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Instagram like a pro: 10 tips for better holiday photos

It could be Milan or Madrid, but do your holiday photos always look the same? We have some camera tricks for you to take better pictures while traveling. We are concentrating on smartphones and have accordingly taken all the photos in this article with a mobile phone. But of course, most of the advice also applies to proper cameras too.

General photography tips

Rule of thirds and the golden ratio

You may have a beautiful motif, but do you know how to align the camera? Then the rule of thirds and the golden ratio often help. In the former, the image is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically.  You should position the most important parts of the scene along these lines, ideally even at the intersections.

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Here you can see the grid above a photo. Both subject and horizon are aligned to the grid. / © NextPit

The golden section works very similarly, but the lines here are all shifted a bit more towards the center of the image. While photos shot according to the rule of thirds appear somewhat more exciting, the golden section creates a more harmonious effect. Think about what suits your scene better.

With the vast majority of camera apps, the screens for the rule of thirds and the golden section can be placed over the viewfinder image. The corresponding option can be found in the settings of the app.

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Most camera apps can display different types of grids above the viewfinder image. Huawei calls the golden ratio Phi grid, by the way. / © NextPit

Of course, these rules are not set in stone. Especially highly symmetrical photos, such as those with reflections, can also develop a special appeal.

Foreground and background

“The foreground makes the picture healthy” is a phrase often used in photography. If you integrate a foreground into the picture, then you can tell the viewer an additional detail. Did you lie in the grass while taking pictures or did you climb over rocks for hours to shoot this shot? Then hold a few blades of grass in front of the lens or place a few sharp-edged stones in the foreground to show this detail.

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Whether with breakfast or through a peephole into the garden: Although not much happens here, the pictures have an additional story via the foreground. / © NextPit

Line management and depth

Besides the game with foreground and background, you can also use lines to create depth in your photos. Look for lines that lead from the foreground into the depth and let them run through your photo. This automatically gives the images a certain tension and dynamism.

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Whether in the middle or towards the edge, lines running deep make photos more interesting / © NextPit

Light and shadow

There is no more central element in photography than light – it is impossible to reduce the whole topic to just three paragraphs. But omitting light from this article is not an option, and so we break down the subject of light into two properties: direction and quality.

Light quality is described as hard or soft and depends on the size of the light source. The sun is an (of course relatively seen ;)) extremely small light source and provides for very hard light and hard shadows. Forms are pictured very clearly, which is usually not very flattering with portraits.

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Left: hard light at lunchtime; Right: soft light shortly before sunset – soft light provides a more flattering display, the light direction is always the same. / © NextPit

But sunlight can also become soft, namely through reflection. For example, if a person is in the shade and the sun passively illuminates a white wall, the shadows will be very soft. The same applies in the evening and in the morning during the so-called golden hour before sunset or after sunrise. Here the sunlight travels much further through the atmosphere, is refracted more strongly and is therefore very soft.

The light direction also has a great influence on the image effect: if the light comes directly from the camera in the form of a flash, there are few contrasts in the image. Lateral light, on the other hand, as in the two examples above, provides a more plastic, high-contrast effect.

Photo tips especially for your smartphone

Wide angle and telephoto zoom: take your chances

Almost all modern smartphones have a whole armory of lenses on board, from ultra wide angle to telephoto zoom – and you should take advantage of that. Get to know the different settings and take a close look to see if the image quality at the different zoom levels still meets your expectations. If at some point the digital zoom starts when enlarging, the pictures usually don’t look as beautiful anymore.

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As flexible as the current wide-angle and tele cameras are, you should also beware of digital zoom in the year 2019. At the maximum magnification given by the camera app, the details already look quite muddy. / © NextPit

Besides the obvious purposes of wide-angle and telephoto zoom we would like to give you a tip: always photograph portraits with a lot of zoom. This makes the person depicted less ‘fish-eyed’ than in the wide-angle view. In addition, the high focal length compresses the background compared to your model.

Get to know your camera app

In addition to the hardware, the camera app is also worth a closer look. There are often countless interesting modes hidden here, for example for photographing fireworks, soft waterfalls in daylight or sophisticated effect filters. Especially in the past one to two years, the quality of these filters has improved considerably – it is worth experimenting with them.

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#nofilter: With the various HDR and AI modes, current camera algorithms perform amazingly. / © NextPit

Often there are also helpful settings for operating the camera app. In most cases, you can use the volume buttons as triggers – or the buttons on your headphones if you need a remote trigger. Many smartphones also offer a snapshot function by double-tapping the volume button: the phone then starts the camera app directly from standby and immediately captures a photo.

Special Apps: Pixaloop, FaceApp & Co.

Apart from the famous Instagram and Snapchat filters, there are also a lot of other apps with which you can edit your photos effectively. But always be aware that use often takes place under at least questionable data protection conditions, as seen recently with FaceApp.

Effects overkill with animation, fog, zoom etc. If you want to animate a photo with Pixaloop, you should hold back a bit more with the effects. / © NextPit

I also find apps like PixaMotion or Pixaloop that animate every photo exciting. Water can be made to flow or even entire buildings to rotate.

Tips for finding a motif

Where and, above all, when?

For particularly spectacular photos, a little planning is worthwhile. It makes a difference at what time you visit a particular place. As mentioned above, there is the most beautiful light at the golden hour after sunrise or before sunset. And of course, not only will your Instagram feed benefit, but so will you when you visit a place in its most beautiful light.

If you are traveling by plane, take a look at the flight route beforehand, on Flightradar24, for example. Then you can secure a window seat with a view of particularly spectacular landscapes or even a beautiful sunset or sunrise.

Beautiful not only at sunset: those who fly past the Aeolian Islands should sit on the left side of the plane. / © Screenshot flightradar24 by AndroidPIT

Searches for details

We have all seen the standard photos of Prague, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro. But it is often the small details that tell the stories. Explore new places with open eyes and look for curiosities or interesting things that say something about the country.

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Of course, everyone has seen photos of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam before. But I will never forget the ubiquitous plastic chairs in child size on which young and old eat on the street. I still don’t know who Klaus Nickel is and why his system needs an emergency stop. / © NextPit

Clean the lens, seriously

This is the most important thing at the end of the day. No matter what of or where you take a photograph, get used to one thing – clean the lens(s) of your smartphone before each photo. A fingerprint on the glass makes photos look dull and muddy, light sources throw large halos at the picture. By the way, you don’t need any special cleaning things, your top or t-shirt is completely sufficient. The previous photo with the plastic chair shows signs of a dirty lens with the faint shimmer at the upper edge of the picture. Too bad.


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