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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

MARKETPLACE. Locals pick out fruits at a market in Cebu. Photo by Hannah Reyes

MARKETPLACE. Locals pick out fruits at a market in Cebu.

Photo by Hannah Reyes

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 A photo posted by @michaelchristopherbrown on Jun 19, 2014 at 7:10am PDT

 

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).

Little girls and their mother by the seaside in Bombay. #camphonediaries #natgeochannel #lenovovibe #bombay #india A photo posted by Hannah Reyes (@hannahrey) on Aug 26, 2015 at 4:57am PDT

 

After that, it's all about thinking about a shot the same way you would if you were using a DSLR.

People gather at a flower market in Bangalore, creating a riot of colors and scents and sounds... #india #camphonediaries #lenovovibe #natgeochannelasia A photo posted by Hannah Reyes (@hannahrey) on Aug 27, 2015 at 6:48am PDT

 

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.

Photo by Hannah Reyes

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. 

Calaguas Island, Camarines Norte. Photo by Claire Lim Chan A photo posted by Vernise Tantuco (@realverntantuco) on Aug 24, 2015 at 9:52am PDT

 

For the picture below, on the other hand, Hannah suggested waiting for someone to come closer to the camera to add depth.

Frankfurt, Germany A photo posted by Vernise Tantuco (@realverntantuco) on Aug 24, 2015 at 10:02am PDT

 

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

A man sells antiques and trinkets at the side of the road in Malacca, a UNESCO protected heritage site just a two hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur. #camphonediaries #lenovovibe #malaysia #malacca #natgeochannelasia A photo posted by Hannah Reyes (@hannahrey) on Sep 2, 2015 at 3:57am PDT

 

"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:

Spent today walking around old Delhi and came across these Hindu priests. Hinduism is the major religion in India, with almost 80% of Indians identifying as Hindu. #camphonediaries #india #natgeochannel #lenovovibe #hinduism A photo posted by Hannah Reyes (@hannahrey) on Aug 23, 2015 at 4:28am PDT

 

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.

A man sells antiques and trinkets at the side of the road in Malacca, a UNESCO protected heritage site just a two hour drive away from Kuala Lumpur. #camphonediaries #lenovovibe #malaysia #malacca #natgeochannelasia A photo posted by Hannah Reyes (@hannahrey) on Sep 2, 2015 at 3:57am PDT

 

"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

Saving up for your next smartphone? Use these coupons for the best deals and you’ll be snapping photos soon enough!

Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.

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