Today, June 30, is the fiesta celebration of my home city of Tacloban in the central Philippines. It is highlighted by the Sangyaw (local word for dance) Festival. It is a dazzling street parade showcase of pomp and pageantry, of costumes and choreography. This was taken in 2011, the last time I was in Tacloban. If you follow world news, Tacloban City may sound familiar to you. In early November 2013, it was ground zero and in the direct path of Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super typhoon, the strongest cyclone to hit land packing sustained winds of 315 kph. It left more than 6,000 dead and over 1,000 missing, most of them in Tacloban. Today, after a year and a half, I have heard the city has recovered from the devastation. And I hope the celebration this day will continue the tradition of people carrying those festive smiles, graceful poses and a resilient spirit. God bless them!
With millions of images uploaded to social media and photo sharing sites everyday, you would want at least your images to be original and expressive of your style or vision. You want to produce creative images that will not only get the attention of your audience but also satisfy yourself. To do that you have to find and develop that “creative eye.” Here’s how:
Observation is always the first step before you ever frame your subject, compose your shot or press the shutter. Our eyes are precise machines that take in 260 degrees of horizontal field of view including peripheral vision, at 120 megapixels of high-def resolution. We have the power and facility to observe. The problem is that we are easily distracted. We fail to focus. Hence, we miss details, we miss decisive moments, we miss the light, the lines and other photographic opportunities and elements that would have otherwise made for an interesting image. Learn to hold still and concentrate on your surroundings. Being visually aware is one of the attributes of creative photographers.
It may be a cliche, and practice may not lead to perfection. Yet anyone will tell you that taking time to practice will help you develop your craft. Experts will always say take lots of pictures. We are now not limited to a maximum of 36 exposures in a film roll. Shoot to your heart’s content as much as your memory card can allow. Practice with your shots and practice with your camera. Do not be satisfied with snapshots, everyone is doing it. Aim for photographs of value. Bring out the artist in you, for as you do, creativity will follow.
Explore your camera’s built-in shooting modes and creative filters. Take panoramic, landscape, portrait, normal shots and those with different aspect ratios. Crop in-cam, zoom, close in, fill the frame, go wide, compose, pan, frame your subject. Get that tripod and go for long exposures or low-light conditions. Attempt to learn, to probe and to understand. What you can do in photography will only be limited by your imagination.
Having a creative eye sometimes come naturally to some people. Others struggle to create compelling images. But always it can be developed. You know the approach and have the means and tools in your hands. Be patient and keep on clicking!
As for all the arts and works emanating from the heart and mind, we need that spark for our creations. Like wordsmiths who can have writer’s block, image-makers on occasions can also feel unimaginative and face a blank canvas. Here’s how I counter such moments of drudgery and awaken a sleeping creativity.
1. Go on location
The most enthusiastic lensman can capture exquisite images right from his home or backyard. But sometimes it takes a trip outside into the big wide world to give us photographic ideas and insights. Nature never fails to inspire the artist in us. It may not be a grand adventure or expedition but simply a walk in the beach, fishing by the lake, a picnic on a forest reserve. The breath of fresh air and views of new surroundings is sure to stimulate senses and get you grabbing that camera, seeing the world through the viewfinder.
2. View works of the masters
Bless the internet as we can see in an instant the works of the legends – Ansel Adams, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and many more. Professionalphotographer.co.uk lists 100 Most influential photographers of all time with links to their works. I get a kick reading on their biography, how they started in photography and how they found their style. Viewing their masterpieces, for me, is an enriching experience. We may never get to reach their level, but surely we can learn a thing or two from their pioneering and innovative efforts.
3. View works of enthusiasts
The masters may teach us, yet it is the works of like-minded photography enthusiasts that influences me and keeps me grounded on reality. At this time when everyone with a smartphone can snap any picture, I actually explore Flickr and other photo sites as well as pages of photo bloggers here at WordPress, looking out for those exceptional images that stand out. I read about the photographer, their experiences, the camera settings they use to take images. It thrills me that I can be of the same level with outstanding enthusiasts, as I can never be with the masters.
4. Join a camera club
We may be members of online groupings, participating in chats and forums to learn from others. However, nothing beats joining a physical camera club where you get to brush elbows with friends and peers. Social engagement is now taken for granted what with all the social media sites around. But “facebooking” or “flickring” is never like the inspired experience of an actual photo shoot/photo walk with your club buddies.
5. Be alone
Social is good. But the clutter and chatter of our fast-paced, noisy environment distracts us from the art of “seeing” or “sensing.” I found that a place of quiet and contemplation, where the soul can be calm and the mind refreshed, can unleash imagination and vision.
Creativity is not an on or off thing like a toggle switch that can be activated at the flick of a finger. Artists are an emotional and expressive batch and they can have moods, sometimes bountiful with a wellspring of inspiration flowing continuously, at times dark and empty, an abyss of nothingness. There are moments we need to find our muse and there are things we can do to realize that. How about you, where do you draw inspiration for your images?
Have a great week ahead!
Observe the picture above. There are layers of textures there – the powdery sand that has seen its share of hundreds of footsteps (or sandal marks), the white strip of surf crashing on shore, the tips of aqua green waves readying their final trip towards land, those fluffy pieces of clouds on their heavenly sojourn, the rocky outcrop of mountains and islands on the horizon. Does this add clutter and confusion to the picture? No, because texture is not the first thing you’ll notice but the blue banca (outrigger canoe) that sits quietly in contrast to its surrounding. The textures here provide an interesting menagerie of patterns, colors, shadows and highlights. Though texture can be a central subject, they can be effective secondary pieces in support of the point of interest. Look out for texture. Designers and graphic artists use them for backgrounds and to fill spaces. But photographers can use texture as a more powerful element – much like shape, patterns, color and light – for subject or composition.
Two months ago a design company expressed interest in buying the rights to use my images. They wanted to buy an initial 100 images as first batch. I was pleasantly surprised since the only other time I sold my images was years ago – a couple of pics to a travel website, and one to a local airline for their inflight magazine. Just small deals, but this one now is big. Photography is just a hobby, and if I get to earn on the side, well why not. They asked for the price of a picture. I gave them my rate. They were aghast. They said their current photographer sells them at a low, low price. I was shocked at learning of their photographer’s rate and commented that their guy was almost giving away his images for free! I searched for their photographer’s images and, bragging aside and with all due respect to that photographer, there was no point in comparing. The company owner admitted that my images were far superior in colors, details and composition, and were exactly what they were looking for. I said quality images don’t come cheap, just like any other quality product and service out there. They were upfront enough to admit that they had no budget for my rate. Did I budge? I’m always a reasonable guy, so I lowered my rate a bit considering that they were a start-up and were buying in volume. They said they’ll think it over and would contact me. A couple of months passed and I haven’t heard from them. Did I regret my decision? No. I still believe that quality images come at a premium. Every picture I take carries a part of me with it – my patience, my knowledge, my passion, my style. Heck, a bit of my soul is on every image I make. I can’t sell that for “two-cents” worth! You want cheap, then you’ll have to settle for a cheap image somewhere else. The flower pic above was one of the many they were interested in. What do you think?
Gosh I miss this community! I miss my blogger friends here! I hope everyone is doing fine. As I always encourage everybody – keep on clicking!
Our eyes are oriented to take in the big picture. Our front-facing horizontal field of view including peripheral vision can cover as much as 270 degrees. That’s a whole panoramic world in one snap of our eyes. That wide image that we see however is made up of small glorious details which we sometimes miss. We must train ourselves to focus and see them. One thing I’ve learned in photography is that it is as much as taking in the particulars as it is capturing the complete image.
It was in the world news early this week. Last Tuesday at 8:10 in the morning, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the tourist island province of Bohol situated in the central Philippines. The power of such temblor was equivalent to 32 atomic bombs, and it flattened houses, crumbled buildings, destroyed bridges, cracked roads and, as of last count, claimed the lives of over 170 people, mostly buried under piles of rubble. The death toll is expected to mount as more bodies are retrieved from under collapsed structures. I have featured Bohol (and the nearby province of Cebu which was also heavily affected) in many previous posts. Both provinces are popular tourist destinations. Bohol in particular is known for its Chocolate Hills , the rare Tarsier, the green Loboc River, pristine beaches and its centuries old churches. Aside from the lives that were lost, the nation grieves with the destruction of 10 heritage churches, all priceless national treasures, some dating back to the 1500s. I had the opportunity to photograph some of these beautiful churches during my early travels, and below I have paired my pictures of them with the pictures I saw in the news in the aftermath of the quake. For us photographers who enjoy capturing old, historic structures, these are heartbreaking sights:
These old churches were built with materials during those times – coral stones, mud bricks, limestones – and are most fragile. Throughout their history, they have been subjected to fires, typhoons, previous earthquakes and even World War II. They were the first to come down during the powerful quake this week. Experts are assessing if some of them can be rebuilt, while others like the Loon Church which was flattened, may have a new church built on the site. I am quite fortunate to have captured the beauty and grandeur of these churches in their original condition before the disaster. Now I have them immortalized in images, and preserved in my memory as I saw them in their full glory.
Note: These churches are featured in Junsjazz Images & Inspiration Digital Magazine Issue #2.
A Blessed Sunday! Keep on clicking my friends!
The best photo images are not taken anyway, they are “made,” and I have always thought that learning photo composition is not that much more different than learning anything else. Some people just catch on faster than others, but eventually with practice most people can do it. How long that will take mostly depends on how you go about it. The only real way to practice composing an image is by recording them on film, or digitally, so that you can see what you did right, and what you did wrong? It is actually all of your mistakes that teach you how to do it right the next time. However, just slapping a lens on your camera and shooting away is not the answer either. As the saying goes, “There has to be a method to the madness.”~by Paul W. Faust from his article The Art of Seeing: An Exercise in Photo Composition
After nearly two months, I missed a lot – this blog and the great WP community of photo blogger peers – that’s all of you my friends! My apologies, I’ve been bogged down by online work. But my deepest thanks to all who commented, liked and visited during my absence. I’ll try my best to go around and visit your blogs during my free time. Keep on clicking everyone!
Happy weekend everyone!
Starting tomorrow August 19, 2013, I become part of a U.S.-based advertising agency. The company president invited me to join her team of creative professionals to do work on a full-time basis. The job includes writing online content and designing blogs and websites – things that are right down my alley. I’ll be a remote staff, doing work from home. This post is not about saying goodbye to blogging. Previously I was doing online freelance work so I had more time in my hands, enabling me to do multiple posts a day early on when I started this blog October last year. By tomorrow I may not be able to follow my habit (yes it has become a habit) of daily posting. This blog will continue but not on its frenetic pace, it will slow down a bit. I still have many pictures to share together with experiences, stories and learnings. I thank all of you my blogging peers for making this online activity for the past 10 months very worthwhile, enjoyable and meaningful. But, probably like every one of you, blogging is just one chapter of my life. There are others, and for me a new one starts tomorrow which requires my undivided time and skill. I will have to focus on that. For the meantime this is JJ saying “Take care my friends and keep on clicking!”
Because B&W images do not depend on colors for impact, black and white compositions are often better designed, and so your ability to compose may well improve by working in B&W!~William Neill
Wishing all of you a splendid weekend! Thank you for the visits, likes, follows and comments during our Islands Week. Keep on clicking my friends!
Principles of Visual Dynamics
If you like rules, remember exceptions prove the rules. Being too insistent on the application of hard and fast rules can blind you to many exceptional opportunities. If you don’t like rules, remember that while there are no absolutes there are forces at work that have consistent tendencies. Denying or ignoring universal principles will lead to unpredictable unrepeatable results; you’ll achieve success far less frequently and be far less able to repeat your successes.
Forget rules. Forget absolutes. Forget musts. Instead develop an awareness of visual principles. Look for the unique power each element has to influence a composition. Develop a sensitivity to how elements and combination of elements make the forces at work in a composition stronger or weaker. Instead of composing formulaically, you’ll then be able to improvise. Understanding the principles of visual dynamics will help make your decision making process more informed, it will not make choices for you. Awareness is the key. Better awareness brings better choices bringing better results.
~John Paul Caponigro from his article Photographic Composition: Introduction
It seems positively unnatural to travel without taking a camera along…~Susan Sontag
These are actual island dwellers I’ve encountered during my travels to far-flung provinces. They are fishermen, children, kids – people who live simple lives and enjoy their natural surroundings. They don’t have elegant homes, fashionable clothes, regular work or a lifestyle to speak of. I don’t even think they have cellphones. In the first place there are no signals in these remote places. What do they have? An affinity with nature that we, dwellers of the metropolitan jungle, so obviously lack. And the barest of their needs to live a life are aptly provided for by nature’s resources, right at their doorstep. God bless these island dwellers, these people of the sea.
When you’ve got islands, unless they are rock formations protruding out from the sea, then you’ve got beaches. What do you do? Plunge right into those inviting waters? Shoot First, Swim Later was the title of my post last October 30, 2012. I’m reposting it:
My country, the Philippines, has 7,100 islands. Put all those coastlines together and it will stretch for 23,000 kilometers, the third longest in the world. As a tropical country, it’s literally beach time all year round. Hence the beach, found everywhere, pristine in its natural beauty, is a mainstay subject of mine. Water, sand, sea, tides, shells, corals, sunny skies, palm trees, all these converge to create an inviting, colorful and exotic environ deserving of the pages of a travel magazine. In fact, we have some of the best beach and diving locations in the world. So how exactly do we photograph the beach, coast and shorelines? We know these images as seascapes. Darren Rowse, founder of the online Digital Photography School, jots down 10 Beach Photography Tips which include looking for focal points, watching the horizon, using flash and filters, utilizing black and white and many others. Unless you live there right by the sea, the chance to be at a scenic coastline or beach must not be passed up. You will be guided by your accumulated knowledge of what to shoot, when to shoot and things to look out for to get that postcard-perfect shot. (Photo location: Alubihod Beach, Guimaras Island)
With over 600 posts, all of them with pictures, I have quite a number of island images. Some of those images used in this blog as well as those from my collection are featured in Junsjazz Digital Magazine Issue #3. Now here’s where I curate myself, I went over these previous postings and picked some of the best island pictures (which may be familiar to you if you have followed this blog from early on). In keeping with this week’s picture series I present them again. Here are personal picks. Enjoy!
When I posted the above image at a popular photo sharing site, a viewer commented: “Wow! You captured the whole island!” Well, not really, just one area of the island which happens to be its most visible part. It’s because motorboats and their passengers pass along this sea route on their way to the main island some two hours away. I don’t know if other corners of the island are as gorgeous, but I should say the above area looks the part of a tropical Eden, unspoiled and untouched (unlike the famous Boracay Island which is teeming with people).
Imagine yourself in the island above, lying on the beach, feeling the warm caress of white, powdery sand on your skin as the balmy wind tempers the midday sun and sways the lush palms. Then you arise and dive into those tempting waters, practicing your strokes against the incoming tide. Later you retreat to the natural shade and get your fill of ripe, juicy mangoes, papaya, avocado and of course the coconut fruit…this is gastronomic heaven. Your eyes feel heavy and the cool hut beckons…with the sweet singing of birds above and the soothing sound of the surf below, you get to dreamland…fast. This is back-to-basics living, without your smartphone, tablet, laptop, music player or radio or whatever gadget. I can live with that, but not without my camera!
Another week and another picture series. The Philippines as an archipelago has 7,100 of them jutting out like pearls from the sea. Some are world-renowned destinations but we’ll explore those that don’t have hotels, bars and cabanas on the beach. We’ll go to the untrodden places, quiet, peaceful and free, and where time seemingly stands still. Welcome to Islands Week!
The decisions that the photographer must make are decisions that are made on the basis of feelings and emotions. Decisions that are aimed at expressing our emotional response to a scene, our perception of the subject we desire to photograph, and our personal artistic approach. All of these represent individual choices, choices that we are usually unaware of until we find ourselves in the act of capturing a specific subject with a lens and a camera. As such, this process prevents camera designers and software engineers to program either the hardware or the software to automatically express our response to the subject. They cannot program it any more than we can program it because both of us ignore what this response will be.
So what am I getting at in this explanation? I am getting at the fact that no matter how advanced and automaticized the equipment and the software we use becomes, there cannot be a substitute for individual input and expression.
What I am also getting at is the fact that the field of endeavor where this individual input is best expressed is the field of composition. Why? First, because composition is about personal choices: very few, if any, aspects of composition can be automaticized. Second, because composition is a field of endeavor composed of multiple facets and not just a set of rules. If it was just a set of rules it would be possible, theoretically, to think that these rules may be embedded in camera or computer software and that such software may have the ability to “compose” photographs on the basis of these rules, or the ability to give us directions aimed at helping us compose images in a specific way.