7 Reasons Why Your Smartphone is the Best Camera for Travel

Travel Photography, Phone Photography

smartphone for travel photography, photography tips, photography inspiration, smartphone photography tips, mobile phone photography tips, phone photography tips
Written by Karin van Mierlo
Karin is a pro photographer with a bachelor's degree in photography bringing 25+ years of experience to your table. She is the driving force behind Photography Playground and loves to write and teach about all things photography related. She is the developer of the Fearless FrameWork, a holistic method of learning photography.

Smartphone for Travel Photography

As a photographer, I welcomed the opportunities a smartphone camera gave me especially when I used my smartphone for travel photography. I can still remember the first time vividly. It was more than ten years ago so it was a crappy camera of course. The images were pixelated and blurry.  For most of the time, I still photographed with my DSLR.

But there was something different about the images I took with my phone. They were more intuitive, more personal, more intimate even.

I started to take photos of myself when I woke up, for instance. There was no pressure to produce a ‘professional’ image when I was shooting with my phone. I had fun trying out stuff and I freed myself from the belief that every photograph needed to be perfect.

Over the years I learned to work with the limitations a smartphone has. It emphasizes again and again that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you work with. What matters most is the person behind the camera. 

A lot of professional photographers take smartphone photography seriously. I am one of them. There’s no reason for you not to do the same! Let’s take a look at why your smartphone is the best camera for travel photography.

#1 It is There……..Always!

You know what they say: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” And that is especially true when it comes to travel photography.

Even if you brought your expensive DSLR on your trip your smartphone camera will be your second best friend!

It will be there with you on long days walking around a buzzing city, when you’re having dinner with the beautiful people you met, on that challenging hiking trail along the coastline, when you’re bored during a long haul flight, during that magical evening when you took a boat to the source of the Nile and well just about anywhere you go.

It’s not always practical to bring your heavy and large DSLR with you. But your smartphone is one of the very few items you own that go wherever you go. This is actually the most distinctive feature of a smartphone camera.

Almost every other reason why you should be shooting with your smartphone for travel photography is based on the fact that you never leave home without it. Or your hotel, or your Airbnb, or your hostel…………

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#2 They’ve Improved

Smartphone photography is an area in photography that keeps innovating at a stellar pace. It’s hard to keep up with the improvements. The minute you buy a new phone there’s already a new development in the pipeline.

Smartphone cameras have improved on so many levels. There’s no way for me to see where that’s gonna lead to.

Let’s look at a few areas a new smartphone camera is different from older models.

  • The file quality has improved because the number of pixels in the sensor has increased.
  • Some smartphone cameras allow you to shoot in RAW. If you can’t shoot in RAW using the native camera you can download a camera app. It will give you even more possibilities than shooting in RAW.
  • A lot of new models have a dual-lens system and a portrait mode. One of the major flaws in the smartphone camera is the fixed lens and aperture. The dual-lens system solves this problem for a large part. Now you have the choice between 2 lenses with a different focal length. If you are ready to invest a little more and you have the option for a dual-lens system go for it. It makes a difference!

#3 Practice makes Perfect

Because you have it with you all the time you can practice a lot. You can shoot whenever you like and whatever you want.

It gives you the opportunity to try things out, to experiment and to play.

When you allow yourself to make mistakes you will have a steep learning curve. Learning through trial and error is always a good way to learn a new skill. Your smartphone camera is the best companion for this.

If you wanna know more about how to use your smartphone as a pro check out Fabulous Phone Photography.

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#4 Back to the Basics

A smartphone camera has certain characteristics that force you to go back to the basics. Even if you have the latest model with dual lenses and portrait mode.

Like I said in the beginning, a smartphone camera has its limitations. Although there are apps and tools to deal with some of the limitations you still need to learn to work around them.

Because when you know the limitations you can come up with alternatives. Or take advantage of the limitation and make an asset out of it. This teaches you a lot about creativity and photography.

A little hint 🙂 Learn composition! When you know how to compose your shots you’ll become a better smartphone photographer. Being a composition superstar will make you stand out between the millions of other smartphone photographers!

#5 The ‘little’ Moments

When you’re traveling it’s easy to photograph the big moments. You won’t forget to take out your camera for a breathtaking sunset, an overwhelming landscape, or a century-old landmark.

But there are also countless ‘little’ moments. Although I don’t think they are little at all.

It’s the little moments that tie together our lives. 

With a smartphone, you are more inclined to photograph those ‘little’ moments.

It’s the in-between moments. Your face in the mirror of the car, the view from your window when you wake up, the heart in your cappuccino, the book you’re reading, your feet on the sidewalk when you’re discovering a new city………….

It may seem meaningless on the surface but it is the ‘insignificance’ that produces a personal, authentic and intimate story.

Everybody takes pictures of the landmark, the sunset or the landscape. Only you can photograph how you experienced it. How it felt to be there in that once in a lifetime space and time.

I’m a foot selfie freak. Photographing my feet brings me back to that time and place more than any other pictures I took there. It’s me, over there, now.

A smartphone is the only camera I can think of that is there with you to capture all those ‘little’ moments.

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#6 Be Authentic and Creative

Turned off by your travel buddy buried deep into his phone screen? Annoyed by getting punched in the nose by a selfie stick? Bothered by people around you who get distracted at every notification they get?

I hear you! You are not alone. More and more people are resisting the ubiquitous presence of smartphones and how they interfere with creating real connections in real life. Although being a device designed to connect people it often feels it does the opposite.

Keep it Real

Sometimes people are so busy with their phone that they forget where they are. Even when they’re taking a picture. I sometimes wonder if the picture is the only thing that they will have when they come home. I wonder if there’s a meaningful feeling or experience connected to the picture.

The only way to take a picture that will have real meaning is when you connect with your environment and the people around you. Just walking through a place snapping away will not do that for you.

On social media, we’re overloaded by the fantasy lives of others. The amazing places they go to, the awesome adventures they live through and the astonishing people they meet on the road. All that in a spotless designer dress and a perfect smile.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but honestly, that’s how it can feel sometimes.

The thing is, we are not going to solve that problem. We cannot tell other people what to do with their smartphones. But we can decide that we will use our smartphones wisely, authentically and creatively!

Taking pictures with your smartphone is the most creative way to use your smartphone! Combine that with the desire to take authentic and creative photos of your life and travels and you have a recipe for an Instagram feed that feels real and connects 🙂

Check out the 11 tips for great Instagram photos.

Hey, and why not connect on Instagram! You can find me @photography_playground.

#7 Make Connections

A smartphone is used in a lot of different ways. Like we talked about before it can be used to actually disconnect us from our environment and the people around us.

Don’t be that person!

You can also use it to make real connections. To share your life, to show who you are, to let people in.

When you’re traveling it’s the perfect way to stay connected to the people you left at home and the people you meet on the road. That is the obvious way to connect when you’re traveling.

But creating relationships through the very act of photography is another way to go.

It is something I really love to do when I’m traveling. I’m not talking about photographing your travel buddies but about the people that actually live there.

If you want to get to the heart of a place ask people if you can take their picture and start a conversation.

It is my experience that people are more reluctant to be okay with you photographing them when you’re coming at them with a big professional looking DSLR.

When you use your smartphone camera to get personal with the locals they will be more open to the idea because it’s a non-invasive camera.

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One Happy Family

After reading this hymn to the smartphone camera you might start to wonder if there is still room for a regular camera. Well, of course, there is. A smartphone camera does not replace a regular camera. Especially if that camera is a DSLR or a mirrorless camera.

It’s simply a valuable addition to those more advanced cameras. And in recent years it has become a full-grown member of an evolving, happy camera family.

Like any piece of equipment, it is actually not the thing itself that does anything. It’s the person handling the equipment. Whether it’s a full-on professional DSLR or a very modest smartphone camera you are the one calling the shots. Or better yet creating them………….:-)

Tell me in the comments how you see your smartphone! Do you see it as something you can be creative and authentic with? Or do you consider it a nuisance?

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  1. Robin

    I don’t have an iPhone, but do appreciate my smartphone. I enjoy taking pictures. I thank you for this shared information. Look forward to the course.

    • Karin van Mierlo

      Happy to hear that 🙂

  2. Niki

    Aw, you made me appreciate my iPhone some more!


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