Tuesday Tip: 7 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Phone Photography

7 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Phone Photography

Ansel Adams once remarked that “landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer—and often the supreme disappointment.” And he wasn’t even using a smartphone camera with a lens – he just cleaned on his shirttail.

For us weekend “phonetographers,” the challenge is incrementally harder. But fear not. Follow these tips and your landscape photos will be scenic – perhaps stunning – souvenirs of the time you spend outdoors this summer.

Straighten out the horizon
Your eyes always see a level horizon, even when you tilt your head. So when people see an off-balance horizon in a photo, the image just doesn’t compute. Make sure the horizon in your landscape shots is level as can be, and they won’t clang in the consciousness of their viewer.

Focus on the foreground
Ah, those majestic peaks, radiant in the distance. What a great shot they’ll make! But don’t forget the foreground. It’s the details in the foreground, humble as they may be – a tree, a rock or an old fence on its last legs – that add depth and interest to your landscape photos. Better still, aim for the trifecta. Include elements that catch the eye in the foreground, middle distance and background, and you’ll capture truly engaging photographs.

Look for diagonal lines
Diagonal lines pull the eye into and through a photograph. They add depth, perspective and energy. Studies have shown that people naturally view images left to right, so a diagonal feature that begins at the bottom left and travels to the top right can be powerful. Consider a river running diagonally across your frame. Or, if your primary object of interest is at upper right – say, a lighthouse – try to position another object of interest at lower left, like a seagull perched on a piling. This will balance the composition and draw the eye to multiple dimensions.

Use HDR mode
Most quality smartphones these days come with high dynamic range mode, or HDR. HDR makes for better pictures – automatically. When enabled – in some phones it’s on by default – it shoots multiple images at different exposure values, then combines them into one. One photo might be set for shadow, one for midtones and one for bright light. They’re snapped in quick succession, then the HDR software blends them into the best possible result. Details lost in the shadows of the more exposed image are added from the less exposed image, while details blown out in the more exposed image are supplied from the less exposed image. The result is a photograph with enhanced color and detail across a wide range of the spectrum.

Try a tripod
HDR works better when your phone is held absolutely still as it shoots the multiple photos that will combine into one. Tripods also help immeasurably when you’re shooting in low light. There are all sorts of smartphone tripods on the market these days. Many will fit in your backpack, and some in your pocket.

Add scale
A camera – any camera – tends to take the wind out of breathtaking vistas. Cliffs don’t look as epic, trees don’t look as tall and pounding ocean waves calmly lap the shore. To offset this shortcoming, find ways to emphasize the true scale of what you’re shooting. Include people and make them small in the frame (not standing right in front of you). Passing birds also work well. If you’re shooting a dramatic mountain valley, for example, place a flower in the foreground to indicate the majesty of the view.

Don’t zoom
When you use your fingers to spread the screen and zoom in on a distant object, you’ll degrade the detail in your photo. Instead, walk closer to your subject, if you can. Or, crop the photograph later.

Looking for a summer destination where you can snap awesome landscape photographs? Try a national park. We have six suggestions here. See you out there!