10 Secrets For Taking Incredible iPhone Travel Photos

Are you planning a vacation and wondering what camera to take? If you’re thinking of carrying bulky camera equipment, you should reconsider! Whether you’re planning a weekend city break, a family vacation or a round the world adventure, your iPhone is the perfect camera for your trip. In this tutorial you’ll discover ten ways to guarantee success with your iPhone travel photography.

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Is The iPhone Really All You Need?

The purpose of travel photography is to document your journey and experiences. These images serve as memories that will last a lifetime, and it’s likely that you’ll want to share them with family, friends and your social media followers.

While the image resolution and quality might be higher on a DSLR or other high-end camera, the iPhone wins hands-down on portability and convenience.

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Not only is the iPhone compact, lightweight and great for taking photos quickly and discreetly, but you’re going to be carrying it with you anyway so there’s no need to take any extra equipment.

The last thing you want to do when you’re traveling is to carry a heavy camera, tripod and lenses around with you all day. It’s impractical, and it also makes you a target for theft as you can’t hide the fact that you’re carrying an expensive piece of kit.

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The other problem with a traditional camera is that you can spend vital seconds or minutes changing settings, only to miss the once in a lifetime shot. With the iPhone you can have it out of your pocket and shooting in a couple of seconds!

The most important aspect of travel photography is to document the story of the locations you visit and the time that you spend there. So if you’re thinking of taking a large digital camera on your next vacation, you might want to think again.

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Your iPhone can easily be the best travel camera, as long as you take some basic steps to prepare for your trip and follow these guidelines when you’re at your destination.

With a little knowledge and imagination, you can take stunning and unique travel photos with your iPhone. So let’s take a look at ten ways to maximize your chances of taking amazing travel photos with your iPhone!

1. Research Your Destination

Good travel photography starts way before you arrive at your destination. It starts off at home, where you should research the location that you’re visiting.

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Spend a bit of time finding out about local landmarks, interesting architecture and areas of natural beauty that would make good subjects and locations for your photos.

Use the internet and travel guides to find out as much as you can about the region, culture, weather, and any interesting events or festivals that might be going on while you’re visiting.

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Sometimes you’re just around the corner from somewhere really incredible that’s waiting to be photographed. That’s why it’s so important to research the places you’re visiting beforehand so that you don’t miss out on great photo opportunities.

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Check what the weather will be like during your visit, and find out what time the sun rises and sets. The golden hours are usually the best times of day for taking photos, especially in hot climates where it can become hazy during the main part of the day.

In certain parts of the world you’re not allowed to photograph whatever you want, and there are certain rules to be followed. Find out what you’re allowed to photograph and what’s prohibited.

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You should also check whether there are any dress codes, as well as other local rules and laws. Learn about the country’s religion and culture beforehand so that you don’t commit any mistakes or cause offense in the country you’re visiting.

2. Use The Instagram Community

Purchasing a good travel guide book is important for many people, but it’s also interesting (and free) to check out what the Instagram community has to say about your chosen destination.

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Let your followers know where you’re going next and ask for personal opinions about locations to visit, places to eat, and what to see and photograph in that area.

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Each destination has its clichés, as well as hidden secrets off the beaten track. Search for local Instagramers to see what and where they shoot. If possible, speak to them to get inside knowledge of their favorite places to photograph.

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The Instagram mobile photography community is a friendly place, and you’re sure to find people who will be happy to help you find great locations to shoot. You never know, they might even offer to meet up and show you the sights!

3. Prepare Your Camera

Before you set out on your journey, set aside some time to prepare your iPhone for the trip. One of the most important things is to make sure you have enough space on your iPhone for lots of new photos.

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You don’t want to run out of space half way through your adventure! So free up as much space as possible by transferring your existing pictures to your computer.

Battery life is also important as you might be out shooting all day with your iPhone. I would advise purchasing an external battery, such as the Mophie Juice Pack, to give you more hours of shooting time.

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If you’re traveling to a location where you don’t need to use cellular coverage, optimize the battery usage by switching on Airplane Mode in the Settings app. This way your iPhone won’t drain the battery trying to keep you connected all the time.

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A “foggy” image can sometimes be a pure result of a dirty lens, so make sure your iPhone’s camera lens is clean. Wipe the lens gently with a clean lens cloth, or any other soft fabric such as your t-shirt, to ensure your photos are crystal clear.

4. Rethink The Cliché Shots

Visiting tourist spots when traveling is practically inevitable, but you don’t want to return home with your images looking just like the guide book. It’ll be much more fun and interesting if you take unique shots of popular travel destinations.

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The important thing to remember when photographing popular tourist locations is to avoid shooting the subject just like everyone else has done before you.

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Move around and get to know your subject. Experiment with more appealing angles and viewpoints that aren’t common in this scene.

Shooting from a low angle is an easy way to show a scene from a perspective that people don’t normally see from standing height.

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Leave the photo clichés to the tourists! You’re a mobile photographer and a traveler on a mission to take the best photos you possibly can within a set timeframe.

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Keep your eyes peeled for unique photo opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take the shot. If it doesn’t work out you can delete it, but if you don’t take the photo in the first place you’ll never know how it would have turned out.

5. Shoot Portraits Of Local People

A great way to capture the essence of your destination is to take portrait photos of local people. If you’re shooting from a distance this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you want to take close-up portraits it’s polite to ask permission first.

For a softer approach, I suggest a quick study of the language first. Buy a phrasebook or download a translation app on your iPhone, and learn the basics such as, “hello,” “please,” “thank you” and “how are you?”

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Once you know some key phrases to break the ice, start communicating in the local language. You don’t have to be fluent, but a simple “hello” in the person’s native language will make them feel more comfortable with the situation. Ask if it’s okay to photograph them, but if they don’t agree, thank them and move on.

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Photographing people in their own environment with interesting elements in the background or foreground will help to contextualize the portrait, giving the viewer more information about the location.

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Whether you’re photographing people in wide open desert or amongst the hustle and bustle of a busy city or street market, always aim to tell a story in your photo. You’re not just photographing the person, but documenting your travel experience.

6. Use Yourself Or A Traveling Companion As The Subject

Having a person in your travel photos makes the images more interesting. It also adds a more humane perspective to the journey that you’re documenting.

A person can act as a focal point in a scene that doesn’t have an obvious main subject, and it helps the viewer to connect with the photo.

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It’s not always possible to photograph local people, so if you’re traveling with others, ask them to pose in the scene when you take a photo.

Not only does this add an interesting focal point to your image, but it creates wonderful memories of the people you travelled with or met along your journey.

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When you come across a scene that looks stunning in real life, you might find it difficult to convey that beauty in a photo. This is especially true with landscapes and beach scenes which can appear very “flat” without a main subject or focal point. Including a person in the scene is the perfect solution.

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Imagine the photo above without the person in the foreground – it would be pretty flat and lifeless. The inclusion of the woman creates a strong focal point, and helps to create a sense of depth in the scene.

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Even subjects as ornate as this beautiful building often don’t look good in photos without a main subject. Adding a person into the scene creates a strong focal point and adds a wonderful storytelling element.

If you’re traveling alone, don’t worry! You can always use yourself as the subject in your photos. A small tripod and the self-timer feature in the camera app is all you need.

7. Capture Small Details

When taking photos on your travels, you’re likely to shoot a lot of wide landscapes, tranquil beaches, and busy street scenes. These all make great photos that capture the beauty and atmosphere of the country.

But don’t forgot to look out for the smaller details at your destination. This shouldn’t be difficult as everything you see will probably be brand new to you, and you’ll spot interesting details everywhere you look.

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Keep your eyes peeled for traditional elements unique to your destination, such as details in architecture, local costumes, materials, food, colors, textures and patterns.

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These small details often tell a more intimate story, giving the viewer a better sense of the environment that you experienced. Close-up shots of architectural features are a great way of adding variety to your photo album.

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The intricate detail and patterns of this yellow building create a wonderful abstract image. This kind of shot works best when you fill the entire frame with the subject or pattern.

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If you’re at a beach or in the countryside, look out for small elements in nature, such as flowers, leaves, pebbles or shells. Get up close to capture the fine detail of these small subjects.

8. Tell A Story With Your Photos

A good photo tells a story, and travel photography is the perfect opportunity to tell interesting stories with your pictures. There are different ways that you can tell stories through your photos.

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Sometimes the actions of the subject tell a story in themselves. For example, this man walking along a windy beach with his blanket flowing behind him. The trick is to compose your shot well and capture the subject at the perfect moment.

You often need to do this quickly before the moment is gone, so always have your camera ready and use burst mode to take a series of shots in quick succession (simply hold the shutter button down to activate burst mode).

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Storytelling is all about getting the viewer interested in what’s going on in the scene. A great way to do this is to create some mystery and intrigue so that your audience starts asking questions about the photo. For example, “Who’s that person?” “What’s that object doing there?”

Leaving a bit to the imagination is a great way of getting the viewer to connect more with your photo while they wonder about the story behind it.

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It allows the viewer to make up their own story about the photo, or find a personal connection with it. In the case of the two photos above, the viewer might imagine themselves sitting on the chair, experiencing that beautiful location for themselves.

Another way of telling a story is to shoot a series of related images. This allows you to easily tell a story through your photos without saying a single word.

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Select a theme, such as architecture or culture. Or select a place, like a traditional market or beautiful beach. Then try to capture a sequence of images that tells the story of what you experienced.

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Shoot wide angle shots of the entire scene, close up shots of small details, and anything else that helps to tell a complete story of your chosen theme. Think of how you’d like to tell the narrative of your journey to your friends and family, and capture that in your pictures.

9. Document Your Entire Journey

Rather than just taking photos once your reach your destination, document your entire journey with your iPhone. This will help you to tell a more complete story of your trip.

Airports are great places for photography. Look around at the architecture and try creating symmetrical or abstract compositions. Or capture the hustle and bustle of the airport – it’s essentially like street photography but inside a large building!

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There will be lots of stories going on at an airport. There will be family members saying goodbye, old friends meeting after many years, business people running to catch their plane, families waiting around during long delays, etc.

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Photographing planes is another obvious choice at the airport. And once you’re up in the air, you can take pictures inside the plane and out of the windows. Ensure your phone is set to Airplane Mode while flying.

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If you’re going on a road trip, take lots of pictures along the way. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to stop and take photos of the places you pass through. Include yourself or your traveling companions in some of these images to document who was there.

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Maybe you’re traveling by other means, such as a boat, train, bicycle, motorcycle or camel! Whatever your chosen mode of transport, be sure to document the journey that you take.

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And finally, take photos of the places you stay, especially if they have interesting furniture and decor. All of these little details will be wonderful reminders of your trip, and if you don’t capture them you’ll regret it later!

10. Fill Your Camera Roll

Take as many photos as you possibly can! There’s no such thing as too many pictures of your trip. Not all of your photos will be amazing ones that you want to share, but they’ll still be good memories for you to recollect.

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Traveling can sometimes be the one chance you get to see and experience a specific place. So make sure you experiment with different shooting angles and composition to maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot. You may never go back to that place so this might be your only opportunity.

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There are many times when traveling that you’ll stumble across an interesting scene or a fleeting moment, so always be ready with your iPhone. If you’re not sure whether to take the shot, take it.

Using burst mode is a good option when shooting busy scenes and moving subjects. You’ll end up with a lot of photos in your Camera Roll, but you can select the best ones and delete the rest.

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Don’t worry about being seen as a “tourist” who’s taking lots of photos. It’s preferable to return home with an iPhone full of images than to regret not taking many pictures of your trip.

Conclusion

When traveling to a foreign country you’re likely to experience your photography at its fullest. When everything is brand new to you, sights and scenes seem more appealing and you’ll be more excited to photograph them.

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The iPhone is the best camera for capturing every scene that you encounter because it’s so accessible and easy to use. Just take a little time before you leave so that you can prepare your iPhone for your trip and do a little research about your destination.

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Then once you arrive, explore your location, look for unique photo opportunities and shooting angles, and don’t forget to include people in your photos. Capture small details, as well as wider landscapes and street scenes, in order to tell a more complete story of your journey.

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And don’t forget to take lots and lots of photos! Use your iPhone to document your travel experiences and adventures so that you come back with a Camera Roll full of lasting memories.

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  • tracymg

    Great tips and masterful photos!

  • NickLeon

    Don’t just leave your photos on your phone – use something like Dropbox to back-up. If you don’t and the phone is stolen or just lost you lose all of your pics!

    • Good point Nick! I completely missed out on mentioning that. In fact I do you Dropbox to back-up all of my work.

  • Anne

    Great article and fantastic shots! Thanks Danny!

  • Janet

    Thank you for these great tips for travel photos. I am anxious to try them while traveling over the next few months. Your beautiful photos are such an inspiration to me, a beginner iPhone photographer!

    • Thank you very much Janet! Keep these tips in mind all the time, not only when travelling, and your “inner photographer” will start coming much easier to you. I want to see your travel images when you post them. Have a safe trip!

  • lensinkmitchel

    Great article! I can’t wait to travel and take lots op pictures. I like to capture the location data for the picture too, so wouldn’t turning the phone in airplane mode prevent it from doing so? Or is GPS location data not affected by this?

    • Hi Mitchel, thanks! 🙂
      I’m almost sure that the GPS and metadata of the pictures taken in airplane mode do not get affected.

  • Daniel

    Finally a very comprehensive and useful article! Every tip is a piece of valuable information! Thank you for sharing with me! Normally a successful photographer keeps is little secrets just for himself! But your article is an open source! Thank you again!

    • Glad to hear you found these tips useful Daniel! We’re all about sharing our knowledge and experience of photography here 🙂

    • Thank you Daniel! I’m glad the tips were useful for you!

  • Most of my iPhotography secrets revealed.
    I hate you!

    April fools!

  • Ralph

    Great article! Is there a time when you prefer to take a shot in the “square” iPhone format versus the regular “photo” (rectangular) format?

  • mrebejko

    Thank you ! very useful and complex article.
    I’m member of @MobilePhotoTrip team. You can find us on Instagram. We are traveling around Poland with group of mobile photographers. Every month different city. Our rule is make photo with your phone and edit with phone One of our partner is Shootermag
    Please type #MobilePhotoTrip on Instagram to find good photos of our trips. If you w’d like to know more please let me know marcin.rebejko@mobilephototrip.com

  • Ardys Zoellner

    Great photos. Thank you for the tips and reminders. I love my iPhone photos since taking the IPS courses and learning how to use it to full advantage…though I’m still learning!

    • Glad you enjoyed this tutorial Ardys. And great to hear that you’ve learnt a lot from our courses. There’s always something new to learn 🙂

  • Wonderful images. Thank you again

  • Rich Estrem Fuller

    Nice…. love my I phone 6+. Nov 23 the 7+!