The Smartphone Secret to Amazing Travel Photos

A professional photographer shares her secrets for shooting the perfect image.
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Traveling exposes you to many new sights – ancient architecture, exotic flora and diverse city scenes. Capturing these images through photography creates some of the best souvenirs from your vacation, but you might not have the spare cash necessary to invest in the fancy camera equipment.

Turns out you don’t really need it – your smart phone camera can take your photos on your next trip away. All those bells and whistles on the pricey cameras often aren’t necessary. “Don’t get caught up in the technical, and don’t spend more money than you need to,” said Kirsten Alana, a travel photographer who blogs at Aviators and a Camera. “I believe that photography at its best and most beautiful is about creativity, not about technicality.”

While many smartphones serve as adequate cameras, there are some features that will help you shoot more effectively. “I must have the ability to control at least some of the picture taking process manually on a smartphone, as I do on a camera. Whether it is the focus or exposure, or even more,” said Alana, who likes to be able to manually set the ISO (image sensor), shutter speed and focus on her camera phone.

Alana, who worked for several years as a wedding photographer, started taking photographs on 35mm film as a child. She learned how to shoot using the Rule of Thirds, which is the idea that the photographer imagines breaking down an image into thirds, creating a grid with nine parts. “While I have since learned when to break the rule as well, I still find that I like shooting with a grid overlay that helps me keep the Rule of Thirds in mind,” said Alana. “It’s taught for a reason, since it keeps the psychology of what humans find interesting to the eye in mind when creating imagery.”

Lack of light or dark corners can create challenges for snapping the perfect picture, but sometimes it just takes a little creativity, and you don’t always need to rely on your flash. “I’m what many have dubbed, a ‘natural light photographer,’” said Alana. “I did teach myself how to manipulate light on the go by knowing when to bounce, and always having some kind of white paper to use as an impromptu diffuser.”

As a travel photographer, Alana has taken her smartphone and cameras around the world. But sometimes she has shot the perfect photo with the simplest equipment. “I took this photo of a camel ride through the Sahara desert during Golden Hour in Morocco on my iPhone 4S and what I love most about it is that it recalls the sweeping photo essays I used to drool over as a child in National Geographic magazine,” she said. “You’d never know it was taken with a smartphone because the image speaks for itself – proof that the device you capture an image with matters less than the person who is actually creating the image.”

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