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Using an iPhone for Travel Photography

Published 30 March 2016

Simon Heyes

Simon Heyes

More and more people are travelling these days and in turn more and more people are becoming interested in travel photography. Some have perfected it to such a degree that the traditional divide between professional and amateur photography is now so blurred it can be impossible to tell the two apart. In this post keen photographer Simon Heyes explains why he has foregone the popular SLRs in favour of something more basic: the iPhone.

Iguazu Falls

Picture the scene. I’m in the Colombian jungle, in the Tayrona National Park. I’m about 500 miles from the equator. The weather is hot and sticky and the clouds have rolled in. The group I am travelling with are about to set off on a one hour hike to get to our camp, and spend the night sleeping in hammocks. Just as we’re about to put our first steps forward, the heavens open. When it rains in the jungle, it really rains.

We waited as long as could, but realised we might not make the camp by dark if we didn’t set off soon. So away we went. I didn’t think it was possible, but the rain got heavier. About 500m from the camp we were crossing ‘puddles’ that were up to our knees. Everything got wet, regardless of whether we were wearing waterproofs or ponchos.

After reaching the camp and drying off, I checked my camera. Even though it was in a ‘waterproof bag’ it was soaked. I wasn’t too bothered as it was a few years old, and the memory card seemed ok. A Canon Ixus 100 IS dying is much better than, say, a Canon 550D. I didn’t think anything more of it, as I was quite happy with the pictures I could take on my iPhone 4S…especially with the Camera+ app. From that moment on, the remaining 1500+ photos from my round the world trip were taken using my iPhone.

Four wheel drive across tracks in Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

SLR Vs the smartphone

There is no right or wrong answer for which camera to pack when you go travelling. I met many people who took a SLR for their trip, and on the other hand I many people who used a simple, compact digital camera, or their iPhone.

For me I chose my compact digital camera (RIP) and smartphone because of size and weight. I grew to love photography on my trip, but I still wouldn’t get an SLR. The iPhone is simple, unobtrusive, doesn’t involve me carrying a lot of equipment, and most people I met were constantly surprised at the quality of the pictures, and how much I can do with it.

Owning a SLR is like owning an expensive pair of sunglasses.

Where SLRs have memory cards, all you need for the iPhone is Wi-Fi. Hook it up to Dropbox, and you can save all your photos, saving space on your iPhone for even more photos and videos.

Owning a SLR is like owning an expensive pair of sunglasses. I’d be constantly checking it’s OK, making sure I don’t leave it on a table in a cafe, and snarling at anyone that handled it incorrectly. Put simple, the iPhone is the perfect travel camera because it’s small, compact, doesn’t cost £400+ and, like my Tayrona jungle adventure, I wouldn’t be too upset if it got drenched. I took a cheap pair of sunglasses travelling (parts of them melted), and I took my iPhone (no parts melted). Looking back, I wouldn’t have taken my compact digital camera at all.

Two locals carrying bags while walking through Yangshuo in China

Editing and sharing on the go

The great thing about travelling with an iPhone is you can edit and share photos on the go. I tried to stay away from Social Media as much as possible during my 6 month trip, but I was convinced the day before I left to tweet and share an update on Facebook once every three or four days, just to let family and friends know I was alive. I couldn’t argue. The iPhone made this an ideal strategy.

Using an advanced camera app such as Camera+ also allows you to set the focus and exposure before you take the picture, giving you complete control.

The bigger picture

You can take incredible pictures with an SLR. The sheer size and quality is unmatched. But, eye  for eye, the iPhone packs a punch. I only started to realise how good my iPhone pictures were when I got to a laptop or computer and viewed them on a bigger screen. I was amazed.

Man sitting on Whitehaven Beach in front of the ocean

The four photos which have featured in this post are the best from my round the world trip, taken using Camera+, which (unsurprisingly for whoever’s used it) was the fourth best-selling app of 2012.

Instagram is also a good app for sharing on the go, but don’t get lured into the square box trap. Sometimes pictures are best in portrait, or landscape. And remember, a hot breakfast tastes better than a cold breakfast looks.

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