Articles Tagged with: advice
Travelling with a Light Footprint

 

“Take only photos, Leave nothing but footprints”

We’ve probably all heard the saying, but what does it mean? Basically ‘take only photos, leave nothing but footprints’ means to make as little impact on an enviornment as possible. As a travel photographer I’m always doing my best to work with humility, respect and a light footprint. It’s not rocket science, but there’s a lot of photographers who either don’t understand it or simply don’t care. This is the wrong attitude, and can spoil it for others who do the right thing. Here are my six tips to inform aspiring travel photographers about how they can move lightly and enjoy their travel photography experience at the same time.

Understand Culture

Culture isn’t just a race or ethnicity; in fact it goes far beyond that. We are all members of numerous cultural groups with cultural identities based on influences. This is an ongoing process and development. When we travel we are exposed to different sets of beliefs and values that may not be part of our culture or upbringing. This is what makes travel culturally rich, vigorous and complex. However, it’s important not to become too consumed with our own beliefs or habits.

Culture is a system of shared beliefs that are used by a society or group in order to socialise with the world as well as each other. Accepting other people’s ways of life can sometimes be challenging, even for seasoned travellers. The key to accepting this is to be open-minded and positive. By respecting different cultures you will learn a lot about yourself and the people you meet, which will allow you to go deeper into a culture to capture stronger images. Acknowledge these new experiences and embrace every encounter. It’s a rewarding experience that can shape your journey as a photographer.

Practice self-awareness and remember everyone is equal regardless of ethnic background, religion, demographic or income. Never try portraying someone else in false light. Be honest with the message you wish to convey, respecting different cultures whilst enabling, not disabling people through your work. Photography is a powerful medium, so use it effectively and wisely.

 

Respect People

The further you travel into unfamiliar lands and cultures, the more varied the people you’ll encounter. This is probably the most exciting part of travel. At times it can feel somewhat alienating, but remember, it works both ways. The key to interacting with people as a travel photographer/storyteller is to treat them with respect. Whenever I travel I live by the golden rule: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s good practice to acknowledge a person’s intrinsic value as a human being. It’s almost impossible to learn anything or capture the true essence of a place without meeting the local people. Be polite and ask before you take someone’s photo if you feel the situation calls for it. No one appreciates having a camera shoved in his or her face, so try avoiding it despite how much you want ‘that’ shot.

You can learn a lot about a destination or a person by making an effort to have a conversation. Respect goes a long way, more so in unfamiliar territory, when in actuality, you are the stranger. Never demand anything from your subjects, bribe or violate their human rights. Be friendly, move gently and always work with a light footprint – it makes the world a difference. 

Respect Property

This is just as important as respecting people, if not more significant. A prime example of disrespect for property was in Cambodia’s Angkor archaeological park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which consists of ancient temples including Angkor Wat. Five foreign visitors were arrested and deported after they were caught taking nude self-portraits at the sacred sites. These sites hold enormous spiritual and historical significance. It’s completely disrespectful to climb these structures, let alone strip off and strike up a pose. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with nude photography when done tastefully and respectfully, however there’s a time and place for everything. 

As travel photographers it’s our duty to document these incredible places. A lot of it comes down to common sense, which unfortunately seems very uncommon for a lot of people who travel abroad. Just because you’ve left home doesn’t mean you should leave your manners and morals behind. Travel is fulfilling so be respectful, don’t take it for granted by being another idiot abroad.

Avoid Paying For Photos

This is a difficult one, and it will vary depending on what photography means to you and why you do what you do. As a travel photographer interested in having culturally rich experiences, I very rarely pay anyone to take their photo. There’s obviously a difference between travel and commercial photography, but where do you draw the line?

Here’s an example from a recent trip to Asia, where I spent 8 months travelling and photographing both commercially for a client and for my own enjoyment. My assignment brief was to capture the essence of the destination and it’s people for a book. My client provided me a specific brief for the type of images they needed. Some of the images required me to setup moments with models, which of course came at a cost. This is the commercial side of travel photography. I was able to capture and deliver exactly what my client asked, however, it wasn’t exactly fulfilling and it felt as if I was spoiling part of the culture. There’s nothing wrong with shooting commercially and paying to get the shots, except this does set expectations among the people who may assume everyone who travels will pay for photos. I found it difficult on many occasions where people on the street would ask me for money even if it were a candid moment. It became frustrating because I ended up missing photo opportunities due to other peoples expectations.  Some people would get aggressive, which at those times I would kindly respect them and move on. The main concern for me was that the culture seemed blanketed by this expectation; this made it challenging in places to find authentic cultural experiences.


Instead of paying people with money, try giving something back; food, water, clothing or a kind gesture is a great way to thank someone for their time. I remember photographing a group of sadhus (holy men) in Varanasi, India. These men would ask me for money every time I walked past. The day I stopped I knew I wanted to take their portraits, and no doubt they knew they would receive something from me. Rather than paying money, I bought the men a meal each. Instantly their moods changed to being thankful for the food. By offering something people need will allow you to interact without spoiling the culture. There’s nothing worse than watching a bus load of tourists handing out countless amounts of cash to people on the street, it’s setting a bad example and high expectations for other travellers.

Keep in mind the importance of understanding the purpose behind your travel photography. Once you understand this you’ll be able to move, tread lightly and enjoy your travels. A real traveller knows that it’s not about the destination; its about the journey. Seek and you will find.

Foster Tolerance 

This comes back to respecting people and culture, and is a very important concept to assist in accepting cultural differences. It is not a passive concept and does not equate to indifference or indulgence. It’s all about acceptance of differences of other people and is the recognition of the significance of those dissimilarities without any judgement. How does this apply to photography? Well, if you judge someone or something on appearance or behaviour without fostering tolerance than it’s likely you’ll miss parts of the story, therefore resulting in missed photo opportunities. By acknowledging these differences new opportunities will arise, opening up new doors that may have never opened without the open-mindedness. 

Be tolerant and listen before acting. Great images don’t create themselves; you need to go deeper than just clicking the shutter if you want to take your travel photography to the next level.

 Assess then Act

When we travel into new and unfamiliar territories outside of our comfort zone we are exposed to a different lifestyle. The best way to deal with this is by assessing each situation and knowing that the same approach cannot be necessarily applied to every occasion. As an Australian, I’ve spent the majority of my life in the western world. I understand the system and find a level of comfort working where I live. For example, if you’ve never travelled to Asia than it’s likely that you will feel anxious at times resulting in your nerves taking over. Language barriers can be difficult when trying to move freely as a photographer in a foreign land. In order to handle these challenges it’s good to make photography secondary to your travels. Slow down while taking in the moment and then assess if it would make a great photo opportunity. Once you’ve travelled enough the urgency to photograph in a manic way wears off and this is when you’ll evolve as a photographer.

Every time I find myself in a new enviornment or situation, I always pause and observe what’s going on around me. Analyse the mood, the light, the interaction and behaviours of the people to get a sense of understanding. By doing this you’ll be able to find exactly what you want or need to document. It also puts other people at ease with your presence, you will no longer be ‘the foreigner’ with the camera, you’ll be immersed in the culture, which will help you shoot more inconspicuously.

 Tell the Truth

As photographers, we have the power to change the world, but in order to make a positive impact we must work with integrity. This means being honest and precise, especially when working as a documentary photographer or photojournalist. If you are commissioned to document a story, it’s crucial to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Your images should be relevant to the event and society for it to be effective. If you photos are inaccurate or misleading of the message it will have a negative impact. It pays to do a lot of research in order to work lightly and openly.

 Lastly, Pack Light

This is probably the most literal way to work with a light footprint when travelling. It’s also one of the best ways to move around generously without the burden of being weighed down by your gear. As a travel photographer specialising in street and landscapes I always try to minimise weight as much as humanly possible. There’s really nothing worse than lugging around gear that you don’t need. Take only the necessities you know you will use. This takes time and a few trips before you work it out, but once you get it sorted you’ll be able to take full advantage of being nomadic. During my first trip to Asia, I took way too much camera equipment, which mostly ended up staying in my bag or back in the hotel room. On the second trip I knew what I needed and what was going to slow me. So remember, take only the essentials and forget the dead weight. You’ll be glad you did. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. It was originally written for Australian Photography magazine, and published in their November 2016 issue. 

 

Capturing Compelling Compositions

Every great photograph consists of three key elements. First and foremost composition, lighting and of course the moment. Look at any great image and you’ll notice these elements. What part of the image caught your attention? More often than not, it will be the compositional structure that sets the scene. A poorly composed photo can make a fantastic subject dull, but a well-executed composition has the potential to turn an ordinary situation into something extraordinary. This is why composition is critical and should be paramount for every shot you take.

I want to discuss composition and how photographer’s can improve their work by thoughtfully constructing images that make sense. There a few imperative things to understand when discussing the various principles and importance of composition. Let’s face it; people will not be drawn to our photos if there is nothing of interest to grab their attention. To properly grasp composition and capture powerful, and meaningful photographs, we should understand how the human mind works.


The Basics

Basically, “composition” describes the placement of relative elements in a photograph. A strongly composed image will lead the viewer’s eye towards the main aspects of an image, usually in a specific order. There’s a number of factors that can affect the way an image is visualised and how people perceive your work. Framing, positioning, perspective, focal length, are just a few things that can make all the difference.

There is no way to overstate the significance of composition in any art form. The art to composing a great shot over a good shot requires thoughtful arrangement of particular elements that best portray the photographer’s vision. This can be done by physically rearranging elements within a scene i.e. portrait or landscape photography, where the photographer might ask the subject to reposition, or they might move a stick from a scene to clean up the space. Another approach is by visualising and anticipating a moment before it unfolds; a perfect example of anticipating composition is street photography. Street photographers must think/act quickly to keep up with the fast moving pace of the moving world. It’s often not physically possible to move or ask your subject to change position, therefore you’ll need to anticipate the moment and be ready to click the shutter when the moment unfolds. This is called the ‘fleeting moment’, something to remember when working in fast moving environments.


Reverse Painting

Photography and painting, as art forms have a lot in common. Just, as paintings represent images through the artist’s imagination, a photograph can also be represented through the imagination of the photographer by pre-visualising an image beforehand. The difference between the photography and painting is that painters normally start with a blank canvas and add elements with a paintbrush. Often, photographers work in reverse, starting with a ‘full canvas’ and selectively eliminating the distracting or unwanted elements from the picture. It has been said that paintings are less realistic than photographs, which is habitually true because a photo is usually something that exists. However, a poorly composed photograph can also become unrealistic and misleading. Both art forms require an attentive eye for detail and compositional value.


Visual Tension

Understanding visual tension and how to leverage it in your pictures, you should first consider how the human brain responds to visual information. Think of your mind as a visual archive that processes information and paints a picture in your head of how you perceive the world. When we view an image for the first time our brain instinctively processes this information to show us the bigger picture. To understand this it’s important to note that without our brain it wouldn’t be possible to capture what our eyes perceive. Simply put, what our mind does not know, our eyes cannot see.

As we live in a three-dimensional world, our brain must process the information in order to transfer it onto our eyes, this is because a photo is two-dimensional and that’s all our eyes will distinguish. When we view an image our mind automatically selects the vital features and passes it onto our vision. The brain is also responsible for how we feel when we view an image. Without it we wouldn’t be attracted or emotionally moved by a photograph.

Our brains are limited to how much material we can absorb at a single time. It doesn’t have to be obvious when trying to get your message across. You could be as subtle as you wish, just as long as you entice your viewer’s attention towards the core aspects. Often, it’s possible to derive a whole understanding from the small details and assign meaning to what an image represents without revelling the entire story. If you engage your viewer’s minds in a consequential way than you’ve successfully done your job. If they divert their attention away from the vital parts than it’s likely they’ll lose interest and move on. Adding tension to your pictures can prompt the attentiveness of your viewer’s brain to spend more time studying the image. The key is finding the right balance. With the right amount of detail your audience will recognise that there’s to the picture, giving it meaning.


Contact Sheet

I was with a photo group when I found these men building a house out of bricks in a small fishing village near Hoi An, in Central Vietnam. The group continued ahead, no one stopped to observe this as a potential photo opportunity. I spent 5 minutes watching the men and how they moved. My vision was to create a sense of tension using the layers and textures of the brickwork, however an empty brick wall wasn’t the most interesting subject. The first three shots were very ‘straight’ or obvious that the men were building a house. As I observed the scene, I anticipated the moment when the man would disappear behind the wall to lay another brick, which added a point of interest within the detail. Isolating the foliage in the background and framing just the brickwork enabled me to draw the focus on the man.

Fuji X100S, fixed 35mm f/2 @ 35mm, 1/210s @ f4, 800 ISO, handheld. Contrast, curves, saturation adjusted in Adobe Lightroom.



Exclude the Extraneous

Composition should never complicate the facts. All it takes is some practice to train your eye to identify the various principles of composition. Once you familiarise yourself with the components, you will begin noticing patterns that work for your shooting style. An essential part of the process for capturing powerful and meaningful images is to exclude any irrelevant details. Every shot we take is a frame; this is why it’s good practice to be selective in terms of what we fill our frame with. Of course, the story or narrative will vary depending on how we choose to portray our subject, but there are some basic ‘rules’ or guidelines to consider. For example, you may want to leave your image open to interpretation. If so, you’ll likely eliminate certain parts of the scene, allowing the viewer to put the pieces together.

Another way to compose a frame is by framing within another frame. This can help draw attention to the main part of an image. A strongly composed photo will typically be constructed with some kind of thought or meaning guiding the viewer’s eye to flow naturally, or organically through the entire frame, rather than being forced. When you include only the necessary pieces, your narrative will intensify making it easier and quicker to communicate what it is you want to say.


Relative Distance

Relative distance when talking about composition usually refers to the distance between your subject(s) and the rest of the objects in the frame. This is very similar to adding tension. A basic rule is to avoid overlapping your subjects, as it often over complicates the message. For example, if two people were walking in opposite directions it would more visually engaging to avoid taking the shot when your subjects intersect. Keeping an eye on the relative distance between your subjects, the foreground and background will aid you in how you compose your shot. You obviously don’t want your subjects to overlapping, but you also don’t want any distractions in the background crisscrossing on your main focal point. A good method is to frame your background first and wait for the right moment to take the shot when everything falls into place. It takes time, but it will show that you’ve put some thought into your shot.


Fill The Frame

While negative space can be used effectively to create powerful photos, there’s an old saying by a famous photographer, Robert Capa, who once said, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Robert wasn’t referring to sticking a telephoto lens on his camera and zooming in; he means physically moving closer to the subject and become more immersed in the moment. This approach can help with not including too much extraneous detail, as the framing and focus will be solely on the subject. Filling the frame makes it obvious in showing your intended objective, which helps carry your message across from the moment your audience view the photograph.

When we fill the frame with the subject up close and personal, the whole dynamic is amplified making for a more dramatic shot. For example, a close up portrait is much more intimate than a full body portrait, as it immediately connects the viewer’s eyes with your subjects eyes. When shooting street photography it’s also good to get in nice and close with a wide angle to give the viewer a sense of being there in the scene. Try finding the contrast between subject and the background to give your images more impact.

It’s also important to mention that filling the frame can become problematic if it’s not accurately executed. An example of this would be missing vital parts to the narrative by cropping off critical elements. The solution is to take a few shots, move back and forth to see what works best. If you have the time, it takes very little energy to use your feet. Avoid using a zoom lens, as this will make you lazy. A nice fast prime lens is your best friend.


Avoid Cropping

This may be a personal preference of mine, but try to avoid cropping my images in post. I find greater satisfaction in perfecting the composition in camera. Not only does this save time when it comes to post-processing on the computer, it also makes me more observant when composing my shots. Now, this may not suit everyone and will vary depending what you shoot, but I find it good to practice perfecting composition without relying on cropping later.

Patterns and Repetitions

Patterns are aesthetically pleasing when we look at photos, but the best is when the pattern is interrupted or broken. This may seem mundane in everyday life, however when we start thinking in terms of composition it can really give your images impact. Think of patterns as a photographs rhythm, they give the structure harmony. When we start experimenting with different repetitions (lines, patterns, colours) our images come to life.

There are two ways of using repetition in photography. You can either emphasize it or break it completely. Filling your frame with repetitive patterns will allure you eye into the shot. A good rule is to focus as close as possible, perhaps zooming in on the detailed area so that the pattern resumes its repetition throughout the entire frame. This also adds depth and complexity. For example, I used the lines and texture the brick wall to add repetition. This made the image more visual, giving it a jigsaw puzzle feel.

When we start breaking patterns we increase the tension within an image. This can be a great way of focusing on a specific element. An example could be a straight line that suddenly changes directions and directs your eye to the main subject or focal point. Positioning your subject within an attention-grabbing pattern can aid in stimulating your viewer’s attention and encourage them look deeper into an image.

8 Compelling Reasons Why I love Mirrorless Cameras

As photographers we’re always searching for that perfect camera, but is there really such a thing? In the past decade I’ve been shooting with Canon DSLRs. They have served me well in that time, especially with landscape photography and commercial work. However, technology has advanced and small cameras are now becoming popular among professional photographers. I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s not the camera that matters; it’s the end result that counts. It’s still my view on photography, yet everyday I’m trying to push the limits of my gear to get the best possible results – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I want to share some of the benefits of using smaller cameras, and mirrorless cameras in particular, and how they can change the way you shoot – potentially opening up a new world of opportunities. All the images in this article were shot with the Fujifilm X100S mirrorless rangefinder camera. It’s what I’ve predominantly used over the past eight months while travelling in Southeast Asia. It’s worth mentioning that I’m in no way affiliated with Fujifilm. I’m purely writing this based on my personal experiences using the Fujifilm system.

This article was originally written and published in Australian Photography magazine. You can read the article on their website.

Size and Weight

DSLRs and most traditional cameras are often bulkier and heavier than the more portable compact cameras on the market, making the camera act as a barrier between the photographer and their subject. Because of this it’s often a common occurrence to miss certain shots when the camera viewfinder is pressed to your eye. The bulkiness and size sometimes obscures your vision, which can be frustrating when shooting in busy and chaotic environments. It can mean missing other photo opportunities.

On the other hand, mirrorless cameras or smaller more portable cameras don’t really have this issue. The smaller build size enables you to move freely and quickly with the freedom to see what’s happening around you. The smaller body size in most cases makes these cameras lightweight, creating an easier and more enjoyable experience to carry a camera with you at all times, increasing the chance of capturing moments that may have been impossible with a DSLR.

Being Discreet

Ever wondered how to be invisible as a photographer to capture more candid and natural photos without disrupting the scene? Although it’s not humanly possible to be invisible, there are certain methods to be discreet when shooting in public. Some photographers use telephoto lenses from a long distance to grab candid shots, however, formidable DSLR cameras are not preferred in a lot of situations due to the attention they draw.

There are times when holding the cameras viewfinder to your eye is abundantly obvious that you are shooting. When trying to capture candid and natural moments you don’t want your subjects aware that you are taking images. Smaller cameras have the benefit of being less invasive due to their compact size; therefore increasing the chances of grabbing more natural shots. People react differently to small cameras than what they do to big cameras, especially for street photography.

Silent Shutter

With film cameras, there was only one kind of shutter: the mechanical type. These days, digital cameras you have two types of shutters; hybrid and electronic shutters, effectively replacing the old mechanical shutters.

The advantages of electronic in comparison to mechanical shutters are simple. They are more robust and reliable because there are no moving parts – this makes the shutter completely silent. It also helps eliminate the risk of blurry images at slower shutter speeds.

As a result, the electronic shutter allows faster shutter speeds. Most mechanical shutters quickest speed is 1/800th. Auto focus speed and tracking is also improved due to the autofocus sensors being placed directly in the main image sensors that are constantly exposed to light.

Many of the mirrorless cameras available today offer a silent shutter. This is a huge plus when trying to capture photos of people without being obvious you are shooting. People tend to react differently when they hear the camera clicking. The Fujifilm X100S is unique in that it has a leaf shutter and an electronic shutter. Leaf shutters are extremely quiet; basically dead silent. Often you won’t hear it even fire a shot. Leaf shutters also allow extremely fast shutter speeds with flash.

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

Relatively new in digital camera technology, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) has become popular among professional photographers. Traditional DSLR cameras bounce the image up into the viewfinder by a mirror and prism. This is an optical view of what the lens is capturing and requires no electronics, just the same as looking through binoculars.

Mirrorless cameras with an EVF use the light from the lens straight into the sensor that records the data and displays a preview in the viewfinder of what the sensor captures. Think of this as live view mode through the cameras eyepiece. There are various advantages of EVFs: the ability to display the histogram in real time, which is extremely beneficial when shooting in tricky lightening situations when properly exposing. Another advantage is live display rendering. You are able see the dynamic range of highlight/shadow detail before pressing the shutter. When shooting in low light environments EVFs are much brighter, therefore the benefit of ISO can be clearly visible. Focus peeking is useful, as is the focus assist zoom. But probably my favourite feature of EVF is the option to review your images without removing your eye from the viewfinder, great when outdoors in bright environments.

Dedicated Dials and Controls

Modern cameras, in principle, tend to be complicated, jam-packed with features that most people don’t need, not even professionals. Introducing new features, dials and controls isn’t always a good thing. In my opinion, this evolution is complicating matters making it an overwhelming experience for beginners starting out in photography. People may say it’s just a matter of learning to operate whatever camera you have available, however, it’s easier to adapt to a design that’s intuitive.

Mirrorless technology seems a step ahead with intuitive cameras with only the right ingredients. Most of these cameras are far more instinctual, making it easier to adapt with their dedicated dials and controls. I like Fuji’s simple ergonomic design, which, from my experience, are some of the simplest cameras to operate straight out of the box. There’s nothing worse than buying a new camera and being overwhelmed by it’s design and features. Usability improvements such as dedicated dials for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are important. It becomes a mess when you have to fiddle through a menu in order to adjust settings; this is the big advantage of dedicated dials in the right places.

Misleading Value

A huge advantage of travelling with a smaller more portable camera is that it tends to look less expensive than a bigger traditional DSLR.

The general person on the street tends to assume the smaller the camera, the lower its value. I’m not saying it’s a complete deterrent, as people who steal will commit crime regardless of the camera, but smaller cameras do tend to be smaller targets.

Another advantage is people don’t really associate compact-style cameras as ‘professional’ cameras. It’s a great way to be inconspicuous while still retaining optimum image quality.

Accurate Autofocus

Traditionally, DSLR cameras have offered faster and more accurate autofocus than mirrorless cameras but the gap is closing. For some DSLR users, the hassle of framing with the little centre square point and then re-framing to get the desired composition can lead to missed shots.

It’s safe to say DSLR autofocus right now is much faster than mirrorless, however, vast improvements have been made in recent mirrorless cameras that allow them to utilise both contrast-detect and phase-detect autofocus systems. The latest mirrorless cameras use phase-detection autofocus in live view. Phase detection autofocus systems are used to get your subjects pin sharp. Learning how to effectively use this method you can efficiently lock focus in even the most challenging lighting situations. Mirrorless may not be the quickest focusing system yet, but it is accurate when the camera locks focus, making for an enjoyable and effortless shooting experience. Plus, you never need to fine-tune autofocus on mirrorless cameras. To me, this is a huge advantage.

Superb Image Quality

Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras produce high quality pictures at similar resolutions, with agreeable amounts of digital noise (grain) at higher ISOs. Earlier mirrorless camera models meant lower quality files, as they did struggle in low-light situations, but technology has advanced tenfold. Camera manufacturers have developed more sensitive chips which suppress digital noise. It is important to keep in mind, mirrorless is continuously evolving and there is still debate about image quality, but in such a short period of time mirrorless is most definitely changing the world of digital photography.

 

Beating Photographers Block (Part One)

Are your images falling short of your expectations? Has your photography become formulaic and forced, rather than free and instinctual? Maybe you’re suffering from photographers’ block. If so, here are three essential tips to help you get your mojo back.

Photographers’ block is frustrating and can happen to anyone anytime. We have all suffered the frustration of a creative rut, but thankfully it’s usually only temporary. While we all want to create, there are times when finding inspiration can be difficult. This is completely normal, and it’s important to understand that all photographers experience downtimes. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to beat the negativity and use the experience to actually grow as a photographer. First, it’s important that you do not wallow in self-doubt. Instead, you need to recognise that you’re in a slump and take the appropriate steps to get your creativity flowing again. 

A creative block is not a sign of weakness. It takes strength and determination to push forward. And when you do you’ll gain a better understanding of how you can achieve your goals. If it was easy to be a creative powerhouse, everyone would be one, right? So, stop wallowing and start following these simple recommendations to help you break out of your funk and get your mojo back. The best part is it’s not inherently difficult. It just takes some patience, a willingness to try different things and an understanding of what’s going on.

Break The Mould

As photographers we typically specialise in one or two genres of photography. Usually, this is because we’ve mastered a particular type of shooting and are comfortable with the work we’re producing. It’s great being comfortable doing what you do, but sometimes you need to break away from what you know best and experiment with something that is completely new. Challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. If you primarily shoot portraits, find some landscapes. If you’re always shooting landscapes, go out and do some portraits or try your hand at macro photography. Alternatively, stay put in your usual genre, but try experimenting with different lighting techniques. If you use flash for the majority of your images then try limiting yourself to natural light. By trying new things and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone you will discover new approaches and, hopefully, fresh inspiration.

Shoot With Other Photographers

Fortunately, we don’t all go through photographers’ block at the same time. I always learn something new and am pushed in surprising ways when I shoot with other photographers. Spending time with creative people can rekindle your passion for your craft and propel you out of your creative downturn. 

It’s easy to connect with photographers online, organise a shoot and go exploring. When I was going through down times in my career I spent time talking to other photographers about their work. This helped push me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to experiment with new genres and techniques.

Attend Workshops

This is another great way to meet like-minded individuals and share your love of photography. You may not even need the tuition but it’s always nice to be surrounded by a group of people with the same passion. You could even join or start your own photo walk. A photo walk is basically a group of photographers who get together at a predetermined spot with their cameras. You meet and discuss photography and then walk in a group taking photos of whatever visually grabs you. Most of these photo meetings finish somewhere where everyone in the group can exchange ideas and share images from the day. This is a great way to make new friends and learn new approaches.

Capture Better Environmental Portraits

Environmental portraits typically portray a person in their natural environment. Different from traditional portraits shot in a studio, locational portraits capture the character of the subject and give insight into their daily life making for a more personal image, generally telling some kind of story about who the subject is. This can be achieved anywhere from their work place, home, or anywhere where they like to spend their time. However, you can also setup an environmental shoot to illustrate their character in certain scenario or situation. The benefit of photographing people in a natural environment is people feel more relaxed and comfortable being photographed resulting in better and stronger images.

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 Planning Ahead

The first thing I do before every photo trip is decide what I want to see and the type of photos I intend on capturing. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I was inspired by the culture, so I wanted to capture pictures of local people and the culture, both staged naturally and candidly. I spent countless hours researching online to make sure it would be a successful trip.

Determine the style of the shoot, the purpose and the mood you plan on conveying. Do you need an assistant or fixer to help translate if working in a foreign country? Are you shooting indoors or outdoors? Do you need location permits or a model release if you plan on selling the images commercially? These are just a few questions to think about before picking up your camera.

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 Location is Everything

Finding the perfect location can be challenging, but is the key to capturing environmental portraits. It’s a good idea to scout the area in search for the right place to depict your subject. Persevere until you find the right location and it definitely result in stronger images.

Meet with your subject beforehand and get to know them. Perhaps they have a place where they feel relaxed. As an example, people often feel comfortable at their homes, which strengthen the chances of capturing natural facial expressions and body language. Although, some people may not feel comfortable inviting a stranger into their safe place so be respectful if you are invited into their home. Allowing your talent to choose the location can be extremely beneficial when working in a new or unfamiliar territory and can safe a lot of time looking for location yourself.

Background detail is imperative in adding a sense of place and defining the character of your subject. However, be mindful when composing your shots so that the background doesn’t detract the presence of your subject. The focus should be on your subject.

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Communication

An essential part of photographing people is communication and interpreting what you wish to achieve. If working in a foreign country you may not speak the language, this makes things trickier. The best way around this is to use a location fixer or someone local who speaks the native language who can translate. Fixers can also sort out shooting permits for special locations while liaising with local authorities to make things run smoothly during the shoot.

In some countries people enjoy being photographed. Myanmar is a great example of this. It is much easier to approach people if they are open to having their picture taken and an excellent opportunity to meet new people. By talking with people you’ll find the confidence to approach strangers and take their photos whether staged or impromptu. If there is a language barrier, simply point to your camera and smile. Most people already know what you want once they see the camera. However, if they refuse to have their picture taken, respect their wishes and move on. Always remember to smile and always say thank you.Be polite and project positivity when you work, people tend to take on your energy so be that radiating photographer everyone wants to know.

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 Posing Your Subject

Posing your subject and capturing natural body language takes some work, but with good perception and practice this can be an enjoyable experience for both yourself and your model. It’s vital that they feel relaxed, as any strain will be evident in your pictures. Again, communication is an essential part of this process. Ask them how they feel and never push them to pose a certain way they aren’t confident or capable, this will result in tension resulting in unnatural body language.

Most people feel at ease when sitting or having something to lean against (wall, doorframe for example), this is a good starting point. Have your subject sit in their environment, not necessarily looking at the camera. Ask for them to look off into the distance, or get them to focus on something. As an example, if you’re shooting someone in their workplace, they could continue with their daily routine while you shoot. Remember you are capturing their personality, so step back and observe how their actions before directing. If you are shooting candidly there is no need to pose. Anticipation is key, wait for the right moment (the decisive moment) to take your shot.

When shooting closer more intimate portraits it’s best to approach with humility, respect and a light footprint. This means working respectfully with your subject and their environment. Never physically handle your subject, especially if you’re a male photographing a female. Politely explain/demonstrate the pose and then have your model reposition. It’s about gaining each other’s trust, which takes time but if approached appropriately it will dramatically improve your results.

 Add Drama to your Pictures

Working under natural light is a great way to add drama to your pictures for moody portraits full of character. It’s also a fantastic way to better understand the importance of light and how to effectively use it. If you are new to photography, you don’t want to complicate matters by adding multiple speedlites. Instead go out with your camera and observe your environment, study the light and take notice of how different lighting changes the mood of the environment you are in.

Photographing elderly people in low light is a fantastic way to exaggerate facial expressions, lines and wrinkles to make a dramatic portrait. One of my favourite approaches to low-light portraits is finding a dark space with areas of light highlighting parts of the scene. An example could be an open doorway into a dark room. Position your model in the light against the dark area. Notice how the light highlights your subject and the background is dark and free of distractions? Keep an eye on the light and try shooting from different angles, or reposition your model to stand half in the shadow and half in the light to create deep contrasts. This is the easiest way to manipulate natural light for a more dramatic feel. Experiment with natural light, you’ll be surprised how effective it is.

Another way to add/enhance the atmosphere of your portraits is by adding smoke. Your model could be smoking a cigarette and exhaling smoke into the air, or burn incense. Darker backgrounds work best for smoke, as smoke is typically light so a brighter background won’t have the same impact. Use a shallow depth of field to draw the focus on the smoke to create a subtle illusion of depth. Candlelight is another natural light source to create ambience, but be careful of fire and hot wax.

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 Keep Post-Processing in Mind

Cameras have their limitations where they cannot capture the entire tonal range of some more challenging lighting situations. Shooting during the middle of the day when the light is harsh can cause an unflattering loss of shadow detail. If your subject is backlit, half in shade or wearing a hat you’ll notice this problem. Asking your subject to move, or waiting for the light to become favourable isn’t always an option, so it’s good practice to shoot with post-processing in mind.

By underexposing or overexposing elements in a scene allows the freedom of recovering lost details in your editing software by adjusting the shadow/fill depending on the situation. Exposing for someone’s face when the light is harsh may result in an extremely over-exposed sky. In this case it’s likely the highlights would be unrecoverable, so expose for the highlights and tweak the shadows in post. If this increases digital noise (grain) you can reduce this with some noise reduction in post.

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 Don’t be afraid to up ISO

A common photographic fear that I’ve noticed is photographers afraid to increase the ISO setting on their cameras. Most photographers advise to use the lowest ISO possible. There is good reason to shoot lower ISOs, as image quality is at its maximum compared to shooting with a higher ISO. However, camera technology has improved a lot since the first DSLR was released and most modern DSRL’s are capable of shooting higher ISOs (1600 – 3200  or greater.)

Increasing the ISO enables you to shoot at faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures, which can be extremely useful when shooting portraits in low light conditions without the need for a tripod or flash. High ISO combined with a fast prime lens opens up a whole new world of experimentation and this is often when the best light happens. If noise is evident than you may need to adjust your settings, but you can also remove digital noise in post-processing, so go explore and see what you find.

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 Use Model Releases

Basically, a model release is a contract. It is a written and signed agreement between the photographer and the model. The purpose of obtaining a release is to protect the photographer from future liability if something were to happen and become a lawsuit, which can and does arise if someone files a legal claim against you, such as an invasion of privacy or defamation of character. Every photo you sell that features a recognisable person must feature a release unless it is being used for certain reportage/documentary purposes. The document imposes the terms and conditions that one party may use images taken of another party. In short it’s an essential part of being a portrait photographer when using images commercially.

There are a number of phone apps that allow you to electronically draft legally binding model releases in seconds. All you need is a smart phone or iPad and a good app. I have been using the app by 500px called ‘Releases’, which lets me save model and location information. Once you’ve filled in the blank fields all you need is your models signature, which he or she can sign with the ease of the touch screen using their finger and you can save it as a PDF to print, file or export elsewhere. Saves a lot of time doing paperwork!

Working With Compositional Lines

Composition can make or break a great photograph, this is why it’s important to understand it and know how to effectively and creatively use it. In essence, composition describes the position of relative elements in a photograph. A strong composition will tend to have leading lines that draw attention to your subject, these can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal lines depending on the placement of your subject in the frame.

Have a look at the following images and see how I have composed each scene with the use of lines leading towards my subjects. I have drawn arrows in Photoshop on the photos to help share my vision when I was composing each shot. Hopefully those who aren’t familiar with composition will be able to visualise and understand it’s importance and how to go about composing the perfect shot.

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This image I wanted to lead the viewers eyes through the frame and down the long corridor while having the novice monk looking against the diagonal lines. The woman carrying the basket on her head in the background was walking with the line of the pathway which helped add direction. Notice the continuous pattern created by the pillars of the corridor and how they get smaller the further into the image. This helped add depth with the main focus on the monk in the foreground.

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This was a fairly simple composition with my subject centred in my frame. I composed the shot so that the fishing net would draw diagonal lines inwards to the fisherman. The use of my wide angle lens helped distort the frame to add depth.

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The focus was the novice monks but I also wanted to capture the ambient light and use the sun rays coming through the window as a source of direction. By composing the shot with the monks sitting beneath the beams of light I was able to draw focus downwards to their books while using the wall on the left to draw a line towards them.

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Here I composed my shot with the novice in the left third of the image and used the pillars on the right hand side to add depth into the shot. The lines along the pathway to the right add a leading line towards the monk while the ceiling draws the eye downwards with the monk looking down as he walked towards me. A very simple but strong composition taken with a wide angle lens.

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This is another centred composition with the monk sitting in the lower middle of frame. By shooting from a low angle I was able to create some distortion with the wide angle lens to point diagonal lines downwards towards the monk while the brickwork created focus horizontally to the middle of frame. The tiles on the floor also pointed lines inwards to make this a tight composition.

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This was an unusual composition for me as I don’t really favour titled horizons, however it worked in this scenario by shooting from a low angle from the fisherman’s boat. As he held out his basket it created a reflection on the water which added direction pointing towards the centre of frame. The horizon runs from the bottom left and diagonally to the upper right creating a cross section composition.

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Another fairly straightforward composition. The light was spilling in from the left of frame so I composed the shot with the novice standing on the right of frame looking across towards the light. The angled light pointed towards the monk creating deep contrast which helped pull the shot together.

10 Tips for Successful Street Photography

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The essence of Street photography is about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. You can find opportunities to practice street photography everywhere and you don’t necessarily need to travel to capture great shots. It’s a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject’s knowledge. However, street photography doesn’t rule out staged pictures. You may spot an interesting character that catches your vision; you can wander up to strangers and ask for permission to take their picture. This is a great way to get a more intimate portrait of someone in his or her environment.

 The most important thing with street photography is to have fun and enjoy getting out with your camera. Remember your goal is to capture emotion, humanity, and depict a person’s character. It takes time to get your shot, but with some practice and patience it is rewarding.

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Choosing the best lens

Deciding what lens to use is one of the most important factors for street photography. You may be tempted to use a telephoto lens, however that’s more than likely to result in more harm than good. You don’t want to be that creepy person standing across the road aiming a giant lens at strangers. If you want to look inconspicuous you’re going to need to get up close and amongst the action. Use a wide-angle lens and get lost in a busy crowd. Many street photographers choose a compact camera that’s less confronting than a large DSLR, the advantages being smaller, lightweight, and discreet.

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Camera settings

The quickest and easiest way to setup your camera for street photography is by switching the camera to AV (aperture-priority mode) and selecting your f-stop (aperture) and ISO manually. The camera will then decide the shutter speed (exposure). On a bright sunny day a good place to start is around f/16 with an ISO between 200-400. If your camera displays a shutter speed higher than 1/200th a second you are ready to roll. Take note of the shutter speed your camera is reading and make adjustments to aperture and ISO accordingly. If your camera is giving you a shutter speed that is below 1/80th you run the risk of a blurred shot, but that could be used for good effect too. To overcome blur simply increase your ISO and/or choose a wider aperture.

If you’re new to photography you can always set camera to P mode (program or auto) and let the camera select the correct settings. You can still adjust the EV if you want to over or under expose the shot to your liking.

This is useful if you are shooting run and gun (in a hurry with no time to think), but you have little control over what the camera is doing, so this isn’t always the best option. Program mode does a pretty decent job but I wouldn’t rely on it in low light where there’s a high possibility your shutter speed will be too slow to freeze the action.

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Get close to your subjects

Using a wide-angle lens enables you to get nice and close to your subjects. The advantage of the wide angle gives the viewer a sense of being there in the moment. You’ll also blend in with the crowd as part of the environment, rather than standing out across the street with a long lens.

Many successful street photos were taken only few meters from the action and sometimes only centimeters away. Walking through a busy street, market or park can result in some rewarding pictures if you are observant and keep your eyes open for interesting subjects. If your images aren’t how you visualised them then you may need to get closer, so use your feet as your zoom to be sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

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Take your camera everywhere


Street photography is spontaneous and waits for no-one. It’s a discipline you must practice to make perfect. Your camera is an extension of yourself, it’s your gateway to sharing your vision with the world and you don’t want to miss an amazing photo opportunity by not having your camera on you. If you’re serious about street photography you will have your camera within reach at all times.

This is known as the ‘decisive moment’ where you have only a split second to capture your subject before it’s gone forever. You rarely get a second chance so be prepared.

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Ignore the voice in your mind

Some people struggle with the idea of street photography. Some concerns may be the fear about your subjects getting angry because you took their picture, threaten you with physical violence, or even worse call the police. Fear is simply false evidence appearing real. These are all common fears, but it’s possible to overcome by practicing and getting out more with your camera. Here are some suggestions to overcome your concerns.

Find an interesting spot to sit with your camera. I spend a lot of time at cafes and restaurants when I travel, my camera ready for any opportunities. Observing from a comfortable setting you’ll feel at ease and can wait for pictures to come to you. You are less likely to be noticed sitting outside a café with your camera than what you would be standing in the middle of the street.

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Tune out and listen to your iPod while you are out walking with your camera. Music is somewhat of a distraction that can help relax and inspire creativity. It may not sound logical but it works wonders and if it means you’re comfortable in your surrounds than it’s worth a shot. [I don’t suggest doing this at night, in uncrowded or unfamiliar places! Always be aware of your surroundings.]

 

Shoot from the hip

As a general rule of street photography, if you can get the shot with the camera to your eye, you will get a better shot. However, there are times when it’s not possible to raise the camera to your eye, and so shooting from the hip is a useful method of capturing a decisive moment. When I first started shooting on the street I found it difficult holding my camera to my eye and pointing it towards strangers, so I started holding the camera by my hip to capture more candid pictures. At first I wasn’t successful, but the more familiar I became with my camera and the focal length I managed to capture some great candid moments.

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Shoot at night

Night photography in the city is a great opportunity for unique images. It’s not as easy as shooting during the day; you will need to be mindful of low shutters speeds to avoid blur and use your ISO and aperture to compensate for low light.

Take a tripod with you if you plan on doing long exposures. Alternatively, using a fast aperture lens will enable you to shoot low-light scenes and still freeze the action. When shooting at night try finding interesting lines, shadows and compositions to give the image a bold visual statement. Silhouetted subjects are interesting and can create nice compositions with the shadow filling the foreground.

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Think outside the box

Powerful ideas and emotions can be portrayed through the simplest of scenes. Most people wrongly associate street photography with people or portraits on the street. You don’t always need people in frame, or capturing interesting juxtapositions or fitting as many different people or objects into frame. It may be difficult in some busy places, but take a walk down a quiet alleyway or side street and look for different subjects that interest you. There are infinite opportunities for all kinds of images with or without people. While in Vietnam I spent time wandering the streets photographing bicycles, which I have turned into a small series titled ‘Transportation’, that has been quite popular among the photo community. This was unintentional, but by doing something different I discovered a series that I may not have explored otherwise.

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Image quality isn’t everything

Some photographers may disagree with me here, but from my personal experience, shooting on the street I haven’t been concerned with image quality as much as I am when shooting landscapes or commercial work. Yes, you should strive for high image quality when possible, however, with street photography it’s not as important. In my opinion, composition, light, drama and the story you are trying to tell are of more important than image quality. If your images capture those four things than you’re on the right path to becoming a great street shooter.

Sharpness, low noise and immaculate image quality are worthless if you have poor composition, bad light and no atmosphere to tell a story. Focus on what’s important, that’s essentially what makes a great street image.

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Most importantly have fun

Like all genres of photography it’s important to enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy. If shooting on the street doesn’t sound like your kind of thing then chances are you’ll probably take ordinary images. Creativity flows where the passion lives, so do what makes you happy, not what other people expect to see. I love shooting street because it gets me out and about, meeting interesting people and seeing everyday life from a fresh perspective. That’s what inspires me to do what I do.

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Conclusion

Street photography requires practice and the more you get out there, the more your eye will develop and your confidence grow. The approach is much simpler than other genres and manipulation should be kept to the essentials, with minimal to no post-processing. The only manipulation I tend to do with my street photography is done through the camera viewfinder. 

Perception and intuition are the most important factors. Perception requires a creative eye for detail and is an attentive effort. Intuition is immediate and is not duty-bound to any attentive reasoning. These two factors are combined to create the decisive moment, an amazing process that takes your images to the next level. Because of this process, it’s here in the moment that street photography is captured and expressed. 

Strong street photos come from powerful ideas and emotions captured in a simplistic manner. It comes down to perception to force yourself out with your camera to capture decisive moments that unfold in front of you.

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