Besides artistic portraits and street photography, there is another area that captures humans and its called documentary-style people photography. It is about photographing people in relation to issues, situations, places and the environment they are in. It involves documenting their stories as they go about their everyday lives, such as the girl and her little brother in the photo.
They live in a small coastal community in Guimaras Island in central Philippines. The main livelihood of families in the community are fishing but they get a bigger income by ferrying tourists to nearby small islands that boast of pristine beaches, undeveloped and undisturbed patches of nature. The primary means of transportation from one island to another is the banca, a local outrigger canoe that can carry two to three passengers. It is propelled by the sheer effort of paddling, by the girl in this case, with her little brother playing the role of lookout and assistant. The girl has just ferried me and my photo buddy to this small island and I took this picture as they were about to set off to transport more of my fellow photographers waiting in the main island some 300 meters away. I guess we are all chroniclers when we have our cameras and arrive at a new country, city or place. Knowingly or unknowingly, we capture images of people as they go through the daily grind and struggles in life. In the picture above, it is a poignant story of siblings helping their family to make ends meet; their parents are out at sea fishing. The camera is there not only to capture beautiful sceneries but also slices of life, no matter how humbling, as we encounter them.
Around 15 years ago I was diagnosed with glaucoma. It is a debilitating eye condition which, if left unattended, can lead to blindness. I was at an advanced stage and had to undergo expensive and critical laser surgery on both eyes. The medical process was to free up the pressure that was building up inside the eye so that the liquid inside can freely circulate. Unlike the skin organ, the rods and cones in our eyes damaged by the built-up pressure caused by glaucoma cannot regenerate. My sense of sight has not been the same ever since that operation. I wear glasses though the grade is not that high. Glaucoma doesn’t go away, there is always the prospect of a recurrence. How does this affect my photography?
If you have been following this blog for some time now and going through my image postings you may say that I have 20/20 vision. Well, it’s far from that. I have poor eyesight and is nearsighted. I don’t know if that’s because of my previous glaucoma condition. It’s crucial that I wear my eyeglasses when driving because I can not clearly see distant objects, they are all just a blur. I even struggle peering through the electronic viewfinder of my DSLR and find it more comfortable viewing, framing and capturing through the camera’s LCD screen. Such setback (I wouldn’t call it a disability) does not deter me. It even encourages and inspires me to really “see” things. This gift of sight, no matter how imperfect it is for me, propels my photography and visual imagery. Maybe because of this condition I strive to see more, and go the extra effort to perceive light and other elements that make up a good picture. Maybe I am guided more by my internal vision than my external sight when photographing. Or both could be complementing each other. All you my friends who have perfect eyesight be thankful, and utilize that powerful sense to make the most of your capture.
Like all artistic endeavors, we sometimes reach a blank wall. For those who use the mighty pen, it is widely known as writer’s block, the inability to produce new work. For photographers who use their eyes to scan, the mind to process and the camera to capture, there is also such a thing as a photographer’s block. The camera as a tool has nothing to do with it, but it has everything to do with the individual. I read bloggers who have decided to pick up the camera after a long hiatus, saying they were inspired to shoot again after seeing some great images. What causes this photographer’s block? Since most of us treat photography as a hobby, it remains just that – a side activity in our daily dealings with life. We are caught up in our everyday struggles at work, family, home, school, business and whatever we are engrossed with that we forget or don’t have time for our hobby. There is also a condition called eye strain (you know this when you sit in front of your computer for hours) which reduces our perception and the ability to notice (we know this is important for the photographer’s sense of seeing). Then there is the monotony of subjects, shooting the same thing and situation over and over again, resulting in what noted photographer George Barr calls the seeing fatigue. Just these three aforementioned examples are enough to extinguish the creative flame. We need sparks of fresh ideas and inspiration. Though this article, 25 Ways to Jump Start Photography Inspiration, was written five years ago I still find it relevant and applicable to this day because they are simple, practical and can be done (most of them) immediately. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of tips, they contain just two-sentence explanations each, are short and direct to the point. I won’t mention the 25 of them here, again simply allow yourself a few of minutes to go over them. From among the list, I will just cite one: look at photoblogs and get inspired. I do it here all the time, looking over the incredible works of photo blogger peers. It’s enough to keep my creativity simmering and my passion alive. Kick off the doldrums and take pictures!
This is a scenic picture of a river’s mouth that opens up into a bay, lined with mangrove trees that help stem soil erosion. This is the last picture I have of this scenery which was taken two years ago. It is just 30 minutes from our place, outside of the city center. Last month, when I returned to this place it was no more. In its place now is a large petrochemical complex. The river with its mangrove forest just disappeared, eaten up and erased by an industrial plant. Situations like these rile me, and the feeling is a mixture of sadness, disappointment and utter frustration. I am no environmental warrior, but I don’t need to be one to know that this is totally wrong – big business taking precedence over nature, with the local city government in conspiracy with this dastardly act. Well, in the first place it was the city government that issued permits and the go signal, potentially earning big (in taxes and other fees) from these huge businesses. But to erase an entire river from the map and alter the natural features of the coastline just smacks of utter disrespect and apathy for nature. That is why nature gets back at us through soil erosion, flooding, landslides, rise in sea levels, global warming – ecological disasters brought about by man himself, because of commercial greed and selfishness. I may rant for the rest of my life but nothing will ever be the same, the river will not return. It has all but died, not from natural causes but by the wanton disregard of the human species. This picturesque scene is now vanished; ecology once again vanquished. And all I have now is this picture, a memory of beauty that once was. I bow my head in shame, we are not worthy caretakers of Mother Earth.
So what do we tackle after Christmas Day and before New Year’s Day? I’m actually at a loss, and I thought we just take a break from photography stuff (easier said than done!) and talk about “life” stuff. My “About” page would look something like this: “Hi! I’m JJ. Writer. Blogger. Jazz lover. Image maker. Life adviser.” And lessons would look like something straight out of a photography tutorial: “Class, sharpen your mind, activate your inner eye, visualize what is interesting, never cut what can be untied or fix something that is not broken. Life will heal itself.” Huh? Forgive Dr. JJ. He got carried away. That last part is not entirely true. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need some other things, outside forces, external circumstances and situations to fix what’s broken, to heal the wound, to mend a hurt. Time they say heals everything, true. But to heal fast and avoid complications, we need medications, a good dose of antiseptic and antibiotics. If you went through 2012 down, depressed and hurting, take stock. Never carry the baggage of hurt to 2013. Eliminate what made you sad, sick and impaired. We ain’t perfect but to be bogged down by things that don’t enliven and uplift us means to succumb to the power of the negative, the adverse and detrimental. That is no way to live life. Liken it to photography (told you its hard to break from this stuff) – focus only on the essential, exclude from the frame those that distract from the center of interest. If the images are blurry, fix the camera settings, focusing and lighting. If images are still out of focus, then fix the photographer (90 percent of these situations has nothing to do with the camera). The point is, as you take that leap to a new year, bring only the essential. In photography, your camera and your heart is probably all you’ll need. Then fix what’s broken. If you had lots of hurting in 2012, surely something was broken. You’ll need again your family, friends and the Good Lord to help fix things up. Counselling is not an expertise of mine, but I don’t think I need a degree to help someone carry a burden or lighten the load along the way, even just through encouragements or words and images of inspiration.
Time flies by so fast you can only recall so much of what you did in a day. How much more in a month, or a year. But humans have the power to recall, to remember and reminisce, particularly special moments – your first love, first kiss, the time you said “I Do”, the shrill cries of your first born, the smell of your new car, your first out of town trip, family reunions, the first time you stood as god-parent in a baptismal or main sponsor in a wedding, the initial steps as you moved through the door of your very own house, the best sunset you ever saw, the most beautiful flower that beheld your eyes, your first cellphone or digicam, the highest mountain you climbed, the most laps you swam, the fastest you have ever driven – these and many more are the memorable entries in your life’s journal. When you are in a quiet place, a site of solitude, take time to review the notes you have made in your journey. These are moments that may never return or recur, yet you can relish them again by reminiscing. (Photo location: the sea off Mindoro Oriental)
I believe in the miracle of life. I believe in the eternity of the soul. I believe in the wondrous gifts of nature, the solemn grace of a setting sun, the calm of a morning sea, the scent of pure breeze, the warmth of a sunny day, the picturesque scene of solitude, the sway and motion of heavenly clouds, the lines, shapes and contours of a wonderful vision – bright, lucid and clear. I believe in the cacophony of aural experiences, music of the spirit, the ambient sound of sweet whispers, the surreal echo of distant dreams, the ripples and flutter of movement in the air. I believe in the visual explosion of colors, the subtle tints of dawn, the harsh light of noon and the muted tones and shadows of early evening. I believe in so much reality there is barely room for pretensions and lies. Because I believe in what I see and sense, grasp and comprehend, it is truth that beholds my being. I am what I am because I believe. (Photo location: Lake Tri An, Vietnam)
You just have to look around to see that beauty engulfs you. The miracle of creation and nature is just about everywhere. It is in that brown leaf lying in the soft green moss, in flowers which shelter the night’s dew, in mountains and cliffs that is home to all sorts of life, in the emerald sea that nourish, in trees which sway to beat of a rhythmic wind, in clouds that scatter shade and sunshine, in the smiles of people, the eyes of children, the glow of faces young and old. When you are out there, in the field or forest or shore, stare at the horizon, take in the vastness of the scenery. Peer at it not only with your visual sense, but open your heart, and also take in a mental stock of what you see. You will have a better appreciation of what is before you. The time we learn to perceive with the heart and mind is the time we understand nothing was ever meant to be unattractive, displeasing or unsightly. (Photo location: Montemaria, Batangas)
So nothing is permanent, we know that. This world is always changing, shifting, transforming. Sometimes you chance upon that transformation. The blinding light of day will become grayish and the sky will be enveloped in deep colors of a setting sun. The thin wisp of clouds change into full, bulbous mushrooms as they fill the distant horizon. Even the sea will ebb and eventually rise in a continuing cycle. Trees will shed leaves, shells will open, rocks shall form. Nothing is ever in a fixed state. A generation of children will become tomorrow’s workers and leaders. Innocence will be overtaken by reality. It is the call and command of nature that everything changes in its appointed time. (Photo location: Guimaras)
Your photographic style defines who you are. Now what is style? Hmm. That seems easier to ask than to answer. You have been photographing for years now and may have developed a style you are not aware of. Let’s put it this way, if you are most comfortable and creative in black and white photography capturing steet scenes, that’s a style. If you are into wildlife or nature, that’s a genre and a style. If you are into wedding and events, that’s a niche and a style. If you are into macro, that’s a specialty and a style. In my case, I photograph anything and everything that gets my eye, but more particularly landscapes, sunsets, flowers and nature. And I like to capture them in rich, bold, vivid colors. Now that’s my style. Your personal style is that which expresses your art and creativity in your images. This can be brought about by your personal circumstance. If you are travelling a lot, then you have the opportunity to document people, culture and traditions. If you live in bustling urban areas, then you can do cityscapes or street photography. Photographer Simon Ray provides some guides with his Top 10 Tips to Help Define Your Photographic Style. In the article, you’ll be asked what your reasons are for photographing, what your vision is, what your favorite subjects are, and what equipment you are most at ease with. Then you’ll be guided to find inspiration and to learn from experience. In the end, you’ll be urged to go develop, discover and find yourself. In the first place, it is your style. Nobody will find it for you.
I came upon this beach and I have never seen such sight with so much rocks and stones. I always imagined shorelines to be smooth with sand and crushed corals, but this one was littered with stones of all sizes. It provided a nice contrast to the generally calm morning sea where small waves were scattered by the rocks before they splashed to shore. This got me thinking, no human life is smooth sailing either. Before the heart ceases after beating more than eight billion times in a lifetime, the life it sustained underwent all the rocky bumps and terrains it could ever go through. And I’m not only talking of the physical abuse our bodies undergo; our emotions also get a beating. Body, mind and soul are tested to the extreme. But like the dynamic, adaptable waves that disperse and regroup again as they hit land, such is the flexibility of the character and spirit within us. We can rebound from adversity, recover from sacrifice, learn from our mistakes. Though the mortal body, on the other, has no recourse but to degenerate, before doing so it has gone through its apex of conditioning, stamina and strength. This life was never meant to be perfect, yet after passing all the rocky trials and tribulations, we come out significantly a better person. Live on. (Photo location: Bauan, Batangas)
Once in a while in our photographic ventures, we dream wide awake and fantasize that we are photojournalists on a crucial assignment. There’s a street festival and we’d like to capture the performers. We shoot away quite unprepared and come back to our computer to see all the action we took were hazy and blurry, undefined movements. The dream crumbles. Whether we plan it our not, there are times we encounter people scenes worth documenting, and we know not how to go about it. The instinct and urge is to snap away and just review the pictures later; the convenience of digital. But as always, it helps to have a firm understanding of how to capture and present a story, the documentary way. And this article will definitely help – 10 Quick Documentary Photography Tips. Highlights include the need to be prepared, not to rush, to choose your style, to process your image and present it in the best possible form. The bottomline: use the image to tell your story. (Photo: street performer during the Batangas City day)
Photography most often is decision-making. You’ll be confronted with choices: technically, artistically, creatively. You may have noticed in my previous posts that I do not delve much on the technical aspects, you can learn that yourself by experimenting and of course by reading it up because there are lots of technical tutorials around. I’m more subject and composition-oriented, the “art” of taking pictures. Whereas f-stops, apertures, shutter speeds, ISOs, exposures, focal lengths will involve precise numbers to get the picture right, eventually what you will put inside the camera frame will deal with subjective decisions and unquantifiable personal choices. Like for instance, should you go for landscape or portrait mode?. In my case 80 percent of my shots are in landscape orientation. But there are images best taken in portrait mode. Just to make sure, when faced with a photo situation I go around a subject and take both landscape and portrait shots and later review all that I’ve taken during editing. Photography instructor David Petersen provides some perspectives on the matter with his article When To Shoot In Portrait Or Landscape Mode. An enthusiast who visualizes a scene before clicking has that gut feel and will know what’s the best orientation to use for a particular subject. (Photo location: Pictures were taken at Guimaras Island)
This post title reminds me of the film Sniper starring Tom Berenger and the more recent one Shooter with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Both played the roles of top-notch snipers battling it out with equally proficient snipers. Well, in our more sedate and bloodless version, we’ve done this before – shoot the shooter. Probably in photowalks with our shooting buddies, we have taken pictures of them, with or without them knowing it. I prefer candid shots, with them unaware that I’m sniping. But I don’t know if its a photographer’s instinct because they always seem to notice when someone takes their picture and by reflex they shoot back at you. There are no special rules or guides but we should take pictures of photographers in the best possible way. After all, they are our kind. (Photo location: My photo buddy Jett at Ninoy Aquino Parks & Wildlife, Quezon City)
Gosh, silly me! I’m running out of good post titles. Of course silhouettes are shapes and forms against a backdrop of bright, colorful light. We’ve taken pictures of these – people, structures, trees, animals – without knowing how we did it. They just looked good, appealing and visually stimulating. Our eyes naturally follow shapes and outlines, more so if the objects are defined, familiar and recognizable. Photographer Rebecca Spencer tells us the when, the where and the what as well as many other aspects in her article How to Take Silhouette Photos – A Tutorial. The essential thing is to play around and shoot as many images. In the picture above, it took me nearly two dozen shots before I settled on the one cross silhouette image I like. (Photo location: Montemaria, Batangas)
A chapter of individual lives close every end of the day. Body and mind need to recharge. But there are moments of reflection before we lie down to rest. Have we done any meaningful thing the past 24 hours? Perhaps nothing earth-shattering that could change the world. Just small, simple acts of an ordinary life. Yet some deeds stand out. The boy in the picture, tying his boat in a makeshift pier after an afternoon at sea, was all smiles as I approached him. I asked him if he caught any and he showed me a medium-sized pail full of fishes. He added that his father was sick and could not go fishing, and what he caught would be food for dinner for his six siblings. I was moved and impressed. What the boy did will never matter to the world, but it is all the world for him to make sure his family would not sleep on empty stomachs at the end of the day. (Photo location: Surigao City)
Nothing prepared me for this sight. I just had to stop our vehicle as it was cruising along a coastal highway. I was touched by the light and the colors. The hair on my arms were standing on end. I was electrified. Good thing I always had with me then my trusty Kodak point and shoot. This was taken years ago when I was just starting into photography. But that’s the appeal of images, they are timeless. (Photo location: Narvacan town, Ilocos Sur province)
For most creatures, to travel is a natural instinct. Migration or movement is dictated by primal reasons – food, mating and general preservation of the specie. For humans, the reasons are varied – the search for food, the need to explore and discover, to pursue leisure, peace and happiness. The distance we go through is also varied, it may just be a neighborhood alley we haven’t passed yet, a provincial tourist spot we read in travel magazines, or a distant country. Given the opportunity and the means, we hunger for travel. We are meant to move, and our consciousness urges us to seek places we haven’t been to. We are destination-seekers, trekkers, journeymen, sightseers, wanderers. We long for adventure, vacation and exploration. It is an unquenchable thirst. Why? Our need for knowledge is deep. When we travel, we take in information about culture, people, traits, norms, locales, nature, sights. We amass understanding, widen our perceptions, and put meaning in our lives. We are life travelers, after all. (Photo location: Montemaria, Batangas)
You feel it in your guts, you sense it in your soul. You are keenly aware of your surroundings – green shrubbery, emerald sea, blue sky, sepia rocks, curves and shapes, details and highlights. You were trained for this, maybe not formally, but experience has thought you well. You know what is picturesque, appealing, inspiring and moving. You know that gradations, tonalities and contrasts provide depth. That color can be captured in its dynamic range. That composition can spell the difference between a snapshot and an image of photographic quality. You are ready when you are at ease with your environment and you know what to do. You are ready when you can capture with confidence, and be self-assured of the outcome. Yours is the world around you when you can feel it, sense it and be one with it like body and soul, intertwined and inseparable. When your camera becomes the extension of your physique and you wield it like a brush on canvass, then yours is the art of craftsmanship and capture, the master whose every subject bows willingly at every command. (Photo location: Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte)
We all like to be lazy. After working 24/7 in the office and at home, we all wish for the time where all we have to do is sleep, eat , lay around and be cozy, you know – be on Garfield mode. What the naughty cartoon cat might be wishing also is settle on that open hut, put those feet high up on a bamboo railing, watch the sun dip over the sea-lined horizon, take in and enjoy the warm, tropical setting, and just daydream, until heavy eyelids close to welcome the eventful, consequential, wonderful snore. Bliss. But this is asking too much. Reality dictates that we work to survive. Yet in this life of hard labor and mandatory sacrifices, scattered pieces of momentous moments, token triumphs and droplets of blessings abound. Like that late afternoon of a setting sun draping the lower skies with a golden tone, as the dark tinge of night overhead rushes to envelope the day. It is no fun to be lazy. We are afforded mere minutes to enjoy the sights and sceneries. The challenge of life is when you wake up the next day and rush headlong to the cyclical hours of work, decisions, and survival. (Photo location: Wawa Beach, Batangas City, Philippines)
I am more on landscapes, seascapes and vistas. I am not much on macro photography because that field requires specialized equipment (which I don’t have), extended patience (which I lack) and good eyesight (which I’m not blessed with that’s why I wear glasses). But there are times I get to peer at the “liliputian” world where my feeble attempts at imitating macro masters end up with passable images like the above.
This is for all of us who like to take pictures. The skilled, advanced and professional photographers may skip this post. This is for ordinary mortals like me and probably most out there who still experience taking blurry, overexposed, underexposed, distorted, noisy, and generally imperfect photos. I chanced upon this short but helpful guide titled Photography Troubleshooting: No More Bad Photos which lists 19 common problems when taking photographs, and the simple solutions to each one of them. As a sample I posted this photo I took of the Merlion in Singapore. I had a tripod because of the low light condition and I planned a long exposure shot. The resulting image was fine as I achieved the smooth, silky waterspout, except for that extended lens flare! Learn the solution for that and many others by reading the article. Come to think of it, I like that extended flare. It gave the image a flashy edge, a counterpoint to the surrounding darkness… Nah! I’m just making justifications for something I could have done better. Silly me.
The Philippines has 7,107 islands with a combined coastline of more than 36,000 kilometers, the third longest in the world. No wonder, looking at hundreds of photos in my collection, I find that one-third of them are coastal sceneries with varied subjects – boats, beach, sunset, waves, seas, wharfs, fisherfolk, islands and more. I revel in this variety of subjects my archipelago country affords me; a diversity more than I can manage to capture. (Photo location: Alubihod Beach, Guimaras Island)