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The Secret To Taking Arresting Travel Photos Using A Smartphone, According To A Pro Instagrammer

Francis Olarte maximized his camera phone's potential, opening doors to many opportunities
by John Paulo Aguilera | Apr 27, 2017
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While some of us have yet to master the flat lay and find the right angle on Instagram, others are taking their use of mobile phones and love for photography to a whole new level.

Meet Francis Arvy Barcial-Olarte, a Singapore-based engineer whose travel photos—shot using only his smartphone—have made their way on to countless billboards all over the globe.

Wanderlust purveyor The Rustic Nomad first wrote about Francis, whom Apple had emailed anonymously to be part of its 'World Gallery' campaign in 2015. Apparently, the tech giant tracked him through the hashtag ShotOniPhone6, and was eventually smitten by his well-recognized "fishermen" and "Santorini" photos.

In an interview with, Francis explained the stories behind his now-popular images, which according to him were unretouched when Apple decided to use them.

"The first photo, which featured the iconic fishermen of Inle Lake in Myanmar, was taken during a five-day tour of the Southeast Asian nation," he recounts. "After a 12-hour bus ride from Yangon, I headed straight to the lake with no sleep. The second one was a personal favorite; I was in the town of Oia in Greece to watch the famous Aegean Sea sunset, then decided to capture a panoramic view of the famous place to justify how magnificent it is."

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Never in his wildest dreams did he think that his hobby would blow up into something internationally recognized, even though his family and friends were well aware that he had a talent for shooting. Soon after the launch of Apple World Gallery, media outlets in Singapore started reaching out to him, putting a deserving spotlight on his work. Francis adds, "More importantly, the exposure gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a handful of photographers from other countries."

Francis got into the craft when he was still in grade school, and only became serious about it after purchasing his first DSLR camera in 2008. Once he began globetrotting, he gradually turned to his trusty mobile phone for a more hassle-free documentation of his travels. In recent trips to China and India, he admits relying solely on his iPhone.

Not only is the smartphone handy, according to Francis, but also are the photo-editing applications. "Among my favorites are Snapseed, VSCO, and the new Filmborn, whose founder I became friends with." Ease of use is a prime consideration when taking photos, as he prefers to go "off the beaten path" and explore unspoiled locations.


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A quick glance at his enviable Instagram feed and he could easily be mistaken for a professional travel photographer. But surprisingly, just like any of us, his visually arresting trips are a result of "careful planning and utilizing of weekends and public holidays." As a matter of fact, Francis is already preparing for Iceland, which is on top of his travel bucket list.

That is why he makes it a point to "savor every moment" of each tour. Francis is aware of a common sin that wanderers commit, especially when visiting a picturesque spot for the first time. "Based on past travels, I haven't experienced a trip that was ruined by taking too much photos. Usually, after securing a desired shot, I'll stop and enjoy the place."

As for turning his passion into a chance of a lifetime, this ace lensman believes that if he was able to do it, so can anyone with a camera phone. Francis even offered a few tips on how to take the perfect travel photos using your smartphone:

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1) Play with details - "I'm more particular with the composition, which requires correct framing and proper lighting. Although you can't go wrong with natural conditions."

2) Patience is a virtue - "The right moment will always come. I usually shoot continuously and then sort it out later in the day."

3) Less is more - "Don't oversaturate the colors and overplay with the HDR (dynamic range). Too much enhancement ruins the quality of images."


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