Packing Photography

7 Secrets to Taking Better Travel Photos

If you’ve ever looked at someone’s Instagram and wondered how they’re taking such superior travel photos, it’s probably because they’re using the right tools to boost their game. And you don’t have to be a professional photographer to match up: The best travel photography accessories are packable, affordable, and easy-to-use.

Secrets to Better Travel Photos

Here are the secrets that seasoned travelers swear by for getting the best shot—whether you’re using your smartphone or something more advanced.

Smartphone Lenses

Moment wide lens

The simplest way to turn your smartphone into a better camera is to add a lens. Options like Moment’s wide-angle lens are my personal secret to fitting more into a frame when I need to. Clip-on Aukey lenses are affordable and include lots of different options, like wide-angle lenses, fish-eye filter lenses, and macro lenses that sharpen close-up shots. There are options for all types of phones, from the ones that easily clip-on (usually the cheaper options) to those that screw into place more securely with the help of a special phone case.

[st_related]6 Small Cameras for Every Travel Photography Challenge[/st_related]

Hidden Smartphone Camera Settings

smartphone taking a photo of cityscape

You might know the rule of thirds, but are you executing it correctly? Turn on your smartphone camera’s grid, which on some phones can also show whether or not your phone is level when shooting something straight-on or from directly above. If you invested in a fancier phone, chances are it also has some more advanced photo setting available in your settings. On the larger iPhone Plus or newer models, for example, portrait mode and its pre-set light editing capabilities can create super professional-looking images.

On most phones you can also adjust the lighting of your photo before you shoot by tapping a focal point and increasing or decreasing the exposure. Taking an action shot is a good time to shoot in a burst to capture more than one image. “Live” video images also give you the advantage of picking from a collection of frames, just in case there was a better shot just after the exact moment you hit the shutter. iPhone users can also create a long exposure effect with Live Photos by choosing ‘Effects’ in the phone’s native camera app.

The Right Editing App

Even with a good lens and the right angle, the raw photo you take usually isn’t be the best it can be. Cameras are designed to capture as much detail as possible, so your photos can look much flatter, color-wise, than what you witnessed in real life. Fine-tuning with a free photo-editing app like Adobe Lightroom (available for iOS and Android) will make it easy to transform your images into vivid travel photos. Most images benefit from a little bit of light adjustment, and more advanced editing apps will include an array of options to toy with, from highlights and shadows to sharpness, warmth, and vibrance. When you download Lightroom, the app provides an introductory tour of its settings, which can teach you what all of those terms mean and how you should adjust them.

[st_related]How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Pro Camera[/st_related]

A Problem-Solving Phone Case

Want to be able to take a selfie in low light? Get a smartphone case with built-in LED lighting. Ever drop your plus-sized phone in the middle of a one-handed shot because it’s slightly too wide for your hand? Attach a pop socket to steady your grip. There’s a solve for every smartphone problem these days, and there’s no shame in adjusting your camera phone to better suit your photography needs. When they have the right attachments, some smartphones are as good as professional cameras.

Going Mirrorless

Considering something more than a souped-up smartphone, but hesitant to take up all that bag space? The right camera for you doesn’t need to be a professional-yet-clunky DSLR. Going for a mirrorless (read: smaller) option like Panasonic’s LUMIX G7 means you’ll be investing in something that’s lighter and packs a lot more power than your phone. And if you want your camera to take up the least amount of bag space, there are also point and shoot options like the Panasonic LUMIX Lx10.

Travel-Friendly Drones

Mavic air drone

You’ve probably seen enough bird’s-eye images on social media by now to agree—drone photos and video are providing a whole new view of the world. And you might be surprised how easy it is to take part in this popular trend. Drone technology has moved swiftly enough in recent years that drones are now relatively affordable for the average traveler. Small drones perfect for travel can cost as little as $80. If you’re not convinced it’s worth packing one, some affordable options are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, like the Eachine Quadcopter Drone that’s easily controlled via smartphone. The larger DJI Mavic Air is a more professional-grade choice if you want to get technical.

[st_related]5 Small Drones Perfect for Travel[/st_related]

Simple Photo Printers

When was the last time you printed a photo from your trip? Once you’ve taken better travel photos, there’s no better memento than a printed memory to display—and there are at-home and travel-friendly options that will let you print them yourself. For pocket-sized memories you can stick anywhere, the HP Sprocket portable photo printer can connect to multiple devices for easy printing. For bigger photos, the Kodak Dock Instant Printer connects wirelessly to create four-by-six prints perfect for framing.

More from SmarterTravel:


SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and is always learning how to take better travel photos. Follow her efforts on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

By Shannon McMahon

Editor Shannon McMahon is always planning her next trip and often writing in her travel journal. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Shannon joined SmarterTravel in 2015. A former news reporter, she's lived in the south of Spain, spotted elephants in Sri Lanka, gone spelunking in the Caribbean, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, interviewed Sao Paulo's Michelin-Star chefs, and explored China via bullet train. Travel trends, news oddities, and her visits to up-and-coming destinations are some of her favorite things to write about.

Her stories have also appeared online on USA Today, The Sun, Huffington Post, Business Insider,,, and more. Her educational background is in journalism, art history, gender studies, Spanish, and film. She's been quoted as an expert travel source by CNBC,, MarketWatch, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Plenty of extra thick hair elastics. They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone."

Travel Motto: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window, of course."

Email Shannon at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *