You can spend hundreds (or thousands) on state-of-the-art camera equipment to get truly stunning images of your trips. But the technology in smartphones is so good now that most people can take great photos with the device they have in their pocket.
That said, how many crap smartphone photos have you seen? My guess is plenty. God knows I’ve taken enough of them myself!
But that need not be the case.
Follow these 9 tips to ensure you get the best from your smartphone photography.
1. For Better Smartphone Photos, Forget The Bike!
Let me start off by saying that nobody cares about your bike.
Sure, we all want to know how you got to this breathtaking place. But your viewers don’t need to see your bike taking up the frame in every shot.
And neither do you.
When you look back over your shots in a few years, you’ll realise that (in the grand of things) the bike didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the experience, the location, and who you were sharing it with.
By all means, grab a few shots of your bike. But you’ll have a more complete set of images if you don’t put it in every single shot.
2. Take Your Time
It’s all too easy to jump off your bike when you see a spectacular scene and proceed with the point-and-shoot style of photo.
But these almost always leave you feeling disappointed when you view the image back later down the line – mainly because you know it could have been so much better.
My first tip is to take your time and enjoy the process. Getting a feel for the environment allows you to ascertain what it is about the scene that drew your attention to it in the first place.
Pour yourself a coffee. Take a seat on a rock. And absorb the scene in front of you.
And once you realise what it is you want to shoot, then it’s time to break out the smartphone.
3. Consider Composition For Better Smartphone Photos
Once you know what you want to shoot, take a little time to compose the image in your frame.
It’s tempting to try and fit the whole thing into a single shot. And sometimes that works.
However, you usually get more compelling images when you isolate parts of the scene. This is easier said than done, to begin with, but you’ll get used to it!
Take into account the overall balance of the shot. If your image is more heavy (or dominant) on one side than the other, reconfigure your composition so that it’s balanced.
Using the gridline function on your smartphone gives you a good indication of where your subject is placed within the frame.
The next thing to look for is distractions. All photographers are guilty of being so consumed with the subject that they miss the unsightly tree branch creeping in at the side of the frame or the empty fast food wrapper in the foreground.
Before you hit the shutter button, scan the edges of your frame to make sure nothing is creeping in.
It’s worth remembering here that photographers are ruthless. The best shots arise from what the photographer chose to leave out of frame – not what they put in.
Using foreground is a great tool and will raise your smartphone photography to the next level by adding depth, dimension, and interest.
Foreground gives context to the shot and leads the eyes of your viewer through the image.
For example, put flowers in the foreground of your photograph. Then have you (or your bike) in the midground. Lastly, put some mountains in the background. This adds a tonne of depth to your photo.
4. Set Focus
If you’re wondering how the blurry effect was created in the above image, it’s through the use of focus. (In fact, it’s the use of focus and aperture, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll just use the focus element.)
You don’t have to accept your smartphone’s pre-set focus point when you shoot. For most phones, you can tap on the part of the image you want to focus on, and the phone will readjust the settings for you.
If you have enough distance between yourself and the subject (and the subject and the background), setting focus on the subject will throw the background out of focus – creating a blurry, ethereal effect.
This works particularly well with portraits.
5. Perspective & Scale Improves Smartphone Photos
The best way to make sure your image is the same as everybody else’s is to hold your phone at eye level.
This is what everybody does – and it’s boring!
If you want to create images that grab attention and stand out, you’ll need to consider your perspective.
Try taking the photo from low down. Or climb up on those rocks behind you and shoot down on the subject.
Try putting your subject to the left or right of the frame (rather than the centre) and see how this alters the flow of the image.
And don’t fall into the trap of taking only the obvious picture. Once you’ve taken the shot that seems natural, move your position and see if you can find an interesting composition from a different angle.
Scale is another useful tool to show the majesty of your surroundings. Mountains often don’t look as big in photographs as they look in real life.
And unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about that! But what you can do is put something (or someone) in front of them.
Your viewer won’t know by looking at the image that the mountain in the background is 3,000m high. But if you put a person in front of it, your viewer will see how small the person looks in comparison – and therefore realise how high the mountain is.
6. Use The Light
Light is king when it comes to photography. It can make an ordinary image look fantastic. Equally, the lack of it can make a spectacular composition look run-of-the-mill.
When composing your shot, look at how the light bounces off your subject. If you’re shooting a portrait, having your subject look into the sun will completely wash out their face.
But if you have the sun behind them, you’ll end up with a silhouette. You’ll need to try different angles to see how the light interacts with your subject.
That said, overcast or rainy conditions tend to create infinitely more captivating photographs than sunshine and clear blue skies (particular with landscape or scenic shots.)
I highly encourage you to take images in what you might consider being less than favourable conditions. Because you’ll end up with photos that ooze mood, drama, and interest. In fact, you’ll find most photographers prefer moody conditions over clear blue skies.
7. Take Multiple Shots
As mentioned above, once you’ve taken your hero shot, don’t be afraid to move around and take multiple photos of the same scene.
For a start, light is constantly changing – which means your scene is constantly changing. Two images of the same scene can look totally different if taken 30 minutes apart.
Secondly, multiple shots of the same scene help create a better story for the viewer.
Lastly, multiple shots of a scene allow for the creation of ‘sets’ of images that can look incredible when you put them on your wall as a triptych or a group.
8. Editing/Processing Your Smartphone Photos
Oddly enough, this is where most people mess up their shots.
It’s important to remember that processing your images is part of the shot. Of course, you can snap the scene and then upload it to Instagram as it is – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But with some simple editing, you can transform a basic image into a great one.
Most smartphones include innate editing software that makes it easy to adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation, and toning of your images. Simply play around with the sliders and see what you like.
On the other hand, possibly the worst thing you can do to an image is over-process it!
Feel free to play around with the sliders – but don’t turn them all up to 100% because your image will look unnatural.
Oversaturating the colours is a common mistake. As is oversharpening or adding too much clarity.
Oversharpening and oversaturating is a surefire way to ruin your images. So whilst you should process your photos, do so with finesse and restraint.
The last thing to be wary of is the filters on your phone. Yes, they can make some photos look cool. But many make them look unnatural and over-processed.
If you like the look of a filter on your image, try dialling the strength of the filter down and see if that enhances it whilst maintaining its naturalness. This is often the best compromise.
9. Creat Smartphone Photos For YOU
The last tip in this post is to create images for YOU. Create images that YOU like. All too often, I see people chasing ‘bangers’ for Instagram. And whilst there is a place for creating content for social media, don’t let it take over your trip.
The best images are always the ones that you took for yourself. The ones that resonate with you are the ones you’ll look back on for years to come and smile.
Don’t take images for your friends, your family, and certainly not social media. Take them for you. Enjoy the process of creating them. And enjoy the process of reminiscing for many years to come.
What About You?
Speaking for myself, I carry a mirrorless camera setup along with a tripod, drone, and a whole host of stuff I never use – although my phone is probably the one thing I use the most!
Do you have any tips for better smartphone photos? Let us know in the comments below!