A Life in Travel

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Smartphone Camera Tech and Tips | A Closer Look #020


Throughout my professional travels, I've always enjoyed using a DSLR to capture high-quality images, but as I pair down to carry-on luggage and focus more on the moment than what I see through a lens, I've depended more on the small size and ease of my phone than a separate camera. So, on my recent Wildland trip to Turkey and Georgia I decided to abandon the camera altogether and rely solely on my new iPhone 11 Pro. While images from smartphone cameras can't compare to the higher quality images from a competently handled DSLR camera, I'm pretty impressed with the images I captured. So impressed that I wanted to share some images and my experience with the new iPhone 11 from my recent trip and offer some travel photography tips when using your smartphone. 

The New Technology Makes it all Possible
The new triple camera setup of 12MP Ultra Wide angle and Telephoto lens is what really convinced me to go with the phone camera. The new ultra-wide has a ƒ/2.4 aperture and 120° field of view which is 4 times more scene in the shot than the regular camera view.

The 3-camera lens feature ƒ/1.8 aperture creates beautiful photos, especially in the portrait mode. And the advanced bokeh and depth control allows you to easily highlight certain subjects in keen focus by making backgrounds purposefully blurred, a common photographic technique with DSLRs now made easy on your phone.

I really appreciated the addition of the telephoto lens which has a ƒ/2.0 aperture, 2x optical zoom in, 2x optical zoom out; digital zoom up to 10x to create an incredible focal range to work with. It doesn't handle the requirements of high resolution in long-distance shots of birds and wildlife photography that I need on safari, but it's enough for people, scenery and general surroundings.

And essential for higher quality video and photos are wide and telephoto lens that has ever more powerful built-in optical image stabilization.

Beautifully depicted scenes of Biblical stories painted inside cave monasteries were used for religious education and as meditation centers in the heart of where Christianity spread.
Glorious Color Spectrum

Each next‑generation smartphone features a higher definition resolution for photos incorporating a very dynamic range of colors that creates great photos in almost any light. In Cappadocia and throughout Georgia are many beautiful Christian frescos, some very old and faded in caves and others brightly colored in actively used but centuries-old monasteries and cathedrals, all in very low light. I loved how well the camera captured the detail and color that I saw with my naked eye. 

Handheld from the balcony of our hotel room, this night image captures the beauty of Tblisi's ancient buildings under light.
Night Mode

Getting great shots in low light has been one of the greatest limitations facing camera phones and even many DSLR's. Finally, the new wide camera sensor with intelligent software brings the new iPhone up to par with other smartphones to let you get beautiful, detailed images in drastically lower light. By tapping the shutter night mode comes on automatically when needed. The camera takes multiple images while optical image stabilization steadies the lens, then the camera software really does its magic. 

Wide angle was the only way I could capture the entirety of the seating, stage and dramatic mountain setting of the Termessos amphitheater we hiked to on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey.

When I had interchangeable lenses on my DSLR I would leave a fairly wide-angle lens on the camera most of the time. Now on my new iPhone, I can just tap the screen and easily widen the scope of my view. We travel through so many spectacular landscapes on Wildland Adventures throughout the world, I need to take it all in but not so much as using the Panorama setting. And it's not just a matter of taking in expansive horizontal views but turning the camera sideways; expanding the wide-angle to take in more of a vertical viewpoint creates dramatic images of height and depth like minarets rising into the sky from a mosque or taking in the interior of a cathedral from floor to high dome ceiling.

When I shot this ‘Room with a View’ picture of Mt Kazbegi in Georgia, I focused on the mountain. As a result, the foreground of the room was initially ver dark. But I wanted to show how nice the room was. The Shadow edit mode lightened up the dark room and balanced the image without changing the light on the mountain.

Image Enhancement
I love the built-in image enhancement features you can employ automatically with the touch of one button to let the camera do the digital processing, or you can make all kinds of image enhancements in Edit mode manually in a matter of seconds adjusting brightness, contrast, shadows, color saturation and more.

With everything else in the background blacked out, except a traveling companion smiling over my shoulder, this portrait mode selfie is about as close as you can get to the joyful moment with Naim, our village homestay host in Turkey.

Portrait Mode 
Portrait mode has become a popular way of taking impressive shots of people by capturing a sharp face and a nicely blurred background. The six-element selections in Portrait Lighting mode are fun to experiment with a range of light intensity setting to flatter your subject and give the look you're going for. I like the Stage light function which highlights the subject by fading and blacking out the background for a very dramatic effect


The panorama feature takes up to 63MP images that give you the ability to showcase an entire landscape. But I also like to use it for more than just landscapes such as this portrait of our group enjoying wine at sunset in a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Turkey. 


Right now the iPhone 11 Pro has the highest‑quality video in any smartphone. 4K video with extended dynamic range and cinematic video stabilization — all at 60 fps. Add in advanced stabilization and your videos are stable and sharp. Plus, you get more creative control, too, with four times more scene from the wider lens and powerful new editing tools to play with. Now there are a lot of the same creative tools to edit your photos on video. With plenty of high-quality video segments, we'll be able to produce a highlights reel of our adventures in Turkey. It's also super helpful to be able to hit the shutter and capture still images while shooting video to capture any moment during the video sequence. 

My phone was wet and salty after our kayak over the sunken city but it just needed a quick rinse and dry!

Travel can be messy, bumpy, and even wet sometimes. That's why a smartphone like the iPhone 11 makes it a great choice for traveling. The camera has a sapphire crystal lens cover to keep your lens and camera splash, water, and dust resistant. In case of an accident, it's rated to a maximum depth of 4 meters for up to 30 minutes! And do I need durability and waterproof for our Wildland Adventures. Look how well it captured the color and transparency of the Turquoise Coast water.

When we are wine tasting in Cappadocia I wanted to emphasize the wine and place by focusing on the bottle label, but clearly the feeling of fun shines through in the less prominent background.
Depth of Field

Control over depth of field is a basic function to create more professional images whereby you can emphasize one part of an image in focus and blur another, utilizing both to create an image that tells a whole story. But depth of field is not just a matter of aperture setting which is a common with a DSLR camera. Although the Portrait mode of an iPhone has a built in control over depth of field as an image edit adjustment, I found it really easy to manage depth of field in regular photo mode with the range of focus on my iPhone. Here I focused on the beautiful golden-colored sage tea offered at a village during one of our hikes, but could also show the group kicked back enjoying their cup of tea. 

Looking back, I love the ease and low-profile of a smartphone camera. There's nothing else to pack, it's always on my body, and it's the most convenient way to share and post images on the go. While I'm happy with many of my images, I also see there's much more to learn and practice how to take better images with my new IPhone 11. There are also many apps available that help improve the quality of smartphone images which is important for me as a travel professional because a beautiful picture with a good story is not just a record of my memories, but the best way for me to convince you to come join us next time!  

In fact, if any of my images from Turkey featured here or in the gallery below spark an interest I invite you to peruse our Turkey Wildland Adventures. We were scouting new trips in Georgia and Armenia so let us know if you are interested in what we are planning there for next season.

Keeping it wild,

Kurt Kutay 

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