Friday, June 19

Photography-Things I Learned

I am tenacious, in the same way that I can be a drifter, yet learning my way through photography is something that I can proudly say of as my own. Scouring the web for anything that might prove useful in getting the whole concept of "a picture", I had gone to so many websites where I study beautiful photos, to forums where others share their tips and tricks in editing, while some others are just too uppity to express their mild aversion to post-processing.

However, some of the best photographers I have come to admire admit that they process and proof a hundred percent of their photos before these even get to see the light outside of their digital darkroom, and on to their sites. So, that's probably saying a lot. I have tried many fancy stuff myself in Photoshop, and hell, I even get to keep a small notebook with me where I chronicle my constantly evolving workflow, hoping that one day I can shout my eureka to the world, and settle on the very most perfect kick-ass workflow ever, and be the next Annie Leibovitz of the 21st century. But well, one has to be grounded and wake up to the real world. As always, I would go into my lengthy and tedious mini-speech before I even get to my main beef.

So, anyway, this entry is a sort of amalgamation of all photography-type things I have learned, technically on my own, but with the aid of many sites where people are just too happy to share what they know. Even if I sort of sound like one of those counter-productive asses who complain about things but shamelessly filch company work hours to do personal stuff, seriously, this is something I'd also like to share with whoever is interested, in keeping with my pay-it-forward project:

* Nothing beats learning your camera first before you even get out there and expect for it to do the work for you. Too often, we start out with wrong settings, or without understanding the basic functions of our camera, and blame it for our blah photos. Of course it helps if you own a first-rate gadget, but it's only as good as you know it.

* Proper exposure equals great colors, shadows and highlights right on. If you made a mistake firsthand, there is still hope, a way to salvage a photograph. When post processing, always look at the histogram of your photo before you do anything else. Correct levels is synonymous to appropriate exposure, which almost eliminates the need to sharpen images after post-processing. If your camera is capable of RAW, so much the better. But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that you are using a middle range point and shoot or dslr, and that you were just too eager beaver to take your shots. Then don't fret.Your next best bet: editing.

*ISO-I always wonder how others achieve those creamy photographs. The secret: use the lowest possible ISO setting you can get, and never bump it up unless necessary.

*Composition-something I am still working on, even as I speak, but this is probably the key to all beautiful photographs you see and drool on. You just have to try and try, until you get the hang of it. It doesn't matter if you get one good shot out of a hundred crappy ones. Everyone starts there. I am still there. Try all techniques in the book, and then through your own eyes or perspective, until you learn that creative approach, such that you are able to bring images into a unique visual form, something that will differentiate a photo from your usual snapshot.

*Much as I appreciate originality, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong about admiring other artists, whose work inspire you to try out their techniques until you are able to fetch ideas of your own. If at all, it is a serious form of flattery. The more fickle you are with your style, the more likely you will be able to understand what you really finally want. And, remember there is no rule that says you can't change your style. I wouldn't want to get stuck in one, and realize too late that I could have done better. There are two photographers that I really admire so much, Wynona for her very clean, evocative images, and Beth Jansen for her amazing colors and unique, bold style (links coming up). Both photographers are mothers like me, who also started when they had their first child, and who were self-taught. It's a fact that gives me quite a headstart, that one is never too old, or obscure to learn things. Copying blatantly or stealing images from these people who worked so hard on their images, however, is another thing. As the beautiful Anna Scott said, "Rufus, you belong in jail"..... Eeek.

*I found that to get tack-sharp images, you have to tinker with your camera's f-stops. Sometimes we misunderstand, because it's not necessarily the lowest (widest aperture) in our camera that gives us the most pointed photos. For instance, my kit lens give me very good results at f5.6 or f8. Or, I heard, that a lens with 1.8 max aperture is in its sharpest at 2.0 or 2.2. So, it's all relative. Maybe, we should all get a pair bionic eyes to determine that.

* 85% of the time, my subjects are my children. The 15% are self-portraits, my other family members, and things in my surroundings. You know how children can be uncooperative when you take photos of them sometimes, I mean most times? Yes. The more your force them into your frame, the more disinclined they will be at posing for you. But although, they are some of the most difficult subjects to photograph, they can also give you some of the most delightful photos you'll ever have. You'll just have to be very patient with them. And then of course it helps if you're always ready to aim at those special moments when they're not really looking, but they are there. For me, that is a lot of hard work, but there is where I find my joy.

That's it for now. I'll try to give this topic another whirl when I find myself here again. These are my observations as a beginner though, and I'm sure a lot of seasoned photographers who happen to get lost here would find themselves raising a hairy brow at some things I said. This is no bible truth, totally, and one is welcome to challenge or even correct me, but let me be the first to say I am a perennial work in progress, so next time, I might just possibly disown my words here.

Tuesday, June 9

On Gratitude

Not so long ago, I signed up with a photo sharing site Flickr, and met some virtual friends who shared a mutual interest in photography. From their photostreams, I would find an overwhelming amount of inspiration and knowledge--in the way they perceive things, their techniques with the camera, their processing workflow, and more than anything, a slice of their personal lives...what they do, where they go to, who they are with. Where I stood, I had absolutely nothing much to show to my small newfound circle of friends, except photos of me and my family, especially that of my two little children. The camera I was using then was a 6megapixel point and shoot that my husband got me one Christmas. But in Flickr, it wasn't about your camera or your gear. It's first and foremost about the story you want to share. Then, it's about the people you share that story with.

You see, I had always thought there are certain things that polarize us human beings, that give us that explicit, glaring distinction from one another-- like good and evil, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly---and that sometimes, we are caught up in that grey area in between those two extremes, where we can't really point out where we belong. That's why we can be confused, or worst, delusional. But I also think that there are things that even us out, balance us, or to put it bluntly, equalize us, regardless of who we are and where we are at in our lives. And that is where Flickr comes to mind, as all other user-generated sites do, where everyone, and I mean everyone, can say and has a say.

A year into joining Flickr, I had made friends with a very kind couple who, from the little that I've gathered about them, are very artistic and are living a quiet albeit very successful life in Europe. They are also Pinoys who have ventured far, and simply put, are just blessed with everything, probably brought about by being both born with silver spoons. C is an artist, a painter, sculptor, singer--a beautiful woman with an even more beautiful spirit. I say this because I have once met her in person and I was just truly overwhelmed at the fact that she welcomed me with so much sincerity and warmth, that it was almost a little silly of me to act coy towards her, when she was trying to reach out like she'd known me for a long time. But you know, you get a little star struck with people whose personalities are just like the sun, you want to bask in their warmth, and yet they are too huge for you to take in suddenly? I wish my daughter, who I brought along with me when I met C, have already had the sense to know what a great experience she got into---because for me, that was something I would like for her to remember in a long, long time and when she grows up.

The other half of this couple is R, and he is the big reason why I continue on to try better at my photography. He was my very first friend, I suppose, in Flickr, and probably the most consistent one to rally me on to keep uploading my photos---and even my writing. Intelligent, artistic, on the same creative pursuits as his wife, and like all the other people who comment in my photostream, he says the kindest things, and appreciates the candidness conveyed especially by the images of my daughter Sophia. There is a great empathy in what he does, and though I am one to express my gratitude a little too sweepingly sometimes, I had never wished for more than just being able to relish the pleasant words being exchanged in the affable Flickr circle I was in--- a small circle of people from different parts of the earth, brought together and equalized by the same love of photography, looking through but beyond cultural differences, financial status, and skin color.

So it was indeed a tad too....what's the proper word.....well, I'd say humbling, yes that's how it felt really, humbling-- that one day, I'd get an email asking how I would like to have a DSLR. A digital single lens reflex camera? from a stranger friend? I mean, they're not strange people at all, but to be offered something like that from someone you'd never met---- and it’s certainly not just a box of chocolates, although a box of chocolates would have been prized just the same, it’s an expensive camera, darn it!---well don't things get a little too much twilight-zonish strange??? And do I say yes, or no? To be honest, it was a little embarrassing at first. I had to check whether I had insinuated about wanting to get a new camera, somewhere in my photo stream or blog, and probably yes I had, but I had wished it aloud, to myself, and no, I had not wanted to impose that wish on anyone, outside of myself. But again, if a person had very magnanimously offered you something he owns, because he felt that he had learned much from it and would like to pass it on to you so you can benefit from it the same way, and simply because he believes you got a chance at something, do you refuse? out of tact, or pride, or sheer embarrassment? I had to struggle with it all for a while. I just realized though, that refusing the offer, would have meant a lot more--- letting a good person down, letting myself down, letting my dreams down. And it was something I thought I would hate to regret about someday. And yes...., I said yes.

Far from suddenly owning a precious object, absolutely free of charge, what was even more humbling was the value of a person’s trust and friendship that comes with it. That even though the selfless act of giving was something I l had long convinced myself of as entirely real, there is a definitive part of me that feels I have the responsibility to emulate this kindness in the everyday things that I do. Not that I’ve never been kind. I believe that I had done my fair share in the compassion department, without heralding those few things. But when luck falls on your lap, as big and as overwhelming as this one, you can’t help but feel that you must be accountable to take care of it and make it grow, and love it with all your might, and spread it far and wide, so that others will also sow and eventually reap the same seed of kindness. A little act indeed maybe for people like Clarissa and Ramon.......but I just had to have grand illusions about it.

And again, it is never too late, or out of fashion, to say THANK YOU.
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