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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham


If you’re out and about this weekend, or if you’re planning on going anywhere epic this summer, and would love to up your game, I’ve got 10 great tips for you here that can dramatically improve your smartphone photos.

In the video title, I refer to them as “iPhone” photography tips, because more people in the United States use their iPhone for photography than any other phone or camera, but they’re applicable to any make or model.

The first tip begins with how we perceive the smartphone camera. Is it just for “phone pix” or serious work? I think you know where I stand on this!


Treat your phone like I and so many others treat their fancy expensive cameras and you’ll get professional results. The current crop of smartphone cameras have gotten that good. But please don't do stupid things. For instance, don't arrive to a shoot with a dead battery. Don’t visit Spain with no storage on your phone. Don't go out and start your camera app with a dirty lens. Charge the phone to 100% before you leave the house and bring an extra power source with you, like a $30 power brick, and check your storage to make sure you have room for lots and lots of shots. (More manage tips here.) And finally clean the lens with a soft cloth or your shirt or blouse.


There's a reason most photos and videos actually are taken early in the morning and at the Magic Hour at the end of the day, because that's when the light is warm and awesome. You can spend the rest of the day exploring, but make sure to carve out the end of the day for your photography.


What type of photos should you expect to be taking when you arrive? For instance, you know you’re going to Paris and will be photographing the Eiffel Tower. But from what side? Front, left, right? How have others done it? There’s a really good way to find out. Before you leave home, check out stock photo sites, like, where people buy great photos from all over the world, do a search for where you're going to and you'll get a lot of great ideas. (Obviously sites like Flickr are also great for this; Instagram used to be, but that’s another story.)


Once you arrive, make the tourist office your first stop. They know all the best spots, and can tell you lots. Then check out the local postcards. Those images will show you the top local shots.


My friend Scott Kelby recommends that when you visit a big city, to invest in one of those hop on/hop off buses to see the town in a day. You’ll get a lay of the land, and discover what you want to photograph, plus find out how, say, the Tower in Paris looks in the middle of the afternoon, vs. later. If they don’t have a bus available, drive around, or make your first day on foot the scouting day.


You’re going to be out all day, so travel as light as possible. Otherwise, your back is going to complain big time. Running around town with just a smartphone is a totally freeing experience. But if you can, bring along a tripod too (and tripod smartphone adapter.) There's so many great things you can do with it. Most notably, I love timelapse videos, where the world speeds up and flies by you. You can’t get a good one without a tripod. Ditto for night photography. I recommend a small, light tripod like this:


Patience is everything when it comes to photography. My friend Evelyn and I shot some local birds the other morning, and we kept waiting for them to go off and fly. That took about two hours. For Sunset’s you obviously wait for the colors to turn. You know the drill. It can take a while but patience will pay off.


Don't be discouraged by bad weather. Remember that if you're shooting on the smartphone, your phone is probably water resistant, which means you're going to get some really nice rain shots (if we were so lucky to see rain!) If it's overcast, that means it's perfect weather for portraits. People look best in overcast weather when they don't have those big giant sun-produced shadows under their eyes. Have fun and make the weather work for you.


We talked about backup earlier. But it really deserves an entire bullet. If you're of the smartphone generation and you lose your phone while on vacation and haven’t backed it up, you’ve also lost all your vacation photos. So go to the room each night and use one of the backup services to save your work, whether that be Amazon Photos, Google Photos, Microsoft OneDrive, SmugMug, Dropbox or Apple’s iCloud. My complete backup tips here:


The best travel landscape photos are those without people in them. You want to look at the view from the bridge in Zion National Park and see a bunch of people in there? I don’t think so.

But no travel photo gallery is the same without a bunch of smiling faces. It’s easy to get people to pose from you out in the field. Just ask them nicely. If they don’t want to do it, walk away. Odds are, you’ll find some other willing person happy to smile for you.

And those are my top 10 travel photo tips--what are yours? Any questions? I'd love to hear from you. Just drop me a line:


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