You’ve probably heard that the best way to experience our nation’s national parks is by following the practice of “take only photographs, leave only footprints.” 

Of course, you should never put yourself or others in danger to get that perfect shot. But you absolutely should put your smartphone to good use to bring home some stunning memories of your trip.

While most smartphones now help anyone take good photos, even if they have no prior experience with photography, there are a few simple things you can do to take your vacation photos to the next level. Keep reading to learn more.

Start with a Clean Lens

Whether you carry your cell phone in your pocket or purse, the camera is exposed. Throughout the day, it ends up covered in lint, dust, and fingerprints that will stand in the way of you and that perfect picture.

Before you start snapping away, take a moment to clean off your phone’s camera. Don’t just reach for the edge of your jacket though, as this may scratch the lens. Instead, bring along a microfiber cloth, or use a clean, soft, lint-free t-shirt.

Use Gridlines to Balance Your Photos

Pointing your smartphone and snapping at random may help you capture that moment, but it isn’t likely to land you any professional-looking photographs. That’s because one big thing sets professional photos apart from your everyday snap; composition. Composition refers to the art of positioning the subjects in your photograph in a specific way. Your composition should aim to create interest, usually by drawing the audience’s eye in a specific direction.  

It doesn’t take a professional eye to give your photos a professional composition; you just need to understand the rule of thirds. To do this, imagine that your photo is being broken into three sections vertically and three sections horizontally, creating an imaginary grid of nine equal squares. Many newer smartphones now have a feature that allows you to project actual gridlines on your screen, making this even easier. 

Then, when you are taking a photo, aim to place your subject on one of these lines. For instance, if you’re snapping a shot of your friend standing on Angels Landing, line him or her up with one of the two vertical lines. You can also take this tip one step further by aiming to line up the background on the horizontal gridlines; perhaps the horizon behind your friend can be lined up with the top horizontal gridline.

The result is balanced photos that draw attention to your subject of choice.

Flip Your Phone

It likely feels far more natural to hold your cell phone upright when you’re taking a picture. However, if you’ve ever visited an art gallery or scrolled through professional landscape photos online, you’ve likely noticed that these shots are rarely vertical.

Horizontal photos are far better suited for landscape shots. They give you more room to take in the sweeping mountains or canyon far below. They also keep your shots from becoming overwhelmed by too much sky or boring ground space.

Move-in Closer for a Better Look

If you’re shooting with a DSLR camera, you might be able to zoom in to get that close-up shot. But while smartphone cameras have come a long way in recent years, one thing that they lack is decent zoom capabilities. That’s because they are limited to digital zoom. If you have to zoom in too much, your photo will become grainy.

Some recent smartphone releases are better than others. However, if you want to capture a shot of a cool rock or flower, move in closer for a better shot rather than zooming your smartphone camera in.

Skip the Flash

Your phone’s digital zoom isn’t the only thing getting in the way of a professional shot. Your flash is also likely far too harsh to light your photos without leaving them grainy or washed out.

If you do want to shoot photos at night or in low light, you’re better off using another light source. A flashlight will better illuminate your image than your built-in flash. Of course, nothing beats natural light for achieving beautiful photographs.

Learn Your Phone’s Features

iPhones and Samsung smartphones offer a wealth of features to help you improve your picture-taking. For instance, your iPhone allows you to use your volume buttons to snap photos. When you’re shooting horizontally, this makes it easier to take your picture without causing your phone to be unstable, which could blur your shot.

Learning your phone’s unique features will help you find out shortcuts or ways to enhance your pictures, both while taking them and when editing them afterward. Don’t get too crazy with the filters, though; make sure that you let the natural beauty of your photos shine through!

Taking Home Your Photo Souvenirs

Improving your smartphone photos is a great way to capture all of those wonderful memories that you’re making during your Utah adventure. But don’t forget that you should also give yourself a chance to enjoy those photos after your trip is over. While you may scroll through your phone looking at them from time to time, printing your photos out to decorate your home or office, or to show to friends is a great way to enjoy your vacation memories long after you get home.