Mobile Travel Photography is a big subject. And in this easy to follow guide I want to show you how to take better photographs on your phone, no matter how much experience you have.
There are basic tips that you can get to grips with if you’re brand new. Or, advanced tips for if you’ve got a lot of hours under your belt.
Why Your Smartphone Is The Only Travel Photography Tool You Need
How To Get A Professional Photographer Set Up For Under £60
How To Photograph Landscapes With Ease
The Stupidly-Simple Guide To Editing Your Travel Photographs
The focus here is about taking better travel photographs. So, no matter what situation you find yourself in, you’re able to capture that perfect moment.
Why Mobile Travel Photography?
For starters, it’s free. It doesn’t cost you any extra money to use your camera – have you seen how expensive DSLR cameras are? You’ve more than likely got a 10-16 Megapixel Camera sitting in your pocket right now.
You can carry your mobile phone anywhere, too. As long as you’ve got a pocket, you’ve got a ready-to-use camera on you at all time. No extra luggage charges and no extra weight.
You can have your photos online in seconds. Every Smartphone connects to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. After all, that’s where most of your pictures are going to go, aren’t they?
The quality is excellent for those purposes, too. The only time you run into a problem with a phone camera is when you print it off and try and blow it up. Even then, that’s the same worry you’d have with a £300 point-and-shoot camera.
And if you want your photos to stand out, you can edit them all on your phone, and it takes less than 10 seconds. (More on that later).
To get them onto your computer, it’s just a case of popping in your USB cable. Or, email them to yourself.
Plus, If you’ve got storage like Google Photo or Dropbox, they’re in the cloud, and you can get them next time you’re at your laptop.
You don’t even need to be a good photographer to take great pictures using your mobile phone. You just need to know a few principles – like the ones you’ll learn in this article – to create beautiful images.
Honestly, all the photos on this blog that I’ve taken are using my phone. I even used the video function to document my whole Camino de Santiago on Facebook.
There’s no better camera to have on a budget than the one in your pocket right now.
Your Mobile Travel Photography Checklist
Before you start taking any pictures, there are a few questions you could do with asking yourself.
Is Your Phone Up To Scratch?
Not all phone cameras are created equal. But, if you have a phone that came out after 2013, you’ve got a good enough camera.
I took this picture of Salmon Hole, Australia, back in 2013 and it still looks good today:
If you’re like me, though, you update your phone every 18 to 24 months and don’t need to worry about how old your phone is.
However, if you are a little behind on technology, I can’t recommend Samsung phones and cameras enough.
The Galaxy S6 Edge Plus is responsible for all of my travel pictures. And the majority of videos on my Facebook Page. The results are beautiful (even though my Girlfriend broke the screen).
If you’re happy with your phone set up, it’s time to get stuck into the essential add-on’s you need to take beautiful photographs.
The (Budget) Mobile Travel Photographer’s Kit-List
The tools on this list will take your travel photography to the next level.
They’ll help you create beautiful images that will wow your friends. Get all the likes on Facebook and Instagram. And, make taking photographs more fun than ever before.
Since I added them to my kit, they’ve had a massive impact on the quality of my photographs. And, they’ve all been tried and tested by me on my travels.
Note: you are free not to use any of these items. You can do everything in this article without them. But, they will make your photographs 10x better.
You don’t need expensive lenses to take good travel pictures. You can pick up clip-on camera lenses, that will improve the quality of your travel photographs, for small change.
There’s no need for a prior knowledge of Camera lenses, either.
Once you’ve bought your set you can clip on and toy around with what works for you too.
The best quality lenses I’ve found (for the best price) are these from Camkix:
For £13.99 you get five individual lenses that clip onto any model of phone and upgrade your photos right away including:
A Fish Eye Lens: This creates a hemispheric, globe-like image that shows the world in a fun way. You can see some examples of Fish Eye shots from Tutorials Plus right here.
A Macro Lens: Get in closer than ever before. This lens is like a microscope. You can close enough to see the veins on a leaf or the cracks in wood in vivid detail. This tutorial is for DSLRs, but it shows you how a Macro lens works.
A Circular Polarised Lens: Make your photos more vivid and colourful. Here’s a full breakdown of why these lenses are useful from Photography Life.
A kit like that could cost you more than £1000 for a DSLR camera, so £13.99 isn’t exactly breaking the bank. They also come with a universal clip, lens cleaner, and protective carry case to sweeten the deal.
You can pick up these lenses through this link, or by clicking the image of the case above.
Tripods are the steady hand of photography. And, thankfully, you don’t need a big tripod like you see the professional photographers carry.
Having a tripod also means you don’t need a selfie stick (it works as one itself), and you can take much better pictures of yourself or locations. No more propping your phone up on a rock, right?
The Joby Gorilla Pod is my favourite choice for this. I use it with both my phone and GoPro.
If you’ve not heard of a Gorilla Pod, it’s a flexible tripod that wraps around, well…anything. The legs move and change and can be moulded to fit any surface.
Here it is propping up my GoPro onto my desktop lamp:
It also works on trees, chairs, balconies, fences or anywhere with a bit of grip that’s going to let you take a good photograph.
The one in the image above is multi-purpose, but this one below comes with a smartphone clip that will fit any phone you pop into it:
It’s £16.99, and more versatile, and lasts longer, than any selfie-stick for the same price. Plus, a tripod is essential for the serious mobile travel photographer.
Okay, the next step is to answer the question, “Where the heck am I going to store all the photos I take?”. Because you don’t want to fill your phone up too much do you?
Your smartphone probably has enough memory to store all of your travel photos. But, if you’re not sure, here’s a breakdown from Hongkiat about how many Gigabytes (GB) of storage you need:
1 GB = 256 photos
16GB = 4096 photos
32GB = 8192 photos
64GB = 16384 photos
128GB = 32768 photos
If you’ve got extras on your phone, like Spotify playlists, this might not be enough to store all of your photos though. So, there are three ways you can manage that:
Google Photo: Free cloud storage of all your photos, directly from your phone. Also comes with an editing suite I’ll talk about later.
Facebook: You can create albums on Facebook and save all of your photos there, then come back to them later.
Dropbox: Download Dropbox to your phone, and your computer, then save all of your files in there. But after a certain amount, you’ll have to pay.
Your best option is Google Photo, because you can still access that gallery from your phone and re-download the essential images. Plus, free is your favourite number, right? I use it for all of my travel photos too.
The next worry is that your phone is going to die. Because, well…phone batteries are awful. (I miss my Nokia 3310 with 4 years of battery on it).
There are two routes you can go here: the free route, or the minimal cost route.
For free I’ve been able to get up to five days out of my Samsung in the past, and this is the exact step-by-step process I follow:
Put it on flight mode: Don’t just switch your data off. Stop it being a phone completely so it doesn’t search for WiFi or Phone Signal. Now it’s just a camera.
Set your brightness to auto: It’ll adjust the screen depending on where you are and save your battery.
Kill all your apps: Your apps stay running in the background and use power – even your camera. When you’re not using your camera, make sure to close all apps. Here are guides for Samsung, iPhone and HTC.
You can also take your phone charger out with you and plug it in at a coffee shop or restaurant when you (eventually) stop taking pictures to eat, too.
The second option is to buy an external power pack. They aren’t as expensive as you’d think, either. According to PC Advisor, this power bank from EasyAcc is the best for your money, portability and recharge speed:
You should try the free method first though – even just pottering around your local area – to see how long you can get out of your battery. But, the power pack can be helpful in you find yourself without the ability to charge, too.
The final question you need to answer is, “Where am I going to put all my stuff?”. A tripod, lenses and a power pack won’t just fit into your pockets.
Well, to solve this problem, you’re about to see my favourite travel purchase ever. This Arpenaz bag from Decathlon:
It only costs £2.49 and is virtually indestructible. It’s fast become my go-to choice of day bag, and even if it did break (somehow) you can replace it for cheaper than any other bag available. Here I am in Germany wearing it with pride:
Before you go anywhere be sure to check the customs – by using forums or Google searches – to find out if photography is allowed where you are going to be. Or, what the rules around photography are.
For example, in Peru, I took a picture of a old woman using a loom outside a museum. And, I was asked to either delete the photo or pay £5 worth of Nuevo Soles for the rights. This may have been an extreme situation, but it’s worth making sure before you leave.
It only takes five minutes but it could save you a lot of headaches. This won’t really apply in major western cities, but when you start heading to more rural countries, it’s worth the effort.
Getting Out In The Field…
Here you’re going to get actionable travel photography advice you can use. None of the 84 Tips To Travel Photography that tell you to wear sandals and bring water with you. It doesn’t take Bear Grylls to figure that out.
So in this section I’ve condensed the information to:
Your must know travel photography guidelines
How to photograph…
Actionable tasks you can do today to take better photographs
This is a big section, so you can take it at your own pace. Bookmark the post and come back to it. Or, get the free eBook here and tackle it even when you’re not at your computer.
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The Basics: Taking Incredible Photographs Every Single Time
These are guidelines for you to follow to get the best from your images every time. You might know some of these principles, if you do, just jump onto the next one. It’s always worth re-learning the information too.
Tip #1: The Rule Of Thirds
This is all about how you lay your images out.
It’s common to try and put everything in the middle of your photograph. Because, it’s the logical step to take. You see it in front of you, so you put it there so it’s in the camera. But it doesn’t work like that.
Your image is broken up into thirds and using them improves your photographs instantly.
Take a look at this image from Portugal. The grids over the top show the separate thirds of your image.
See how the train sits to the right. The railing runs in the middle third, but off to the right. And, the building is way off on the other side of the third side.
While there is something in the middle of the image, it’s not the focus. Had I just put the tram in the middle, it wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as good.
You can use this rule for absolutely anything, too. Here’s a picture of a sunset in my girlfriend watching a sunset. You can see in the red boxes where the focal points are. With the yellow you can see all of the space that’s not being cluttered by anything (as well as the rest of the picture).
Don’t worry, you don’t have to guess where the thirds are in your image, either. Your phone camera will come with a grid in the settings section that looks like this:
When you’re snapping your images, use the guidelines to help you position your shots. Your subject should be in line with one of the lines – either vertical or horizontal – and in one of the three channels. But, where they go in relation to those lines is really up to you and what you’re photographing.
Okay, over to you. Here’s an actionable step for you to follow to practice the rule of thirds…
Pick up your phone right now and set up the grid on the camera. (Here’s how to do it for iPhone and Samsung).
The next time you’re outside (go outside now if you want to) take 10 different photographs using your grid lines.
You can photograph anything: trees, cars, buildings, animals, litter – whatever tickles your fancy.
Practice lining up your images with the grid lines and moving your focal point to the left, right, top or bottom.
Tip #2: Keep It Really Simple
Simplicity is key to a powerful photograph.
While you may want to capture everything that’s in front of you; it’s much better to tell a story over a few images, and keep each snap basic.
In this image there really isn’t too much going on. But, you can instantly create a story from it, can’t you?
Whatever that story is comes down to your interpretation, but it’s easier to do with the simplicity of it. You can even see how the black and white of the image has removed the distractions of colours to allow more focus on the subject.
When you’re looking at your subject, then, break it down to it’s core elements. What’s the most important part of the image that should be focused on?
Here are a few elements to consider…
Contrast: Are there two striking colours – or scenes – that create a strong emotion? This can be colours. Or, it could be two people in a unique situation.
Negative Space: Can you create the image using just one subject? Like a single bird against an empty blue sky.
Shapes: Is there one shape – a piece of architecture for example – that could be the sole focus?
I’ll be really honest, it took me a while to get to grips with simplistic, almost minimalist, photography. But practising has had a great effect on my travel photography. So toying around with it is paramount.
The iPhone Photography School has a great free article on simplistic mobile phone photography, right here. And, below is the action step I’ve used myself to get better at minimalist photography…
When you have an image, look for opportunities to break it down to it’s most basic components.
Next time you head outside take 10 photographs using the following techniques:
Negative Space: Look for an opportunity to photograph one subject with a single colour background. It could be a flower on a white wall, or the top of a tree against a grey sky.
Contrast: Find two vivid colours that stand out against each other and photograph them side by side. This can be really helpful for when you’re in Latin countries where bright colours make up a big part of the architecture. You can see a cracking list of colours that contrast and compliment right here.
Storytelling: Look for the story in the image. Is someone commuting to work? Is this an important staircase? Does this archway lead to a cultural phenomenon? Is the sea captivating and endless? Find the story and let the photograph tell it for you.
Tip #3: Use Leading Lines
Leading Lines draw the eye to the focal point of an image.
They use the natural processing power of the brain to draw the eye where you want it to be in the image. They start in the foreground, and pull you through the image to the background.
This picture from the Palace Gardens in Porto is a good example. The lines, although subtle, draw your eye to the back of the photograph:
You can see them here along the walls and along the pathway on the floor. And, even though there isn’t much of interest in the background, it still creates a striking image:
And, here’s another example from the gardens in Madrid, too. Again there’s little going on in the background, but it really draws your eye backward…
You can do this by using any form of line, too. My favourite shots to take in cities are down-street shots where the buildings and the road carry backward to a main focal point. Can you name the building in the background?
Head out and take 5 to 10 photographs that use Leading Lines that draw the eye into a photograph.
Look for both hard and soft lines to do this. That includes opportunities like:
Streets and Pavements
Train tracks (see below)
Natural Lines, like fields and rows of trees
Streams and rivers
You can be really creative and see exactly what starts to work for you. Depending on where you are – a city, a national park, halfway up a mountain – there will be some form of leading line, you just need to look for it.
Tip #4: It’s All About The Lighting…
Your phone will have the ability to edit lighting built into the Camera App. And, if you have a newer phone, you’re able to do it while you’re taking the picture. It should have a slide option that allows you take photographs in either darker, or lighter…light.
To be completely honest, lighting has been the number one difference maker in most of my photographs. Finding the right lighting can bring a photograph to life. Now, lighting is a huge topic in itself, so if you want to get to great depths about it, I’d suggest you read this article from the iPhone Photography School.
And, if I’m honest, on your phone there isn’t too much to it when you’re just starting out. Toy around with the brightness and darkness to see what results you.
For example, if you reduce the level of light – especially at night time – you can be left with a simple photo that uses only the essential light.
And, if you take the lighting up, you can capture you can turn what was a dull and grey scene into a lighter, more vibrant, image.
This is always unique to the image, so like all photography, try and find what works for you.
This is really simple.
I want you to go out and take 30 photographs and play with the lighting. Hike it up, turn it right down, and do little increments in between. Find what makes your image pop, or look crap.
You’ll find in different situations and at all different times of day you’ll find yourself with unique needs. But, just getting used to the act of actually changing the lighting will make a big difference.
Tip #5: Break All Of These Rules (Once You’ve Practised Them)
There is no hard and fast rule for mobile travel photography. You’re going to see a million scenes I couldn’t even dream of. But, that’s why it’s paramount you learn all of these skills. Because once you know the rules, you can start to break them.
I’ve taken photographs that have lots of people in them. I’ve taken them that paid no attention to the rule of thirds. Without frame. Without diagonal lines. And, they’ve turned out great too. This one was completely accidental:
Toying around and finding what works for you – whether it’s lying on the floor, holding your phone at an angle or standing on your head – will make you a better photographer in the long run. But, nail these tips first and you’ll be golden.
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Advanced Steps: 3 Steps To Photograph Better Landscapes
How many times have you taken a picture of a landscape and it’s looked nothing like what’s in front of you? Man, it used to happen to me all the time.
The key to remember here is that you can’t capture landscape pictures the way your eye does. You have to look at them as a photographer instead. Here’s how to do it…
Step #1: Look At The Foreground
Instead of focusing on the landscape itself – the mountains or clouds or trees – focus on what’s around you. Is there anything in the foreground you can use to add perspective and capture the grandeur of the landscape?
For example, take a look at this image from Ribadasella:
By having the water in the foreground, and the mountains behind it, you can see the distance of the landscape. It shows you how it looks from where I’m stood.
This is where scouting the landscape comes into play, too. Where are you going to get the best shot, and what can be in the foreground to illustrate your view?
Another great example of this is trying to photograph the Grand Canyon. See how this image of it – although instantly recognisable – doesn’t look too good?
Now, when you add a rock and a person into the foreground – namely me and my big head – look at how much better it looks:
So, don’t look directly at the landscape. Look where you are – and what’s around you – to see what you can add to your photo to make the background pop.
Step #2: Look For Diagonal Lines
Once you’ve got your foreground set up, it’s time to start looking toward the background.
As Emil Parkarklis points out, adding diagonals creates more depth and allows you to capture more of the landscape. This technique is great for images of the coastline, trying to capture vast buildings or natural (but distant) landscapes.
Take a look at this picture I snapped on a hike:
The diaganol lines here are subtle to the eye, but they add a lot to the picture.
First, taking the picture from an angle allows moreof the landscape to fit into the lens. But, by having the layered coastline, you’re able to capture the depth of the picture and appreciate how far away the opposite coastline is.
You’re able to combine the earlier lesson on focusing on the foreground while using diagonal lines to add different layers throughout the image.
Step #3: Capture The Entire Scene
Panorama is often a poorly used camera mode. Especially in mobile travel photography. Because you just want to get everything into the scene and do a complete 360. Which, is great if you want a Facebook 360 image.
But if you use it with a minimalist approach you can capture some truly captivating images that you just can’t get into a normal photograph.
The key here is to go just beyond the size of the camera screen.
Instead of trying to fill it with busy imagery – remember the rules from before – you keep it simple and capture what you can see with your natural 180-degree vision and a gentle turn of your head.
360 images tend to look weird – they bend and askew – so be sure to just extend your image, instead of trying to get everything in there.
Landscapes are easy to photograph when you know how.
Here are some action steps for you get some practice in…
Take 3 Photographs With Foreground Focus Points
For your first three photographs go out and find foreground focal points. You may not have a goat available to use, so look for objects that will pale in comparison to the view behind it.
Take 3 Photographs With Diagonal Lines
The next stage is to look for different angles to take your photographs from. Look to create – or find – diagonal lines in the world around you. And, if they add to the foreground, even better.
Take 3 Panorama Photographs
My best advice here to get good practice in is to get elevated. Find a balcony – like the one below – or head to the top of a building or hill and capture what’s beneath.
Remember to try to capture only what you can see naturally, or with a gentle turn of the head. You’ll get a much better image than trying to cram everything in.
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Travel Photography isn’t always perfect. There are lots of variables that can get in the way of a good photograph. Heck, even big travel bloggers like Wandering Earl struggle to get it right every time. But even the worst of travel photographs can be saved by one thing…
It doesn’t have to cost you anything, either. The days of paying £300 for photo editing software and long behind you. And you can get it all in the palm of your hand on your phone.
In this section, I’ll show you essential editing software, and the core-skills you need to edit your travel photographs to perfection.
Free Editing Software
Editing your pictures doesn’t need to be expensive. You can do it all from your phone – or your desktop – without spending a penny. You just need to know how.
Selfies are part of photography now. And, if you want to touch them up and remove the rawness of being close to the camera, this app is simple (and fun) to use.
Take your selfie. Take away any imperfections. You’ve got the perfect tinder nightmare selfie. If you want to see it in action, or see me with perfect lips, you should watch the video below:
At the moment there’s no ultimate guide to Airbrush but as soon as I find one (or you suggest to) I’ll add a link right here. But, the tool is pretty self explanatory.
How To Edit Your Photos Like A Pro
In this section you’re going to obtain the key skills you need to start editing your photographs like a pro. All of these can be used to take images from your gallery, and into the real world, in just a flash.
This will give you the foundation in editing to start creating beautiful, shareable images right now. And once you have these down, the rest you can learn as you go and progress.
Cropping is used to change the focal point of an image. You can also use it remove excess from the edges of your photograph, too.
Take a look at this picture I took of a motorway sitting in a valley. It’s a nice photo that doesn’t need much editing. But, by cropping it slightly I can make a big change to how this image looks.
By taking away that excess around the outside, and re-positioning the motorway in the image, like this:
It creates a much more balanced and well focused image.
The key here is to look for parts of your image that don’t add to the story your image tells. You don’t need the extra foliage and piece of the hill to see that it’s a giant man made structure sweeping across a natural valley.
By taking that away, I can add more clarity to that story.
But be careful of taking away too much. For example, if I crop too far into this image, it stops telling a story and just becomes a motorway running down the side of a hill:
Your focus doesn’t always have to be central, either. Having the start of my motorway offset to the left creates a focal point that allows the story to unfold as you move across the image. Think about placing your subject in any of the three thirds of your image.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. Find different ways to crop that work for you:
Use different shapes
Crop half of someone’s face
Get in really close on the eyes to add drama
Anything goes. Who knows, you might just find your signature style.
Head to Facebook and download five different types of photos from your uploads:
A picture of you
A Landscape Image
A Food picture
An action shot (sports etc.)
A close up shot
Then experiment with cropping them in different ways.
You can do this from your phone – using one of the apps from before, or Instagram – or on your Desktop with Google Photos.
Look for where you can cut off excess from your images. If cropping inward adds drama to the photo. Or, if a different shape adds a new perspective. [/thrive_custom_box]
Rotate And Zoom
Rotating your image is another way to add a cool flair to your close-up images. I learned this from my foodie friend, Chris Clarke of J’Eat?, when she schooled me in taking photographs of food in Madrid.
You would normally use rotation in addition to cropping. It adds another layer to the image and can help to get other elements into your view, too.
In fact, the way the image is rotated should barely be noticeable. This is Chris’s picture…
You can’t tell, but it’s there. And it’s really easy to do. Let me walk you through it with a picture of some food from Porto.
Go ahead and choose a close up image, and crop out the excess. Then, at the side, there is a rotation option. Slide it up and down and it’ll rotate and zoom into your image:
Save it – apply any filters and changes you want – and then you’ve got a better, more focused picture that could make your mouth water (Pintxos anyone?).
I only use this technique with close up images. But, you can try it with distance too and see what results you get.
Contrast is the difference between the colours in your image. If you were to have a black and white images, it would be the difference between the darkest black and the lightest white.
This is what makes your image pop. And while there is no exact amount of contrast you should use, less is always more in my experience. You don’t want your images to look like you’ve got to town on the contrast.
Check out this photo; it’s got some colour, but it could do with a little more pop.
By adding contrast it creates a little separation, and depth, between all the points in the photograph. So, if I run it through one of my editors, here’s how it could look:
Okay I put it up high in the GIF before I dropped it back down, just to illustrate. But by using a little contrast you can start to see that difference between the elements in the picture:
If you feel that your images are looking particularly flat, that’s when you want to make use of contrast. And in small amounts – unless you find the end result is much better than a subtle touch.
This is my favourite editing tool. It can create some impeccable results because it adds (or removes) a splash of colour. And, for travel photos on your phone, that can make a huge difference to the end product.
Here you can see an image of dusk by the coast that’s turned out quite well. But It could do with a little more to make it stand out:
By adding, or reducing, the saturation, you can create an image that looks vivid and full of colour:
Or you can reduce the saturation and create a beautiful image without any colour:
At every point on the spectrum you can stop, too. Some photographs will look oversaturated and look better with less. Other won’t really need it at all. Again you need to toy around. But when your image looks like it needs more colour than it has, that’s when saturation can unlock that hidden vibrancy.
Ahh, filters. They’re a big part of travel photography nowadays. And, there’s only so much I can tell you about them. But, instead of telling you when to apply a filter, I’m going to show you the most effective travel filters you can use on Instagram (and other related apps).