Thursday, August 13, 2009

Supporting actors and side dramas

This image was taken at the Hokkaido Jingu Shrine Festival. It's a big parade through the streets of Sapporo where priests and temple attendants carry huge palanquins for a whole day around the city. And exhausted photographers try to keep up with them!

Anyway I spent a lot of time photographing the large floats and the poor souls struggling to carry them. I got close-ups and wide shots and then remembered to follow my golden rule of looking behind me.

Although the procession was the main act, there were a lot of side stories happening all around me. The people there to view and cheer on the procession were as much a part of the story as the priests themselves.

The trouble was how to fit both in the frame to tell a story and put the people in context. So for this image above I could see the little children down the street all with their hands together in prayer, as their parents were telling them to do. Just having them in the picture wouldn't explain to people why they had their hands folded in prayer. I needed to have the people being prayed to in there as well. So I just had to wait until the procession moved by them so that they would both be in the frame together.

I needed to do this with a telephoto lens because a wide-angle lens would have had too much irrelevant information in there and I just wanted these two elements. I made sure I timed it to have a palanquin as well as a large number of priests in there. Although their backs are to the camera their unique hats and style of dress shows that they're not run-of-the-mill people.

The funny thing was as I moved down the street past the little kids I could hear the mother getting cranky with her little boy because he was praying for a new video game! Ah it's nice to know kids are the same all over the world. :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't forget the supporting actor

Often in photography we tend to focus on the thing we're looking at. And when I say focus I don't mean 'place the focussing point', I mean really concentrate on.

And we often do it to the detriment of everything else around it. So when we look at our pictures afterwards we suddenly see all these things in the corners of the frame we hadn't noticed before.

A good way to train yourself out of doing this is to pick your background first. Or, if your background is a bright blue sky like it was here in Sukhothai, Thailand, pick what else is going to be in your background.

So for this shot I knew which Buddha statue I wanted to be my main subject. But just like any good drama I needed a supporting actor. Plain old blue sky behind is pretty boring. To choose your background you need to actually walk around. Zooming in and out isn't going to do anything. You need to actually change your position.

By walking left and right, or moving up or down if you can, you can actively change your background. In this particular case the Buddha statue was a lot taller than me so my only choice was a blue sky and something taller again. So I looked behind the statue to find something tall enough to fit in the frame, like a giant chedi.

I then walked around until the chedi was in a supporting role in the background, filling up a bit of that blue sky and giving another point of interest to the composition. Had I walked farther around to the left the chedi would have been in the same position but the Buddha head would have been farther to the right. Had I walked farther to the right the Buddha head would have been overlapping the chedi in the background - something that you want to try and avoid as much as possible.

So before you rush off to photograph the main subject, take a moment to look behind it and see what you can place in the frame as a supporting actor. It will greatly improve your images and help you to imagine interesting compositions where the entire frame is filled with something that helps tell a story.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Monday's Link

Travel photography is pretty much just one step away from documentary photojournalism. For the most part we work with natural light, wait for the scene to play out in front of us and love to tell good stories visually, The main difference I see is that we tend to concentrate on the happy, feel- good stuff as opposed to issues that call people to action or indignation.

But one thing we have in common with our photojournalist brothers and sisters is the fact that the markets that publish our work are rapidly changing. And if we want to survive we have to learn to be little chameleons and change with our clients.

In that light I want to point you to an interview with the wonderful humanitarian photographer Reza who has an incredible insight into how Multimedia will change the way we present our images. Entitled Photojournalism in the age of YouTube it's not just relevant to those of us who make a living in this crazy game, but for all of us who are looking at different ways of telling our travel stories.

I must admit that I'm a die-hard photo lover and aren't really enamoured with the idea of shooting video. But mixing sound with still-images is something that I think is really appealing. If you have a scroll down this page you'll find links to the websites of travel photography colleagues such as Bob Krist, David deChemin, Matt Brandon and Gavin Gough. All of them have some wonderful examples of multimedia slideshows on their sites and I would definitely encourage you to pop along and have a look.