The man and the moment behind Singapore's very own 'Shot on iPhone 6' billboard

Terence Lee shares his simple secret to landing the perfect cityscape snap

You might have noticed the Shot on iPhone 6 billboard of Singapore's skyline on the side of The Verge.

Apple’s Shot on iPhone 6 campaign isn’t new, having manifested in many cities around the world back in March. But it's the first time a homegrown shot is being featured on one of these billboards in Singapore. Why? To mark SG50, of course.

Spoiler alert: The secret is that there’s no secret: this shot isn’t a result of fancy photo magic. Neither is its creator, Terence Lee, a professional photographer.

[Image: Azhar Jalil]

The man

The US-based young Singaporean’s interest in landscape photography grew when he moved to Portland, Oregon for work. “This place has a lot of really beautiful spots. I’m basically one hour away from everything like mountains, beaches, waterfalls. If I’m not working, you’ll find me out there hiking.” he enthuses via a call from his home.

It was his relocation that inspired him to start a site chronicling his travels. “A lot of people started asking me for my itinerary when I travel. So I ended up listing them out on the site, like where to go in Portland, or Iceland.” And if you take the time to trawl through his webpage, you’ll find a tab entirely devoted to images taken on his iPhone 6.

“People always say that the best camera you have is the camera that you always have with you. I don’t always carry my DSLR with me, so a lot of the time, photos end up being taken with my iPhone.”

As it happens, this billboard is one of his lucky shots.

That magic moment

This lucky shot happened by accident when he was back in Singapore on holiday. He was out for a walk around the Marina Bay Sands area, scouting as he usually would for a good photo, and in this case, the spot was the Marina Bay Golf Course.

“I had already set up my DSLR and was just waiting for sunset, when I saw this kayak going by."

The ACJC kayak team alumni realised he would miss the opportune moment if he used his DSLR - the focal length on the lens was wrong. To land the shot, he’d have to swap the lens out for the right one, but there was no time.

The kayak was moments away from moving into the perfect position - right between Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. So he did what’s becoming instinctive to many of us mobile photographers. “I pulled my iPhone 6 out, tapped on the screen to get the focus I wanted, and then waited a couple of seconds for the kayak to glide right into place. When the paddle was vertical, I snapped the shot.”

And just like that, he got the shot using HDR mode. As for post-processing, he made some minor adjustments to contrast, brightness, and warmth. After all, the bulk of the work was already done. 

Tips for capturing backlit cityscapes

So that one day you might find your photo on a billboard too, simply arm yourself with your iPhone, and abide by Terence's holy trinity of tips:

  • Be there at the right time. "Harsh light makes for bad photos because of the shadows and white patches that can appear in your shot. Personally, I like to take pictures within the hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset.”
  • Use the HDR mode on your iPhone. Terence isn’t usually a fan of HDR software as he finds that it can make shots turn out looking artificial, but the one on the iPhone has impressed him. “It does a pretty good job at recovering highlights and shadows, and increases the dynamic range by quite a lot.”
  • If there’s still too much backlight, adjust the exposure. “Tap on the edge between cityscape and sky and the exposure slider will appear. Tweak it until you see what you like, the adjustments take place in real time so you have a good idea of the shot that turns out.”