10 Tips for Photographing Your Vacation on a smartphone

Vacations represent an awesome opportunity for mobile photography.

You’re probably in some far-off, exotic location, you’re experiencing new things every day, and you’re making memories you want to hold onto forever. Capturing content is a given!

Still – you don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the trees. You’re on vacation to enjoy yourself and spend time with loved ones. How do you balance the vacation with mobile photography?

Read on for some tips!

10 Mobile Photography Tips for Vacation

Gear for Photogramobile photography wide angle lensphing Plants With a Phone
Joe Monk (@jmmobiphoto) – shot on iPhone XR with Olloclip Super Wide

1. Pack Light

Use the 1-1-1 Rule:

  1. 1 Phone Camera
  2. 1 Lens
  3. 1 Lens Bag

Impossible, I know. We’re trying to strike the perfect balance between most practical and least cumbersome. That’s why we use versatile equipment.

Since you’re not on a photography expedition, you don’t need to be overly laden with bags containing twelve lenses for every situation. Heck, you don’t even need a fancy DSLR camera. A Go Pro or another action camera should suffice for most things you encounter on your vacation.

Or… even better than one of those ancillary cameras is the one you’ve got on you at all times – your smartphone! Smartphones are a legit alternative to traditional cameras these days.

Don’t believe us? Here’s a comparison of smartphones, DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras.

Not only are phone cameras versatile, they come with a robust software suite than enhances their usefulness without lots of extra gear.

Bonus: Limiting yourself and your equipment will help you learn new techniques and find new styles!

2. Tilt Up and Tilt Down

Tilt your camera up a little bit to reduce the amount of foreground you are capturing. Foreground tends to be cluttered and busy, drawing the eye from the rest of the picture.

This technique is especially useful for capturing cityscapes. Leave the cars, the people, and the bustle out of your photo and catch that iconic skyline. Even if you’re in the middle of it all, there’s still stuff to see on the buildings. Architecture and other patterns you wouldn’t catch from afar. During weather like fog or rain, buildings can be especially beautiful.

On the flip side, don’t forget to tilt your camera down. When you look down you omit the background and focus on the details.

That opens you up to some pretty great opportunities to catch unique shots. Capture the idiosyncrasies of a place by photographing the mundane.

3. Wait ’til You Get Home to Process

Processing photos, and doing it right, is a laborious process.

You should be tripping on cobblestones in Rome or sipping cocktails on a beach in Bali – not hunching over your laptop in a dark hotel room.

So here’s my recommendation: Bring lots of memory cards. Phone users have an even easier solution – cloud storage.

You know how much space you can fill on an SD card. Bring at least 3 cards so you won’t run out of space during your vacation. Choosing between photos is hard, especially when you’re doing it on a little LCD screen.

Alternatively, take 1 SD card and a reliable external hard drive. Dump your photos each night when you get back to your hotel room.

If you’re shooting on a smartphone you have the advantage of cloud storage at your fingertips. Remember to change your settings so that it uploads an uncompressed version of your photo (and don’t forget to shoot in RAW). We recommend Google Photos for its easy integration.

If you simply must share photos of your vacation while you’re still on it (you Insta celebrity, you) – use pics from your cellphone. These days those cameras are more than sufficient for updating friends, family, and fans.

4. Take a Couple Videos

Sure, it’s been repeated ad nauseum. But it bears repeating one more time: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures.”

Right, right. You’re a photographer, not a videographer. That’s fine. Your camera does have a video option, though, so use it occasionally.

Videos are great because they’re almost always candid. Record the little moments of wonder. It’s easier to capture those feelings in a video than a snap shot.

5. Get Out Early, Stay Out Late

photographing vacation on smartphone
Joe Monk (jmmobiphoto)

Here ya go – a tip that doesn’t put your photography at odds with your vacation!

Try to experience every possible moment of this trip. After all, sleeping is the same no matter where you are. Wake up with the sun, and don’t go home until it’s been set for hours.

Not only does this help you avoid the crowds (or your kids), it sets you up to take advantage of the best natural light. Yup, you know what I’m talking about – Golden Hour. In the morning and the evening, there’s a slim window where the light is divine. You can’t take a bad photo during Golden Hour.

It’s not just about the light, though. Things change throughout the day. Clouds are often different at night or in the early morning. Long exposure shots with stars are incredible. The wildlife and the people-life change – explore the differences!

6. Meet Up!

Remember that yours is not the only perspective. It’s valuable to see the world through other peoples’ eyes.

Before you go to a place, check out Instagram. See if anyone in your network is at your destination. Or, search the appropriate hashtag and find someone there. Reach out and ask to meet up. You’ll be surprised at how friendly photographers are.

Furthermore, take the time to develop genuine relationships with the locals. They’re used to dealing with tourists all the time, and being authentic will be a nice change of pace. There’s no better way to get an inside view than to see a location through the eyes of a person that lives there.

Sure, it can be hard to meet new people if you’re traveling with your family – but not impossible. It’s likely that the people you’re meeting have a family too!

7. Candids are Powerful

tips for portrait photography

In the age of social media, where every picture and word you put online is carefully planned, frank photography is rare.

Think about the most impactful photos you’ve seen. Rarely are they posed. No, they’re usually a snapshot of reality. You can tell when an image was arranged as opposed to being captured naturally.

That’s the power of a candid shot.

Take pictures of your family when they aren’t looking. While the kids are playing. Shoot a photo of your friend just taking it all in!

Don’t forget to snap locals or other tourists in the same setting. You want to capture the essence of a place? There it is – the old man sitting on a bench, the urchins playing with sticks, a mom carrying her baby.

Of course, get some of yourself too. It’s pretty tough to take candid selfies, so hand the camera off to someone else for a change!

8. Take Your Time

Remember that it’s not a race. You’re not getting paid (although you could be).

Hang out in a park and do some people watching. There’s no better way to get candids. Wait until the sun reaches the perfect place for you to get that sweet lens flare through the window. Watch the shadows of trees move into position.

A lot of people think you need to be go-go-going to get the best picture. That’s not true. Any given place has infinite possibilities, and even more if you wait to see how that place changes over time.

In fact, one of my favorite photography games is to randomly choose a spot and mark out a 5-foot radius. I challenge myself to get 5 interesting pictures from within that circle. It sounds hard, but there’s always something interesting if you look around long enough.

Taking your time isn’t just about capturing the same picture at different times of day. It’s about taking a step back to think about a scene from a different angle.

9. Document Your Vacation Too!

vacation photograph

It ain’t all landscapes and still-lifes. You’re on vacation, you need to have a memory of the things you did as much as the place that you went.

Don’t forget to take pictures of the water slides, your beachside bar, or the firepit. People too – that’s the most important memory of any trip.

There will be plenty of time to shoot the panoramic landscapes and your cute coffee art. Don’t fret. Capture the moment you’re in and the people you’re with.

10. You Don’t Have to Take The Camera

Lastly, consider leaving your camera at the hotel.

You are on vacation after all. You don’t have to be behind the camera the whole time. You don’t have to constantly be alert for photo ops. There are no quotas to reach.

It’s okay if you take a day just soaking it all in. Do you really need another picture of cute stray dogs or distant mountains? Probably not. Is your family going to fade out of existence if you don’t have a picture for every day they’re alive? Hopefully not.

So leave the camera at home and live it.

Pictures are meant to remind you of the memories you have, not to replace them.


You’re on vacation – focus on that. You have a device that’s capable of impressive photos and videos that fits into your pocket and is ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. If you’re looking to take your phone’s camera to the next level, then consider adding a Moment lens or two. You can get DSLR or mirrorless level results and it still all fits into your pocket.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *