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10 Tips to Take Better Travel Photos with your Smartphone

We all know the story of Jimmy Buffett writing the song “Margaritaville.” (You’ve heard it right?) He was simply observing the the scenes of vacationers and documented it by writing out his experience in the form of a song.

Ok, so we’re not all poets who can craft a timeless song to capture a memory or moment in time…I get it. But, you’re on vacation. You’re living it up with your family. Your email autoresponder is working better than ever and all your job responsibilities are in queue until next week. Whether you’re at the beach or in the mountains, there are brand new sights to be seen and memories to be made every step of the way.

And, obviously, you want to document these experiences too.

There are many ways to record these memories so you can relive the good times in the future or simply show off to your friends on social media. (It’s cool, we do it too.)

If you’re talented enough to do option #1 like Jimmy…by all means, write the song. For the rest of us, the good thing is we have have one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in our pockets at all times. A smartphone.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a super expensive camera to take great travel photos on your trip.       

That texting, liking, emailing, scanning, compass, matchmaking, gameboy, photo-taking machine in your pocket is all you need. Rumor has it you can EVEN make phone calls on it, too.

I argue, if used correctly, it can actually be better than the fancy camera sometimes! A big bulky camera is not only a burden to carry around, but sometimes it can be so intimidating it makes people freeze up on camera and not act themselves. People are use to smartphone photos and it allows them to feel comfortable when on camera.

Also, your smartphone allows you to quickly edit, upload and share your photo content. You can share your travels in real time!

Here are 10 ways you can use your smartphone to capture moments you’ll be proud to share.

1. The Rule of Fours.
We all know the rule of thirds, but this is another rule I made specifically for travelers. In every setting you’re in, take four photos that tell the story of that particular scene. It’s easy to get caught up with the never ending opportunity for photos that CAN be taken.

That’s why, at least for me, it’s necessary to have a cap on the amount photos I NEED to take. This puts a limit on how much time you’re on your phone and how much time you spend just enjoying your company. If you know you can only take four photos, you’ll be more intentional on how you use the camera.

Ask yourself, “What four photos can I get to tell the story of this setting?” At the pool. On the boat. Dominating a hike. Four shots each. Do you really need 275 random photos or four solid shots of your beach cruiser ride? Once you get those four quality shots, you can feel confident you can put your camera down and be present!

This allows you to find the balance between capturing and enjoying the moment.

If you hit your quota and your Uncle Steve starts doing the macarena in the pool with ten strangers…sure, yes, you can and SHOULD take an extra photo!

2. Put the phone on airplane mode.
We’ve all had it happen, you’re about to get the perfect shot and then ring ring ring….a random number pops up on the screen and ruins the moment.

Disconnecting from all the pings and distractions brings allows you to focus on what’s in front of you. You’ll see better photo opportunities and will have less distractions. You don’t have to do this all day, but find windows of time where it’s appropriate to disconnect. Your relaxed state of mind and your content will thank you.

And as an added bonus, disconnecting every once in awhile is good for your health.

3. Forget selfies. Ask a stranger to take a photo.
Here’s the tip. Instead of asking a stranger and deciding what to shoot and shuffling around as they wait for you trying to set up the photo, line the shot up exactly how you want it to be and then ask them. Get the whole family on the lifeguard stand or in front of the palm trees perfectly, then ask the hippest looking couple if they can take a photo.

Ask them to take one vertical (hot dog) and one wide (hamburger) so you have both options.

When you’re on vacation, people are usually very welcoming and open to take photos for you.

When they get the shot, ask them if they want a photos of themselves on their phone. It’ll make their day!

*Note: If you’re at a Margaritaville, the staff will be more than willing to be your photog for the day.

4. Keep your lens clean.
Wipe your lens clean every now and then. Just a little salt from a margarita, although delicious, when it’s on a lens can put blur on the photo so bad it looks like the palm trees are surfboards.

5. Focus.
Simply tap on the screen on what you want to be in focus. Most smartphones have this feature, but it’s easy to miss. This will adjust the light in the photo and keep your focal point on the subject. These are two things with one tap that can instantly make your photo more aesthetically pleasing. (Catch two parrots with one cage…that’s the saying, right?)

Find the focal point. Instead of just taking a physical photo of the sea, look for something that stands out in the frame. Build the rest of the shot around that focal point: a pattern in the sand, a sailboat, a colossal flip flop in the lobby.

Add character and depth to the photo by focusing on the foreground even if the backdrop is what you want.

6. Use flash sparingly.
Try to use environmental light as much as possible. Since the flash is from such small source on the phone, it can make skin look hash and oddly colored. Move the subjects so the light is on them and flick away.

7. Stabilize the shot.
This allows your camera to go to work for you and keep the photo sharp. Even if your phone already has optical image stabilization, there are couple ways of getting a stable shot without a tripod: Use both hands, take the photo with the volume button instead of the screen tap, lean up against a stable object, put camera on some books, use the self-timer or a combination of these.

8. Avoid using the zoom in the camera.
Zoom with your feet if you need to get a better look. The digital zoom on smartphones is really just cropping your photo in real time anyways. It’s better to take the photo and crop in the editing process if you have to.

9. Capture candid emotion.
Not every shot has to be people looking at the camera. When people and the vibes are good and the laughs are loud, casually take the camera out and snag a couple shots without people knowing it. Be quick and put the camera away. Share with your friends later that night and they’ll appreciate you for it. You’re are pro now. People love pro photos.

10. Edit.
There are a lot of apps you can edit your photos on. If you do use an app to edit your work, the one main tip is to lower the intensity on any filter you choose for your photo.

Bring it down around halfway and it’ll be just enough to give it a professional looking boost without being overkill.

Now go and enjoy your travels and capture those timeless moments!

And remember, when you’re documenting your vacation days at a Margaritaville, make sure to tag us @Margaritaville.


Note: All photos in this article were captured with a smartphone.