5 reasons why your smartphone is the best camera for travel photography in 2024

First published:
April 8, 2024
April 12, 2024

5 reasons why your smartphone is the best camera for travel photography in 2024

First published:
April 8, 2024
April 12, 2024

All images taken with a Google Pixel 6a smartphone by Philip Mowbray.

Your smartphone may well turn out to be the best camera for your travel photography, here are 5 reasons why, brought from my own experiences on a recent trip...

Why should you use your smartphone for travel photography in 2024?

Recently, I went on a trip to North Macedonia, & took three cameras with me: my mirrorless camera, my film SLR, and my smartphone. There were various reasons for this (which I’ll discuss further in a later article focusing on the film images) and I used all of them. But, the photos that impressed me the most were those taken with my smartphone, which I preferred over those taken with the other cameras. I may now be a convert to using a smartphone for future trips.

Now, I’m not suggesting you do the same if you have a preferred method of taking pictures while travelling, but perhaps you may want to consider (if you haven’t tried before) using your smartphone more seriously. You’ll see five reasons below, and some of my favourite photos taken exclusively with my smartphone from the trip to give you an idea...

The famous view at Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia, captured with my Google Pixel 6a - 1/70s | f/2.2 | ISO 50

All images were taken with a Google Pixel 6a in RAW image file format. I’ve also processed these using Lightroom for Mobile and Picfair’s Retro Preset Pack, all edited while ‘on the go’ on my trip. You can download these presets from our Presets Page.

You'll also see the ISO, shutter speed and F-stop information for each image, so you can see exactly how the images had been captured on the Pixel. You may notice that the specifics are a little bit more unusual compared to what you would normally expect (i.e. very low F-stops and ISOs), which is due to the phone's capture settings.

1 Your smartphone camera is light, and you have it with you all the time

Often, when you are travelling, the best images are those you weren't initially prepared for.

For example, when you see a brilliant opportunity to snap a moment in the street, or a landscape shot where the light hits the right spots for just a short moment. You may also often not have your camera ready to hand (for me it’s usually in my bag, for a few reasons - see later in this guide), and by the time you’ve got your camera out, that optimal moment for taking a picture may have passed.

The beauty of a smartphone is that you’ve always got it handy, whether in your pocket or your hand (for example, if you’re using it for directions), meaning it’s there and ready to take a picture whenever you want. Usually, smartphones have a quick access option for cameras too - meaning you can usually just press one button or swipe, and your camera app will open - meaning it’s a matter of a second or two to get set up, rather than potentially several minutes playing around with your camera.

Using your smartphone as your primary camera also means you have less to carry, a definite advantage whilst travelling or exploring new places!

Stray dog and new development, Bitola, North Macedonia - 1/4200s | f/1.9 | ISO 50
Brutalist apartment blocks, Tetovo, North Macedonia - 1/160s | f/1.9 | ISO 295

2 Smartphones are quick and discreet for taking photos

Discretion is the most significant advantage for me when using my smartphone for travel photography.

For quite some time now (literally years), I've lacked confidence when taking photos in unfamiliar places - especially true when carrying my bulky camera. Taking my camera out of my bag and walking around, trying to compose pictures, makes me feel conspicuous. It's as if I'm standing out, innocently snapping photos, which can attract stares or, in some cases, unwanted attention from authority figures curious about my motives.

Smartphone photography changes all of that. It's effortless to discreetly raise your smartphone and capture a picture without drawing any attention. Everyone is walking around with smartphones, so you blend in. Allowing you to capture some truly remarkable photos that you might have hesitated to take with a conspicuous camera (which is why I usually keep it in my bag). Additionally, the quality of the images can still be excellent, as I'll discuss in my next tip.

Night dog, Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/25s | f/1.9 | ISO 3460
Corner shop, Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/100s | f/1.9 | ISO 351
Empty Streets, Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/35s | f/1.9 | ISO 76

3 The quality of smartphone pictures has improved significantly

There was a time when smartphone images were disregarded in photography circles, but that's changed.

With smartphone models such as the Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and Google Pixel leading the charge in mobile camera technology, the latest smartphone cameras can now produce resolution and image quality that surpass traditional cameras. Therefore, using your phone as your primary camera device, while still obtaining outstanding-quality photos, is entirely legitimate.

During my recent trip to North Macedonia, I was majorly impressed by the quality of the images I captured. I was initially sceptical myself. I use a Google Pixel, and once I explored the camera app and its capabilities, I was astonished by the results. A top tip of mine is to shoot in RAW mode; this allows you to achieve the best possible results from your smartphone camera. Most newer smartphones support shooting in RAW using this feature; simply consult your phone's instruction manual to learn how.

Panorama, Bitola City Museum, North Macedonia - 1/90s | f/2.2 | ISO 82
Skopje Railway Station, North Macedonia - 1/1200s | f/2.2 | ISO 47

4 You can edit your images on-the-go

Many smartphones now have excellent built-in editing apps, or you can easily download external apps. I highly recommend Adobe for Mobile. It means that while you're on the go, during downtime while travelling, such as when you're in transit, you can edit your images without spending time sitting at your laptop, freeing you up to explore instead. Plus, you don't need to bring any other equipment apart from your phone (if you don’t want to).

I found the editing on-the-go element incredibly useful. I also enjoyed it, especially when on buses and trains, using Lightroom for Mobile, and then sharing the edited images on my social media platforms. It also meant I had no significant editing workload to deal with later.

Covered car, Elsani, North Macedonia - 1/1600s | f/1.9 | ISO 44
View over Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/370s | f/1.9 | ISO 52

5 Smartphone images can sell well, too

There was once a time when you’d need to take pictures on the best quality DSLR out there even to have your images considered for purchase for commercial, editorial, or wall art use. Those days are long gone.

All you need to do is look at your social media feed or browse the web to see the abundance of images taken on smartphones used in mainstream media or advertising campaigns. And given the ever-increasing quality of smartphone photography, it’s not uncommon now to also see smartphone images recreated as wall art like prints and canvasses.

Remember too, that with Picfair Stores, you can upload your smartphone images and sell them as prints or digital downloads, and you can get started with Picfair by signing up today!

In conversation, Prilep, North Macedonia - 1/2000s | f/1.9 | ISO 43
Red car, North Macedonia - 1/750s | f/1.9 | ISO 43

More images and final thoughts

In conclusion, utilising your smartphone for travel photography offers numerous advantages. Your smartphone is compact, ensuring you'll almost always have it with you. It's discreet and excellent for capturing images, which you can then edit (and potentially sell) on the go.

I hope these tips have inspired you to prioritise your smartphone for travel photography, or at least give it a try. And remember, when you do, don't forget to upload your images to your Picfair Store!

Below you'll see some more of my favourite images from the trip to North Macedonia, all taken on my smartphone! Another thing that's excellent about some of the later smartphone camera models, too, is that they have optical lenses capable of shooting at different focal lengths (examples below). There's no need to spend time changing lenses, it's all done via your touchcreen!

Retro car, Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/5000s | f/2.2 | ISO 52
Bitola at night, North Macedonia - 1/3s | f/2.2 | ISO 554
The Brutalist style post office in Skopje, North Macedonia - 1/500s | f/1.9 | ISO 44
Retro car, Elshani, North Macedonia - 1/3200s | f/2.2 | ISO 52
The airplanes, Bitola, North Macedonia - 1/1400s | f/2.2 | ISO 51
The Makedonium, Krusevo, North Macedonia - 1/3800s | f/1.9 | ISO 44
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