Travel Photography Tips for Instagram

This article is a guest post from Max Therry – an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. If you find this article helpful and have more questions for Max, feel free to reach him by email!

Almost everyone has a phone with a built-in camera these days. Everywhere you go, you see people snapping away at their meals in restaurants, taking selfies and photos of anything and everything. We live in an age of social media. That said, taking good travel photos, especially for your Instagram, has become easier than before.

Why Use a Smartphone For Travel Photography?

Street photography in particular has been made easier and more accessible with the smartphone camera. People tend not to take any notice of someone taking photos in the street with a phone, but put a bulky DSLR around your neck and start shooting in the same street – someone is bound to notice and demand to know what you are doing.

People tend to act unnaturally around large cameras too, as they are aware that they may be photographed. You stand a better chance of getting a completely candid street photo with a phone. They are also lightweight and easy to slip in a pocket or bag, which is great if you are going to be walking around all day. Smartphones are also great for shooting and uploading to Instagram all from one place.

Get to Know Your Phone Camera

Relying on the default auto mode of your phone’s camera all the time is a bad idea. Yes, it’s great if you are in a hurry and see a shot about to happen in front of you. In that case, capturing the shot is more important than making sure the lighting and white balance is right.

Some modern phone cameras have more advanced settings, such as ISO, white balance and shutter speed (for iPhones, you’ll have to get a third-party app to have those controllers), so it’s worthwhile playing around to see what you can do with these. You won’t find an aperture control, as a phone has a fixed lens, but you can buy special lens additions for smartphones if you are serious about using it for photography.

Get Closer to Your Subject

A lot of smartphone users make the mistake of zooming in to get a close-up image. When you zoom in, your image quality goes right down the pan. Try and move closer to your subject instead.

Compare the image quality by zooming in on something and taking a shot, then shooting at normal size and going closer instead. The image that’s zoomed in is fuzzy and poor quality when looked at close-up, while the normal-sized one is sharper and clearer. If you want the closer framing, take a shot as close as you can get, then crop it down in post-processing.

Lighting and Exposure

Use your focus and exposure controllers. With some phones you can tap and hold the screen to lock focus and exposure, then slide your finger on the screen to adjust the exposure to your liking.

Tapping on the bright part under the arch helps to adjust focus and exposure and avoid white spots

Always try to take your photos under natural lighting if possible. DSLR users can add flashguns and studio flashes to create great lighting, but that isn’t easy with a smartphone. Try to avoid using the built-in flash on your smartphone, as it really isn’t a flattering light and will give your subject harsh shadows.

The best light for photography is either north light with no direct sunlight, or shooting in the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. You can also make use of a cloudy day to shoot, as this cloud cover is a natural diffuser for the sun.

If the scene you want to capture has areas of extreme darkness and brightness, use the HDR mode on your phone to shoot. This will help equalize the exposure in these areas.

Non-HDR and HDR Image

Composition and Color Theory

Take a little time to learn about the basic rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds, framing and leading lines. These are just a few, but it will improve your photography so much if you take the time to learn and use them. Most smartphones have a grid option to split your screen into thirds to help master the rule of thirds, so use it if you have one.

As you are shooting for Instagram, keep the square format in mind when you compose your images.

Color is another aspect of photography composition. Your choice of color can add depth, drag viewer’s attention and play on emotion. You’ve probably heard of color theory – it is simply about using colors in images that contrast or complement each other. When you understand how different colors work together, you’ll see things differently.

Be Aware of What’s in the Frame

Always check your background for clutter or distracting elements before you take the shot. Pay attention to what’s in the background, how the elements are arranged on the photo, check if you haven’t cut off anything important.

Always take more than one shot of your subject. Take a few shots, then change position and try and capture your subject from a new angle. This will give you much more choice when you come to decide which image you like best.  To shoot moving objects, set your phone to Burst mode to capture every split-second of the action.


Instead of using Instagram filters, try to edit your photos by  manually adjusting brightness, contrast, saturation, shadows and other basics. It does not require any advanced skills or professional software – just spend some time learning how different sliders work and you’ll be able to improve your photos drastically. You can use either Instagram’s editing tool, your native camera app or download a third-party app – whatever you’re comfortable with.  

Instagram photo editing tool

Smartphone photography is here to stay, and as phone cameras become ever more technologically advanced we get to unleash our creativity in new ways. Happy photo taking!