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A Guide to Smartphone Photography for Travel Bloggers

Today’s post is written by George from car hire company Sixt.co.uk (who is currently running off a Galaxy S2).

While there is no threat of Smartphones taking better snaps then even the cheapest DSLRs, many travel addicts are electing to forgo the luxury of a dedicated camera setup in order to save on space in their every day carry. Though some might suggest on using a “real camera”, the fact remains that a good photo is a good photo regardless of format. Here’s how you can get more out of the medium:

Work With Your Settings

You want the best quality source material to work with, so make sure your camera is set to capture images at the best possible quality. Whilst your phone may have an 8MP camera, it is not uncommon for them to default to 3MP to save on space, so adjust accordingly. Consider your macro settings when doing and making conservative adjustments to exposure (though it’s usually best to avoid any lighting presets such as ‘party’ unless you’re confident they’ll give better results).

Whilst flash can be useful, it’s best to think carefully about when you want to use it, rather than allowing the camera to decide. If you can, default the flash to ‘off’ rather than ‘auto’, enabling it only when you need it. Better yet, torch apps that utilizes your phone’s flash can allow you to illuminate your subject continuously and predictably.

Don’t Run Out of Space

One advantage smartphones have over most cameras – when you have wifi available you can transfer your photos to a cloud storage service such as dropbox, instantly freeing up additional space on your device. If you have the option you can also keep a spare battery and micro SD on hand for longer excursions.

Lighting

Early morning and early evening are usually the best times to shoot, and most smartphones have settings to compensate. Learn what works best for you. While this varies by phone model, photographing light sources directly can produce less-than-stellar results, so experiment to see whether it is a problem for your particular model.

Tap to Focus

Many people will snap away happily and settle for slightly blurry pictures as a result (most I would wager aren’t aware that you can focus on a phone camera). Simply tap the object on the screen you wish to be the focus of the shot. When you release your finger your phone should have the subject locked in focus.

Easy on the Apps

It can be tempting to run everything you produce immediately through Hipstamatic or Instagram, it’ll quickly seem like you run everything you produce through Hipstamatic or Instagram. It’s best to keep your files vanilla whilst you’re shooting, especially if you want to document the natural beauty of a place.

Keep the Lens Clean

Lenses are often set flush against the back of the phone, which makes them liable to pick up dirt or scratches that can hamper picture quality. This is especially true as a result of the varied conditions travel can put a phone though. A case that extends to cover the lens can help, but I’d recommend periodically cleaning the lens with a microfiber cloth, or as needed. This can avoid blurry or artefact filled images.

Keep it Steady

Keeping your phone steady when taking images can be difficult, especially if a press of the touchscreen is used to take the photo; you’ve lined the shot up perfectly and now you’re pushing the phone? If at all possible, alter the camera app’s settings to use one of your phone’s physical buttons to control the shutter (either one of the volume buttons or the home key). I’d recommend avoiding any form of digital zoom unless absolutely necessary, as cropping a steady photo is usually
preferable to dealing with a blurry one.

The same goes for yourself. Have you ever lined up a perfect photo on your screen, taken the shot, and found it’s blurry or unfocused? Most smartphones have a deceptively long capture time (varies between models) – so remain absolutely still until the preview has flashed onto the screen.

If you are going the smartphone root you aren’t likely to be carrying a dedicated tripod around. It’s fairly easy to improvise one (I’d recommend using something like a bag of rice). You can also learn to use the surrounding scenery to steady yourself and the phone against.


This is just an introduction; the best thing you can do to improve is look at photos you like and try to understand why you like them. Think about composition and how you would replicate them. More serious smartphone photographers may wish to consider 3rd party replacement lenses (though I’ve yet to try one). Would you ever travel without a dedicated camera?

One Response to “A Guide to Smartphone Photography for Travel Bloggers”

  1. Winkels Says:

    Thanks for your article on this web site. From my own experience, many times softening right up a photograph may well provide the photo shooter with a little bit of an imaginative flare. More often than not however, that soft clouds isn’t exactly what you had at heart and can often times spoil a normally good image, especially if you intend on enlarging that.

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