Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting the inside story

How do you photograph people naked in a hot springs? That's a question I get asked all the time. Actually, I lie. I've never been asked, but I often get asked a similar question which is - how do you get access to things to photograph.

Just ask. Sounds simple doesn't it? And often it really is that simple. Particularly with people photography I find that the majority of people are really happy to be photographed, many of them thrilled at the idea.

A good place to start is before you go, contact the tourism bureau of the country you're travelling to. You can't just call them up and ask for places to photograph, it's best to do some research yourself and when you've found something that you think would be really interesting to see, ask if they might know someone who you could talk to.

The other way to do it is when you get there. For example at a hot springs, you're most likely not going to be allowed in with a camera to start shooting, and even an email in advance might not get you permission. So when you arrive you need to speak to somebody at the hotel. Usually I talk to the marketing person first. They'll usually have the best idea of where and when would be good, and they want the hotel to be seen in the best light obviously so they'll make sure the place looks spick and span.

Of course the other way you can do it, if you're in a place that's not very crowded, is to ask one of your fellow guests, who you've been plying with beer all night, if they'd mind being photographed with a yellow towel on their head. Promise them you won't show any naughty bits and you're sure to get a positive response.

I just promised the above gentleman that I'd bring his daughter and grandkids home every couple of years to say hello. I cheated a little - this is my famous father-in-law again. I was on a magazine assignment to photograph the national parks of Hokkaido (a dream assignment!) and took the whole family along. This was taken in a little private 'minshuku' - a traditional Japanese inn and we were the only ones staying there. I really loved this outside bath but the only other man in the whole place was you-know-who. So after dinner down we went for a bath and a photo session.

It was quite dark in there and I had 100 ISO film in the camera so I had the camera on a tripod. It's a very wide angle lens (20mm if I remember rightly) to fit everything in in what was a very small space. Even though I could have made a brighter photo I deliberately kept it quite dark to show the dim conditions that we were in.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Slow shutter flash

There's a couple of photographic techniques at use in this particular photo. The first is being able to press the shutter while freezing your bum off in sub-zero temperatures at about 12 at night and with snow falling all around you!

Actually that one's not really a photographic technique but it helps! :)

The first thing that's going on here is that you've got a flash firing. You can tell that there's a flash going off because you can see where it's hit the snow flakes falling in front of the camera. You can also see it reflecting off a point in the middle of the drum.

Flash pretty much freezes all movement because it fires at such a rapid shutter speed. So why is the drummer blurred? Because I've combined the flash with a slow shutter speed. Without the slow shutter speed the background would have been pitch black (because it was in the middle of the night).

Because I've used the slow shutter speed, the background light has enough time to record on the film (or digital) and you can see what's around the drummer. The only problem is that because it was such a slow shutter speed (about 1 second) everything that has moved during that period is blurred.

So it becomes a game of chance to a certain extent. I sat and waited and watched the drummer until I started to recognise a few patterns. I saw that every so often he would raise his arm in the air and strike a pose. So I waited until I was pretty sure he was going to do it and fired the camera (which was on a tripod).

It took a few goes until I got it just right but I think it worked pretty well in telling a story about busking at night in the middle of a snow storm. I don't know who was crazier, him or me? And of course I tipped him well afterwards.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Keeping an open mind

One thing that I always try and do when I travel is to be as non-judgemental and un-biased as I can. When you're brought up in a certain part of the world, in a certain way, it's very easy to dismiss any other way of doing things as being weird.

In suburban Melbourne, Australia you don't often run into guys slinging machine guns with dead agoutis on the handle of their bikes! So when you do you've got to get over the icky factory and take a photo.

I speak very little French but managed to explain to them that I liked their dead rat and could I take a photo. One thing led to another and pretty soon I had a portrait session going.

After a couple of photos the left hand guy pulled out a little piece of alfoil with something wrapped in it. Now in my part of the world that usually equates to some kind of powder that's highly illegal and pretty bad for you. In this part of the world it was shavings of gold he had panned out of a river and was going in to town to see if he could sell.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what seemed perfectly natural and ordinary to him, was out of this world strange to me. So in the back of my mind I have to think that this is perfectly ordinary and natural and just keep on photographing. But part of me is still freaking out at the dead thing hanging from the handlebars!