Friday, April 25, 2008

On stage

If you're shy about approaching people to take their photo, a great place to get some fantastic shots (you're expected to take photos!) is at a stage show.

Most countries have somewhere where they put on a dinner dance and show featuring indigenous dancing. The biggest challenge is how to photograph these events and keep them looking natural.

The best way to kill any atmosphere is to use your flash. That harsh, horrible white light just destroys any ambience. So that means you're going to need a faster ISO (I almost said film speed but then realised that probably none of you are shooting film anymore!) to keep your shutter speeds nice and fast to stop any motion.

Another good way to stop motion is to aim for a lull in the dance, when people aren't moving as much. Here, even though I was using 400ISO film, many of the shots were quite artistically blured because of the fast movement of the dancers. (Remember if you stuff up - it's art. Whenever you take a bad photo - it's art.) Where was I? Oh yeah, lulls in movement. I waited until the dancer paused and looked up at the ceiling and snapped away.

The show was under tungsten lights and I had daylight film in the camera, hence the slightly yellowish glow. I did some other shots with tungsten film and although the skin tones look more natural, the overall scene looked too 'blue' for my taste. Of course with digital shooting Jpeg you can do all that with the white balance. Even better, shoot RAW and just process it to your taste afterwards.

Shooting under these sort of conditions is always pretty hit and miss. You never know what you're going to get - or even if you're going to get anything at all. But it's great fun trying. Just remember to turn your flash off, bump up your ISO and wait for lulls in the action and great people photos are yours for the taking.

By the way, this picture was taken in the Cook Islands during my honeymoon! Who says men aren't romantic. Don't all people work during their honeymoon? Sorry honey. But you know I'm a photography addict. It was taken with a 70-200mm zoom set on 200mm and wide open at f2.8. I didn't have my tripod so my wife let me lean it on her shoulder. Now that's what I call an understanding partner. :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We're Out!

Welcome to the final installment of our exploration of the Taj Mahal.

Have you ever seen it taken from this angle? I know I certainly hadn't and surely would have missed it if I hadn't remembered to look back. It was a grab shot. I was on my way out hurrying to somewhere else, turned around and quickly snapped it. If I had the chance to do it again I definitely would have sat around and waited for the people to be in a better position but that's often the sacrifice you make when you're travelling. There's never enough time!

I wanted to show how you actually enter the Taj complex - or in this case exit the complex. You pass through these huge stone gates and it just sort of magically appears in front of your eyes. This vision that you've seen a million pictures of - but always from the same angle.

The next day we headed to the Red Fort - another famous Agra icon. From here you get a very unusual view of the Taj and its position on the banks of the Yamuna River, which is bone dry during a drought.

The view is particularly interesting when you realise that it is the only view of his creation that the builder of the Taj had in the last years of his life.

The Taj was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal., who is buried within. In his later years the Emperor was actually overthrown by his son Aurangzeb who then imprisoned him in Agra Fort for the last eight years of his life. This was the view from his cell window. Knowing a bit about the history and culture of the regions you visit can help add a dimension to your pictures.

Going back to our hotel for our final night in Agra we decided to head up to the roof to write our diaries and watch the local kids flying kites from the rooves of the surrounding houses. Little did we expect to run into the Taj yet again.

A farewell photograph and it was time to move on to the next destination. I hope you enjoyed our in-depth coverage of the Taj and I hope it has given you some ideas of how to cover your own travel destinations.

Next time we'll get back to our regular channel!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Out the door

Are you still with me? We're nearly out the door but before we go there's a couple of shots we need to get to complete the picture.

The sun is well and truly on its way down. The Taj itself is already in twilight but the last rays of the setting sun are still hitting the main entrance gate. It may not be the main attraction but is still incredibly beautiful in any light, this light in particular.

You can still see people milling about, reluctant to leave this little piece of paradise. The people at the bottom of the frame are conveniently wearing white saris which stand out against the shadowed area in the foreground.

A silhouetted palm tree tells you that it isn't exactly cold and there's a lovely shadow running down the middle of the door arch, giving it shape and texture.

Speaking of door arches...

Foreground frames are a popular compositional tool but oftentimes are mis-used. For any type of photography, every element of the picture has to contribute something. If it doesn't help reinforce the picture then it's best to get rid of it.

Foreground frames are the perfect example of this, especially in travel photography. They need to tell you something about the location.

It's no good just having any old door frame to put around the Taj Mahal. If it had been a rectangle wooden jobby I would have let the shot go. But because it has that lovely Arabic curve and shape to it it tells you something about the style of architecture.

Here I took an exposure reading off the sky itself to render the doorframe a deep shadowy silhouette. I can actually pull detail out in Photoshop but it doesn't have anywhere near the impact that it does as a silhouette.

So keep an eye out for things that you can use as picture foreground frames - but just remember if they don't contribute something to the picture they're not worth having.

Tomorrow will be the last post in the Taj series and I'm going to show you a couple of shots that I'm pretty sure you will never have seen before. Hint: they weren't taken from inside the Taj complex. :)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Waiting around

So far I've done the cliche, shown size with the telephoto lens, concentrated on the intricate patterns inlaid in the marble and taken a couple of scene-setting shots.

Focussing back on the Taj again I realised that one thing I hadn't shown is the terrace (balcony?) around the Taj itself. It's quite a wide area, beautifully laid with marble tiles and people wander around it looking at all four sides.

To photograph it I used a wide-angle lens and held the camera vertically. This enabled me to get as much of the balcony in as possible while also showing the height of the Taj and how it towers above the small people at the bottom of the frame. I also wanted to include on the minarets to give a further visual clue as to where it was.

And then the time came for me to partake in one of the most importants parts of what I do. Sit and wait. Or, more importantly, sit and take it all in. Sometimes you get so carried away with photographing anything and everything that you forget to actually experience anything. You come away with all these photos that have no real resonance with you because you don't remember a thing apart from what you saw through the viewfinder.

I find it really important to just put the camera down ( I never put it in the camera bag just in case big foot does walk in front of me!) and take in the sights, sounds and smells. Long after the photos have been forgotten the memories will stay with you.

I spent the good part of an hour or two just walking around and enjoying being there. Talking to people (if I get asked once more if I know Shane Warne I think I'm gonna scream!) and looking for angles and views that I might not have considered.

Sitting down on the lawn the sun slowly started getting lower in the sky and the beautiful light descended upon us. That's when it's time to get the camera out again. Sometimes you don't have to move very far at all to get what you want.

This one was taken just sitting down on the lawn, enjoying the view. There are no tripods allowed in the Taj so I had to try and support the camera as much as possible with a slow shutter speed.

Next time we're just about to head out the gates for the last time, but will grab a couple of shots as we head out the door. :)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Don't forget to look back.

When you're trying to explore a photographic subject in-depth not every image is going to be a masterpiece. But that's OK. What you're aiming to do is create a complete picture of a place, or an experience, so that people who weren't with you can travel through your pictures.

To do that effectively you need to show the story from start to finish. One of the best ways to do this is to remember to look back over your shoulder. When you're faced with something as beautiful as the Taj Mahal it's pretty hard to remember to look at anything else.

But when you first take off your shoes and head on up the steps, if you look back you'll see where you come in. Now I'd never seen a photo of anything else in the Taj complex apart from the mauseoleum itself so I wanted to show what the entrance gate looked like and where you walked to get there.

Using a slight telephoto makes the gate look relatively large and also shows the masses of people that visit, as well as the lovely manicured gardens. Even though the Taj itself isn't in the picture the famous moat helps place the viewer. As a stand-alone picture it may not be as significant as some of the others but in terms of building a visual story it is vitally important.

Of course another major part of the experience is the people. As someone who spends a lot of their working life photographing strangers, the Taj came as a bit of a shock because everybody wanted their photo taken with me. (Not to mention all the guys trying to chat up my wife!)
I'm used to people coming up and asking me to take their photo but this family all wanted a photo together with me. I guess the strangely dressed white guy was a bit of a novelty.

Anyway after I posed for a photo with every one of them I couldn't resist asking for a photo of my own. Photography 101 says I most probably should have turned them around so that the Taj was behind them and gave a sense of place to the photo but they were so shy about being photographed, and so about to head for the hills that I had to grab a photo quickly before they changed their mind.

So even though the background isn't perfect it's another story building image. Rural Indians travelling great distances in their finest clothes to see one of their national treasures. You can almost see the words 'shy' written in big letters across their foreheads but also see how proudly they're dressed, and even though they're all frowning formally for the portrait you still get a sense of how happy they are to be there all together.