Street Scenes

The gift of sight

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.

The rule is there are no rules

JJWP387Every well-meaning photography tutorial I come across online will have this caveat – the rule is there are no rules, only guidelines. And there are lots of guidelines, all in the name of coming up with a great composition. This article – 10 Top Photography Composition Rules – from lists the most important of these guidelines. It gives a rundown on the following: rule of thirds, balancing elements, leading lines, symmetry and patterns, viewpoints, background, depth, framing, cropping, and experimentation. We’ve dealt with most of them in previous posts (and we’re nearing almost 300 posts) through write-ups, photo quotes and articles and book excerpts. After giving a brief explanation on each of the ten items in the list, the article wraps up with a very sound advice:

“Composition in photography is far from a science, and as a result all of the “rules” above should be taken with a pinch of salt. If they don’t work in your scene, ignore them; if you find a great composition that contradicts them, then go ahead and shoot it anyway. But they can often prove to be spot on, and are worth at least considering whenever you are out and about with your camera.”

It is the job of the photographer to present whatever subject in the best possible manner. From the most stunning landscapes he takes the effort to capture (which is not everyday as this requires on-location shoots) to the most ordinary things he sees daily on his way to work or school, it is incumbent upon him, the photographer, to convey in the strongest way what he saw through the pictures he took. Knowledge on the “rules” of composition will come in handy. In the above picture, the leading lines, perspective, geometric shapes and blue patterns are what caught my attention in one of the ubiquitous sights of Singapore – covered sidewalks. People go through them and see them everyday, but it just takes an inquisitive photographer to see the sidewalk beyond its literal form and function, and perceive it as neatly arranged elements of lines, shapes and colors. Composition took care of the presentation.

Festival fever

JJWP355Tomorrow, the last Sunday of January, is the culmination of one of the biggest if not the biggest tourism event in the Philippines – the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City in the central part of the country. It has been voted for three consecutive years in the past by a national organization of tourist and travel operators as the No. 1 tourism event, rivaling the equally grandiose Sinulog Festival of Cebu City. I had the opportunity a couple of years back to cover the Dinagyang event together with my photo buddies from Metro Manila and I tell you, even for locals like us who watched it for the first time, it was an experience unlike any other. Now the Philippines is a “fiesta country.” Every town and city celebrate a fiesta of sorts in honor of a patron saint. There’s almost a fiesta everyday somewhere all year round. These usually consist of local beauty contests, drum and bugle competition, the community parade and a culmination night in the city gymnasium or town square where there are special numbers, live bands and fireworks show. Some places have kept the celebration small, others through the years have become a national showcase and tourism attraction – the likes of the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo City, the Sinulog in Cebu held last weekend and tomorrow’s Dinagyang in Iloilo. These premiere festivals that attract thousands of visitors from within the country and from all over the world are virtual explosions of colors, of tribal and local costumes, elaborate choreography, beats of drums and music. It is a flurry of synchronized movement from the performers garbed in their most eye-catching attire. It is the “Mardi Gras” of East Asia. I will run out of words to describe the magnificence and sheer pageantry of these events. But I will not run out of photos I took and the best of them will be presented in the next issue of Junsjazz Digital Magazine which will come out this February. It will be in direct contrast to Issue #5 which was all black and white. Issue #6 will be all about the colors of Fiesta!

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Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.~Walker Evans (A blind guitarist performing for tourists in Cebu City)

You know a candid shot when you see one

JJWP241Such as the picture on the right from one of the biggest annual festivities in the Philippines – the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City. I and my fellow photographers covering the event were eyeing the child because of her elaborate costume and more so because she never smiled a bit. She had this rather stoic, unfazed and slightly irritated countenance in stark contrast to the general euphoria of the event. It was obvious she wasn’t enjoying anything of the street spectacle and her role in it. It is a candid shot where the subject may or may not be aware that he or she is being photographed. But the genuine emotion or realism is there, as opposed to a set up shot or a posed shot. This article Tips  for Fun and Meaningful Candid Photography jots down ten things to keep in mind when doing this type of photography. The first one is very basic but probably the most important: “keep you subject’s mind off the lens.” Of course you wouldn’t want your subject to be conscious. You want the person totally unaware. That’s where you get the real deal – honest, authentic, accurate expression – the pure fun of candid photography. I see many of my blogger friends here are adept at shooting this kind of images – people in the streets, at the park, at work going about nonchalantly their everyday activities. I thoroughly enjoy viewing these images and learn a lot too on how they take pictures of people. Read the rest of the article and immerse yourself in this “real-world” kind of photography. Happy candid shooting!

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A photographer must be prepared to catch and hold on to those elements which give distinction to the subject or lend it atmosphere…Sometimes they are a matter of luck…Sometimes they are a matter of patience…~Bill Brandt (Photo location: Loboc Church, Bohol)

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Of course it’s all luck.~Henri Cartier-Bresson (Photo location: Tacloban City Sangyaw Festival)

Capturing the decisive moment

It was the famous photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson who coined the term “decisive moment” and described it as “the moment the photographer is creative.” It is that fraction of a second where the photographer tells his story in a single shot. It may not always be freeze-framed, gravity-defying images of people hurling, jumping or wheezing through the air (think of frenetic sports action) though they certainly are decisive snaps. It may be ordinary street scenes or special family events (your kid blowing candles on his birthday cake) or like the accompanying picture, a festival performer who momentarily looked at me (all the others did not). A split second later he was back to doing the choreographed routine with the other performers. It is the moment which, if you missed it, you might never have a chance to capture again. The secret? Oh there’s no secret, its still the common “patience, practice and persistence” approach as expounded in this article 5 Tips for Documenting the Decisive Moment. Some may say its all a matter of luck. Well, if you are not prepared to capture the decisive moment that flashed right before your eyes, then better luck next time. If there’s a second time. (Photo location: Tacloban City Sangyaw Festival)

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A photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating…he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflex action.~Henri Cartier-Bresson (Photo location: Batangas City)