iPhone Photography Tips While Traveling
by Brooke Siem
Ah, the iPhone. We all have such a love/hate relationship with this handy little device that both makes our life amazing (cat gifs on demand) and terrible (texts from your ex.). This love/hate relationship applies to travel photography as well; using your phone as a primary camera is just so damn convenient, but sometimes the results aren’t that great. The good news is that with just a little forethought and a few iPhone photography tips, it’s easy to get epic iPhone travel photos (even from older iPhone models) that will garner all the Insta likes.
Clean Your Lens
Now, before you do anything, the most important rule of iPhone photography is always make sure your lens is clean! Whether you’re a backpacker who regularly moves from place to place or a once-a-year sort of traveler who likes to pack in as much sightseeing in one trip as possible, you’re likely carrying your phone in pockets, sweaty bras, and old handbags — all of which have the potential to dirty up your lens. So many travel photos are ruined because of a cloudy lens, so take the time to clean the thing off. Using your shirt or a tissue won’t help to remove oily residue, so carry a few portable lens wipes with you for on the fly cleaning.
Tell a Story
Once you know your lens is clean, it’s time to tell a story. If you’re really serious about taking your travel photography to the next level, you’ll have to get out of the mindset of randomly snapping photos and instead start thinking about how you want the photo to look and what you’re trying to convey. Before taking the photo, ask yourself, “what is it about this scene that I like?” Is it the mood or energy of the place? The bright colors of the buildings? The beauty of rolling hills? Once you decide what it is you’re actually trying to capture, it’s time to compose the shot.
iPhone Photo Tip: Composition
For composition, start with the rule of thirds. Though it sounds like a complicated math problem, the rule of thirds simply helps you compose a shot to make it most pleasing to the human eye. When you’re composing a photo, simply frame the scene so the most important parts fill one third of the image. In other words, don’t frame your subject directly in the middle of the photo. Use the 3×3 grid that automatically pops up when you open the iPhone camera app to align your primary subject (a tree, a person, a mountain, a strawberry) along the grid lines.
Point of View
After framing your photo using the rule of thirds, bring depth to the image by changing your point of view. Most people will shoot from the head, meaning they bring their camera up to their eyes and shoot from there. Photographs get more interesting when they’re shot from above or below, so squat down or stand on a nearby bench/rock/your friend’s shoulders to get a shot that is more interesting and different than the usual snaps.
Altering your point of view, especially by shooting closer to the ground, also allows you to consider the foreground. Take a look at some of your favorite landscape images. Most of the time, even though the beautiful sunset or horizon is the focus of the photo, there’s something happening in the foreground as well. Photos of the coast often have some sort of driftwood or “imperfection” that most people would try to crop out, but these little details are what turns a good picture into a great picture. In fact, the iPhone 7 has a ‘portrait’ setting which takes beautiful bokeh photos making it a great iPhone photo tip for closeups and portraits (if you have an iPhone 7).
Even the beautiful landscape iPhoto panoramic photo taken of Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland (as seen below) produces small, yet beautiful, imperfections.
Know iPhone Photo Limitations
Sometimes, even when all these rules are followed, the iPhone still can’t quite capture the scene. For example, the iPhone is great for brightly lit scenarios, but it struggles when there is lots of contrast and low light (like a sunrise or sunset.) When this happens, it’s time to work within the camera’s limitations and get creative. Use iPhone’s focus lock (the square that pops up if you tap the screen before taking a photo) and move it around so the brightest part of the photo (the sunrise) is properly exposed, and everything else is dark. Frame the image so the underexposed objects add to the feel of the scene.
iPhone Photo Editing
Finally, enhance the photo with a little editing. While Instagram’s editing features are great for the basics like contrast, sharpness, and saturation, you’ll have more control if you use a third party editing app like Camera+ or Snapseed. But please, for the love of Ansel Adams, go easy on the editing. Good travel photography is realistic, which means your final photos should look like an actual place on earth and not like your last mushroom trip, like the above photo taken in Split, Croatia.
iPhone Photography Tips Can be Broken!
Of course, all photography rules are meant to be broken. Instagram is full of examples that dispute any one of these guidelines, but if you look carefully, most photos only break one or two rules at a time. Like anything, you’ll get better with practice, so get out there and put these iPhone photography tips to use and create some iPhone photo magic!
Brooke Siem is a professional chef, writer, and thyme traveler currently meandering around the world. After co-founding and growing New York City’s Prohibition Bakery into a sustainable business, she decided to leave her predictable life and travel around the globe. Her workspaces of choice include cute cafes and shanty restaurants on the beach, though she’ll take a hammock if things get really dire.