Travelers can take stunning photos with nothing but a smartphone. Follow these 10 expert tips that will help you find the best lighting, achieve the perfect angle and make the most of whatever device you're working with.
Use this guide to start taking top-notch vacation pictures.
While professional-looking travel photos were once a privilege for those who could afford pricey equipment, today, travelers can take a stunning photo with nothing but a smartphone. Follow these 10 expert tips that will help you find the best lighting, achieve the perfect angle and make the most of whatever device you’re working with.
Wait for golden hour
Professional travel photographer Brandon Ballweg says golden hour — during a sunrise or as the sun sets — is the best time to capture photos with just the right amount of natural light. “It’s called golden hour because it gives you this gorgeous golden light that just makes everything and everyone look beautiful,” he says. To time your photoshoot just right, Ballweg suggests using tools like timeanddate.com to find out when the sun is rising and setting wherever you are in the world.
Install the right mobile apps
According to travel writer and photographer Holly Habeck, you don’t have to buy a snazzy camera to get great photos if you already have a high-quality smartphone. By installing apps like VSCO and Snapseed on an iPhone, Android or Google phone, novice photographers can tinker with the background or crop pictures without any pricey equipment. Enlight is another savvy photo-editing app for iPhone that can help you adjust lighting or add a burst of color to create the perfect shot.
Hit iconic spots in the morning
Everyone wants a photo of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona, but it’s hard to capture iconic sights and popular landscapes when hordes of people show up with the same goal. Travel blogger and best-selling author Jen Ruiz says that’s why you should head to typically busy spots first thing in the morning. Crowds can be smaller or even nonexistent at sunrise, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the day.
Scout shots on Instagram first
If you’re traveling somewhere new and aren’t sure where the best places are or what the best angles might be for a scene, travel blogger Kara Harms of WhimsySoul says you can find out easily on Instagram. “Search through local hashtags and geolocations to see what other people are posting about the destination you’re heading to,” she says. “That’s how I always discover cute cafes, amazing hotels and off-the-beaten-path hiking trails that make really great and unique photos.”
Dress for success
If you’re planning to photograph a person instead of a place or an object, it’s crucial to make sure your subject dresses with the photo in mind. Harms says that, when in doubt, you should use a pop of color to instantly add intrigue to your photos. “My go-to is red, pink or yellow,” she says. “Whether it’s a red dress or yellow leaves, these colors really pop out in a photo and makes it more interesting to look at.”
Remember the rule of thirds
While it’s a common belief that the subject of your photo should be smack dab in the center, many professional photographers abide by the “rule of thirds” to create more interesting photographs, says travel photographer Viktoria Altman, of GoTravelTipster.com. This rule states that if you snap your subject in the left third or the right third of the photograph, you can create an eye-catching image that captures more of the background in a unique and thoughtful way.
Let spontaneity be your guide
Travel photographer Everett Kennedy Brown works with InsideJapan Tours to help travelers take the perfect shots, but they’re not all staged. Brown says that the camera should be used as a tool that allows travelers to be more perceptive and cultivate intuition. This is what travel is all about — stepping away from our lives, opening our senses and getting a fresh perspective, he notes. “I have met so many travelers whose best times were wandering the streets of country villages, being alert to what happens next,” he says.
Get to know your phone’s features
If you’re using a smartphone for travel photography, make sure you know exactly what your phone can and cannot do. Getting to know the portrait mode of your phone or camera can help you take a photo of an individual that is perfectly focused, for example. Instagram photographer Bobbi Klein also says that knowing the best ways to adjust exposure can be crucial since exposure makes sure a photo isn’t too bright or too dark. If you’re unsure which useful photo features your phone or camera has, you can find helpful videos on YouTube that explain the features and how they work.
Experiment with angles and lighting
While you may think you are ready to take the perfect shot, you never know what you’ll discover if you take your time and spend a few moments playing around with lighting or perspective. Travel photographer Andy McCune agrees with Ballweg that lighting is extremely important, echoing that sunrise and sunset are often the best times to capture your subject with an ideal backdrop. However, he also recommends experimenting with where you take a photo from, even when the lighting is perfect. “Shoot from high and low angles,” he says. “Sometimes a low angle can totally transform a shot.”
Hire a professional
If all else fails, don’t forget that you can hire a professional photographer — even if you’re traveling. Flytographer.com, touted as the “Airbnb of vacation photography,” connects individuals with professional photographers in 250 cities worldwide, helping travelers capture alluring, professional-quality photographs they may not be able to score on their own.