if you get hung up on editing and posting on social media, it will take you away from that. It might even cause you to miss something—a subtle change in lighting or your subject’s expression—that would have made for the best shot. Stay focused, and leave the post-processing for later.
Zoom With Your Feet, Not Your Fingers
“Use your digital zoom slider sparingly,” Hollingsworth advises. Smartphone zooms are digital zooms, which means that the more you zoom in on your subject, the less crisp and the more pixelated your photos will be. It’s not worth the trouble.
Instead, he strongly suggests getting closer to your subject physically. You’d be surprised at how a few steps can make a world of difference. If that’s not possible, he proposes cropping the photos after taking them, which might degrade the quality a little but not as much as it would with a digital zoom. Or, you could opt to invest in a good telephoto lens specifically designed for smartphones.
Don’t Shoot Everything at Eye Level
Most professional photographers will tell you that experimenting with different angles is everything in photography. A shot taken while lying belly-down on the ground might make for a more compelling image than a shot taken at eye level. Similarly, shooting down from a higher perch might also produce a more interesting photo than from ground level. Even just a few inches to the left or a few feet to the right might be better than where you’re standing.
“Sit down, climb up, lie down. Change it up,” Hollingsworth recommends. “Most people shoot everything at eye level. Dare to be different. Stand out by varying your camera-to-subject angles.”
Use the Exposure Compensation Slider
Professional photographers consider the auto mode almost a transgression to the art form. The same rule applies for smartphone photography. If you want better-looking photos, don’t stick to auto. As Hollingsworth reveals, “the exposure compensation slider is my favorite and most used feature on my iPhone.”
Carve out time to play around with your phone’s exposure compensation slider, which allows you to experiment with different exposure settings. It’s a really handy feature that’s also easy to use: “Slide it up and the photo gets brighter, slide it down and the photo gets darker,” he says. This alone could make all the difference between a decent image and a captivating one.