A chronicler of everyday life

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.

Photo Quotes 94


Put simply, if you really want to throw the background out of focus, get really close to your main subject.~Jim Richardson (Photo location: a shooting buddy during a trip to Guimaras island, Philippines)

Photo Quotes 93


In a still photograph you basically have two variables, where you stand and when you press the shutter. That’s all you have.~Henry Wessel

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!

Photo Quotes 88


Pure thinking or pure seeing? In truth, neither alone is sufficient. We are creatures of both realms. One prepares us for the other. Together they somehow bring us to creativity.~Jim Richardson

Transform the ordinary into something remarkable

JJWP265The ordinary into extraordinary. The usual into unique. The common into exceptional. The familiar into fantastic. I could go on and on but I know you get the gist. Photography gives you the power of transforming ordinary images into something spectacular. Oh, we know how to do it. Say what? Yes, we just like right now forgot how to do it. That is why we need to be reminded and refreshed. And to continue learning. So how do we go about this process of transformation? How do we create extraordinary images from ordinary subjects or situations? Consider the situation I was in – riding on a 20-seater motorboat on a three-hour trip going to an island. The first hour was generally unexciting with almost nothing but the expanse of the deep blue sea. But I noticed movement – the splash of water in the boat’s outrigger, and the currents and ripples in the sea as the boat passed by. And of course the colors, deep and contrasting. I had to assess the elements and decide what to include and exclude in the frame, all in a matter of seconds, and the outcome is the picture above. Dawn Oosterhoff in her article Everyday Images: Making Ordinary Pictures into Extraordinary Photography provides some guides: be observant, become aware of what you are seeing and experiencing, physically and mentally assess your subject, change your perspective, consider what to include and what to exclude, emphasize your subject, choose your moment, and experiment. Seems like we’re familiar with all the aforementioned and even tackled them in previous posts. They are fundamentally still the basics: framing, zeroing in, choosing, emphasizing and experimenting. Read the article to get a better grasp of the writer’s explanations. They aren’t new, but they are things we sometimes miss and fail to consider. No magic formula here, just a return to the essential – the photographer’s vision and the art of “seeing.” (Photo location: Surigao del Norte)

Photo Quotes 64


I love the journey as much as the destination. If I wasn’t a photographer, I’d still be a traveler. ~Michael Kenna (Photo location: Montemaria, Batangas)

Tourist vs. traveler

JJWP245I had a laugh while reading this article 10 Differences Between Tourists and Travelers because more or less they are so true. Though I can’t validate item #9 on the list, I have to say I also drink but not to get drunk; it’s just to get a taste of the local beverage. Like when I was in Vietnam, I had to savor the local beer such as 333, Bia Saigon and Tiger Beer. Got to compare them with the Philippine’s very own San Miguel Beer. I’m biased but I’d still go for the distinctive taste of San Miguel. Anyway, back to our topic. Items # 2 and 4 in the list are photography related and I’d like to explore them further. Item #2 says a “tourist wants to see all the sights while a traveler wants to see some, but also to find something interesting that isn’t in the guidebook.” It’s the common complaint of people I’m with when I’m on travel – I wander off from the group, I go solo, astray and stroll along. That’s the instinct of photographers, they go the unbeaten path. If tourists flock on a certain area or follow a certain trail to take a shot of a scenery, a traveler photographer goes the other way. He finds vantage points, other angles, an unusual perspective. He is constantly on the lookout for something fresh, unique and interesting, outside and away from the normal point of view. Item #4 in the list says “a tourist takes photos of all the famous stuff. A traveler takes pictures of ordinary people and things and is rewarded by the locals with gratitude or puzzlement.” True again, and related to what I just mentioned. Photographers will shoot any ordinary, everyday subjects but will find ways to do it differently, far from the normal shot. I recall the words of a legendary photographer who said something like if he were with a group of photographers who were all huddled at one area taking a picture of a subject, that he would go to the other side. The bottomline: you can spot a tourist from a traveler by how he shoots. A tourist will take pictures casually, and just probably snap on. A traveler will stoop, crouch low, look around, eye the scene, scout the place, look up to see where the sun is and where the light falls. He is thinking, envisioning, establishing his shot. They may have the same DSLR or point and shoot cam, but they will have contrasting ways to take a shot. It’s easy to tell one from the other. (Photo location: Bird’s Beak Island in the middle of Tri An Lake, Vietnam)

Photo Quotes 62


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)

Photo Quotes 61


Taking photographs, taking candid photographs, means that the photographer is an invisible man.~Bruce Davidson (Photo location: A family in Loi Ha town, Vietnam)

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!

It’s all about vision

Book Excerpt: “Vision is the beginning and end of photography. It’s the thing that moves you to pick up the camera, and it determines what you look at and what you see when you do it. It determines how you shoot and why. Without vision, the photographer perishes.”~David duChemin, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision

(Photo location: Tri An Lake, Vietnam)

Photo Quotes 59

See the subject first. Do not try to force it to be a picture of this, that or the other thing. Stand apart from it. Then something will happen. The subject will reveal itself.~Bill Brandt (Photo location: Baclayon Church, Bohol province)

Symbols of faith

I have around five previous posts regarding pictures of churches and how to photograph them. I can’t get enough of them so here’s another one which is probably not the last since I have a whole collection of them. My country the Philippines has a population of 95 million and 90 percent of them are Catholics. It is the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, brought about by 300 years of Spanish colonial rule which started in the 1500s. The influence of religion is thus ingrained and pervasive in the peoples’ psych and culture, and most evident in the places of worship. From the far-flung towns to the urban centers, church structures abound, from the modern to the centuries old. They stand as symbols of faith, much like the Muslim mosques and the Buddhist temples. To individuals like me, churches, basilicas and cathedrals are profound photographic subjects. They have this visual grandeur and alluring solemnity. They invoke an aura of mysticism, serenity and of course spirituality. Those are intangibles that are represented in what we can see – the shapes, form, patterns, details, lines – elements which are in the microcosm of the physical church structure whether in its cavernous interior or its towering exterior. When you get the chance to tour my country, make it a point to visit the churches. First give thanks to the Almighty for all the blessings he has given you in this life, then pray that all the pictures you’ll take afterwards will be sharp, vivid, clear and in focus. Amen. (Photo location: Dauis Church, Panglao Island)

Photographers are communicators of light

Book Excerpt: “Light is the most positive energy we know. It reveals truth. Most of the energy that light emits strikes a surface, bounces off , and then goes elsewhere. Light is so essential that we cannot exist without it. Our lives depend on light as much as they do upon water. Through photography, we capture for ourselves and share with others the glory of that positive, critical energy. Just like life, light brings us great joy. Light comes in many colors. As photographers, we are communicators of light. The images that we create enter the body through the eyes and travel to the brain, evoking a response. Love the light, the energy, the joy, the color: communicate positively for the rest of your life. Celebrate and share every visual exploration.”~Brian & Janet Stoppee, Guide to Photography and Light

(Photo location: Man-made forest park at Bilar town, Bohol)

You need pictures to go with the story

Book Excerpt: “In our blog-mad, tweeting, Facebooking, Citizen Journalist world…this digital camera is not just required of the ardent hobbyist, it is needed by just about everyone. You record, therefore you are. In one way or another—be it in a blog or on Flickr or in an electronic album that you put together for the family and then print—you -publish. You share your news with the world. The airwaves no longer belong to networks. The news is no longer gathered and disseminated by the select few. You are the news. You are the editor and publisher of your own life and times. And just like any cranky, old-time newspaper editor with a hole to fill in the Metro section, you need pictures to go with the story.”~Joe McNally, Guide to Digital Photography

Note: I titled this picture Sisters Act and would like to thank these gracious nuns for gamely posing for this shot in Tagaytay Highlands. 

Understanding form, shape and space

Geometrical forms, asymmetrical or symmetrical shapes and two or three dimensional spaces. I barely have an idea of what these are but I know I have taken many images of these, its just that I didn’t have a full understanding of their significance and how they are related with one another. That’s the trap I often fall into – photographing without thinking. There is no precision. No forethought. The art of capturing images requires some cerebral activity, of honing in on a specific target, of visualizing the outcome, of creative idea development and many more. That many? Yup. But with practice and an eye that is trained to see compelling photographic situations and subjects, those “many” become one collective block of knowledge that can readily be available when the situation calls for it. I’ll add another important chunk of knowledge with this very informative article – Form, Shape and Space. Its opening paragraph gives us an overview of how essential these elements are: “Form and shape are areas or masses which define objects in space. Form and shape imply space; indeed they cannot exist without space.” As in previous posts, I will not re-echo what the article says; just give yourself three to five minutes to read it. Suffice to say that understanding form, shape and space will provide us both “visual literacy” and photographic proficiency. Now find that form, and shoot that shape. (Photo location: Sentosa, Singapore)

Photo Quotes 56

Keep it simple.~Alfred Eisenstaedt (Photo location: Bohol)

Inspired by nature

Nature is such an inspiration. I find in it both solace and strength. Trees, flowers, islands, seas, skies, clouds and all other elements are such powerful stimulants. They overwhelm the senses. They are dreams, passions, fantasies and wishes rolled into one. They provide visual and spiritual overload, knowing that one Creator made them all. Wonder at the soft murmurs of waves splashing on the shore, the soft soothing silence of a wondrous sunrise, the miraculous sight of the last rays of light as the sun ebbs in the horizon, the soft pastel clouds of a gloomy day, dewdrops on delicate leaves in early morn, the soft spongy feel of grass, birds chirping musical melodies as they fly by, the eerie might of primeval forests, majestic mountains and fairy hills. The sight, sound and feel of nature, untouched and pure, sanctified by the Hands that created them, is evidence of a wonderful world that we must care for, preserve, protect and respect. Ours is a life dependent on the natural world around us. We are nothing without it. (Photo location: Surigao del Norte)

Photo Quotes 54

I stand still or move slowly, feeling things like the impulse of shapes, the direction of lines, the quality of surfaces…Nothing that one could reasonably call thinking is taking place at this stage. The condition is total absorption…~Aaron Siskind (Photo location: Postal Building, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Photo Quotes 52

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)

The journey home

Each of us choose the road we take, the path to thread, the direction to chart. Call it your destiny or fate, but life leads you to your own choosing. Ten million Filipinos do not live in their country as they have chosen to find their fortune in some other lands not their own. The force of circumstance and the dream of a better personal life and for those they have left behind, are compelling. The diaspora is constant and continuing. The labor and loneliness that awaits my countrymen in other countries is part of the sacrifice. It is a burden co-terminus with the employment contract. They must earn a living that could not be provided with enough jobs in their homeland, and the virtue of patience and hard work comes to fore to those who choose to work abroad. Until the day they come home. The culmination of months or even years of working away from one’s family is actually anti-climactic. The longing has been lessened by the technology of global communication – cellphones, e-mails, video chat. Still, nothing can take the place of hugs and kisses of loved ones. The return is a family milestone for many, a celebration of a reunion. It is a display of the indomitable human spirit, that whatever road we take or path we thread, it will take us back to where we came from. In life, or even beyond, it is always a  journey home. (Photo location: Caticlan, Aklan province)

Weekend Inspiration 1

It was legendary NatGeo writer and photographer William Albert Allard who said: “Words and pictures can work together to communicate more powerfully than either alone.” In this weekend series, I’m literally combining the two elements to further enliven, uplift and inspire all of us. Happy weekend bloggers! Keep on clicking!

Photo Quotes 51

What matters is not what you photograph, but why and how you photograph it.~Andreas Feininger (Photo location: Oton, Iloilo)