8 tips to take amazing travel photos with your smartphone camera

by Apr 19, 2019Photography

Smartphone cameras are still not quite as good as a DSLR, but by simply knowing a few tricks and adding a few camera accessories, you can turn out amazing smartphone travel photos most folks will think came from a high-end DSLR.

Smartphone cameras have gotten so much better in recent years. Yes, it’s true that a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with its assortment of lenses will always give me even more control to turn out better pictures than I can with my iPhone camera. But, for many travelers, a DSLR option is too bulky and sometimes too expensive or too complicated. Besides, who doesn’t carry their smartphone with them all the time, right? And the best camera you can use is the one in your hand.

The good news is that by simply knowing a few tricks and adding a few accessories, you can turn out amazing photos with your smartphone camera most folks will think came from a high-end DSLR.

Know your smartphone camera features

  • If you have HDR (High Dynamic Range) turn it on. This digitally enhances a photo by taking three different exposures of the same scene and mixing them together into one perfectly exposed and detailed photo – very useful if parts of the scene you are trying to take are very bright or very dark. If you have the option to save the original, non-HDR photo as well, do that too, since sometimes an HDR image can look a bit, well, over-processed and fake.
  • Use your burst mode. One reason many professional photographers manage to capture travel photos that show a person or animal posing in a perfect way is they shoot in a burst of rapid-fire shots, and then pick one image out of tens (or perhaps hundreds for some professionals) where the pose is perfect and eyes have that magical glint. You can do the same thing on many smartphone cameras by simply by holding down the shutter and letting the camera keep shooting pics. It will use a ton of memory, but you can then find the shot you want to keep — be sure to delete (or upload to the cloud or an external storage device) the rest so you don’t run out of storage!
  • Learn to play with exposure. You probably know you can tap your phone screen in camera mode which tells it that where you tapped is where you want the lens to focus and also read for exposure. But many smartphones allow you to hold your finger on the screen and by moving around the focus circle increase or decrease the brightness of the image, or you can move a slider about.
  • Turn on your grid lines. You may have heard of the rule of thirds. If not, that is for another lesson. Grid lines will help you capture a straight image and will help you know where to place the main subject of the image so it is off-center.
    Take better travel photos with your smartphone by using a grid -- here showing a night photo.

    Night photo with a smartphone using a grid, a camera app, and a tripod.

  • Do not use your cellphone flash! Just don’t. More often than not the flash on your smartphone camera will lead to washed out images or worse. Learn to work with natural light or an external light source such as a lamp to better illuminate your subject.
  • Do not zoom! Zooming in with your phone cuts out pixels and reduces image quality. The best option is to “zoom” with your feet or use a telephoto lens you can attach to your phone to ensure your smartphone travel photos are sharp, detailed and not pixelated or fuzzy.

Where We Buy Camera GearAdvertisement

Better travel photos with your smartphone using a camera app

I take better travel photos with my smartphone by using an app. By adding a camera app — likes ones from Moment for iOS or Android phones or ProCamera for iOS — you will be able to start using your smartphone camera more like a basic DSLR. You will be able to more accurately adjust for exposure settings, focus settings, ISO, shutter speed, white balance and much more depending on the app.

Moment Smartphone Camera App

A screenshot of my iPhone showing the Moment smartphone camera app open, looking at the Moment website showing the app features.

Add a lens

Like with a DSLR, you can add different lenses to your mobile phone to zoom in, get a wider angle, or even a fisheye effect. Some lenses clip on and others mount easily to cases you will need to buy for your phone. I prefer and do use lenses by Moment for their image quality and durability.


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HITT Tip: Looking for that amazing city shot for your photo gallery? Try to pick a hotel with the view you seek and then finagle your way into a high room or one pointing in the right direction. This can ensure you can see out over the city and not just into the building next door. Or catch sunrise on the hills. Also, pick a hotel that is located as close to where you want to take photos so getting there is easy – especially if that involves sunrise or sunset when timing is everything. Learn more secrets about getting the hotel room and amenities you want with this article, 10 top tips to help you sleep better in hotels.

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  1. Bernie

    That’s a very timely read, as I’ve just picked up my new phone – with 4 cameras, no less, so plenty to learn there. I’d never thought about the gridlines, but that makes perfect sense and should lead to better composition. I’ll be practicing tomorrow and trying to remember all your advice!

  2. The Roaming Renegades

    Great tips, these days smartphone have great cameras and with just a few simple tips they can take really high quality photos.

  3. Juliette @ Snorkels To Snow

    Great tips. The HDR mode makes a huge difference for much better detail in the darks and lights. I use my DSLR but also the smartphone. And using it through my Lightroom App rather than just the phone camera app makes a huge difference too. It makes such a big change to your images when you have control to change exposure. Excellent advice!

  4. Elsie

    I always enjoy reading photography articles. The point about not using your cellphone flash is sooo true. An acquaintance tried that during our visit to Tanzania and the photos were really washed out. And yes, the rule of thirds works perfectly with the grid lines. Thanks for these tips, they come in quite handy!

  5. Vyjay Rao

    These are very useful tips for taking good shots with a smart phone. Though we use our DSLR, we also take pictures with our Smartphones too. In some scenarios the results of the the smartphone turn out actually better than the DSLR. Of course the DSLR provides much more control but the latest smartphones do definitely give them a run for their money.

  6. Emily

    I usually use my DSLR but I also use my smartphone a lot – totally agree with having HDR switched on as it makes a hell of a difference. I also try to avoid flash wherever possible. I may have to buy a lens to use on it!

  7. Susanne Jungbluth

    Photography is such an exciting topic. We are just getting to know our camera better and to play with the functions. But I also take a lot of pictures with my mobile phone, sometimes it’s faster and sometimes I do not even have the Kamara with me and discover something exciting. I will try your tips. I’m curious. Greetings from Berlin!

    • HI Travel Tales

      Greetings to Berlin from California. Smartphone cameras are really super and you will enjoy using it. Not a replacement for your DSLR, but a good, no make that great second camera. I use mine a lot!!!

  8. Ketki Gadre

    I love these tips! Though I have a few of them, I have never really tried them. Blame it on my DSLR, which i prefer over smartphone. Hopefully I’ll be more respectful to the phone camera next time 😉

    • HI Travel Tales

      If you have a DSLR, by all means use it, but I also use the smartphone for quick candid shots, secretive shots, and frankly as a second camera or even primary pocket camera. The shots taken with a smartphone when taken by a good photographer and using the various tools and apps are really top notch.

  9. yarasam

    As a professional photographer, I sometimes struggle to take that perfect photo with a smartphone. But these are excellent tips, especially using different applications to better control a photo before it’s taken. Thanks for sharing!

    • HI Travel Tales

      Yarasam … you would be surprised to know how many “professional” photographers actually take award-winning photographs with, yes, a smartphone. It is often said, the best camera you can have is the one you have with you. Therese and I both use our DSLR’s and our smartphones for photos, finding that there are times when a smartphone can capture the image best (like in a crowded room where you want a photo, but pulling out a large camera would just be obtrusive. Add a Moment lens to your smartphone and the Moment app and I think you will be very very surprised at the quality of the photo you are able to take.

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