Thursday, July 3, 2008

POV photography

POV stands for Point of View. It's the kind of photograph taken from the eye of the participant. In other words rather than standing at the bottom of the slide and photographing somebody coming down it you actually get the person coming down the slide to photograph themselves.

There are lots of great gizmos and gadgets to help you do this. You can attach cameras to helmets, handlebars of bikes, outside the windscreens of cars. Or sometimes you can just do it the old-fashioned way. Go down the slide yourself and hold the camera over your head! No frills but lots of thrills.

I'd been watching my two boys slide down these big slides for half an hour or so, grabbing photos here and there, getting yelled at by park attendants for getting too close to the slides. You know how it is. And I thought that the photos were looking OK, I'd got some nice expressions on their faces that showed they were having fun. But I didn't really have anything that showed how quick the little guys were zooming down the slide.

Now I wasn't about to give my two year old my camera and get him to hold it over his head as he came down a concrete slide, so I decided to have a go with him on my lap. Thus the two sets of feet - one very little and one not so. I've used a nice wide-angle lens so you really get a good feel for the surroundings and the view all the way to the bottom. The wide-angle also ensures that most of my legs are in it, and the perspective distortion makes the bottom of the slide look a long way away.

The other little trick is to use a slow shutter speed. Instinct would tell you that because you're moving you should use a fast shutter speed to prevent camera shake, but in this case you actually want to slow things down. When you do that everything blurs except for our legs, which are moving at the same speed as the camera. You get an effect of really moving fast down the slide.

Then you hold the camera over your head and just click like crazy all the way down. Because it was such a twisty, windy slide some of the shots didn't have a very good view down to the bottom so they didn't work as well. Again it goes back to what I said about editing. Keep the good stuff and chuck the rest away.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The work before you go

I gave a talk to a group of photography students at James Cook University in Townsville yesterday. Well, they were in Townsville and I was in Cairns having a chat with them via Video Conferencing about Travel Photojournalism - hi Townsville!

Anyway I tried to get across the point that a lot of the really hard work that you do as a travel photographer takes place before you even get on the plane.

Because we're often so limited in the amount of time we have in any one destination (and that goes for whether you're on holiday or doing it professionally) you need to be able to maximise your opportunities to get as many good pictures as possible.

Take a huge metropolis like Tokyo. To photograph it intimately would take literally years. I don't know about you, but I don't think I'll ever find somebody willing to pay me for a whole year to photograph Tokyo! So when you visit somewhere as big as this you really need to narrow down your focus.

Going beyond the cliche again, if you've been there more than once you need to search for subjects that a million other people don't photograph. I found one such place in a suburb of the old part of Tokyo called Kappabashi. Look at all that yummy food!

Big deal you say, I can find Japanese food anywhere in Tokyo. But look closely. It's all plastic! If you've ever been to a restaurant in Japan you'll have noticed that displayed in the windows outside are plastic examples of all the meals they serve. This exquisitely prepared fake food is hard to tell apart from the real thing and Kappabashi is the part of Tokyo where they make it all.

Plastic ice-cream, sushi, pouring beer. You name it, they've got it. Tiny little shops crammed with every type of plastic food you could imagine. An amazing little piece of Tokyo and somewhere I never would have found without a bit of digging around.

To practice for your next trip a good habit is to do some research around where you live now. Dig up some interesting place to see or thing to do, something that hardly anybody knows about. Ring up the people involved and get some information and see if you can make some interesting photos.

If you can do as much research as possible before you go your time on the ground in a destination will go a lot smoother.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Background comes first

Often a good technique with street photography is to choose the static part of the photograph first and wait for someone or something to walk into the frame. For example in the image above I already knew that I wanted to photograph the lighting of the butter lamps. This was very early morning in a temple in Patan in the Kathmandu Valley.

I perched myself just next to the lamps, which were happily burning along all by their lonesome. A few people wandered in and lit some and then moved away but they weren't quite what I wanted.

After a few minutes of waiting this lady walked up with glasses on. It wasn't something I was particularly aiming for but I noticed that the lamps were reflecting in the lenses of her glasses, providing a little bit of fill light just to that part of her face.

That was exactly what I needed as all the other glasses-less people, when they lit the lamps, had their faces in shadow. Their faces were almost a black hole in the middle of the image. With a little bit of light reflected in the glasses it gave me the perfect counterpoint to the flames in the right hand side of the photo.

I'll often use this technique. I'll just wander around looking for nice backgrounds, or interesting features, and just sit and wait until somebody interesting walks into the picture to give it a bit of special interest. A slightly longer telephoto lens is helpful in these cases so that you can be really unobtrusive when photographing. Get your zoom at exactly the right level for the picture you want to take, have your aperture and shutter speed set correctly and just sit and wait. It's almost like big game hunting only you're looking for pictures!