We went on vacation and left our cameras at home.

That’s right, professional photographers left their equipment at home despite going to the beautiful and exotic-looking Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula.

The choice to leave it all at home was made for two reasons– we were backpacking, meaning we didn’t want to carry the extra weight while risking our equipment, and (most importantly) we wanted to be present. It’s in our nature to capture our surroundings, but sometimes we simply need to soak it in.

So after a week of relying on our trusty iPhones, we present our 10 tips for taking meaning and beautiful iPhone photos at which you will love looking back.

1 // Make use of the foreground


photographer vacation iphone

You know when you take a photo of that frighteningly beautiful mountain or that jaw-dropping, knees-shaking cliff and the photo does nothing for the real thing? While in-person nature will always trump a photograph, you can steal a bit of that beauty to take home with you by using an object (or husband) in the foreground to show the largeness of the background.

2 // Repetition, repetition, repetition



The repetitive horizontal lines of the tree trunks is what lends interest to this photo. Sometimes the same thing over and over and over again makes for an interesting composition– good thing, too, because repetition can be found everywhere in nature.

3 // Diffused light is your friend



If you have ever had a session with us, you’ve probably heard me gushing about cloudy days. The clouds act as a natural diffuser of the strong sun– it softens shadows, gives your photos that “clean” light look, and (my favorite) makes your skin look amazing. Alternatively, on a cloudless day, look for other natural diffusers. The tree canopy made it possible to capture those beams of light in the photo on the left.

4 // Lines and silhouettes are beautiful, too



Sometimes it is best to let the “boring” landscape be the star. The beauty of this scene is in the monochromatic color palette, clean lines, and dark silhouettes. In this photo, we had been hiking for a few hours, then had lunch, and I (perhaps all of us?) had hit that 2pm wall. We walked half a mile out of the way to stop at this little lake and we were so glad we did! It was silent, calm, and the water was surprisingly clear and warm. With rolled up pants and discarded shoes, we waded in and let the gentle water soothe our aching feet.

Which leads me right into…

5 // Capture the moments



Sure, the mussels we found in the lake weren’t actually worthy of being eaten, but we had fun figuring out the best way to cook them over an open fire. And yeah, we were tired at the beach and Lake Superior was chilly, but the tide was just like the ocean– I can still hear Caleb’s laughter as he tried to outrun large waves. Enjoy the moment, but don’t be afraid to stop for juuust a second to snap a frame.

6 // Use the exposure slider



Sunsets can be just as elusive as mountains, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible– capturing a sunset is one part timing and one part exposure. First, have a little patience. Enjoy the sun and your surroundings until the sun is only a little bit higher than the horizon. On your iPhone, tap on the screen where the sun is and use your finger to drag that little slider down until the highlights lower but the shadows aren’t overwhelming. Bonus points if you can catch that gorgeous, glowing light (as seen in the top of the wave).

7 // Embrace the shadows on a bright day



A sunny day means harsh highlights, so lower that exposure and learn to love the high contrast lighting, which worked great for all of the rock formations we saw.

8 // Don’t forget the details



Detail photos aren’t always mind-blowing, but these two remind me of the two hour lunch break we took on the beach– we napped in the sun and after nights on the hard ground, the sand felt amazing. So while a stranger might not appreciate these photos, they take me right back to that peaceful feeling I had when I woke up.

9 // Panorama



This one is pretty obvious and straight forward, but it’s something I always forget about until I see Caleb doing it.

10 // Capture without caution



With the help of airplane mode and the simplicity of the iPhone camera (wow, that sounds like a plug), I was able to be fully connected with the present, but I was also able to casually snap photos along the way. I didn’t bother putting too much thought into whether I “caught” something or not– in fact, I didn’t even look at the photos I took until the drive home.


I know if we had our normal Nikons with us, I would easily get too caught up in taking the best possible photos of every awesome thing we saw. Which, I’ll be honest, is fun for me, but the whole point of our trip was to get out of dodge and focus on clearing our minds. Isn’t that what we all go on vacation for?

So the next time you go out of town or have a stay-cation, embrace the minimal life! Leave the extra gadgets behind and maybe, just maybe, turn that phone on airplane mode. I promise you’ll like it.