...with a little Apple (iPhone)

Travel has certainly changed. I no longer like to check a bag, so no matter if it’s 5 days in sunny Florida or 5 days in chilly NYC, it’s gotta fit in my roller bag. This new travel protocol has caused me to rethink a few things: maybe hotel shampoo isn’t so bad for one or two washes, how many pairs of shoes are essential, and do I really need to travel with my DSLR?

As for the question of traveling with my DSLR, there’s two answers: yes and no. If its a big, once in a lifetime trip on the other side of the world, I’d pack my DSLR in lieu of hairspray and extra shoes. But I’d also probably check a bag for a trip like that (in which case, ALWAYS pack your camera in your carry-on).

On the flip side, if I’m traveling on a domestic trip to somewhere I’ve been before, I may be inclined to leave my good camera or even my consumer-type DSLR at home. An iPhone is going to suffice. Cell phone cameras have come a long way in ten years—they have amazing cameras—especially if you know how to utilize them. For Spring Break this year, we spent several days in the Big Apple. And I endeavored to capture our family vacation with just our iPhones. It went surprisingly well! Here’s a couple things that made it easy:

  • Swipe to snap: (this works for iPhones) Hold your phone up and before your face unlocks the home screen, about ¾ of the way from the bottom, swipe from the right edge of the screen to the left. This will immediately open up to your camera app.
  • Zoom: Portrait mode is fun to play around with, but sometimes that blurry background is a little… well, too blurry. It looks… fake (and it is. It’s just an app trying to mimic aperture.) Instead of portrait mode, try this: use the regular photo option and zoom in or zoom out. You can either pinch with your fingers or tap the numbers at the bottom (.5, 1x, or 2 or other variables).
  • Aperture setting: As I mentioned above, portrait mode artificially mimics aperture and it doesn’t always look right—but you can tweak this. In portrait mode, select the “^” at the top of the screen, in the center. This will open your options at the bottom of the picture frame. You can choose flash, exposure, timer, editing styles and the last one is the one you want: aperture. Within aperture, you can also play around with different lighting styles.
  • Sharing photos: This is a must! Share your photos with everyone you’re traveling with—it’s fun to see how you can visit the same place and have different photos taken from various angles. No two photos will be the same!
  • Perspective: Horizontal, vertical and even slanted: usually when I teach my photography students about architectural photography, one of the biggest take-aways I try to impress upon them is the importance of keeping the image straight. This is a lot harder than you think! Not only are you keeping the horizon level, but you have to keep the camera level on several planes—think 3-dimensionally on this one (x-axis, y-axis and xxx-axis)—which is even harder with an iphone! But I discovered something while photographing a large stain glass window in St. Peter’s church: sometimes slanted gives a good perspective. It shows more of the window and illustrates to the viewer, it’s tremendous size (see below).

I’ve always heard it said that “The best camera is the one you have with you.” This is true, sort of. Having a cell phone camera with you is better than no camera at all, but its helpful to remember that not all cameras are suited for every purpose. While in NYC, my daughter wanted a couple of headshots for her resume, email signature etc. Although I wished I had my "good" camera and 85mm lens with me, we made it work by finding a nice big window at the public library. It took a lot of shots and some editing in Lightroom, but we managed to get some fairly decent headshots. Admittedly, my full-frame DSLR would’ve done a much better job. iPhones aren’t intended to be used for professional headshots—but they are great for travel!

So, when traveling with a cell phone camera, its important is to know your phone’s camera app functions. Then you can play to its strengths, capture some amazing shots, and most importantly—capture memories!

Here’s a few shots we took on our trip—all taken on an iPhone. Some of them were taken by my son, a high school Junior.