When you’re packing for your weekend getaway, you want to travel as light as possible — which might be made more difficult by your bulky DSLR camera that takes great pictures but also takes up a lot of space in your carry-on bag. Or maybe you have a smaller point-and-shoot model, but you just don’t want to carry one more thing while you explore the city.
Cell phone cameras have come a long way since the early days of blurry, grainy and un-editable pictures. In fact, many smartphones now come equipped with cameras that are on par with some point-and-shoot models, and thanks to a wide array of apps and add-ons, the photos you take with your smartphone can be just as good as — or even better — than those you take with a bigger, more expensive camera.
If you’re thinking about leaving your “good” camera at home when you go on your next vacation to the beach, follow some of these tips to take photos that will capture your memories while saving valuable luggage space.
Follow Basic Photography Rules
Just because you’re shooting with a phone camera doesn’t mean that basic photography principles don’t apply. When lining up your shots, remember the rule of thirds: imagine gridlines — three vertical and three horizontal — running through your viewfinder. Position the camera so that the most interesting elements of the composition are placed where the lines intersect. For example, if you’re taking a landscape shot, position the camera so that the horizon line matches one of the horizontal lines (also ensuring that the shot is straight) and any landscape features, like trees, buildings or mountains, fall between two of the vertical lines, ensuring a well-composed photo.
Also, pay attention to lighting. Avoid taking portraits when the sun is directly overhead, as the bright light will create shadows and bright spots. For better results, take portraits on cloudy or overcast days, or have the subject stand in the shade. Landscapes are also best when the sun is lower in the sky, meaning that your best bet is to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon, regardless of which type of camera you’re using.
Don’t Shake Things Up
Many traditional cameras have built-in stabilizers that compensate for any shaking or movement when you’re shooting. Cell phone cameras have come a long way, but they are still more vulnerable to slight movements from your hand than traditional cameras. Take care to stabilize your camera before you take the shot: hold your phone with both hands, and rest your arms on something solid if possible. If you’re taking pictures that require extra stability, such as nighttime shots, invest in a small tripod designed for smartphones.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Not every photo that you take with your regular camera is perfect, so don’t expect that your cell phone snapshots will be either. There are literally hundreds of apps that allow you to edit and perfect your photos, from the vintage-style snapshots of Instagram to the full functionality of Snapseed, which allows you to correct exposure, color and sharpness as well as add creative effects to your photos.
And speaking of editing, many photo experts recommend ignoring the zoom feature on your phone’s camera. Image quality tends to decline quickly when you zoom in with your phone, so for better photos, crop. When you crop, the resulting image remains at the same resolution as the original photo, retaining the details and preventing the distortion that’s so common with cell phone images.
Photo apps aren’t just for editing photos after you’ve taken them — they can actually help you take better pictures from the start. There are apps that allow you to take photos at night, take HDR-style photos with accurate exposures, add a timer and even create a viewfinder so you can add a destination-specific app to your phone; some places, like Disney parks, offer free apps that allow you to add backgrounds, captions and characters to your cell phone photos right on your phone.
Taking great vacation photos with your phone is much like taking photos with your regular camera — and in some cases, even easier, with the abundance of applications and features right at your fingertips. So don’t fear leaving your heavy camera behind or looking like a tourist walking around with a bulky device around your neck — great pictures are less than a phone call away.
About the Author: A writer and photographer, Mindy Larson usually doesn’t leave home without her expensive DSLR camera, but many of her favorite photos were taken with her Android smartphone.