Pretty much everybody has a smartphone these days, whether in or out of the backcountry. It fits in your pocket and it does so many things! It's a GPS, a fitness tracker, a book to read, an emergency flashlight, and a way of communicating to the outside world (if you happen to have service) and not the least of all it is a camera. Your average smartphone camera these days offers remarkable quality, in a small package that you are likely to already have packed on your trek. Plus, you'll look super cool using it.
Let me get this out of the way up front: I am no expert here. I'm not a professional photographer, and I'm not going to attempt to teach you "everything there is to know about photography". I'm not even going to try to teach you everything I know about photography within this blog. But if you're a novice smartphone photographer or just a hiker who happens to have your phone in the bag and maybe take a few pictures you can be proud of, I've got tips for you!
Tip #0: Slow. Down.
If you want to get good shots, you're going to have to put some time in on the trail. It's going to impact your pace! You're going to be taking more pictures, and you're going to be taking them more thoughtfully and carefully. Budget time into your hike for this, think of it as more of an enjoyable hike in nature compared to a sprint to the finish. Hiking and Photography go together like Beer and Campfires, but you need to slow down to truly enjoy them.
Tip #1: Take lots of pictures
I've often heard that, "the secret to good photography is lots and lots of bad photography." This is absolutely true- if you want to get the good ones, you have to take the bad ones. Even Ansel Adams (the most prolific outdoor photography in US history) said he was happy if he got a dozen good shot in a year. Taking bad photos is part of the learning process, and the instant feedback and near infinite "film" a smart phone allows you speeds up the process. But you won't get better unless you practice!
Tip #2: Play with your composition.
Take a look at some of your favorite outdoor photos. Is the subject of the photo always in the dead center of the photo? Probably not. Nor do great photographs always try to fit in everything the photographer saw. Photographic compostition is a subject in itself, but the key is to think in terms of what the camera sees, not necessarily what your eyeballs see. Those can be very different things.
Tip #3: Expose for the highlights.
All cameras have much less dynamic range than the human eye. Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest black and the brightest white that your camera can detect at the same time. Often that range is much narrower than what is actually in the scene you want to capture, so you have to make some compromises. When you're in that situation, forget about the dark stuff and just make sure you capture the highlights. Tap your finger on the sky or a patch of snow, so your camera knows what to do. This way your photo won't be washed out by the highlights.
Tip #4: Edit your photos.
No professional photographer just takes whatever comes out of their camera and calls it good. Even in the times of film the darkroom is where the editing took place. Once you're done enjoying your hike and you've picked a handful of your favorite shots, take some time to tweak them. At a minimum consider cropping to improve composition (or just to get a thumb out of the corner), straighten your horizons and adjust the white balance to correct your color palette. You can easily brighten up dark photos but it is hard to correct over-exposed photos (see tip 3).
Well, that's the bones of it; I could go on, but we'd be here all day. Most everything else you will learn flows from the tips listed above. Much of it can be learned through trial and error, or by examining other people's photos that you like and trying to imitate some of the things they do. A smartphone is an incredible tool for learning the fundamentals of photography. Take your time, take lots of pictures, and have fun out there!