The secret to taking great vacation shots on an iPhone

Full disclosure – if you have an Android phone, I can't help you. But I'm told the new Samsung Galaxy s8 takes great shots.

Since I've been traveling as a passion, I've only ever taken my DSLR camera on one trip. I took it on my Southeast Asia trip, and ditched it at the bottom of my suitcase once we got to Bali. My best photos – taken by me or otherwise – have been taken on an iPhone 5S or 6S. The iPhone camera, when used correctly, packs a pretty powerful punch.

I recommend iPhone photography while on vacation because, obviously, iPhones are easy to carry around. I was constantly worrying about the duration of my SLR battery, or making sure the lens cap was on. With my iPhone I can just whip it out, get the shot, and slide it back in my pocket. 

Photos are memory keepers. I look at them when I'm trying to assuage the travel bug that's always inside of me. I look at them to remind myself of better, happier times. And I look at them and realize that travel is always bigger than me. 

But on a purely selfish level, most of us want to get that shot on vacation. You know the one I mean. The one that gets featured on Instagram travel accounts and Facebook groups. The one that you look back at months after your trip and say to yourself, damn – that was a really good time in my life. There's nothing wrong with that either! You travel to make memories with yourself or the people you love. Just don't base your entire trip focusing on trying to get that shot. It'll come.

Many of my 2016 travels were documented by my homegirl, Kayla. Lil Kayla is a dope iPhone photographer. Lil Kayla got me featured in Essence last year. To my knowledge, Lil Kayla has no professional photography experience. I've always said that, sometime soon, a Pulitzer Prize for photography will be awarded to a photo shot with an iPhone.

Here are the keys to getting that banger shot (which is what we called the shot on our South Africa trip):

1. Lighting. 
iPhone cameras perform best in well-lit situations, but some photos taken at dawn or dusk can come out good as well. I've found that, if facing the sun or any other kind of light, get just a small bit of light in the shot. Your phone camera will do the rest of the heavy lifting for you. It casts a natural, eerie shadow over photos. We took a lot of these kinds of shots in Kuala Lumpur and Cape Town.

2. HDR function
The HDR function, in my opinion, cleans up the shot so you don't have to do much, if you choose to do so, in post. I turn it on auto and let it do the work for me. 

3. Angles
The right angle can make a good shot extraordinary. Angles are something I rely heavily on. To get the right amount of sun in a photo, which I did a lot in Kuala Lumpur, I tilt my phone at a 25º angle. If you're shooting something with height, such as a monument or a mountain, you can usually get most (if not all) of the scene in the shot. Sometimes I'll squat and lean back slightly to get an entire shot.

4. Editing tools
Instagram has some great filters, but the native camera app does too. I tend to play around with the chrome feature to add the right amount of lighting or drama to a photo. The photo function on Twitter is also pretty solid. I play around with the warm or breeze function to add warmth or coolness. If I want to add depth or a bit of color, I'll toggle around with the radiant feature.

Sound off: How do you get the banger shot on vacation?