Sunday, January 6, 2008

Serious photography: not my passion

Reading time: 10 mins

There's a growing interest in photography right now. I remember before, the only place to show off pictures as an amateur is to join the Sinulog contest (speaking of which, i think it's happening again this coming Sinulog 2008).

Back then, you'll have to use film (remember this? so old skool), 36 shots per roll, head to the developing center, wait one hour (a little longer if needed), then hope that what you took were nice enough to show off to friends.

You can either have the prints scanned (on your own) or the negatives scanned (from the developing center) to import the shots to your computer. Or, have the developing center print contact sheets so you can preview your photos before printing only the good ones.

Now, it's everywhere, even cellphones are good enough to take nice photos. With the advancement in technology, cameras are becoming sophisticated and advanced. Digital cameras "digicam" are spoiling a lot of people to take photos when they want to, when they need to and when they feel like it. Everyone's becoming a photographer of sorts.

I think it killed the 'maniniyots' which are popular back when i was graduating at elementary. Remember the red or blue backdrops they put up during graduation ceremonies? With some decoration's on top and a carpet you step on. People actually line up to have their photos taken on this, perhaps to hang on the wall on their sala? Or maybe use as a passport photo. In fact, i can still see some using it as their mug shots on their friendster/multiply accounts. I think it's their best pose so far.

Ironically, the improvement in tech did not change the dynamics of photography, it's the same lighting rules, same framing guidelines, exposure values, etc. No matter how much you know about digicams, how 'top of the line' it is -- it will never, ever make you a better photographer if you don't know the basics.

My exposure to photography dates back in my high school days. When i was on my 3rd year, i worked as a videographer for weddings and/or other special occasions. We're a team, with my uncle being the photographer. My other cousins sideline as the lightman or handy boys who helped us prepare the equipments. This job went on from 3rd year until my 1st year in college. I was earning about 500 pesos per project. Around that time we run an orchid growing business (we had a small stall at the basement of Robinsons), and then also offered flower arranging. So we had the whole package for doing weddings (having a coordinator then is not so popular). It's a great experience -- in fact, if i feel like it, i think i can also become a wedding coordinator, but that's a different story (people might think i'm becoming... you know). Would you believe i was also the official videographer for a couple of local pageants in our town? I was practically exposed to photography a lot of time.

I've had my interest of actually taking photos back in Oct 2003. Me and a few of my cousins (including Charles B., Dave and PJ) started to explore photography with the guidance of Tabong, my uncle (Charles' father, who has about 20 years in experience). We each have our own dilapidated SLRs (not digital), bought a few rolls of film and head off to Parola (lighthouse by Liloan) to practice shooting. We even went down the cliff, into the beach below to take sunrise shots. From then, we always try to wake up early, went under the new mactan bridge, went on a road trip (by public transpo) down south (i was with my wife, soon to be 'preggy' girlfriend then), and then joined the Sinulog 2004 photo contest (yes, i officially took part of it).

I'm always excited when i will be able to practice shooting, I was very passionate about my work, i feel like it's the best so far i have created that doesn't involve computers. Until i saw the printed pictures.

What a shock! Deym, i can't even look at my photos long enough before i turn blue. It's embarrassing. It's UGLY, as in U-G-L-Y! I am confused, since how i imagine it when i took the shots is really different when it's printed. It didn't discouraged me in the beginning, i was actually motivated to improve. But then it keeps on happening, almost everything i took just wasn't good enough (i believe, from anyone's standard). I realized i have to go through a lot, probably practice taking shots at plaza independencia before i become a master.

I did practice, practiced a lot, spent a lot -- but it didn't helped my photos.

Then i got married (2004). It turn out to be a good excuse to stop photography, without really admitting that my photos suck. I simply didn't have enough time for it (i said to myself). So i stopped.

Fast forward to august 2006, my wife decided to buy a digicam to take photos of our growing babies (yes, in plural form). This time it's digital, the convenience of which changed the rules of the game. No more costly film and printing, just a computer to view the shots with. It got me a little excited, but not so much that i'll spend a lot of time on it -- just enough to re-learn the basics and practice when i have the opportunity. Around this time, i have also learned a lot about digital cameras, what are the features and how to best use them.

After some time i've come to learn more about the basics (digicam helped a lot with experimenting, good thing i've known them back in 2004). The basics has helped me in figuring how to take a nice photo of a situation, to find a nice angle (introduce depth-of-field if possible, to create a dramatic lines), to frame a picture properly (rule of thirds) and capture a mixture of proper lighting.

There's only a few basics in photography. There's the technical aspects of taking photos, like exposure values, white balance, ISO setting, flash strength and trigger time, etc. (if you wonder what i am talking about here, best to keep your program mode to 'auto' -- usually labeled capital 'A' on the program dial).

And then there's the aesthetic part, which is training your eye for looking at something extra-ordinary, something that tells a story that others would want to see and imagine. (Guess what? i only mastered the technical part!) Which makes a good photographer a great one.

Today, photography for me is a hobby. I like taking shots, i like to learn from what i create and sometimes i like to show off and take pride that i take better photos than those i believe take uglier ones than me (why would i buy a Flickr pro account, but to show off!). Whenever i have the opportunity to travel, i take it -- in part, i also want to take photos of places were i am new.

I have accepted my fate with what i know (kept on my left brain), so i keep my expectations low; at the level i know i'm going to be happy with. I try to make extra-ordinary shots, i try to take many shots with different exposure values (also called bracketing) and also experiment with different angles.

I only keep a compact digicam (not even mine), not a DSLR -- since it wouldn't make sense to me bringing those big cameras when what i can create i can do with a compact digicam using manual mode (for taking serious photos, having access to manual mode is *very* important -- no, this is not the program mode or the aperture/shutter priority mode).

In the end, I made a compromise with myself that serious photography is not my passion, but a skill i want to practice that will come in handy when i need it.

I believe photography is not for everybody (might not even be for those who think they're going to be great at it), while some have the talent for it, the eye for capturing great moments, they say. Take for example Charles, we started at the same time learning photography.

Whether you have talent or you have a nice DSLR camera, learning the skills to take great photos is a must and should be the first step for every aspiring photographer. Then practice (lots of it!) like there's no tomorrow.

Closing my post, i think photography is a nice thing to do, like writing and other forms of art -- it stimulates our creative mind. Master the skills and practice the craft until you it's perfect, and start low from the basics.

I kept links of tutorials and articles about the basics in photography and how to use a digital camera, for my reference. I will share it on my next post.

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