Tuesday, 12 October 2010

It's photography, not rocket science

A stolen kiss, Bosphorus © Steven Lee

Having come back from our Istanbul photo workshop for a week now, I am able to contemplate how it all went, and how all 9 of our participants had a wonderful time, photographing in new surroundings. Being in an exotic and photogenic city like Istanbul had been a great catalyst for creativity. The challenge however is to continue photographing creatively at home, in more familiar circumstances. It is often said that one does not need to travel for miles across continents to get good photographs, and yes, there is some truth in that. However, as travel broadens the mind, it also broadens the visual vocabulary within our minds, helped by recognising new and unfamiliar situations, colours, people, architecture and scale.

In 'scale' I mean an imaginary comfort zone of the ability to handle the camera proficiently by the photographer and the subject. ie. how comfortable one is to photographing in public. As a visitor to a foreign city, photographing as a tourist get can you quite far, in terms of approach. A smile, a gentle nod of the head can open doors to wonderful street portraits. The ability to recognise interesting compositions in new cities perhaps comes from typical guide books and postcards. We instinctively see 'postcard' images first because we are familiar with it. Unfortunately, that isn't how it is in our home cities, I usually find. We are often afraid or timid to even hold our spanking new DSLRs out in the open in public let alone find interesting subjects to photograph, for fear of robbery, theft or God forbid, accidentally dropping it!

If one masters the operational aspects of the camera, then the picture taking part becomes easier. Less fiddling, and more shooting.

Minaret, Blue Mosque © Steven Lee

It usually takes some time, for me, to get into the 'zone'. During our trip, it took me at least 24 hours before I began to see pictures. And another 36 hours to decide on the theme of my 'mini-assignment'.

Iron gate, Blue Mosque © Steven Lee

My eureka moment only came when I was walking back to our hotel alone from the waterfront at 11:30pm on the third evening, shooting the sodium lit streets and monuments with a compact, set to black and white and a high ISO. The streets which were teeming with tourists and locals, traffic and noise, only hours before had turned silent and eerily still. The Hippodrome I was walking on alone, now known as the Sultanahmet Meydani was contructed by Emperor Septimus Severus in AD 203 when the city was called Byzantium. Built as a horse and chariot track for sport and leisure, it was estimated to hold 10,000 spectators along its U-shaped configuration. Now, a soft orange glow lights up the park and garden which stands adjacent to the Blue Mosque, it feels totally surreal to me.

Hippodrome Obelisk at night © Steven Lee

We always set a mini-assignment on our workshops. It helps to focus the mind through a concerted effort on the part of the photographer, to enable creative thinking, story telling and fine editing. All the participants' assignment slideshows can be seen here. I think they all did particularly well, including the few who have literally picked up a digital camera just months ago.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Thinking Inside the Box

The Young Turks, aka "Edgies" outside the steps leading to the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul. Thank you all for joining Andy and I in Istanbul. We had a fantastic time there sharing an enjoying your company and the raki too. I probably won't eat a kebab for a long while, and the fish at KIYI is most memorable.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Turkish delight

I met Salim, a local Turk, fishing off the Galata bridge this morning at 6:30 AM. He is fishing off the bridge along with several other seemingly 'regulars'. The fish, little sprats, they catch is sweet to the taste he told me. From our brief 10 minute conversation, in broken English, hand-gestures and lots of head nodding, I gathered he used to be in the Turkish navy, in the 50's, and had been to Singapore and Beijing during his service.

This was our early morning shoot on Day 2. The group got up at 5:30 AM and left our hotel to photograph dawn breaking from the bridge. It was magical. Photographers often speak of the Golden Hour, which is 1 hour after sunrise and before sunset. The light seemed to change upon every minute we were on the bridge, looking out towards the Bosphorus.

A giant cruise ship, the Queen Victoria had docked across the Beyoglu side Istanbul, and the local ferry boats were spewing out morning commuters from the port every few minutes, disappearing into the narrow streets and alleys, like ants searching for their food. A lone fisherman stood precariously on a heaving floating jetty, bobbing up and down in the huge waves that often crashed along the embankment caused by the ferry boats.

Back on the bridge, we encountered friendly and obliging locals, who allowed us to photograph them. We sampled tea and pastry from the passing vendors that ply its length.

Last night, the review of the group's first day of selected photographs were projected onto a white bed sheet taped up onto Andy's hotel room wall. The word of the weekend is definitely 'edgy' to describe non-cliche, 'experimental' or even accidental images that a few of us had taken. We looked through many tilted horizons, unintentional blurs and raw urban photographs and a few of us discovered that interesting photography doesn't have to be perfectly executed and sharp images all the time.