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Siem Reap VII workshop

As part of Angkor Photo Festival , November 18th – 24th 2007, I was lucky and privileged to be part of the VII workshop with Gary Knight , Philip Blenkinsop , and a dozen wonderful photographers from all around the world.

The workshop was held at the FCC in Siem Reap, highly recommended for its amazing happy hour.

First night was a dinner and show at Christophe Loviny‘s wonderful house in Srah Srang, minutes from Angkor Thom. Christophe, co-founder and orchestrator of the festival and Cambodia veteran, brought a log of context and color. He also motivated us to be open, confident and creative during that week of storytelling through photography.

The format of the workshop was as follow: morning shoot, then meet with Gary or Philip in the afternoon for 1:1 coaching, then dinner, sometimes shows, then more shooting and editing.

Learning, in no particular order. Some are straight quotes (in no particular order) which I am still infusing and some are common sense and wired in your brains.

  1. When you see something you like, plant yourself and wait for action. Take a deep breath, and get in “the zone”.
  2. You can use beer bottles as tripods or flash filters.
  3. Two enemies to the photographer: boredom and fatigue. Do not let them win. Take a break, take a shower, get a drink or a massage, but do not let those take over.
  4. If you wonder how to succeed, answer is ‘go out, and shoot’. If you are stuck in your hotel room, nothing will happen. If you get out and shoot, you are closer to your story.
  5. It is ok to throw away a few days worth of shooting if you do not see anything in it.
  6. Maintain very high standards for yourself, above editors and peers.
  7. Go back to the same place until you get that shot and are satisfied within that this is the one. Remember that your standards should be higher than those of everyone else.
  8. Go for the jugular: get to the heart of the subject/topic, do not hesitate, get to it without procrastination.
  9. Best time for shooting is early morning and 30 mns before sunset. Everything in between is poor lighting. So get up early, know the location, be ready.
  10. Do more PR and shooting. Read on the subject, prepare yourself and your equipment, then invest 80% of the time on PR with your subject, for 20% (or less) shooting time.
  11. If you need to, steel the photo, but you will be better of building the relationship with the subjects. It will be also better for the subjects to feel your genuine attention vs. interest.
  12. Arrive at a place early, pick a good spot, let your footsteps wash away and be part of the landscape. You can then shoot without being obvious or intrusive.
  13. Train your body as a camera stand, move and position yourself.
  14. Spend your day at the bookstore. Look at what others are shooting. Everyone has a style and a personality, develop yours through your photography.
  15. Avoid didactic photos, too obvious or missing depth and emotions.
  16. Use mirrors, frames (natural or man made), windows, eye glasses,¡­ to add dimensions to your composition.
  17. Ensure to have interactions, emotions, color (or shadow) harmony in composition.
  18. Its hard to make money as a professional photographer.
  19. Do not get hang-up geometry if you can use mystery instead in your composition.
  20. Pictures and photographs are very different. (kind of know what that means but not sure how to explain)
  21. Do not make flat photos, make Layers. Some photographers make up to 7 layers.
  22. No wide angle. Use a 35 mm.
  23. Shoot in manual; tell the camera what to do.
  24. Silhouettes clear against background make sure no disturbing details break the silhouettes.
  25. Do not get hang-up on details in the photos.
  26. Make someone pop up when you have a sea of people.
  27. Avoid blank/empty areas in the photo as the eye automatically wonders there.
  28. Every area of the photo should have information.
  29. Smiling children photos are lovely, but may not carry much. The eye goes in and out.
  30. Take no postcard photos (or take them but do not send to your editor).
  31. Compose so that shapes, bodies, arms,…, flow and form circles, angles, parallels. Look for patterns in body gestures. Alignments, angles, flow,…
  32. A good edit is often one where the eye wonders in the photo from layer to layer, scanning for info, not getting lost in white/blank areas, generates emotions and prompts for knowing more.
  33. Avoid people looking straight at the camera unless you are doing photo IDs.
  34. If you can take the same photo tomorrow maybe its not worth taking it today.
  35. Develop your own style while knowing what other folks do.
  36. Blur is ok, if color/composition, mystery makes up for it
  37. No need to travel to take photo. All you can photo is here and now. History is not. Choose the story based on what you can see now.
  38. Black and white shooting is different from color. Decide early which one you chose and compose accordingly.
  39. Get closer to avoid flattening the photo.
  40. Flash low speed (15) to get background details and band-aid on the flash head to soften the light.
  41. Walk around to compose with light and elements. A few centimeters can make a huge difference.
  42. Difference from a good to top photographer is sometimes just a few centimeters while composing.
  43. Travel and effort up to taking the photo is same distance between pencil and canvas. Not relevant.
  44. Excuses are anecdotal/entertaining when you have a good photo. Avoid giving them on a bad image, they just make the image worst.
  45. Your edit is as good as your worst photo, so better to take it out early.
  46. Get leading lines to the areas of interest (arms, lines, road,…).
  47. Ladyboys and transvestites are different, some ladyboys are not transgenders, some ladyboys have girlfriends,…
  48. Glue sniffing is uncool.
  49. 4Do not take a photo for the sake of telling ¡®I was there¡¯.
  50. In photography, you are the producer, the scnenarist, the screen player, the casting director.
  51. Put the camera in a place no-one would have put it. New perspective.
  52. You can think or take the photo, not both.
  53. Whatever bad feedback you hear (its a disaster, go back to photo101, wtf is that,…) go out and shoot.