Photographer Michael Farr shares some advice on getting the best travel shots from your smartphone.
As a professional photographer, people expect me to take all my gear on my travels.
Travelling means gorgeous images and it's natural to want to share them — so it's likely you want to capture the highest-quality photos possible. But recently, I've been using just my smartphone to capture most of my online content.
Apart from it being more convenient to carry a tiny smartphone over heaps of gear, there has been a massive shift in the quality and technology of our phone cameras that means I find I can get similar, if not better, shots than on my professional camera.
What I really love about smartphones is that they're ideal for capturing the moment – you've got no gear to set up and can just whip out your phone and get the shot.
Recently I travelled to the Philippines with just my phone to see if I really did miss my bigger camera — and got some pretty epic shots.
And there's no reason that you can't capture images of awesome quality too.
Here are some tips on how you can recreate similar shots armed with just your smartphone:
1 My No. 1 tip has to be have confidence and give it a go. Don't think you have to be a pro photographer to capture great images. If you have a relatively recent smartphone, you likely have a decent camera in your pocket ready to pick up and go — with a bit of trial, error and effort.
2 Make sure you get to know your camera functions inside and out.
Most smartphones are totally packed with all sorts of features that you may not know are there. I'm using the Huawei P20 Pro, which has amazing features and modes like Raw, Monochrome, Night, Super Slow Motion (which can shoot at 960 frames per second), Portrait, Aperture, HDR, Panoramic, Light Painting, Time-lapse — the list goes on.
Sometimes even I find it hard to choose which type of photography I should be doing because the options are so broad, and you should find many similar features on your phone.
If you're going to be shooting with your phone most of the time, it's a great idea to
invest in a power bank or a battery charging case
. Most smartphones have a pretty impressive battery life these days and are quick to charge, but while travelling we use our phones a lot more with directions, translation apps, surfing the web to find locations and so on. That way you'll never miss the shot (or find yourself stuck without Google Maps to find your way home).
4 If you want to take your photography to the next level and your phone doesn't offer the latest fast motion capture features, phone attachments like a wide-angle lens, gorilla pods (a small versatile tripod that can attach to most things) or small handheld gimbals that stabilise your shots can make a huge difference to your end shots.
5 If you're in the market for a new smartphone, choose a flagship model. These will give you the most features to work with and usually the highest quality camera — one good gauge of the quality is to compare it to a reasonable quality standard camera and if it's comparable, you're pretty safe. In saying that, mid-range models have also progressed hugely and may be perfect for what you need, depending on where you plan to share your images.
6 Having great light can make a good shot into a magic one. Some phones are designed to capture incredible shots even in low light, but knowing how to make the light work in your favour is a photographer's skill worth having that can really elevate your shots.
7 Phones are a lot smaller than cameras — the benefit is that you can really get creative on angles to give your photos a point of difference. Don't just point and shoot, get creative — go low, go high, put your phone on things, and get close to make your photos as interesting as possible.
8 Edit your images, just as you would with those taken on a bigger camera — because photos really do shine once they have had some editing love added to them. You can edit within your phone or use an external app — I use Snapseed from Google primarily as I can save presets for certain lighting situations, but in the past I've also used VSCO, Lightroom, and Photoshop. I'd recommend editing in-phone too — it's actually faster than it would be to get it on your computer and transfer files. All my photos are edited in-house on the phone.
Use Portrait mode, but not just for portraits
. This mode is great for pinpointing interesting subjects and blurring out the background if it's less interesting. This works really well on close-ups and products, for a more professional, cinematic look and feel.
While travelling, shoot as much as you can, but
don't edit or post straight away
. Be in the moment and get involved in what's around you, join the conversations on the street, show the people the photos you are taking of them if it's a portrait you're capturing. This will open up and lead you to seeing more opportunities. Edit back at your accommodation.
11 Shoot in RAW mode where possible, as this means that you can capture all possible image data, which means you end up with super high quality (up to 40MB ) images that give you more to work with and more control during the editing process.
12 Use Image Stabilisation options in video mode. Video has come a long way in smartphones — the quality we're seeing at the moment is similar to medium consumer market cameras. Use this function to your advantage when shooting smooth motions, slow motions, and interesting movements.
13 Pick like-minded people to travel with to get you inspired — and people with a lot of patience, because you'll probably be stopping all the time to take photos. You can also put them to work — use them as a model, get them to help out with props, make adjustments to your photo subject, or get them to take a photo of you for once.
Michael Farr is an ambassador for the Huawei P20 Pro smartphone.