Can you take stunning landscape photography on your smartphone? Yes! Master the settings and features to unlock your camera’s full potential.
They say, “the best camera is the one you have on you.” And, thanks to the latest advancements in smartphone technology, we can now slide an astoundingly high-megapixel camera into our back pocket, so we have it wherever we go.
In the last couple of years, the industry’s top mobile brands, including Apple iPhone, Google Pixel, OnePlus, and Samsung Galaxy, have completely revolutionized the way we take photos. They’re capable of taking breathtaking photos you’d expect to see from the latest DSLRs, while completely replacing dedicated digital cameras.
Just a few years ago, shooting with a camera phone was a compromise. Now, it’s entirely possible to take professional-level photos from behind the lens of your phone—including landscape photography.
Smartphone cameras feature wide lenses, making them well-suited to shooting the details of landscape photography without compromising the quality of the shot—and that’s not all.
We’ll discuss eleven tips for getting the most out of your mobile phone to help you capture landscape photos that rival the quality produced by DSLRs.
1. Shoot Now, Zoom in Later
When shooting landscape photography, especially on your phone, you want to preserve the quality of your image as much as possible. The resolution of photos taken on DSLR and mirrorless cameras is much greater than the resolution of smartphone cameras, thanks to their larger sensors.
Sure, the latest phones are closing the gap, but as a general rule, it’s best to shoot first, then zoom in on your photo in post-processing so as to not compromise the quality of your shot. Because, the further you zoom in when taking the photo, the less detailed your image becomes.
2. Don’t Forget to Focus and Adjust Exposure Before You Shoot
A lot of people simply point-and-shoot their smartphones while forgetting to focus on the subject of their shot. Landscape photography is no exception. It’s essential to adjust your focus so the focal point of your image is sharp and properly exposed.
Simply pressing on your camera’s display screen in the first third of your scene will provide depth of field while ensuring the majority of the scene is in focus.
Before taking the shot, ensure your exposure settings on your phone are best suited to capture your beautiful landscape.
Have you ever taken a photo on your phone before, only to discover that the sky is washed out in the background? This is where getting the right exposure can make all the difference—ensuring your image is not too dark or too light, so the colors in your shot remain vibrant.
On the iPhone, you may notice a sun icon appears next to the focused area. Slide up or down on the image to adjust the exposure settings.
On a Samsung, a light bulb icon appears at the bottom, which you can slide from left to right to adjust the exposure settings just so.
3. Feature a Strong Foreground
While the subject is undoubtedly the main element of your photo, there’s a strong argument to be made that the foreground is what takes your landscape photography to the next level.
Working with a nice foreground adds a sense of depth and dimension to your shot, inviting the viewer into your beautiful landscape as if they’re standing right there.
Accentuate your foreground by getting low and standing at eye level with the foreground elements in your landscape. Whether that means lying on the ground to capture a rockface or shooting beneath the trees, a foreground will offer a detailed perspective of your surroundings, which can give your photo that three-dimensional feel.
4. Flip Your Phone to Get Close to Water
You can also use this tip when shooting any low-level foreground elements in your landscape, but flipping your phone upside-down is the ultimate game-changer when shooting bodies of water.
Capturing beautiful reflections in puddles, lakes, rivers, or any body of water, for that matter, requires getting as close as possible to the surface.
Simply flip your phone upside-down so your lens is closer to the water without being submerged, and shoot away!
5. Shoot at Golden Hour
Good lighting makes all the difference, and landscape photography is no different. Venture outside with your camera phone around thirty minutes before and after sunrise or sunset.
The golden light will add a radiant, warm glow to your landscape photos. The sky will be filled with interesting colors, and beautiful shadows will be projected onto your landscape for an added element of depth and dimension.
You can choose from several apps that track the exact times of sunrise and sunset for your location. Such apps can come in handy, especially for those traveling from place to place.
6. Straighten the Horizon
Wonky horizons are the bane of landscape photography. Ensure your photo is straight by lining up your landscape using the grid-line feature on your phone. The camera grid is a feature that divides the frame of your photos using four lines that run horizontally and vertically across the screen.
For example, to add grid-lines on your iPhone:
- Go into the settings app and tap on Camera.
- Turn the Grid toggle on.
- Open up the camera to test if the grid feature is on.
If you take your photo and your landscape is still uneven, you can simply rotate the image to straighten the shot. You can do this in the native phone app by tapping edit, then the rotate button.
7. Use a Tripod
Most cameras on the market have built-in stabilization, but when taking long exposure shots, including time-lapses and so on, this won’t be enough to avoid motion blur.
Buying a little inexpensive phone stand or tripod is perhaps the best investment you can make to stabilize your smartphone and save you time fixing your images in the long run.
Opt for a small, compact, and sturdy tripod or camera stand so you can take it with you wherever you go.
8. Convert Live Photos into Long-Exposure Shots
Since Live Photos are actually short videos, did you know you can easily convert them into long-exposure shots in the Photos app on an iPhone?
Simply swipe up on any image to navigate your way to the Effects menu, then scroll to Long Exposure. This feature will turn those cascading waterfalls or ocean waves into dreamy, professional-quality, long-exposure shots.
9. In Low Light, Keep the Flash Off
When shooting in low-light situations, this will often trigger your camera’s flash to go off when set in auto mode. It’s important to make sure your flash is “off” or your phone is not set in “auto.”
Why? Because foreground elements in your landscape will be completely exposed, meanwhile, the rest of the scene will be dark, sometimes producing silhouettes.
That said, the latest smartphones do a nice job at balancing the light levels in these situations. It’s worth testing your camera’s ability to capture low-light details.
Tap on the subject in your landscape so your phone auto-focuses and sets the correct exposure levels.
10. Use the Autofocus or Auto Exposure Lock Feature
When capturing landscapes with unstable light in the composition—such as sunbeams seeping through the trees to produce a desired lens flare effect—it’s best to use the autofocus or auto exposure lock feature.
Tap and hold the screen on your subject when the light is just perfect, and the camera will lock onto that subject with those parameters set. Once in focus, hit the shutter button.
11. Edit Landscape Photos on Your Smartphone
Take your landscape photos to the next level with some light editing. There are countless photo editing apps out there, so you can conveniently shoot and edit your photos all in one place.
Of course, that’s not a requirement. You’re free to edit your photos in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom on your laptop if you prefer. But, for the sake of demonstrating how you can shoot and edit your photos on your smartphone, apps such as Adobe Lightroom Mobile, VSCO, and Snapseed are perfect places to start.
You can also adjust the white balance in post-processing, so the colors look accurate. This is where shooting RAW can come in handy. Tweaking the exposure levels—particularly the highlights and shadows—adds contrast to your landscape and helps make elements pop.
Remember: Less is always more when it comes to editing, so don’t overdo it with the settings to ensure your photo remains as realistic as possible. If you don’t like your edits, simply re-import the raw image and start again!
Cover image via Seqoya.