5 Simple Tips to Capture Great Photos on Your Smartphone

When we attended the Xscapers Convergence in January 2017 in Quartzsite, I sat in on a workshop put on by our good friend and professional photographer who is also an RVer, William Trinkle aka “Bill”. We collaboratively put together this blog to show how to help set up some great shots to make your photos pop.

Bill takes absolutely fabulous photos. You can check them out at his website Trinkle Photography. You can also find him on Facebook and Instagram (trinklephotography). We’ve even showcased a couple of them in our Boondocking Etiquette and Stewardship blog. With his permission, we’ve used a few of his great photos to show good examples of how to acquire great shots.

His workshop was simple and easy to understand. For that, I was ecstatic  because frankly, I can’t remember all the hoopla about aperture, lighting and when to focus, stand, etc.  But, taking what I learned, I applied it to my own photography. Ever since, we’ve received countless compliments and accolades on our photos.

Clean your smartphone’s camera lens

I’ve found several times after taking a photo that it appeared murky or blurry. It’s because the smartphone camera lens was smudged or fingerprinted. It may have been from grabbing my phone out of my pocket or backpack or after eating something that left a little oil on my fingertips.

I’d simply polished my phone lens with a clean part of my shirt and take another shot. Seriously, it’s like magic! Something to consider EVERY time you take photos with your smartphone, especially if you have sticky or greasy fingers. Taking that extra second to clean off your smartphone lens could mean the difference between an awesome shot and another deletion off you phone.

NOTE: NEVER use anything but a specific lens cloth for your DSLR camera!! NEVER use your shirt, hankie, tissue or napkin!

Straighten you horizon

I admit, when viewing photos taken by others, one of the first things I notice is the crooked horizon. And being totally honest, its distracting even with the best of subjects or actions. Unless you purposely set up a creative shot that supercedes the need for a straight and even horizon, keep that in mind.

Below is an example of the horizon not being straight. If that doesn’t make one feel tipsy when looking at it!

This happened when I handed our phone to someone who was unfamiliar with even basic photography. Even though I ‘set up’ the photo (where to stand and camera placement), the person taking the photo just didn’t photo us correctly. After taking the phone back, I sadly looked at the photos through the viewer and just smiled and said they were fine. I lied. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings telling her they were horrible. I had time to find someone else to take our photos later.

Aside from our experience with handing our phone over to her, there’s an easy fix.

Go to your camera settings and enable gridlines. Once you’ve enabled them, each time you take a photo, you’ll get a 9-square grid (3×3) on your viewer that allows you to line up objects horizontally and vertically.

See? This photo below is much better.

Do know though, when dealing with far away landscapes, you may have a little curvature from the ground (slight inclines or hills) which is okay. In that case, you’re going to want to line your subjects or objects vertically. This photo was taken on a bright sunny day making the lines on the photo viewer difficult to line up. Really though, the photographer should have lined up the lighthouse comparatively with the closest vertical line. Do realize that lighthouses are conical so they aren’t going to perfectly line up vertically.

Here is a great example of how Bill was conscious of horizon placement. In this photo, he used the horizon placement and rule of thirds (explained next) in his photo:

And speaking of the rule of thirds, here’s another way to use the gridlines…

Rule of thirds

Like above when using your photo viewer’s gridlines, you’re also going to use them for placement of your subjects or objects. Photos are more interesting when the object or subject is slightly off center; creating a more balanced image and offers greater visual sense of motion.

The rule of thirds is an artistic rule that when put to good use will help make your photos more visually appealing.  When using the Rule of Thirds, try putting your main subject into a horizontal or vertical third of the photograph. Your main subject could be a person, the horizon, the sun, the mountains or anything that could be your focus of the photograph.

This is an artistic guideline and can be the deciding point in the viewers opinion on what a ‘good shot vs. bad shot’ is. Unless you’re purposely trying for a symetrical photo shot, situate your subject in your lens  ‘off center’.

As well, if your subject is looking to the right or left of your photo, leave more space showing direction of they are looking or action is headed. In other words, if you are capturing a photo of your subject running left to right, position them in your viewer in the left third with the space they are running towards takes the right side two-thirds.

As in the photo above, I accomplished three things; lighting is in front of him and the mountains, I placed him in the bottom left third and by doing so, he’s looking to the right which leads your eye to wonder what he’s looking at beyond what’s in the photo.

In the photo below, I placed the first fence post in the left to middle third that leads your eye along the fence to the left.

Here, you can see how Bill applied both of those photography elements; horizon and rule of thirds.

Do not zoom

No, no, no, no, no….NOT on a smartphone. Why? Because, using your zoom will only pixelate and deteriorate the image quality. If, after taking a photo, you want to enlarge the image, use your photo editing software that won’t sacrifice photo quality (within reason) by enlarging or cropping.

Save your zoom feature for when you use your DSLR cameras.


The magic of good photography is all about the light. Your best light, will be the soft sun in the morning and evening. The light in the middle of the day can be bright and harsh, so if you have a choice, opt for the softer light.  If you are photographing a subject, getting the sun behind you can help give you a well lit photograph. When photographing a person, be careful of photographing them with the sun to your back and in their face. The sun in their eyes can create harsh light and squinting. Try to move the person into the shade or pose your person with the sun to the side.

Also, watch your shadows! You can always rotate your photo when editing. As in the photo below, the photograph should have been taken on the other side with the sun in front of the photographer instead of behind the photographer so the shadow didn’t touch the object. It means you may actually take the photo ‘upside down’. Later, you can edit the photo by turning the image 180 degrees.

So, those are some of the basics of photography. You don’t have to be a pro or take hours of classes or workshops to score some awesome shots during your travels. If you keep those five tips in mind, you’ll have bragging rights to near perfect instagram and social media photos.

Special thanks to my photography mentor and friend, Bill! Capturing moments, beautiful landscapes and subjects on camera have become easier and more fun.

Take these photography tips on your next National Park visit…

32 Tips for an Amazing National Park Experience



4 Replies to “5 Simple Tips to Capture Great Photos on Your Smartphone”

    1. Isn’t that feature cool, Kristi? Also, don’t be afraid to try different angles in taking photographs. Get on the ground or high above for different perspective shots. Oh, and don’t forget to keep your camera lens clean at all times!! You never know when you’ll get that wonderful shot unexpectedly! -Lisa

    1. Barbie, you’re welcome! We hope these tips improve your photography skills and your photographs come out award winning! -Dan & Lisa

Leave a Reply

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