Pól Ó Conghaile: Six steps to taking better travel photos on your phone
Tired of taking mediocre photos? Our travel editor has six steps to up your smartphone photography game
Every year, smartphones amaze me all over again. They help me navigate cities, track planes, control my TV, stream my music and edit videos.
And then there’s the camera.
In recent years, devices like the iPhone X and Huawei P30 have taken smartphone photography to a whole new level... almost (almost) placing the power of a decent DSLR camera in your pocket.
But here’s the thing. Many of us assume that buying a whizz phone will automatically lead to better photos. That can be true, but it’s also like saying that an expensive guitar means you play better music. Before you splash out, take a little time to understand photography basics. You’ll be surprised how it boosts your travel snaps.
1. See the light
Photography is all about light. Try to shoot without flash, choose soft rather than harsh (e.g. direct sun) light, and don’t place people with their backs to the main source of that light. At night, try to get people to stand closer to lights, rather than lurking in shadows. Check your photo, and go again if needs be.
Pause before shooting. What’s in the frame, and what’s not? Can you reduce clutter? Photographers use the ‘rule of thirds’ as a guide... placing elements like animals or buildings slightly off-centre, because it’s more pleasing on the eye. Use your camera app’s grid as a guide.
Smartphones do a pretty good job of automatic exposures, but not a perfect one. Help them select what to expose for, or focus on (e.g. a face, a plate of food, or a tree silhouetted against a setting sun), by pressing that point on your screen. If you like the control this offers, play around with manual settings. If light and shade are tricky, try the HDR function (High Dynamic Range, which balances dark and light), but don’t rely on it — it can also overcook images and make scenes look strangely fake.
Shaky cameras are the main source of blurry images, especially in low light. Hold your phone with both hands, grabbing help by leaning on a hard surface, a friend’s shoulder, or using a mini-tripod.
If you’re capturing an important moment, take several photos — in both portrait and landscape (i.e. horizontal and vertical) modes. Choose the best later.
Your photo is a first step, not a final one. Apps like Instagram have in-built editing tools, but explore beyond the pre-set filters — playing with brightness, structure, highlights and shadows. Step things up with Google’s Snapseed app, which packs a more sophisticated range of options... for free. As a general rule, make gentle changes rather than blasting everything with filters.
Read more:How to take beautiful Instagram photos: 5 tips from top Irish travel influencers