8 tips for taking better travel photos with your iPhone

written by
Graeme Green

updated 20.06.2018

The iPhone is capable of taking far better travel shots than most people think. iPhoneography expert and fine art photographer Paul Sanders shares eight easy tips for taking iPhone photos that will set your socials on fire.

1. Keep still

People don’t always consider the iPhone ‘real photography’, so they tend to still be walking or waving their arms around when they take a picture. This often results in low-quality focus, slightly shaky pictures or poor composition. Because the iPhone is classed as ‘disposable’ photography, people don’t stop and take the picture properly.

The important thing is to be still and to hold the phone still. It sounds simple, but if you treat the iPhone the same way that you would standard photography and stand still, you can construct your framing and point of focus, which will result in a much better snap.

I’ve also seen people stab the screen of their phone with their finger when they’re taking pictures. It’s a touch screen. It just needs a light tap. If you jab your finger, you’re more likely to move your phone, which will alter your composition or give you camera shake.

Holding still when taking a picture with a phone

Holding still when taking a picture with an iPhone © Paul Sanders

2. Remember the basics of composition

Composition is always key. If someone is fairly new to photography, they should work on the ‘rule of thirds’ principle until they get used to composition, and then they can break all the guidelines.

On an iPhone, if you go into the camera settings, you can turn a grid on, which will show you a crossword-type grid to help you with composition. As long as you put the main point of interest on one of the lines, you will end up with a naturally balanced picture.

As you would with a camera, the same rules apply with an iPhone in terms of looking for lines or shapes that draw the viewer in.

Creative iPhone shot

Looking for lines and shapes © Paul Sanders

3. Use all of the frame

It’s important to fill the frame with what you’re interested in. Smartphone cameras do have a zoom, but it’s a digital zoom, so it lessens the quality of a picture every time you effectively crop into it.

The better thing to do is to be as close to the subject as possible and fill the frame as much as you can. That way you’re using all of the available image size, which will result in a higher-quality shot.

If you zoom or crop, the picture will end up looking slightly fuzzy, with wishy-washy colours.

iPhone picture

Getting close to a subject is better than using the zoom © Paul Sanders

4. Tell a story

Try to give a photo a sense of place, a sense of scale, a sense of local character. Think about this: “What is it about the place that inspires me as a person?”, and then try to illustrate that with your picture. Sometimes that might be a series of details in a place that you can then put on your social media feed as a little set of pictures, rather than just saying: “Here’s a selfie of me in front of the Grand Canyon”.

Use different formats: ‘square’, ‘panorama’, etc. They give a different perspective and a different sense of scale. If you're photographing a wide landscape, a panorama really works, especially on social media. They give the viewer a sense of being there.

Landscape panorama captured on an iPhone

Landscape panorama captured on an iPhone © Paul Sanders

5. Adjust the settings

If you tap on the screen when you’ve got your composition set, a little box appears: that's the point of focus. Focus is really important, because you want the object that you’re most keen on to be sharp. It’s important to tap that.

It’s also important to slide your finger up and down to see which exposure setting will give you the exposure that matches what you’re seeing. Often, when you focus on something that’s dark, the rest of the screen will go white, and vice versa. Slide your finger up and down. You’ll get a much better picture by adjusting the exposure slightly. It’s not complicated on a smartphone. It’s intuitive.

Using the focus setting on an iPhone

Using the focus setting on your iPhone will ensure the object of your picture is sharp © Paul Sanders

6. Turn off the flash

One thing that always surprises me when I go to a concert or a dark venue is people taking pictures with their flash on. The flash only lights about three feet in front of you, so the rest of the photo will be dark.

If you turn the flash off and hold the camera still or brace it against something solid, your picture will much better reflect the lighting conditions of where you are, rather than something that’s brightly lit at the front, dark at the back, and generally looks a bit rubbish.

Darkly lit picture captured with iPhone

Darkly lit picture captured with iPhone – and no flash © Paul Sanders

7. Experiment with apps

There are loads of different apps to use with an iPhone to apply different effects to your images. Slow Shutter Cam allows you to do a blur effect, which can be really nice if you’re in a market, for example, and want your picture to give a sense of hustle and bustle.

PhotoSplit allows you to do multiple exposures, so you could do seven pictures layered on top of each other to get really fun results. It also allows you to montage photos together, so if you wanted to tell a little story in one frame, you can put four pictures together in the same image with a little frame around each, and that only takes up one picture in your Instagram feed.

Circular Tiny Planet is great fun for doing pictures where it looks as if you’re standing on top of a globe, or if you want to create funny circular effects in rooms.

Picture taken with iPhone & edited with PhotoSplit

Multilayered picture taken with an iPhone and edited with PhotoSplit © Paul Sanders

8. Do a little post-production

All your pictures can be transferred to your computer, so you can still play with them with powerful software, including Lightroom and Photoshop. Having said that, the processing software in smartphones is very good. You can also use an app like Snapseed and really go to town on your pictures, altering the contrast, selectively altering different areas or putting a really nice border around your photos to make them look like works of art.

There’s a lot you can do to photos, like adding a bit of drama to skies. I see nothing wrong with enhanced iPhone pictures. Sometimes, they are a bit overdone, but people learn very quickly that overdone images don’t work well.

Just experiment and have fun. You can do everything on an iPhone without having to use a computer, which is fantastic for people on the move. As long as you have lots of battery power, that is.

Picture taken with iPhone & edited with Snapseed

Landscape captured with an iPhone and edited with Snapseed © Paul Sanders

Paul Sanders guides photography tours for Light & Land, including iPhoneography workshops in London, Glasgow and Brighton, and other photography tours in Kyrgyzstan, Italy, Albania, Ireland and more, covering landscape photography, astrophotography, long exposures and other techniques. For details, visit www.lightandland.co.uk.

Light & Land is celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2018 with an exhibition, Evolving Landscapes, at the OXO Gallery on London’s Southbank from July 18-22, featuring photos by Paul Sanders and other Light & Land photographers, including Joe Cornish, Antony Spencer, Phil Malpas and Valda Bailey. See www.lightandland.co.uk/25-year-anniversary for details. A limited edition book, Evolving Landscapes, will be published to coincide with the event.

Top image credit: iPhone landscape photography © Paul Sanders

Graeme Green

written by
Graeme Green

updated 20.06.2018

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