Want More Instagram Likes? Take Tips from This National Geographic Photographer

Earlier this month, I traded the Canadian summer for Alaska’s glaciers and joined a group of North American media people for the trip of a lifetime.

Armed with the new Microsoft phone, complete with its coveted Lumia640xl camera, we were encouraged to snap away, capturing the stunning scenery as we checked things off our bucket list.

Along for the journey was celebrated National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez, who offered the group a few photography pointers – both with a traditional camera and a camera phone.

From climbing volcanoes to hanging over waterfalls, there’s nothing he hasn’t done to capture that perfect shot. Here’s how you can too.


What pointers do you have when it comes to photographing some of the world’s most intriguing places?
A lot of photography is about being there, so if you can identify and get to an intriguing place that is half the battle. The next step is to make an image that feels like what being there is like. Usually that means seeing the place in the best light. So getting up early and staying out late.

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What’s the biggest mistake new photographers make? One of the biggest mistakes new photographers make is what they show people. An experienced photographer will only show their best work, inexperienced photographers tend to show you everything. What’s the most memorable photo assignment you’ve done? Wow that is a tough one, they are all memorable! One thing that stands out: Watching the sun rise over Rio from the top of Two Brothers Mountain while on the 7 Wonders of the Natural World assignment for Microsoft. We had walked through Vidgigal Flavella with some friends. It was hot, humid, and scary but when we reached the top of the mountain…WOW. Rio is out in front of us glowing and my four friends just stood on a rock watching the sunrise. That image is one of my favorites from the whole 7 Wonders assignment.

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What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to capture that perfect shot?
Craziest? HMMM again that is a tough one! A lot of the work I do like climbing volcanoes or hanging over 150 ft. waterfalls in New Guinea seems routine to me but might be considered crazy to someone else! What is really scary is some of the pilots I’ve flown with. I remember this time on Vanauatu when I wanted to check out an erupting volcano. The 18-year-old pilot got so close we were being hit with lava!

Is a cell phone camera like the Lumia as effective as traditional camera?
There are significant advantages to working with a camera phone. They are less intimidating than a “normal” camera so your subject is more at ease, but most importantly you have your smart phone with you almost all the time. Photographs are moments and the best camera in the world is the one in your hand when that moment happens. For most of us it will be a smartphone.

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What do you like the best about Microsoft’s phone and camera? Best is the image quality. Even a midrange phone like the 640xl gives me TWICE the resolution and more latitude than the first digital camera I used on assignment for NGM! Next has to be the camera interface that is easy and intuitive. What I like best about it as a phone is Microsoft’s approach to data. All my pictures are safely stored to OneDrive and I can access all my files, contacts, music, and images from the phone or anywhere else. Pointers when shooting with a cell phone? 1) Watch the edges of your frame 2) Use the form factor of your phone, you can hold these small light phones at crazy angles, go nuts! 3) Shoot lots and edit later 4) Use the phone to make friends, sharing images with people is a great way to get to know them What pointers do you have when it comes to editing scenery shots? I always try to get people into landscape photos, they help anchor the photo and it gives the viewer someone to identify with.

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What’s the biggest mistake people make when posting pictures to social media?
In general the biggest mistake is posting too many photos. Social media is a crowded world just post your best images and you will stand out more.

What are your favourite Instagram accounts to follow when it comes to images?
In no particular order:
And of course mine