Travel Tips

7 Handy Camera Phone Hacks for Travelers

Ditch the DSLR and save space in your luggage with these useful apps and more.

By Bill Wiatrak November 30, 2016

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Ditch that heavy digital camera and use your phone instead for travel photos.

Image: Shutterstock

You might remember a long, long time ago in ye olden days (15 years ago) when people took pictures with their cameras, rushed to the nearest one-hour photo and waited patiently to see exactly what surprises lay in store on their camera rolls. No one had ever heard of iPhones, apps, memes or selfies. If the lighting was bad or the subject on your photo was blurry, too bad, so sad.

Photography methods of just a decade ago seem prehistoric now with the immediacy and instant gratification of digital photos. Everyone has a camera phone and printed photos have become a novelty rather than the norm. Who carries baby pictures in their wallet anymore? As we get more megapixels, filters, apps and effects, we're able to create amazing digital images in seconds. Anyone can produce a video and make it available for the entire world to see in moments. There are limitless options as you film or record your travel and it's increasingly difficult to keep up with the technology. Here's a list of some useful camera hacks and oft-overlooked apps that can be extremely useful for your travel photos and video:

1. Shoot in landscape for hi-res

If you have an iPhone, you may have never realized that if you hold the camera sideways, you get a completely different video than by holding it up and down in portrait mode; the resolution is automatically changed by how you hold the camera. This means your video looks great on your TV or monitor (in hi-res) if you shoot horizontally (i.e., in landscape mode). If you shoot vertically, you'll get a low-res video that looks like, well, a cell phone video with large black bars on either the side. Once you've started filming, the resolution won't change regardless of how much you flip your camera around. So if you're making a video to watch on a screen other than your phone, always shoot horizontally.

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Shoot in landscape for high-resolution images.

Image: Shutterstock

2. Use your phone as a remote microphone

If you're making travel videos, you've undoubtedly had issues with your subject being too far away to hear them speak clearly or with too much background noise interfering. You could hire a sound crew using a second phone in the subject's shirt pocket (or by using a plug-in external mike), you could shoot a video on one phone and use the microphone track from the one on your subject for sound. Download the audio file, insert the track and sync it with the video using a simple editing app rather than having to use an expensive remote mic setup.

3. Make your camera waterproof

Ziploc sandwich bags can do a lot more than just hold your bologna and cheese. Putting your camera in a plastic bag can not only keep it from getting ruined on a boat trip or rain, but can also allow you to take some cool underwater shots without an expensive housing. Practice and test your bag's limits first with something that can get wet (i.e., not your iPhone) before you take a chance with your phone though.

4. Deploy filter apps

There are a zillion camera apps and filters (some already included with your phone's camera), meaning it can take a while to find one that is intuitive and does what you want. After trying a few dozen, I found that I love Camera+. Once installed, it integrates with your camera editing and allows you to make almost any picture you shoot look twice as good by simply selecting the "clarity" filter. There are plenty more options with this app, including other lighting filters, cropping, adding frames or "the lab," which allows for ridiculous amounts of tweaking. You'll be amazed how much better you can make your photos look in seconds.

5. Dip into virtual reality

I heard the term "Google Cardboard" from several of my nerdier friends and had no idea what it even meant until I got online and plugged it into eBay. For $10-20, it turns out, you can get a set of VR goggles that allow you to slip your phone into them and see virtual reality movies and pictures. Imagine a View-Master that straps onto your noggin and allows you to turn your head to see up, down and all around. There is now a growing list of YouTube channels that have 3D-360 content that allows you to watch videos or play games. If you don't know what I'm talking about, buy a pair and see for yourself.

As virtual reality explodes in popularity, so too are the new apps you can use to develop your own VR content. You can buy a 360 camera that uses Bluetooth to record to your phone to create videos ($300 and up) or you can download the Google Cardboard app that allows you to shoot a pano picture that continues in a full circle. Take a picture with this app, slide your phone into the VR goggles and you can view your photo as if you are standing in the place where you took it. You can turn completely around allowing you to see your photo from every angle. Since you're not using a true 360-degree camera, you won't see the ceiling or the floor, but you'll definitely get the feeling of being there, adding an entirely new dimension to your photo creations.

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Try one-touch subject lighting to make the most of darker images.

Image: Shutterstock

6. Try one-touch subject lighting

Digital phones usually focus on the area of your photo with the most light, often leaving your subject in the dark (especially if there's a source of light behind them). Tapping on your screen in camera mode can actually prioritize the lighting to show your subject better. A flash works well if the subject is close to you and the background isn't that important. However, if both things need to be shown and the lighting is a little wacky, try tapping on different areas of your screen before you snap the photo.

7. Get an inexpensive clip-on lens

Maybe you're a little jealous of travelers with GoPros or flashy DSLR cameras, but you don't want to spend the money to buy another camera or lug around extra equipment. Never fear! Some nerdy genius felt your pain and figured out how to combine a chip clip with a camera lens. For about $15, you can get a zoom, fisheye and macro lens with a clip that allows you to pop it on your camera phone in seconds. It's admittedly low-tech, but it's easy to use and—most importantly—it actually works.

Try these simple tips and your photos and videos will instantly improve. Stay tuned for more phone camera hacks coming soon!

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