5 tips to take better travel photos with a smartphone
MANILA, Philippines – Whether it be local haunts or foreign climes, many Instagram feeds nowadays are filled with beautiful photos of places that your friends have visited.
If you're going on a trip soon and want to snap great pictures of gorgeous locations too, National Geographic Young Explorer Hannah Reyes gave us some tips on how to take better photos with your smartphone when you're exploring all corners of the world. (READ: 54 award-winning photos taken with smartphones)
As a Nat Geo Young Explorer, Cambodia-based Hannah was recently given a partial grant to document the changes in indigenous cultures in Luzon. She's also been taking pictures with a smartphone, as part of a Nat Geo partnership with Lenovo.
Here are some of Hannah's tips for taking pictures of your adventures:
1. Figure out what you're trying to say before you shoot
You've taken about 20 shots that look almost exactly the same – we've all been there. "This is advice for me by one of my favorite photographers: You know, before, in film, you only have 36 [shots] so you have to think of each shot," said Hannah.
When Hannah showed us some of the photos she took during her trip to Intramuros, each picture was different, and none of the subjects or backgrounds were repeated.
So instead of taking several photos at once, stop for a minute and think about what you want to say with your picture. You're more likely to snap a fresh perspective on the place, and your phone memory will thank you for it. (READ: 5 tips to take better food photos for Instagram)
2. Treat your phone camera like a professional camera
Most people forget that their phone's technology is way more advanced than it was before. Hannah points out that some of the photos we see in magazine covers by professional photographers were actually shot with cell phone cameras.
The photo below was shot on a smartphone by Michael Christopher Brown, a Magnum photographer and one of Hannah's favorites.
Children play on defunct airplanes at the airport in Goma, a city located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can buy a SIGNED 6x6 inch square print of this iPhone photograph here for $100: store.magnumphotos.com. Act quick because this image and others from some colleagues at @magnumphotos and @natgeo are only available for one more day! #congo #northkivu #goma #magnumphotos
So take the time to get to know what your phone's camera can do – some will even let you adjust things like white balance (so that what looks white in real life reflects as much in the photo) and shutter speed (how fast or slow a lens closes).
After that, it's all about thinking about a shot the same way you would if you were using a DSLR.
Hannah shares that in stressful situations – trying to get a good shot while hanging off the side of a plane, for example – she thinks of the technical side of taking photos. Things like lighting, composition, and how a photo will look with the rest of a set (i.e. your Instagram feed) are some of the factors she takes into consideration.
Quick tip: Hannah mentioned the Rule of Thirds when it comes to composition. Most cameras will allow you to divide your screen into 9 equal parts with two horizontal lines and two vertical. For an aethetically pleasing photo, the most important parts of your picture should fall along those lines – like in the photo above.
3. Make your photos more dynamic by getting different angles, layering, and framing your shots
Some views might look pretty, but fall flat in photos. To make a view as interesting to others as they are to you, explore different angles or framing the background with something in the foreground. For the picture below, taking a shot nearer to the boat or having a tree in the foreground could add more texture to an otherwise flat picture.
For the picture below, on the other hand, Hannah suggested waiting for someone to come closer to the camera to add depth.
4. Travel slow
Good things come to those who wait – or at least, good photos come to those who travel at a slower pace. Instead of rushing from one place to another, take the time to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. (READ: Move slow, move local: A story of how we travel)
"I try not to plan my trips... and to leave space, just for serendipity and to find interesting things. I try not to book tours where everybody's involved and I try to go and walk by myself a little bit more, and that's how I manage how to be able to take more photos," shares Hannah.
Here's a shot that Hannah took with her smartphone while exploring Delhi, India:
5. Make a connection, get closer to people
The scenery might be beautiful, but people tend to forget that the locals have their own stories to tell too – and it's so much easier to get close to them with just a phone instead of an intimidating DSLR.
"With a lot of photojournalists, I see them, they're entering the field and they're [in] cargo pants and their big cameras, and they're not really able to get intimate with their subjects," said Hannah, who also works with big cameras but noticed that gaining trust is easier with a smaller one. "You get to experience the place in another way, rather than just an outsider. You're part of it," she said.
Even if you don't know the language, get to know local gestures that might make the people more comfortable (Hannah says a certain gesture in Cambodia leaves you free to take people's pictures unless they explicitly say no) or simply smile. – Rappler.com
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