Jul 20, 2015

8 Tips for Taking Amazing Summer Travel Photos with Your Smartphone

Travel smartphone photo tips.

I've spent many vacations lugging high-end camera gear around to document my travels. But these days, my phone has replaced every piece of gear I used to carry; for their convenience and the decent quality photographs they can take, smartphone cameras are hard to beat. And  a little know-how will help you get the best images possible out of that little pocket-sized gadget. I'll walk you through some of my favorite composition tips, and show you a few ways to use Adobe Photoshop Elements to give your photos an extra boost. Here's how to do it. 

Editor's Note:  This post is part of our 2015 partnership with Adobe Photoshop Elements. We're excited to be working with them again (remember our rustic wooden ornaments?) , because creating digital images is a part of our daily routine. 

When you're using a phone it's easy to sneak in shots in hard-to-get-to places, or grab an angle you might not see with a clunky DSLR. But it's disappointing to get home and sift through hundreds of images, just to end up with a mere handful of really good ones. Here's what I look for while on vacation to help me get the most out of my smartphone camera.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

1. Know the Rule of Thirds (and when to break it)

The golden rule of photography (and most visual arts) is to remember the rule of thirds. Divide the canvas up into thirds (a grid of nine equal squares). The most interesting or important elements should end up where the gridlines cross.  

You can place your subject slightly to the left or right of the picture to create a strong composition. The rule of thirds works most of the time, but once you know a rule, it's time to experiment with breaking it, so sometimes, you should put your subject smack in the center of a photograph. 


how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

2. Make it Bottom Heavy

Most phone photos are shot vertically (I forget to turn it horizontal too!). So, when shooting vertically, push the subject of the photo to the bottom, and make the sky or ceiling the largest part of the image. This creates strong and an interesting composition.

I recently did this at a show where the musicians were too far away for me to get good pictures of them, but their light show was jaw-dropping. This photo captured both the band and the amazing lighting in one shot.


Get the best vacation photos with your phone

3. Don't Use Your Flash

Never, never, never use your flash. Unless you absolutely need to grab a picture of you and your friends in a dark restaurant (to document some shenanigans), the LED flash dot on your phone will wash out your photographs. Instead, relish the dark, use the contrast at hand to create an amazing, compelling piece.


Get the best vacation photos with your phone

4. Look Down

I recently ate at an amazingly beautiful restaurant in Atlanta. I was tempted to take a ton of interior photos, but I didn't want to be rude to the other guests. As I was leaving I noticed the floors were really cool, so I quickly snapped a pic. Now I have a small reminder of the delicious meal I had there. Don't forget to look down and see what you're stepping on!


Get the best vacation photos with your phone

5. Find Natural Symmetry

Buildings can be boring, but two buildings that look just alike can be interesting! Symmetrical photos can easily transform a trip to the city into a work of art. Notice my framing in the photo above: the frame is split into thirds vertically, and the low camera angle gives a sense of grandeur to a scene that, frankly, isn't that amazing. Add in the leading perspective lines of the windows, and you've got an image that's fun to look at!


Get the best vacation photos with your phone

6. Seize the Golden Hour

The hour or so before a sunset, the sun drenches everything in a beautiful golden yellow hue. It's guaranteed to make any picture the best picture of the vacation. Make time to take a hike or stroll during the golden hour, and look for the long afternoon light. Above: the composition puts the walking path front and center, where you eye can follow it up into the horizon and the sunset.


how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

7. Use Photo Effects (Tastefully)

Get a realistic, vintage picture like the one above by using Adobe Photoshop Elements' Light Leak film effect. I love how the White Leak Effect fits the photo style of this old factory through a fence.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

Get the best vacation photos with your phone

8. Minimize

Get an idea of what you want the picture to be, then remove, remove, remove! I love this photo of a hill I shot in Tennessee; the emptiness of the shot is so peaceful, and lets you imagine what might be going on just outside the frame, or beyond the hill. I always try to find ways to tell a story with as little as possible in a photograph.

If you end up with something in your shot that shouldn't be there (or would look better in a different spot), Adobe Photoshop Elements has a great tool called 'Content Aware Move' that allows you to select items in your frame and move them around – the background will just magically fill in!


how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

Overall: Edit your photos

Don't leave your photos on your phone! Taking photos on your vacation is only half the battle. Now you need to edit them!

All of the photographs from this post were edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements' Quick View Panel. From there you can take your good photos and turn them into great photos with easy photo filters and effects.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

On the right side of your workspace, there are several options on how we can update this dreary photograph. I happened to visit the historic Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina on a rainy day :(.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone 

We'll start with Smart Fix. This will bring the photo up to a nice brightness and color. It needs some more color, so we'll bump up the saturation. Select the Color Bar just under Smart Fix.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

Finally, let's boost the shadows with the lighting panel. Select Shadows and select one of the squares until the shadows increase to your liking.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

Let's run it through the Crop Tool to put the focus a little more on the mansion.

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

Now, that's a house I could live in! Where are the mortgage papers?

how to Get the best vacation photos with your phone

There you have it, some really simple tips to help you take the best photographs on your next vacation! What are some things you like to shoot with your phone when you're abroad? Have a really great travel shot you want us to see? Share it on Instagram with the hashtag #MMadventures - we'll re-gram the ones we like best!



This post is sponsored by Adobe Photoshop Elements, but all opinions are mine alone. Thanks for supporting the brands that support ManMade. 



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J in MT on Jul 24, 2015:

Add a star wipe! I kid of course, but please... Take it easy on the filters. #nofilter shouldn't be a rarity.

bryson on Jul 23, 2015:

@josh That's the hill! good eye!

Josh on Jul 22, 2015:

Where's the hill in Tennessee?  It looks very similar to the grass/cardboard "sledding" hills in Rennaisance Park here in Chattanooga, but I'm not sure how you'd find an angle to isolate it against a background of only sky.  Great shots!