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There are two distinct roads in photography – the utilitarian and the aesthetic, the goal of the one being a record of facts, and the other an expression of beauty.~Charles H. Caffin

The unexpected can turn out good

JJWP342The stairs in the picture lead down to a pedestrian underpass. I was at the bottom of the railing trying to frame it in perspective with the emptiness of the wall on the left and the stairs and part of the round opening on the right. From out of the peripheral of my right eye which was peering through the electronic viewfinder I saw people coming down the stairs. I pressed the shutter button then reviewed the shot on the camera’s screen. Good one, I thought. Later at home I went over the shots of the photo walk of the day and found out, looking at that particular shot in the computer’s LCD screen, that I had a bonus. The people’s reflections were on the chrome railing. I expected a good shot, which I got but never expected an incentive, which further provided an interesting element in the picture. Expecting The Unexpected is the first in the seven-part series of articles by photographer Harold Davis from his column titled Becoming a More Creative Photographer. In the first article, Davis open it up with this: “Life is full of surprises. The best photography is not sterile and removed from life because compelling photography takes advantage of the serendipitous and messy nature of the world. If you are prepared, and expecting the unexpected, your photography will be more creative, imaginative, and richer than if you are rigid in the way you see the world, and in how you go about taking photographs.” He further states that there is no recipe for creativity, and that it “starts by seeing things for what they really are; you need to look beyond what you expect to see.” I suggest you set aside some time and go over all the articles in this excellent and insightful series. The bottom line is that there is no set rules when it comes to creativity, but understanding the techniques, knowing what your camera can do, being prepared and on the look out, and being open to possibilities, can sometimes produce unexpected but remarkable results.

The photographer’s block

JJWP312Like 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!

Seeing shadows and shades

JJWP307Most of us avoid shadows and shades. Without the proper camera setting, or in-cam picture modes like backlighting and HDR effects, those shadows and shades become just dark, undefined areas in an image. We would not want that. Shadows and shades are caused by a light source. Inside our houses those are caused by flourescent lights, bulbs and lamps. Outside there is one primary light source and that is the sun. Where the sun is at the time of  day determines where shadows set, as the sun’s light falls on objects. Midday sun is harsh and bright and will cast deep shadows right under objects. Photographers prefer the sun on the horizon, during sunrise or sunset, where light is soft and subdued, where dramatic colors come out, and where shadows from objects cast long, striking forms. Wherever shadows fall at whatever time of day, the keen photographer will be aware of the light and the shadows, and will use them to effectively compose his image. This article by Jmeyer titled Creative Landscape Photography: Master the Dark Art of Shadows and Shade will guide us on how to properly manage and compose our shot utilizing to our advantage those shadow elements. He shares tips on where to place the sun, how to get the right exposure, how to be creative with shadows and how to shoot with a low sun and shadow. Though the article is generally a guide on landscape photography, the techniques provided by the author can be applied on other genres and shooting situations because essentially it is all about the placement of light and how it affects subjects. Shadows and shades are created by the light source. Knowing how to capably capture them and expertly place them in the frame as they form shapes, patterns, lines and textures can result in visually compelling images. (Photo location: Loboc River, Bohol province)

Artistic design amid the visual chaos

Article Excerpt: “It’s not difficult to show good examples of graphic design in photographs. I can present to you countless beautiful images with perfect compositions and with subjects that have striking or compelling shapes. The hard part is to go out in the woods, or the desert, or a city, and find graphic designs that are great. The world is, after all, a compositional mess. There are rocks, mountains, buildings, dirt, bushes, branches, and man-made objects all over the place. It’s our job as photographers to make sense of it, to find in all the visual chaos a design that is artistic and pleasing.”~Jim Zuckerman on Composition: Graphic Design

(Photo location: Cancabato Bay, Tacloban City)

In memory of a river

JJWP286This 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.

Fix what’s broken

JJWP280So 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.

Beautiful shapes make beautiful pictures

Article Excerpt: “Graphic design refers to the shapes of things. Some objects have beautiful shapes and some have shapes that are uninteresting, boring, or messy. Graphics are a fundamental consideration in taking great images, because beautiful shapes make beautiful pictures. The thing I look for first and foremost in my work as I assess subjects to shoot is an artistic graphic form. No matter how great the lighting may be, if your subject isn’t graphically pleasing, chances are the picture will be unimpressive.”~Jim Zuckerman on Composition: Graphic Design

(Photo location: Shercon Resort, Lipa City)


Weekend Inspiration 2

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You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes.~Ernst Haas (Photo location: Cancabato Bay, Tacloban City)

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You learn to see by practice. It’s just like playing tennis, you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it.~Eliot Porter (Photo location: Barobo town, Surigao del Sur)

The power to capture what you see

I’m not talking about the camera. I’m talking about our most powerful sense – vision, and the tool for it – our eyes. Even the most expensive and feature-packed camera pales in comparison to the eyes. I found an eye-opening (sorry for the pun) article which compared the eyes to the camera in terms of resolution, sensitivity, dynamic range and focal length. The article Notes on the Resolution and Other Details of the Human Eye shows some computations and formula to arrive at certain figures. Do you know how many megapixels our eyes have? 50, 60 100? Its way more than that! Read the article and learn many interesting facts. Now on to our topic. There are times that the scenery or subject that you captured did not come out the way you saw it when you finally reviewed the image on your computer. It was nothing compared to what you actually saw. Not a faithful or accurate reproduction of the colors, light and positioning of the subject that your eyes saw during the moment. Its easy to blame the camera, but the poor thing is just a tool. It is you who set the camera settings, its is you who framed the subject, it is you who pressed the shutter. Time to know what went wrong, how to correct them and what to look out for with this guide 10 Tips For Capturing What You See by photographer Kimball Larsen. The bottomline: practice shooting and understand the power of your eyes. (Photo location: Batangas City)

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The beautiful scenery is there, but it cares not for pleasing composition or the quality of light at any moment in time. This is where the artist comes in, arranging in a frame the scattered elements into a story…~Guy Tal (Photo location: Surigao del Sur)

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People will never understand the patience a photographer requires to make a great photograph, all they see is the end result.~Alfred Eisenstaedt (Photo location: George, a photo buddy, in sniping position at the Quezon City Hall underpass)

Challenging the night

Taking pictures at low light conditions is very challenging. You can not just snap away and expect a good image. Chances are the pictures will be grainy, blurry and, expectedly, dark. You need to understand appropriate camera settings and you need another essential equipment – a tripod. In the absence of that, you need to find a solid, steady base to place your camera. Overcoming the challenges of night photography will result in creative and dramatic images. A good understanding of how to do it, when to do it and what is needed will go a long way. These are all tackled in this helpful guide – Night Photography Tips and Techniques. It’s actually easier than you think. Soon you’ll be a nocturnal person prowling the city looking for those “nightscapes” or capturing “light trails.” Happy night shooting! (Photo location: Singapore)

Mastering the craft

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)

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I love taking pictures because it’s instant art.~Dave Davidson (Photo location: Loay town, Bohol province)

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Art is Man’s nature. Nature is God’s art.~James Bailey (Photo location: Lake Tri An, Vietnam)

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Light is the photographic medium par excellence; it is to the photographer what words are to the writer; color and paint to the painter; wood, metal, stone, or clay to the sculptor.~Andreas Feininger (Photo location: Wawa Beach. Batangas City)

Mirror, mirror

Ever wondered how those postcard-perfect images of mountains and landscapes reflected on a body of water were made? They were photoshopped!  And that’s my cheesy morning joke.  But on to the subject at hand.  They say photographing water reflections is a matter of luck and skill. Well it’s less of the former and more of the latter. You may be lucky all the time,  always finding gorgeous mirror-like sceneries, but if you’re a crappy shooter most of the time, then you’re just wasting all your luck. Fate might just transfer that luck to someone who takes better pictures. So beginners, amateurs, hobbyists and enthusiasts (I’m somewhere in the middle there), let’s unite and brush up on some photography skills. Here are some tips on How To Photograph Water Reflections.  (Photo location:  Chinese Garden, Singapore)