Let’s face it—a staggering number of people buy a new smartphone simply to upgrade their camera, especially if taking landscape photos is their jam. With the rapidly rising number of semi-pro photographers clamoring for Instagram fame these days, having the best optical clarity and digital sensor resolution is paramount. But once enough people buy the best phone on the market, the playing field is leveled out, and only skill and creativity are left. We’ve put together a quick guide for those who want to get the most out of their phone’s camera for landscape photography. Here’s how to take better landscape photos on your phone!
Get guidance for your shots
Use grid guidelines to be sure your horizon lines are parallel and even. One of the primary reasons landscape photos turn out to look terrible is horizon lines that aren’t level and plumbed up with vertical objects like trees and buildings.
By going into your phone’s settings and turning the Grid feature on, you’ll have a series of boxes overlaid on your camera view to be certain everything is straight and even. This also helps you better visualize the golden ratio (explained below).
In lower light, keep the flash off
If there are objects close to you in the foreground and you’re trying to capture low-light shots of distant subjects like mountains, it’s crucial to make sure your flash is set to “off” and not “auto.”
When your flash fires in these compositions, it will expose the foreground objects far more than the distant subject you’re trying to capture the details of, turning those white-capped mountains at dusk into dark silhouettes.
That said, newer smartphones like the iPhone 12 Pro Max do an outstanding job of balancing out light levels in these situations. If your phone is newer, you can test out its ability to capture low-light details by tapping the screen on the subject you’re shooting so it auto-focuses and sets the correct exposure level. This helps the camera choose when to leave the flash off, so you might only need to take this step if you have the newest smartphone.
Use a tripod for sunrises and sunsets
When the sun is just starting to rise or set during low light times, achieving the crispest possible photo can be challenging if you’re holding your phone in your hands. Set your phone up on a tripod using a clamp-style tripod mount with your phone in a protective case (yes, tripods do blow over in the wind!) and use the timed shot feature, so you don’t inadvertently move the camera when tapping the shutter. This will provide you the most stable and crisp shot possible during low light.
Photo Credit: Instagram @Comparedtopisgah
More zoom requires a more stable mount
As with low-light photography, shooting using the zoom feature of a phone’s camera increases the difficulty in getting a clear shot. The more zoomed in you are, the tougher it becomes to avoid blurry photos. Mount your phone in a tripod and use the timed shutter feature, and you’ll be good to go.
Use the autofocus / auto exposure lock feature
In scenes with unstable light in the composition, such as catching light rays at an angle through trees for a lens flare effect, using the autofocus/auto exposure lock feature can come in handy. Just tap and hold the screen on your subject when the light is perfect, and the camera will lock on that subject with those light parameters. Then, wait for the exact right time and hit that shutter button!
Go for the gold
Many of the most remarkable landscape photographs combine two golden principles of photography— the golden ratio and the golden hour. The golden ratio was discovered by Fibonacci and essentially gave artists and photographers a guideline for what’s pleasing to the human eye. A large reason we find this ratio pleasing is because it’s found all over in nature. Snail shells and flowers are examples of this. When framing up your shot, keep this diagram in mind and try to keep your subject in the center of the spiral.
The Golden Ratio helps you compose beautiful landscape photos.
The golden hour can be either the first or last hour of light for the day. During this crucial window of time, the sunlight is optimal for photography, as it’s less direct, more diffuse, and has a more “golden” hue to it, hence the term. The vast majority of professional landscape photography is captured during these times, so plan ahead and reap the rewards.
Take your photos during weather transitions
Some of the most dramatic landscape scenes can be composed when clouds, fog, or even sandstorms are approaching or departing. Planning your photo composition with these scenes in mind can pay off in spades. Position yourself to combine light rays or rainbows with other elements like mountain ranges or river canyons for a well-balanced photograph that captivates viewers.
When rain clouds start to crest the horizon and approach, the sun can peak between mountain ranges and the clouds, creating stunning displays of light rays contrasted against dark clouds. As storms approach, you can also capture walls of rain streaming down if you have a distant vantage point, such as a mountain top peering into a far-off valley.
In the moments just as thunderstorms are ending, rainbows can sprout all over the sky. Seek out vantage points of areas near bodies of water or in canyons. When cool rains pass, mists begin to rise from the water and low-lying areas as the air above them is warmed with the sun’s reappearance. When the sun hits these rising mists and departing raindrops, rainbows can emerge in unique places for once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities.
Photo Credit: Instagram @Comparedtopisgah
Scouting unique places to capture the perfect photograph with your phone often means heading off the beaten path. Sometimes traipsing down rocky trails can lead to stumbles, and if your phone is in your hand, there's a chance you’ll drop it onto some brutal surfaces.
You can protect your new Samsung S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max from accidental drops when you’re on your photo adventures with one of Rokform’s Rugged Cases. The rigid construction pairs well with clamp-style tripod mounts for a secure shot every time. Even better, the magnetic backing on the case makes it fast and easy to mount to a Rokform Dash Mount so you can snag impromptu shots at the perfect moment.