Ask WND

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. Each month, the World Next Door team helps you out with the stuff we know a lot about. Travel, social justice, photojournalism… We can help with it all. Send your questions to ask@worldnextdoor.org.

How do you take good pictures with an iPhone?

– Miller family from Carmel, Indiana

When you’re traveling the world, it’s always nice to be able to produce professional-quality photos with an expensive DSLR camera. But sometimes that isn’t an option. Sometimes all you can do is whip out your phone and take a quick snapshot.

The iPhone’s panorama feature definitely helps you “think wide, not tall.”

The iPhone’s panorama feature definitely helps you “think wide, not tall.”

But just because you’re using a phone, the photos don’t have to look like your grandma’s vacation slideshow. If you follow these few simple tips, you’ll be able to impress your friends with photos that look, well, pretty darn good.

Use the Rule of Thirds – Don’t put the subject of your photo directly in the middle. Yawn. Instead, imagine your photo is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, and then put the focus of your photo at the intersections of those lines. The photo will look instantly better. Guaranteed.

Shoot in Landscape – Think wide, not tall. Just about every place photos are displayed, from computer screens to TVs to movies to Facebook cover photos, is in landscape. So why does everyone insist on shooting in portrait all the time? Just remember the old expression, “When shooting a landscape, shoot in landscape. When shooting a portrait, shoot in landscape.”

Use the rule of thirds! Tell me this iPhone picture doesn’t look way better this way.

Use the rule of thirds! Tell me this iPhone picture doesn’t look way better this way.

Get the Lighting Right – If you can, shoot portraits in the morning or evening. The softer light will work wonders. Keep your subjects out of direct sunlight at mid-day. And whatever you do, never, EVER, E-V-E-R use your flash unless you have no other choice. The harsh light will instantly wash out your subject’s face and create nasty shadows on the wall behind them. Every time an iPhone flash goes off, an angel loses its wings.

Try Unique Angles – Most people just hold the phone in front of them and snap away. But why not try photographing your subject from above or below? That photo of the sandwich you had for lunch, for example. Straight on? It’s a sandwich. Taken from above? It’s a work of ART.

Get Up Close – Do you want that nice, blurry background to make your photos look awesome? It’s possible, even with the iPhone. Because the aperture is very fast (f/2.4, which is awesome for blah-blah-blah technical reasons, doesn’t matter), you can make your subject stand out by getting close and keeping the background far away. Give it a try to see for yourself!

Are you going to win any professional photography awards with your iPhone’s camera? Probably not. But if you follow these simple tips, your photos might just start to turn a few heads.

-Barry Rodriguez

What is the most underrated country to visit?

– Hannah from Indianapolis, Indiana

Hi Hannah from Indiana! Great question. Most people ask, “Where is the best,” not “Where is the most underrated…” You must be an adventure traveler looking for something off the beaten path (which may be why you are reading our magazine)! Here is one suggestion.

You should go to Africa. What do you know about Sierra Leone? Perhaps you watched the movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio or you’ve read about child soldiers? What would you think if you heard Sierra Leone has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Africa if not the world?

Some of the best beaches are right in the capitol of Freetown. One beach in particular, called Tokeh, was famous among French supermodels back in the 70’s and 80’s. Many other beaches are within close proximity to hotels and, because Sierra Leone is not on the top of most people’s travel list, most are not very crowded.

Perhaps the best beach in Sierra Leone is River Number 2. While not far from Freetown, it’s still a rough 45-60 minute drive. It’s run by the local community association and has white sand, clear water, thatched bungalows, and the nicest people you’ve ever met ready to serve you. Also, River 2 was the location of the 1980’s ‘A taste of paradise’ advertisement for Bounty chocolate bars!

So, Sierra Leone… French supermodels, television commercials, white sandy beaches… Are you convinced yet?

-Jeff Hartman

How can we be culturally sensitive as we try to immerse ourselves in another culture?

– Tasha from Carmel, Indiana

This is a tough one. Why? Because no matter what you do, no matter how good your intentions are, you will make mistakes, you will step on toes, and you will offend people. It’s just a fact of life. When two radically different cultures come together, there are bound to be misunderstandings.

But! You don’t have to let being a strange foreigner get you down for long. With the right attitude and perspective, you can exist in a different culture without doing more harm than good.

Most importantly, maintain a posture of servant hood. So often, Americans think that because we have iPads and running water and Snuggies, we’ve reached some sort of sociocultural zenith. This paternalistic attitude creeps into our cultural interactions far too often. Look at the people you’re visiting not just as “poor” or “uneducated” but as better than yourself, and you’ll be surprised at how much you learn.

Second, remember that there is a huge gap between different and wrong. Many customs or traditions in non-Western cultures can seem odd or distasteful or unsettling to us Americans (for example, the Maasai people in Kenya drink milk mixed with cow’s blood. Gross!). But before making a judgment that something is wrong, ask yourself, “Is there really anything immoral here? Or is it just different?” As you continue to travel and experience new cultures, you’ll discover that many of the things we instinctively label as wrong are really just a different way of looking at the world.

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. If there is one thing everyone in the world loves, it’s laughter. Feel free to poke fun at yourself. Make jokes about your cultural ineptitude. This is a sure-fire way to relieve tension and show that your intentions are good. Maintain this posture of humility in a new culture and you will make new friends in no time.

-Barry Rodriguez

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