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7 tips for taking better travel photos on your smartphone

Tired of lugging around a heavy DSLR and only getting lacklustre photos as a souvenir? Cara Wagstaff shares seven tips to help you take better photos – all you need is your smartphone.

Safari gear on and batteries charged, I joined Chinese technology manufacturer, Huawei, at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa on assignment to not only enjoy the wildlife viewing but to test drive the brand’s all-new P30 Pro Leica Quad camera smartphone.

Released in late March 2019, the Huawei P30 Pro features four cameras, three of which are Leica. Huawei is so confident with its abilities they decided to take a group of journalists on safari to test it out in a challenging environment. Its four cameras – an industry first – include a 50x digital zoom, wide angle lens, built-in AI video stabilisation, as well as underwater and low-light settings to capture phenomenal travel photos and videos.

Also joining us on safari was Shannon Benson, better known as Shannon Wild, a National Geographic photographer and cinematographer, and Archie Brooksbank, an award-winning photographer who has worked with brands including Aston Martin, British Airways and Jo Malone, to share their knowledge on how to take great photos and videos.

The basics

  • Ensure your camera lens is clean. Give it a quick wipe with a soft piece of fabric before you start clicking to ensure you capture crystal-clear photos.
  • Make sure you have a fully charged battery.
  • Turn on gridlines in your camera app. This will help you achieve the ‘rule of thirds’. More detail on this later.
  • Keep a steady hand when taking a photo or rest your smartphone on a firm surface. This will help you reduce camera shake and blurry photos.
  • If your smartphone’s camera isn’t automatically focusing on what you want, tap the screen where you want it to focus and it will update.

Now for the important stuff: here are my (with the help of my fellow expert travellers) seven best tips to help you take better photos using your smartphone.

1. Enjoy the moment before you start snapping

Whether you’re admiring the Arc de Triomphe in Paris or poised in an open air jeep ready to capture a moment between two lions, Archie Brooksbank recommends you pause to enjoy the moment. Not only will you walk away with a better memory of the experience, but this will also also help you to frame a better photo and capture a more unique moment.

In our photo above on the left, we were beside a male and female lion. We were enjoying watching them when we realised a rainbow was emerging. Perhaps if we had have been solely looking at them through our phone screen, we may not have noticed and missed this interesting take entirely. In the photo on the right, we had spotted a couple of rhinos in the shrubbery. Pausing to see what they would do, we were pleasantly surprised as they opted to walk directly in front of our vehicle, creating a nicely framed photo with the mountains in the background.

2. The rule of thirds and negative space

Have you ever noticed how Instagrammer’s travel photos always look perfect and your own tend to look like cartoon versions of the same scene? Well, the major takeaway from my week with Huawei and the photography experts were these two things.

The rule of thirds is a photography composition principle where you divide your photo into three plains horizontally and vertically. An easy way to do this is to use the gridlines available in your smartphone’s camera app. This will superimpose four lines on your screen, dividing it into nine sections. According to this theory, if you place your subject along one of these lines, your photo will be balanced and more interesting to the eye. As a bonus, it will also help you to take straighter photos. Goodbye lopsided sunset photos!

Not sure how to turn your gridlines on? If you’re using an iPhone go to settings > camera and then turn ‘grid’ on. If you have an Android device, open your camera app, click the settings cog and turn assistive grid on.

Negative space ties into the rule of thirds and focuses on having empty area around the subject to draw the viewer’s eyes to the focal point.

As you can see in the photo on the right, the subject falls into the middle vertical third with clear water surrounding him, drawing our eyes directly to the diver.

andbeyond phinda

3. Get creative and have fun

Don’t keep taking the same photos from the same angles (we’re all guilty of it) and don’t forget you’re on holidays, so have fun! Get creative, break rules and try something different.

Try taking the photo from a different point of view. Get down low and shoot up. If you’re on a safari, Shannon Wild suggests getting your smartphone down as low as possible so that you’re eye level with the animals. This will result in a more powerful, engaging photograph.

Or perhaps you’re surrounded by a large group of tourists all bustling to photograph the exact same subject. Take a moment and have a look around to see what else captures your eye. Maybe it’s your own shadow.

andbeyond phinda
andbeyond phinda

4. Get the lighting right

Golden hour is the secret to phenomenal photos. Photographers agree the best time to take photos is directly after sunrise and right before sunset when lighting is softer and the sky is full of colour. If you’re taking a photo in the middle of the day when the sun is directly above you, it will cast a harsher light and create shadows making it difficult to get a nicely-lit photo. If you are taking photos in direct sunlight, try placing your hand over the side of your lens in the direction of the rays to block them out.

Shannon’s photos below show powerful sunsets with human subjects, creating a more interesting photo that also gives perspective to the vast size of the landscape.


5. Play with portrait mode

Most new model smartphones come equipped with portrait mode for taking photos of people and animals. When you’re taking a portrait, get your subject to stand in front of a plain background. This will help draw viewer’s eye to the focal point of your image. Don’t forget to implement negative space so that they stand out even more.

In the photos below, we have the negative space of the sky surrounding our safari guide, Sam, and in both photos I have used the Huawei P30 Pro’s portrait mode, which automatically blurs the background to further help the subjects stand out.

Huawei portrait mode
andbeyond phinda

6. Get candid

We all have countless posed photos filling up our image libraries. Have you noticed they can sometimes look stiff or a bit awkward? Archie suggests taking a series of natural photos as this will generally result in a far more interesting photograph showing the raw emotion of a moment. Ask your subjects to talk among themselves. Crack a joke and start snapping as everyone is laughing. Or, if you’re feeling extra sneaky, tell your group it’s a video so they relax and move more freely, while you’re clicking away. Who knows, you might even get your friend who is notoriously tight-lipped to crack a smile.

7. Don’t be afraid of video

Shannon urges travellers to give video a try. While it can be overwhelming at first, having videos to look back on and relive your travel experience can be transportive and powerful.

To take good video, we suggest the below steps:

  • Keep your hands steady. Again, use a firm surface to rest your device if needed.
  • Choose to film in either portrait or landscape mode and stick to your chosen format. Then when you’re editing your videos later they will be consistent.
  • Use a variety of shots; zoom, slow pan, close ups and wide angle, to create exciting content and keep your viewer interested.
  • It can seem overwhelming at first but there are plenty of easy to use video editing apps. Our favourite is Apple’s iMovie. You don’t need to go overboard, you can simply shorten videos, adjust the brightness and add a sound track to bring your memories to life.

Our verdict

The Huawei P30 Pro sure puts up a good fight against its DSLR rivals. Its quad camera gave me a lot more range in the types and the overall quality of my photos. While the 50x zoom didn’t always result in clear photos, the experts recommended using a 10x zoom on a steady surface which did produce some great close ups of the animals.

I loved the portrait mode and built in Al, which recognised when you were taking a photo of a person and automatically switched to portrait mode to get those crisp photos with the subject in focus and the background blurred.

The phone had a great battery life which lasted a full day inclusive of two game drives and hundreds of photos. I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to part with my beloved iPhone yet, however, the camera is definitely much better on the Huawei P30 Pro.

About the experts

Archie Brooksbank is the owner of Bladesman Productions and works with leading brands such as Aston Martin, Jo Malone and British Airways to create unique ad campaigns. Archie’s travel and nature photography has been published worldwide.

Shannon Wild is an award-winning wildlife photographer and cinematographer born in Australia and based in Africa. Shannon has worked with National Geographic, NatGeo Wild, WildAid, United Nations, and runs her own conservation project, Wild in Africa. You can follow Shannon on Instagram where she shares her travel and animal conservation experiences, photo tips and takes viewers behind the scenes.

All photos were taken on the Huawei P30 Pro. Lead image © Archie Brooksbank. All other photos captured by the writer unless otherwise credited. The writer was a guest of Huawei. To find out more about the Huawei P30 Pro click here.

Did you find these tips helpful? Share your travel photos with us on social media using our #SignatureLuxuryTravel hashtag.

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