Any photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that great pictures are all about understanding light, even on a phone camera or a simple point-and-shoot. Here, photographer Brendan Lee* gives five simple tips to make light your best friend in any given travel situation.

1. Side lighting

We’ve all seen shots where the light is directly above someone and they look like they have humungous, dreary black eyes, and also the reverse, where lighting from beneath makes anyone look like an extra on the Blair Witch project. The scenario that works 99 per cent of the time for pictures of friends and family will be side lighting, most usually light coming from an outside window. Light from the side sculpts a subject and creates dynamic tones and a much more interesting photo. If you haven’t got the benefit of light streaming through a window, try using even the torch on a mobile phone from the side. (See smiling man photo)

2. Longer lighting

The general rule for taking photos is, the more light you have at your disposal the more choices you have. So when you are in a dark room how do you get more light without using a very intrusive flash? Well, if you are in a restaurant, for example, and you are looking to take a picture of an inanimate object, such as your food, then you can take a “longer” picture. If you have something very stable, or even a tripod, then you can use one of a multitude of free camera apps (such as LongExpo) that will allow you to control how long your phone’s camera shutter stays open per photo. By having the shutter open “longer” more light can enter your phone’s camera and you won’t get stuck with a dark and grainy photo. (See food photo)

3. Smoothed lighting

Sometimes movement in a “longer” picture can be a nice creative touch. When waves come crashing in and out, and “longer” photo (over the course of 15-30 seconds) can make the water look smooth and ethereal. Similarly, watching traffic or pedestrians whizz by in a photographic blur can give you just the style of photo you are looking for. Again, you will need to find something very sturdy to lean your phone against, or have with you a tripod. (See night street-scene photo)

4. Back lighting

They tell you not to have the sun behind your subject when you are trying to take a photo, however, when you carefully place your subject right in front to block direct sunlight you can create an angelic side-effect known as back lighting. Sometimes breaking the rules is the best way to get what you want. (See giraffe photo)

5. Fill lighting

My favourite tip to teach other travellers when they ask you to take a picture of them in front of a famous landmark is that the flash is contrarily the MOST useful when there is a lot of light in the background. If your background includes a really bright sky then the only way your phone’s camera can cope with that, if you focus on getting that landmark in the background, will be to make the foreground much darker. That means the photo will end up with two dark silhouettes. Instead, try using the flash so that you can light up the people in the foreground whilst still getting the correct lighting on the background. (See statue on beach photo)

* From Brendan Lee is a spokesperson for DLSR lens maker Tamron Australia.

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