Where’s the light? | Travel Photo Tip No. 1

What you can do with a camera while traveling is amazing. You can capture moments and people you may never be able to see again. In a way, photos extend our experience of these places way after we’ve left them. And we can share these with others too, or else make money from them (why not?).


In this series, Travel Photo Tips, we want to share with you some shooting tips we have found useful in our travels. It does not matter what kind of camera you’re using, so long as it works for your ends. In the same way, it doesn’t matter where you want to go, how far or near your home that may be.

For Tip No. 1, let’s start with the basics:

To take a photo means to capture light with a camera, either on film or on digital formats such as JPEG and RAW. The result is an exposure.

The catch is, since we are using a medium, we have to work with its limits as well. A camera does not always see what the human eyes can see, so in order to adapt, we must know how light behaves. This is an important skill that is honed by continued practice: we need to know how to see light the way our camera does. Sure, it’s a stubborn little thing—it will only function according to our commands, so in a way we have to think about it this way: the camera is our b*tch, not the other way around. :)

cartoon exposure
(L) What the human eyes see (M, R) What the camera sees

In this situation, the light source is behind the subject, and although our eyes can very well see that, our camera does not, so it produces either the middle or right photo in the process.

Our goal is always to illuminate what needs to be illuminated—which in this case are the faces of those two people who need to have their Facebook profile photo taken with the mountains at the back.

We have several options to remedy against the light situations.

We can wait for the natural source of light (i.e., the sun) to illuminate the subject.

This is of course ideal for subjects that cannot move, such as buildings. Of course, this is only possible if you’re staying in the place for a while and can afford to go back over and over again.

This waiting game requires us to anticipate the ideal time when the sun will hit the subject we want to photograph. It helps to orient ourselves with our east and west, as well as the time of the day we are there. High noon means the sun is directly overhead, which means dark shadows; unless you think dark shadows play an important role in your photo, wait a few more hours when the sun will start its westward turn. Early mornings are also very flattering, but again, everything depends on the subject’s orientation.

We can move the subject to face the source of light instead. 

This is ideal for subjects that can move, i.e., people. Wait, how about the background? You can adjust the subject so that he or she faces the light source at an angle.

We can take the photo of a subject from an angle. 

This is ideal if we don’t have the luxury of time, as is usually the case when we’re just passing by a nice building or temple we want to take a photo of. A quick move to the right or left of the subject instead of directly in front of it will change the way the camera sees it.

We can use a camera flash or any other source of artificial light that will illuminate the subject.

Having any of these in mind, we can now achieve these:

Photo tip 1
Settings: 1/125 | ƒ8 | ISO 100 | 10 mm

I waited for the sun to set on the other side so that it will illuminate the mountains, thus making it easy to achieve proper exposure for the sky and the lagoon. After all, Nagsasa Cove is a great place for beer while waiting for the sun to set.

Photo tip 1
Settings: 1/2500 | ƒ4.2 | ISO 320 | 11.5 mm

In this shot, I asked the man to face the sun so he will come out properly exposed along with the boat behind him and the rest of the background.

Photo tip 1
Settings: 1/2000 | ƒ4 | ISO 200 | 10 mm

Taking photos of animals is trickier since they either run off or ignore you, either way it’s difficult to take a photo if they happen to be at the wrong angle. This is where you experiment with angles by moving around, since you can’t expect your subject to do that for you.

Photo tip 1
Settings: 1/125 | ƒ4 | ISO 100 | 10 mm

I always play with ambient light as I normally don’t carry my flash when traveling because it’s too heavy. After all, the sun is a better source of light and it’s completely free for everyone’s use.

However, in the instances that you do want to capture a subject along with the background (for instance, a sunset) but you don’t have sufficient ambient light, the camera’s built-in flash will do the trick.

In this photo, music artist Manskee was illuminated using my camera’s built-in flash along with the sunset behind him. Using the auto flash mode in most cameras will do just fine. That said, the harsh shadows behind him as a result of the flash are not as flattering; if you do happen to have an external flash unit handy that time, you can use that instead of the built-in flash, but more on that on future posts.

In the meantime, considering the limits of light and availability of gear at any given time, the best thing we can all do is to work with what we have, control what we can control, and just come back the next day for a better photo op if there ever is.

The key to tricky lighting is to always experiment first with angles. Knowing where the light is from the very beginning will help cut the guesswork. It will help you make better use of your very limited time in a single place too. The more you do this, the more you will get used to it until it becomes second nature to you.


  • http://www.hernewlove.blogspot.com/ Tabitha

    Awesome tips! ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00779572056259030202 Two2Travel

    Thanks Tabitha! :) ~Owen

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14506841021276992068 Ding Fuellos

    Great travel photography tips!

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00779572056259030202 Two2Travel

      Thank you Ding!


  • http://diytrippers.com/ diytrippers.com

    thank you for this post. i find it really useful. and i noticed you’ve got new icons in ur sidebar.. i’m really a big fan of your site :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00779572056259030202 Two2Travel

    Thanks DIY Trippers!

  • Elal Jane Lasola

    Yay! Very useful tips! Most of the times, I just sigh when I see a picture’s output diff from what my eyes can see. Haha

  • Elal Jane Lasola

    Yay! Very useful tips! Most of the time, I just sigh when I see a picture’s output diff from what my eyes can see. Haha

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Haha thanks Elal. :) Nakaka-frustrate nga pag ganon. Tapos sabay wala na yung ilaw. Hehe :P