8 Secrets to Better Smartphone Photos on Your Travels

Wondering how to document your big adventure abroad? The best camera the average traveler can take with them is already in their pocket. Smartphone cameras have improved drastically over the past decade. They’re the perfect solution if you just want some solid shots to share with loved ones back home, without worrying about extra weight to carry.

Here are eight secrets for taking better smartphone photos while traveling.

1. Add shortcuts within thumb’s reach

Whether it’s in your pocket, purse, or backpack – make sure your phone is ready to grab in a second. Great smartphone photos are often all about timing. On an iPhone, you can easily find the camera shortcut in the lower-right corner of the lock screen. On most Androids you can add a camera shortcut on the lock screen. With newer Samsungs, just double-tap the home button.

Smartphone photos | Keep your phone close

Thankfully my phone was in hand for this sneak attack of rowdy goats passing by while laying on a beach in Europe.

2. Apply the basic rules of photography

Use the rule of thirds: mentally divide your image into a grid of nine equal parts and position the most important parts of the scene along the imaginary lines. You can add these grid lines in the camera settings of most smartphones. Framing considers the empty space in your scene. Leading lines can guide the way people’s eyes move around a photo. There are plenty of free resources on the Web to introduce you to these concepts, so use them.

Smartphone photos | Remember all rules of photography

Sunset and shadows at Belém Tower in Lisbon, Portugal.

3. Up the “wow” factor with photo editing apps

Select a few and become a master at using them. Some of the better ones can set you back a couple of dollars, but the extra shooting and editing capabilities are more than worth it. Snapseed, ProCamera, Camera+, and Adobe Photoshop Express are some of the most commonly used apps among mobile photographer pros.

Smartphone photos | Invest in photo editing apps

This standard bridge shot of Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina was brought to life by adding drama and saturation in the Snapseed app.

4. Use accessories to get smartphone photos from a different angle

Smartphones now have their own set of accessories and tools. Use a lens attachment for different effects. Fisheye creates a circular image with linear distortion, macro is for magnified subjects, and wide-angle allows for more scenery in the frame. You can also shoot in or underwater with a waterproof case, or from up above using a selfie stick as an extension of your arm.

Smartphone photos | Use accessories

Capturing the crystal clear water was made possible with the protection of a waterproof iPhone case.

5. Adjust modes and settings for motion shots

Get familiar with different settings if you or your subject are in motion. It can be the awe-inspiring landscapes that you pass through on a high-speed train, capturing a busy street scene, or simply trying to get a perfect jump shot of your travel companion. Many smartphone cameras offer a burst mode as a native feature. By simply tapping and holding the shutter button down, it will continuously capture 10 photos per second. Another way is to increase the ISO and adjust the shutter speed on your photo editing apps.

Smartphone photos | Adjust modes and settings

A bus whizzes by in the city. For nighttime street shots, use an app where you can lower the ISO and shutter speed to catch those fun light trails.

6. Use natural light when taking food photos

Food is no doubt going to be an important part of your travels. It’s also an aspect of a country’s culture that is fun to capture in smartphone photos. On your restaurant table or in a local food market, the best food photos often focus solely on the food, have the background blurred out, and are taken with natural lighting. To do this, tap your phone screen to focus on the subject.

Smartphone photos | Food photos

A picture-perfect Parisian snack, focusing on the dish and taken in natural lighting.

7. Include details in the foreground

It’s easy to look at the big picture of all the new landscapes and cityscapes you’ll be visiting, but don’t forget the details in the foreground. Capturing the little things that are often overlooked can often make more of an impact in a photo, and tell an even greater story about the scene you are shooting.

Smartphone photos | Remember the details

Taking a closer look at the gorgeous countryside in Eastern Europe.

8. Take moments, not photos

Above all else, the best travel photographs are not just snapshots of people, places or things – they are snapshots of moments in time. Put some thought into what you are actually shooting so you can be taken back to that exact moment again and again. This is the single best souvenir you can ever bring home from an epic trip abroad.

Smartphone photos | Remember the details

Capturing the sights, sounds, and experience of Seville, Spain.

Do you have any more tips for taking smartphone photos while traveling? Let us know in the comments below.

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