Smartphone Photography

20 Smartphone Photography Tips to Improve Your Vacation Photos

Smartphone Photography

20 Simple Smartphone Photography Tips

One of the most common questions we’re asked as professional travelers is, “What is the best camera for photography?”

There’s an old adage that says, “the best camera you have is the one you’re carrying.” Even if you own a larger DSLR camera, they’re not easy to carry around with you all the time. But most of us always have a smartphone with us, which gives us a fast, easy, and increasingly high-quality option for capturing photos on the fly.

When I was growing up, the concept of a phone that could do everything a personal computer could was the stuff of science-fiction fantasies. But the best cell phone cameras of today are rapidly changing the world of photography.

Of course, there’s a lot more to capturing great photos with your camera phone than merely pointing and clicking. So take a look at our simple smartphone photography tips, which can help you dramatically improve your vacation photos and other snapshots.

Smartphone Photography Tips


1. Familiarize yourself with your camera.

Really take some time to explore your smartphone camera, whether you’ve just purchased the device or have been using the same one for years.

Check out every aspect of the photo settings it offers, from panorama and manual mode to slow motion. You may be surprised by what you learn: I recently discovered mine has a food setting!

Smartphone Photography Tips

2. Keep your lens clean.

Taking care of your smartphone lens is just as important as a DSLR lens. There might be pocket lint on it, fingerprints, or even condensation from rapid changes in temperature (such as going from an air-conditioned car to humid air).

Always carry around a cleaning cloth, or use the corner of your clean shirt. It only takes a few seconds but helps to ensure your photos come out clear, instead of blurry.

3. Tell a story.

Before you click the shutter button, think: What is the story you want to tell with your photo?

I was recently at a cousin’s wedding, where guests could ride a carousel in the beach pavilion. My story was how this spinning, musical ride made everyone happy. I captured the laughter, movement of horses going up and down, bright lights, along with faces filled with joy.

By thinking of what I wanted my story to be, I moved past simple snapshots of my relatives and looked at our enjoyment of this unique experience. Craft the narrative by focusing on details, such as the glint in an eye, the drip of melting gelato, or the breeze blowing through grassy dunes.

Smartphone Photography Tips

4. Look at the “big picture.”

Prior to taking a photo, look around at the entire setting before you. Are there power lines in the top that you’d prefer not to be there? Or how about the edge of your shoe as you’re looking down?

If it’s a food photo, is there a dirty napkin or fork next to your plate that will make the meal look less appetizing? Are there strangers photobombing your beautiful sunset, marriage proposal, or smiling child?

Adjust your camera angle by moving your smartphone (or yourself) and focusing in on what you actually want in the picture. This allows you to keep the undesirable elements of the setting out of your finished photo.


5. Follow the “Rule of Thirds.”

If your camera has grid line ability, turn it on. The rule of thirds is easily seen when you have a 3x3 grid that looks like a rectangular Rubik’s Cube on your smartphone camera screen.

If you view your photo opportunity along this 3x3 grid and put the focal points in one of the intersections of the lines, you’ll create an intriguing sense of movement for your viewers. You’ll also include empty space around your subject. The opposite of this is centering your subject directly in the middle of the photo, which is rarely the best option.

This rule of putting important focal points in the thirds is the most important (and, once you learn it, most easily implemented) tip for improving smartphone photography skills.

Smartphone Photography Tips Rule of Thirds

6. Use leading lines.

Have you ever looked at a photo and felt as if it took you somewhere? Perhaps it drew your eye to the exact focal point the photographer meant it to in order to tell a particular story? That photographer used what are known as leading lines.

Lines are often used in photography to help give structure to the photo composition. They guide the eye, either by using a direct line or a curve or by highlighting a visual guidepost. This could be the curl of a breaking wave, a path in the forest, the sun setting across a field of corn, or the handle of a shovel in the hands of a small child.

Before taking your photo, look around at what lines you can utilize to draw the eye of the viewer into your story. These leading lines will often reach the very edge of a photo in the corners, which will allow your viewer to imagine where the action is headed.

Smartphone Photography Tips Use Leading Lines

7. Keep it simple.

How do you feel when viewing a photo that’s too crowded? One way to keep viewers interested in your photo is to keep the photo composition simple. You can do this by using your cell phone camera’s zoom feature and finding different (ideally unique) angles.

If you’re taking a photo in a busy piazza, why not focus on just the colorful pigeon? Or try angling your smartphone upward, so that you’re capturing the local architecture, but not the chaos of congestion caused by mass tourism.

If you’re looking at a scene with many different trees, chairs, or other elements, try to isolate your focus on just a few of these objects (preferably an odd number). This will create a more powerful photograph that doesn’t distract but instead keeps the viewer interested.


8. Adjust your light settings.

Along with composition, Light is so very important in photography! Poor lighting and overexposed photos are common sources of frustration.

So before you start taking pictures, check your photo settings, especially the contrast and saturation. You might also want to use a filter when taking photos, especially in poor light.

If you experiment with snapping shots in black and white, you’ll quickly learn how well your smartphone camera picks up contrasts. It’s fascinating!

Smartphone Photography Tips

9. Adjust your exposure.

One trick that wise smartphone photographers use is to dial down your light, which allows you to get the proper level of exposure for the sky.

Whether it’s adjusting the phone’s view of a sunset to get brighter colors, or to reduce the glare of white clouds in order to get more depth, this is a quick and easy tip for improving the light in the photo.

You can make this adjustment by moving the slider from plus to minus (it’s usually centered right in the middle).

10. Turn off your cell phone camera flash.

I rarely use my flash, because it often washes out the subject of photos. Turn off your flash unless you absolutely need it; find your lighting elsewhere (with someone else’s phone screen, by moving to a different light source, etc.).

Smartphone Photography Tips

11. Timing is everything.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “magic hour” (sunrise) and the “golden hour” (sunset), which are common nicknames for the times of day when the light is generally the most beautiful for photography. Here’s a handy tool to calculate the golden hour at your location.

But it’s also worth sticking around post-sunset to keep taking photos, as the magical colors become even more saturated then. After the sun rises you might be ready for coffee and want to head inside, but consider continuing to shoot for 10 minutes. The sun’s glow quickly increases, which, on a smartphone camera, shows up in different ways than you can see.

Also, it’s best to avoid shooting in direct sunlight in the middle of the day, as your subjects will all appear washed out. If you have to take photos then, find a shady location!

12. Stabilize your smartphone camera.

Blurry photos can usually be avoided by working on the stability of your smartphone camera.

Use a tripod if you’re on shaky or unstable ground, or while looking at the night sky. There are many small travel tripods that can fit in a pocket, purse, or backpack, so they’re easy to keep handy. A smartphone gimbal can help keep your camera steady if you’re shooting on the move, such as on a small ship cruise.

Don’t have a tripod or gimbal handy? Keep your arms close to your body, so as to improve stability while taking photos. You can also set a timer so that your finger pushing the button doesn’t shake the phone.

Smartphone Photography


13. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

One of the best smartphone photography tips I can offer is to take lots and lots of pictures and experiment with different angles and techniques. Are you using panorama, pro, manual, or automatic? Look at your settings, and try them all on one subject. You might be surprised at the results!

14. Adjust your cell phone camera aperture.

Aperture controls the brightness of the image and is expressed as an f-number (such as f/2.8, /f4, f/5.6, etc.). Try playing around with different apertures of the same scene, to ascertain what focus works best for a certain type of photo.

15. Try taking HDR photos.

HDR (or high dynamic range) is a common feature on iPhone and Android phones that adds a more dynamic range of colors to your photos. It does this by taking three photos in rapid succession at slightly different settings and then combining them all into one image.

Using your smartphone’s HDR setting will take larger-sized photos (which does impact your phone’s data storage capability), but it can also create better photos.

Are HDR photos for you? Try it and see! You might love this setting for landscapes, but not so much for portraits. Be careful with HDR: Sometimes this hyper-vivid setting looks completely unreal, which can be a turnoff to some viewers.

Smartphone Photography

16. Take photos in burst mode.

Burst photos are a series of shots taken very quickly, which may sometimes entail 30 or more photos in rapid succession.

This approach works especially well for wildlife photography and other forms of action shots because a burst will capture all of the movement and allow you to choose a pic that’s perfectly in focus.

It’s also great for spur-of-the-moment candid photos and group shots because at least one or two of the pictures should be able to capture everyone with their eyes open!


17. Save, save, save!

When editing your smartphone photography, it’s best to create a duplicate image and save your edits under a different file name. This way, your original photo is always there for you.

The more you tinker with a digital photo file, the more you lose of the photo’s quality. I speak from personal experience when I say that too much editing is a real thing.

18. Crop your shots carefully.

Remember when we talked about the rule of thirds above? Cropping images is one way to ensure that your subject is right in one of those sweet compositional spots. You can also crop out unfortunate elements of the picture, or create a tighter shot if visual clutter in the background is too distracting.

Smartphone Photography

19. Use filters creatively.

There are many different filter apps that you can use to edit your photo. Two of the most popular ones are VSCO (which has a large following and hashtag presence on Instagram) and Snapseed.

There are also filters built into your cell phone camera, as well as filters on Instagram itself (if you’re posting your photos there). Take some time to play around with them and see what you like.

Do you like a strong filter at 100%, or do you prefer the same filter at 30%? Do you love the way a certain color tone looks for your photos? Many people utilize the same tones for their photos across all social media platforms.

20. ALWAYS back it up!

I really can’t stress this enough: ALWAYS back up your smartphone photos! Phones can get lost, stolen, or dropped in the water (don’t ask me how I know this) at any time.

If you can utilize your service provider’s cloud service, do so. It’s also a good idea to download your smartphone photos onto your computer, and use an online service such as Flickr, Amazon Cloud, or SmugMug for additional photo storage. A few minutes of your time will prevent you from losing your photos forever.

But perhaps the best tip I can give you for smartphone photography is to have fun! Enjoy the entire process, from thinking about taking photos to the final product. You’re capturing special events, fascinating places, interesting things you see, and people you love. Aren’t we lucky to live in an era where we have quality cameras right in our phones?  –Jessie Voigts

BIO: Jessie Voigts has a Ph.D. in International Education, has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled all around the world. She’s published eight books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. Jessie is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding and is passionate about sharing the world through her website, Wandering Educators.