Photo: Henry Wu

How to Take Amazing Travel Photos With Just a Phone, According to Photographer Henry Wu

Technology + Gear
by Eben Diskin Oct 28, 2022

Smartphones revolutionized photography, though the jury’s still out on whether it’s for better or worse. They allowed social media users to launch full-fledged travel and landscape photography careers on the backs of miniature phone camera lenses, making it easier than ever to capture professional-looking photos without any professional experience.

But what about the pro travel and landscape photographers who’ve spent a lifetime honing their craft and mastering how to use expensive DSLRs? Well, it turns out there’s enough love to go around. Smartphones are making photography easier for the average Joe, but that doesn’t mean they magically turn the average Joe into Chris Burkard. iPhone photography is a craft in itself, and there are several tips and tricks to mastering it, whether you prefer landscape photography, urban streetscapes,

Matador spoke to Henry Wu, a travel and lifestyle photographer, to learn how, exactly, to take the best pictures using only what you already have in your pocket. Wu travels the world with his camera, sharing his experiences through beautiful and stylish photography. He’s also the editor of This Life of Travel, a digital travel publication aimed at bringing storytellers, photographers, and digital nomads together to celebrate and inspire travel. Here, he explains the ins and outs of getting that perfect travel shot without lugging around an expensive camera.

Matador: Is there a need to buy an expensive camera for a vacation if you’re not a professional photographer?

It really depends on what kind of shots you’re going for while on vacation. If you’re the kind of traveler who is obsessed with high-quality shots for prints and don’t mind carrying a lot of heavy gear around, then the SLR/mirrorless camera route might be for you. On the flip side, if you want to travel light and are interested in just getting some nice shots and videos from your vacation, then a smartphone would be a great option.

I have a good mix of photos from my phone and mirrorless camera up on my website. Can you tell which shots are from the phone and which are from the mirrorless?

What’s the biggest difference between phone cameras and “real” cameras?

cell phone travel photos vs DSLR landscape photography

A cell phone is far easier to carry for the average traveler, as compared to a bulky DSLR camera with multiple lenses. Photo: Bignai/Shutterstock

Traditional digital cameras have large sensors that capture much more data – so when it comes time to edit the photos, you can really pull out colors and details that aren’t possible with a phone camera shot. With that being said, it’s hard to beat the portability and convenience of a smartphone that fits in your pocket versus a three-pound, bulky, and large camera setup.

Can iPhone photographers compete with traditional photographers, or is the technological capability still not quite there?

The line is definitely starting to blur, especially among your average traveler who isn’t taking professional-level photos. The new iPhone 14 Pro camera also yields fantastic 48 megapixel shots in RAW mode.

What are the most common mistakes people make when taking travel photos with their phones?

backlit landscape photography - boat

Shooting into the sun results in a loss of contrast and your subject being heavily shadowed. Photo: Suzie Dundas

A common mistake is taking backlit travel photos, which is when you have the sun or a bright light behind the subject. It ends up with either a washed-out photo or a very dark subject. Try to have the sun behind the camera or at an angle so the subject is lit properly.

What’s one easy technique people can use to improve their photo quality?

One easy way to level-up your photos is by using the grid display on your smartphone and following the rule of thirds where the subject is touching one of the grid lines. Another creative way to take travel photos is to frame your subject by moving around until you have a foreground element such as tree leaves or flowers, for example. For more helpful photo tips and tutorials, check out my Instagram.

What’s your favorite phone (or the best phone, in your opinion) for travel or landscape photography, and why?

While I’ve tried other phones before (Samsung, Google), I prefer the overall package that an iPhone delivers in terms of photo quality, video stability, and the Apple ecosystem (AirDrop, iOS, Photos, MacOS).

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