As an expat and a person that travels frequently, I’ve often found myself in beautiful places by chance, stumbling on them through my wanderings. I always try to capture a memory of these places by clicking a picture on whatever device I have to hand — more often than not, this is my cellphone rather than my bulky camera. And really, with today’s smartphones and increasingly advanced photo options, this isn’t such a bad thing. iPhones are so popular in photography that they’ve even spawned the online designation “iPhone photographer”.  After a while, using a few of the tricks I’ve discovered from professional websites, as well as “#iPhoneonly” instagrammers, I realised that my mobile photos were actually quite lovely to look at. Here are 5 tips I’ve found to be particularly effective when it comes to taking great mobile pictures.


Setting focus is probably one of the most important, and thankfully one of the easiest things to do when taking a cellphone picture. For most smartphones, this involves tapping the touchscreen where the object of focus is. Your phone will confirm the focus with either a square of circle on that spot. If your target is moving (say you stumble across a festival procession in a village in India, a moment you just have to showcase to your friends back home), then you want to make sure to tap your screen just before the final click so as to focus as close as possible.

Avoid the Zoom

One of the problems with a digital zoom function is that it essentially crops the image as you zoom further. This is why you’ll often notice that zooming in reduces the overall quality of an image significantly. I’ve found that moving closer to the object is a much better way to get a clearer, higher quality shot. Also, it’s an excuse for you to get up close and examine the object in greater detail, be it an old building you’ve glanced at on your way to work every day but never really seen, or a landscape you come across on your daily run. As an expat and traveller, I’ve found that being more curious yields much greater rewards! I’ve even gotten to know a few people through clicking photos, as a result of going up to them and asking whether it would be okay for me to shoot them. I love these impromptu conversations with locals, that often end with some “insider advice” — everyday living tips for that particular place, or just getting to know a random stranger a little better!

Crop over Zoom

If for some reason you can’t get close enough to an object or person you want to shoot, then still avoid zooming in. Take the shot as it, and crop it later to showcase what you were trying to focus on. I often find I have to do this when I’m on scuba diving trips, as it is hard always to get up close and personal when you’re in a boat on the water. For those of you that love going to the beach, you might find yourself in the same situation when trying to capture a moment.

Chase Good Lighting

According to ‘grammer Michael Giroux, “Natural light in the middle of the day can be harsh and frustrating for taking pictures”. Even professionals that dabble in drone photography, DSLRs and more always follow the golden rule of shooting with the sun to their back. As expats, we often can’t wait around for the perfect lighting situation, as opposed to being a holidaying tourist with time to spare. Michael’s solution is simple, and not time consuming — find a shaded area. Shaded areas reduce vertical light and allow softer horizontal light to illuminate your subject. These could include overhanging awnings, the space between buildings, the shade from trees and vegetation, for example.

Angle it

One of the benefits of shooting with a cellphone is the small size of its lens. This means, you can virtually stick your lens into nooks and crannies to get unique angles on everyday items. As an expat, you’re bound to come across things that still seem new or foreign even after you’ve been living in a particular country for a long period of time. So why not capture these things from a new angle too? Consider placing your phone on the ground, or tuck it into corners, to get interesting perspectives on regular objects!

These tips are pretty basic and don’t require much photographic talent (which I’m pretty sure I currently lack). However, if you’re interested in getting more technical, there’s a an abundance of articles with more advanced mobile photography skills. Remember to document your travels or expat adventures — when you have to leave them behind, you will be grateful for the memories you’ve accumulated.

For those of you who want a more detailed guide to improving your photographic skills, here a couple of further very useful guides — Finding Your Inner Photographer: Making the Most of Your Camera and Ultimate Resources to Learn Digital Photography

Expat Blogs AkshataAkshata Mehta has a passion for traveling and exploring the world-especially its oceans. She loves to write, and is interested in entrepreneurship and sustainability. She sometimes jots down random musings and tales from her scuba diving adventures on

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