HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated March 11, 2012 12:00 AM
In my sixth year as a columnist for the Philippine STAR, I realize that I’ve written about an entire gamut of topics such as God, spirituality, technology, the future, people, teaching, music, passion – you name it, I’ve done it. Except for one topic that I spend an inordinate time on and I am very passionate about it. I have barely written about photography.
Over the years, I have done countless photography workshops around the Philippines, in Sydney and Melbourne, Los Angeles, and soon, I will give one in Singapore. I teach the basics, and even a few advanced topics such as glamour photography, and the art of the nude. And I have been a judge in many photography club contests around Metro Manila.
On an obvious level, it is understandable why I have not written about photography, which is all about pictures. Why write about it when I can just show the photos I have taken. And I do share my photos in different websites; I have had two solo exhibits and have participated in joint ones.
But when I put on my writer’s cap, I realize there is much in photography to write about. For one thing, never in the history of man have so many people suddenly had the capability to take pictures with simple and high-end cameras, cell phones and gadgets that probably have more capabilities than the cameras used by the masters only some 30 years ago. Sometimes, I kid about this and say that everyone on earth is turning Japanese. I used to laugh at how many Japanese carried cameras as standard equipment for every day living and how they would take pictures of anything, including the food they are about to eat. My wife and daughters, I have noticed, also do this very same thing today. Every facet of life must now be documented in pictures.
Today, there is an abundance of cameras in the hands of people with the corresponding deluge of photos they post online for everyone to see. This makes me resigned over the lack of aesthetics in most of these snapshots. Many are underexposed, overexposed and quite lacking in basic presentation values. Look at social media and be underwhelmed by the ho-hum slices of their lives that people post in tons of dreary pictures.
I always start my photography classes by defining photography as the art of using light to tell stories. With the camera, one captures and manipulates the light available (or unavailable) to give a narrative that aims to move the audience in some way. One takes pictures to evoke delight, surprise, shock, disgust, fear, joy, laughter, awe, sensuality, mystery and other feelings within. In my book, if a photo does not do that, it is not worth keeping or posting.
How does one evoke emotion and feeling in a photograph? Do objects already evoke these feelings by themselves and all we need to do is capture them? Or do we actually give the spin to what we see and capture it as such? Good questions.
To me, good photography is about making a visual narrative, however short, of what we are looking at. For example, before capturing the image of a building, a photographer must ask him or herself what it is about the building that he or she wishes to convey. And the way to do that is to attach an adjective to what one is looking at. Instead of just a building, the photographer may want to take a picture of an “imposing” building, or a “busy” building, or even a “sorry looking” one. With an adjective in mind and using the buttons on the camera, one can come up with an evocative photo that will impact on the beholder.
It is amazing what one can do with the few tools available in a camera. With the adjustment of speed, aperture opening, ISO and White Balance alone, a photographer can use an infinite combination of settings and apply these to a subject to create different pictures around a narrative. Throw in angle and framing and the options practically double. These tools are pretty basic. Using my background in music, I call them the ‘do-re-mi’ of photography.
I started taking pictures during that charming era long ago when people still used something called film. At the time, every shot I took cost me money, even before the film could be developed and the pictures printed. Compared to today, we took only a few pictures. And we had to wait a few days before we could see the photos since we had to have the film processed in a lab. Every shot therefore was given some thought, arranged properly and shot with the right settings to make sure it would be a lucky one.
I remember doing shoots for magazines using my Mamiya medium format camera and being given only four to six rolls of film (with only 10 shots per roll) for the cover and inside photos. I took the shots with great concentration and focus, and then fretted till I saw the final outcome a few days later. The activity had to be done with careful calculation and an eye out for detail, and, of course, knowledge of my equipment.
Camera manufacturers are constantly upgrading and giving their products newer and wider capabilities that can tantalize a photography enthusiast or professional. And each time a new camera model is released with ever better bells and whistles, I am so tempted to part with some of my wealth just to own one.
But great pictures are captured by people, not by cameras. One can have a great camera and totally miss out on what is right before him. But a person with a visual story to tell can work the subject to do what he wants it to, and say what he wants to say, even with a simple point and shoot camera.
Sometimes, when I have a physical need to take pictures, I go out and look for scenery, or call people and ask them to pose for me in my little studio setup at home. Luckily, I have a group of friends in Sydney who I go with on occasional out-of-town trips to capture the breathtaking sceneries that Australia has to offer.
A passion is something that feeds one’s soul and must be allowed to express itself. To me, shooting the moment is like choosing the right notes in making music, or the right words or thoughts in writing a poem, short story, novel or essay. It is gazing at the physical world, taking delight in it, and preserving a moment of zen insight into an image!
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Last Basic Photography Workshop runs until May. Sign up now and learn how to use that DSLR to make sure your summer photos are great.
When: March 24
Where: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.
What time: 1 to 6:30 p.m.
How much : P3,920 VAT inclusive.
Call Ollie at 0916-8554303, 426-5375 or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org inquiries and reservations.