Monday, May 23, 2016


A Guide to Simple Smartphone Photography

In a place like the Hawaiian Islands, it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photo. The entire state is picturesque. Just point and shoot with a smartphone’s camera. But following these simple tips will take your Hawaii vacation photos from “oh, that’s nice” to “wow, you took these?!” Don’t worry. We’re not getting into things like the dual wave-particle nature of light… whatever that means. This is the simple guide to smartphone photography.


Light It Up

The most important aspect of photography is lighting. Using natural lighting is always better than using the flash. Even in low-light situations, try keeping the flash off. Tapping the darker portions of your smartphone’s screen causes most smartphone cameras to adjust the exposure, or the amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor.

If photographing scenes with sharply contrasting light, such as dusk landscapes with bright skies and darker foregrounds, try using the HDR setting. This automatically blends multiple shots of varying exposure to create one dynamic image. However, this will not work if the subject is moving. You can turn the HDR setting on or off from either the camera app or the settings menu of most smartphones.


As a general rule of thumb, photograph subjects with the sun at your back. There are some interesting photographs to be taken with the sun directly ahead of you, silhouettes for example, but this can be tricky to master. Also, approximately an hour before the sun sets and the first hour of sunlight in the day are known as “golden hours.” The light during these hours is softer and covers subjects with a golden hue like the dancer in the photograph above. So play around with varying light to get a better eye for how it will affect your photographs.

He Was Framed!

Aside from the lighting, people will most often take notice of the photograph’s composition, how the objects photographed are arranged within the frame. Aim for some symmetry among subjects and environment. Most smartphone cameras allow users to toggle an on-screen grid on or off. Try turning the grid on and positioning main subjects at the points where the grid lines intersect. This will help to keep the photograph balanced.


The main subject of the photograph above is Hana Highway. The small amount of flora in the foreground nicely frames the highway, leading the viewer's eye to the coastline. The objects within the image work well to balance each other out. Experiment with including objects in the foreground when photographing a large object in the distance.

A Change of Perspective

People normally view objects at a height of between 5 and 6 feet, so mix it up a bit by changing the perspective. The photograph below offers added depth because the ground-level perspective matches that of the subject. This technique works well when photographing children and animals especially.


While it's usually a good bet to meet the perspective of the subject, try also photographing tall subjects, like that uncle who played college basketball or palm trees, from a lower angle. You'll notice that shift in perspective gives the subject a more heroic feel.

Edit Later

Many smartphone cameras allow users to apply filters to and adjust the aspect ratio of photographs as they are shot. However, images can always be edited after the fact. Take plenty of standard, landscape photos (holding the camera horizontally) first and edit them later.

The top photo on the right is the original image. The bottom photo on the right is the original image converted to black and white and cropped slightly. The black and white version is striking, but you would miss out on the gorgeous colors of the original image if you only shot it in black and white. There is plenty to love about both shots. Take unfiltered, wide-angle shots first and edit later.

Remember while you're on vacation in Maui, experiment with natural light during different times of day. The first and last hours of sun are typically your best bets. Move subjects around in the frame and try adding or removing objects to create a unique variations of the same photograph. A change of perspective is always welcome. Instead of backing as far away from a waterfall to squeeze as much in the frame as possible, photograph it from the ground up, which might result in a more dramatic image. Finally, edit later. Your smartphone's camera probably offers a gaggle of cool features that can be applied while shooting. However, those features are probably offered in the editing app as well.

Consider these photography tips during your next Maui trip, and you'll have more likes, hearts and retweets than you'll know what to do with. Share some of your best photography advice in the comments section, and check out our other blog posts for suggestions of places to take your camera and more helpful travel tips!

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