Outdoors

Picture Perfect: Tips to Take Stunning Outdoor Photos With Your Phone

It’s time we all take a moment and say a quick “thank you” to our smartphones. These “small step, giant leap” inventions revolutionized the way we look at, learn about, and communicate with the world around us. Where would we be without them?

The biggest perk of all? Smartphones have made every one of us a master photographer. And we don’t even realize it!

That’s because the camera on your smartphone probably is better than every standalone digital camera you owned between the years 2005 and 2010.

And the best part is, we carry around these high-tech cameras in our pockets! No need to haul around a big camera bag full of miscellaneous equipment. It’s all right there in one, neat little package.

So how do you take a professional quality picture on your phone? We’ll tell you right here! Keep reading to hear our best tips to take amazing outdoor photos on your phone.

Keep Your Lens Clean

When was the last time you checked to see if your camera lens was clean? It’s something we don’t often think about. But it’s really important for taking good photos.

A little dirt probably won’t kill your shot, but any kind of grease or gunk will make the picture blurry. You’ll see if this is the case as soon as you turn on your camera.

Clean it like you would clean your glasses. Use a lens cleaning cloth with a little dab of cleaning solution. Then buff it clean.

Know How Your Camera App Works

Many of us don’t know how to actually work the camera on our phones. Sure, we know how to open it. And we know how to take the picture. But we don’t know anything beyond that.

It turns out that the camera app on your device has a ton of features that can help you create a better picture.

First, let your camera focus before you take the shot. You can touch the screen where you want the camera to focus (example, a hanging plant or a tree or yourself). Let it focus, then take the picture.

Another thing you can do is change the exposure to let more or less light into the picture. On an iPhone, do this by holding your finger down on the picture and dragging it up or down.

Many cell phone camera apps have filters built into them. So you can snap pics with a certain filter already applied. If you prefer, you can add filters later and we’ll go over that in a bit.

If your camera has an HDR function, use it. HDR stands for high dynamic range. It comes in handy when you’re dealing with high-contrast pictures.

For example, many outdoor shots have areas of extreme brightness and areas of extreme dark. It’s difficult for your camera to capture both the light and dark areas in one photo. So the HDR feature takes several photos and combines them to create the best lighting possible.

On many phones, HDR mode has an “auto” setting so it comes on automatically when it senses a tricky lighting situation. But you can also set it to “on” or “off” depending on your mood.

This is just a start though. Do some internet research on the specifics of your camera phone. Try out the different functions and practice taking pics. Before you know it, you’ll know your camera app inside and out.

Natural Light is Best—Skip the Flash

Set your flash to “off” all the time. If you need it, you can turn it on manually. But best practice is to use natural light whenever possible.

Especially when taking pictures outdoors. When you’re on winter hikes in low light conditions, change the exposure to let more light into your shot. Or edit the picture later to lighten it up.

But natural light is always better. Flashes provide more light, but it’s not flattering light. It’s harsh and difficult to edit later.

Don’t Zoom

Phone cameras don’t have zooming lenses like professional cameras. Instead, they have a software zoom. It’s a fancy way of cropping the image down for the display. They don’t actually get in closer to take better detail.

Because the camera lens can’t actually move, you lose detail and resolution when you use your camera’s zoom function.

A better alternative is to move closer to your subject. If you can’t, take the shot wider and crop it later through editing. You’ll get the same effect but you won’t lose any resolution in the process. And a wider shot gives you more leeway for editing later.

Make It Interesting

Add some creativity to your shots. Include interesting details like birds, clouds, or tree branches. Play with light and perspective. One good way to do this is by using larger or smaller objects as a way to show scale.

Don’t be afraid to move around. Not all pictures are created equal. And standing in one spot snapping photos can make for some dull shots.

Bend down. Shoot from above. Shoot from below. Try angling the shot. Horizon photos turn out best when the horizon is straight. But don’t let the old, conventional rules of picture-taking hold you back.

The sun can be a friend and a foe. There are times when the sun is too bright to get a good picture. But if you can catch a really great sun ray, do it! There are even apps that let you edit a sun ray into your shot.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take Lots of Pics

Most phone cameras have the ability to take a burst. On an iPhone, you hold down the capture button for as long as you want and it will continue to take pictures until you let up. This is great when you’re trying to catch something in motion.

If you’re hiking with kids, try taking bursts of them in motion against a beautiful backdrop. This adds a unique flair and depth to the photo.

Bursts allow you to go through each picture and keep or discard it. So you can find the exact perfect shot.

And even if you don’t shoot in a burst, try your shot from many different angles. Try it with different exposure levels.

Remember, they made the delete button for a purpose. You can always delete bad shots later. Don’t let storage space be an issue. Clear out some space before you go out into nature so you’ll have plenty of room for lots of photos.

Edit, Edit, Edit

Left: Instagram filter Right: No filter

This is the step that many people forget about. Edit your pics! It’s easier than ever to do. And you can do it for FREE.

Unlike old times when you had to own expensive software like Photoshop, there are literally hundreds of apps on the market to edit photos with. Your camera app has some basic editing features. So does your photo app or gallery.

The first part of editing is cropping. Frame in only the parts of the picture that make it special with a custom crop.

Feel free to play around with the angle of the photo too. Most photo apps let you change the angle or even the perspective of the picture.

Your photo gallery allows you to change the light, color, or black and white aspects of the pic. But if you really want to get serious about editing, download a free picture editing app. We suggest Instagram.

If you’re looking for an easy and fun way to edit and share pics, Instagram is the way to go. It’s got tons of great features. You can add a vignette, which darkens the edges. You can blur out parts of the photo.

Instagram has a ton of great filters to choose from. And you can edit how intense you want the filter effect by tapping the filter button twice and then using the scale to change it.

You can sharpen a photo on Instagram. Or add warmth and color by increasing the saturation. It even allows you to improve highlights or shadows.

Once you’re done editing your photo and you’ve uploaded it, the phone automatically saves it to your photo app. So you can print it or use it later with the edits intact.

If you’re interested in photo editing and you don’t have Instagram, you’re missing out!

Outdoor Photography at It’s Best

Your smartphone will always be the most convenient camera you have. So use it! With a little bit of tinkering, some internet research, and practice, you too can take professional-quality outdoor pictures right from your phone.

First, make sure your lens is clean and you know how your camera works. Google around to find out about all the features available through your phone camera.

When you’re ready to take your pictures, skip the flash. Increase the exposure if you have to, but natural light is always best. And never zoom with a phone camera. You can crop your image later to get up close and personal to your muse.

Include interesting details like sun rays, animals, and plants in your pictures. Try different directions, angles, and exposures. And take a lot of pictures! You can always weed through them later.

When your photo shoot is done, edit your photos for the best quality product. Then share them so others can see your beautiful pictures!


Hiking is an excellent way to get involved with nature on a whole new level and find some great photo ops. Check out our Hiking articles for more advice and inspiration for your hiking adventures.

One comment

  1. Olga Liberman

    How have I not known about changing the exposure in camera mode on my iPhone until now? Mind blown. Thanks for the tips!

Leave a Reply to Olga Liberman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *