Nowadays, whether you’re in town or on a trail, most people are walking around with a smartphone in their pocket. These powerful and compact devices come in handy in a number of ways in the wild, from letting you check your location on a topo map to identifying stars in the night sky. And, of […]
Nowadays, whether you’re in town or on a trail, most people are walking around with a smartphone in their pocket. These powerful and compact devices come in handy in a number of ways in the wild, from letting you check your location on a topo map to identifying stars in the night sky. And, of course, you can use them to snap high-quality photos of your journey.
Taking a photo with a phone is quick and intuitive: You open the camera app, point and tap. But, when you swipe through your pics from your last big adventure, you might wish more of them were worthy of sharing or being hung up on your wall.
Here are seven tips for taking better outdoor photos on your phone:
Smartphones come loaded with a default camera app for taking photos. For many people, this app has all the functionality needed to take great pictures. Here are some of the basic features to look for and learn how to use:
If your default camera app lacks any of the basic features listed above or you long for even greater control when taking pictures, you’ll want to download a third-party camera app (some are free, others you will have to pay for). These apps can unlock a ton of functionality, including:
You know a good photo when you see one. But, what is it exactly that makes it good? A lot of it is in the composition, and one of the most basic compositional techniques is the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds says that by breaking your image up into thirds vertically and horizontally with gridlines and positioning the subject(s) either along the lines or at the intersection of two lines, you’ll end up with a more balanced and visually interesting picture. For example, rather than composing a photo so that your friend is smack dab in the middle, try taking the picture with them positioned off to one side. Or, when you’re shooting a beautiful landscape, try placing the horizon at the top or bottom third of the photo rather than cutting across the middle. Turning on the grid in your phone’s camera app is an easy way to keep the rule of thirds top of mind while taking pictures.
Carefully composing lines in your pictures is a powerful way of drawing the viewer’s attention to the main subject and creating a sense of movement through the image. For instance, a picture that shows a hiking trail coming in from the bottom left of the image and going off into the distance at the upper right can guide the viewer’s eye through the image to the solo hiker at the end of the trail. Trails naturally make good leading lines, but so do roads, rivers, shorelines, trees and cliffs.
When composing your photos, try to include interesting elements in the foreground, middle ground and/or background. For example, if you’re taking a picture of the sun setting behind a mountainous horizon, rather than only including the horizon line in the photo, try incorporating something interesting in the foreground and/or middle ground to draw the viewer’s eye through the image. This could be a person, a group of trees, some rocks or a beautiful lake.
If you want to play around with blurring the foreground, middle ground and/or background, you’ll need to see if your camera app has a mode that can do this, such as a portrait mode, since most smartphone cameras won’t let you adjust the aperture for a shallow depth of field. You can also add blurring to photos with many editing apps (look for something called lens blur or similar). See tip No. 8 for more about editing your photos.
When using a phone camera, it’s easy to get in the habit of always holding your phone in front of you with outstretched arms and snapping photos from head height. But phones are so small and light that you can easily mix things up and shoot from just about any perspective. Try changing your viewpoint by taking photos from a bird’s-eye view or worm’s-eye view. Or, you can shoot from the hip. You can also try getting really close to your subject—as close as your phone will allow while still being able to focus.
There are quite a few add-ons for phone cameras that can help you achieve a certain creative element that you’re trying to capture. For example, if you want to take longer exposures of a beautiful stream in order to blur the movement of water, you’ll need a mini tripod to stabilize your camera. Another option is to add lenses to your phone so you can take fish-eye, macro and wide-angle photos.
A little photo editing can go a long way toward improving your photos. Most default camera apps that come on smartphones allow some level of editing, but by downloading a third-party app like Snapseed (iPhone or Android) or Adobe Lightroom CC (iPhone or Android) you get a lot more control. Apps like these allow you to adjust brightness, tweak contrast, boost saturation, apply filters, sharpen fuzzy images and a whole lot more. Most of them also have auto adjustments that make it really quick and easy to edit photos.
If you’re struggling to capture the grandeur of the scene around you with a still photo, try playing around with time-lapse, slo-mo and video. These come standard on most phone camera apps and can be a fun and beautiful way to capture things like moving water, the setting sun or your friend goofing around on the trail.