Take Awesome Travel Photos with Your iPhone

Want to take great travel photos without lugging around a DSLR? It’s easy—just use an iPhone.
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Taking travel photo with a smartphone
Most smartphones these days have excellent cameras. iPhones have some of the best.  (Nathan Borchelt)
A Few Good Photo Apps
Get retro: Both Hipstamatic and Instagram offer fun, cool filters and effects that mimic the accidental beauty of the old school film cameras. And while it can be over-used, we think it’s still one of the more entertaining ways to turn a decent photo into a real winner. And they both offer solid share functionality.

Clean it up: Photoshop’s PS Express app is free, and gives you the basic photo editing tools you need to hurdle some of the iPhone’s limitations. Camera+ costs $.99, but it’s one of the best on the market, and gives both detailed editing tools and integrated share functionality.

Capture the whole scene: Photosynth may be our favorite free app on the market. It lets you capture panoramic—even 360-degree—images. Just pan the camera through the app, tapping the screen to take a photo. It then stitches it together. In-app viewing of the photo is fantastic, and you also get solid-resolution panoramic images. Works best on landscapes; people who move around while you’re synching the images can create some cool (or creepy) ghost images and floating limbs. 360 Panorama delivers much of the same tools, along with better share integration, for $.99.

Can the camera in your iPhone match a DSLR or high-end point-and-shoot camera, pixel for pixel? No, of course not. But is it good enough to take great photos on your next trip? Absolutely. And when you consider the truly groundbreaking features—the small-form factor, baked-in instant publishing, and the ability to add new functions and upgrades through a staggering supply of apps—that you just can’t get with a regular camera (at least not yet), it’s no surprise that more and more travelers are turning to iPhone photography for snapshot satisfaction.

“I've actually been using my iPhone 4 and 4S as my primary travel camera since August 2011,” says Kirsten Alana, a professional travel blogger and photographer who has used her iPhone on assignments for travel websites like Gadling, Hostel World, and Bonjour Paris. “I decided to travel light and carry less equipment to see if I could still capture images good enough to publish—so far, no complaints.”

Alana says the trick to getting the best travel photographs from iPhones or other smartphones lies in understanding their shortcomings, and playing to their significant benefits. “The most obvious differences between iPhone and DSLR cameras are the lack of capability in low light, the lack of actual (not digital) zoom, and the file size difference,” she says.

Of all these, light is the single biggest factor. The small lens and sensor will underperform at night or in the shadows, often resulting in blurry, pixelated pictures. Take advantage of well-lit scenes to get photos with crisp focus and vibrant colors.

There’s a reason why photographers call the early morning and late afternoon the “golden hours.” At these times—when the sun is close to the horizon—cities, scenes, and landscapes are blanketed by warm, diffuse light that is almost impossible to replicate.

As you explore a destination on your vacation, you’ll certainly want to take the usual documentary photos standing in front of landmarks, snaps of the family together at the beach, and the like. To make these people pictures really stand out, get close, within a couple feet of your subjects.

“Because the iPhone has such a wide-angle lens, I try to move myself to the shot (photographers call this ‘zooming with your feet’),” says Lisa Bettany, a professional photographer and co-founder of the Camera+ iPhone app. “I also find that getting low to the ground and pointing the camera upward, or taking pictures through fences or leaves helps me get interesting photos.”

And while the touristy photographs are all well and good, if you want to channel your inner photojournalist and capture more natural pictures from your travels, an iPhone is one of the most powerful tools you can carry. Many photographers turn to their iPhones for surreptitious street work because they are unobtrusive—you can snap away without drawing attention to yourself.

Bettany learned this first-hand on a recent round-the-world trip, which she documented entirely with her iPhone for a book called Around the World with an iPhone and Camera+. “I’m a huge fan of people photos,” she says. “But in some places, like Morocco, I had a hard time getting candid shots because people were uncomfortable having their pictures taken.” To take stealthy iPhone photos anywhere, she recommends wearing the stock headphones and using the mic’s “volume up” as a shutter button.

Published: 21 Aug 2012 | Last Updated: 20 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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