Alex Abroad is a mini-series by guest blogger Alex Migdal, a fifth – year English & Film studies student attending the spring term at the Faculty of Arts School in Cortona, Italy. This is the third part in a series dedicated to Alex’s adventures in Italy. Read more here.
One of my favorite parts about traveling is taking photos and sharing them with friends. But living out of a small backpack in Cortona, Italy left me without room to pack a dSLR camera. Thankfully, I’ve got a powerful camera right in my pocket: my iPhone 5.
It might not sound impressive, but mobile photography has come a long way in recent years. A quick browse on Instagram shows a ton of stunning photos taken on smart phones.
With the help of a few apps, and basic photography principles, you too can take great shots on your phone — and make your friends even more envious of your travels.
Here are some shots I’ve taken over my three weeks in Cortona, and a rundown of how I shot and edited them:
Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo credit: Alex Migdal
Yep, you guessed it: it’s the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. I paid a visit to the famed monument on one of my days off from class — and it proved to be one of the highlights of my trip.
A classic shot of the tower would likely be taken from afar. But I wanted to emphasize its extreme angle, so I stood at the entrance and snapped shots of passing tourists. Including subjects in architectural shots is an easy way to make them more interesting.
I added a filter to the photo using the VSCO Cam app. Instagram has recently upped its filter game, but I’ve always found VSCO’s filters to be more elegant and subdued. Avoid over-filtering your photo by dialing it down halfway.
Hotel pool in Sorrento. Photo credit: Alex Migdal
Visiting Italy’s south coast was a must-do. Thanks to the extended weekends in the Cortona program, I was recently able to make the southward trek to Sorrento.
The weekend was mostly rainy and overcast, so when the sun broke through the last day of my trip, I wanted to capture the tropical feel of the hotel pool.
A conventional photo of the pool and palm trees would work fine, but I thought a detail shot would prove more visually striking.
This photo employs rule of thirds, a compositional technique that divides the picture in two horizontal and two vertical lines.
To maximize its visual appeal, you want to position elements of the photo near the intersections of the grid.
You can turn on the grid when shooting iPhone photos, which made it easy here to position the staircase railing at an intersecting point. I added a subtle filter on VSCO and slightly notched up the contrast and saturation to emphasize the blues and shimmering lights of the water.
Local Cortona restaurant. Photo Credit: Alex Migdal
Not only do Cortona’s restaurants boast delicious food, but they also offer gorgeous views of the Tuscan hills. This restaurant, which serves the best burgers in town, featured a lovely patio with cozy couches and warm lighting.
Nighttime shots are tricky no matter what camera you use.
With an iPhone, the key is to set the right exposure. Touch your focus point on the screen, which brings up a sun icon and slider. Then drag your finger up or down depending on whether you want to lighten or darken the shot.
When editing, I increased the shadow level to richen the blacks, added a subtle filter and fade, and slightly sharpened the shot.
Alex Migdal gazes down at the hillside village of Perugia. Photo Credit: Megan Stewart
Credit for this shot of yours truly goes to my friend and classmate Megan Stewart. She snapped this picture on one of our class field trips to the medieval hillside village of Perugia.
Classic tourist photos include subjects that are carefully posed and forcefully smiling.
But the best portraits are often of a subject in action.
In this case, Megan took multiple shots of me peering over the stone ledge (which thankfully had a safety net underneath!).
Although I was actually freaking out the whole time, Megan was able to capitalize on my movement and capture the scope of the scene.
As always, I added a subtle filter to the shot, largely to emphasize the pinks of the Tuscan roofs, and enhanced the brightness to compensate for the cloudy skies.
Follow Alex’s instagram @alexem to see more of his travel photos.
About Alex Migdal
Alex Migdal is a soon-to-be-graduate of the English & Film Studies program. But first, he’ll have to pass his final class, a travel writing course in Cortona this spring. It’s a daunting task. Alex is also a journalist and has written for various publications, including the Edmonton Journal, Metro, Quill and Quire and Vue Weekly. When he’s not searching for WiFi, you’ll find him daydreaming about cheese and botching the lyrics of your favourite song.Previous articleIn the Studio with Amanda BergenNext articlePlacemaking: DIY City