A slow shutter speed creates a slightly different image of a monk preparing for a dance.
50mm lens, 1/4 second @ f8, ISO 100
Young kids watching a festival performance in the Paro Dzong, Bhutan.
200mm lens, 1/200 second @ f2, ISO 100
A few of my photography friends are very aware that many of the events and festivals we photograph today will not stay the same forever. If you have an interest in cultures, may I recommend you Google search photographers Art Wolfe, Richard I'Anson and David Kirkland. They have all produced projects and books that document vanishing cultures and not only do I love their photography, but also what they are doing.
I haven't gone into cultural projects quite as deeply - at least not yet. However, when visiting Bhutan, I'm keenly aware of just how precious these festivals and ceremonies are. And while some 'performances' in some parts of the world are put on just for tourists, you know that these Buddhist festivals are authentic because of how few foreigners you see. There might be two or three dozen tourists walking around with cameras, but in a throng of many thousands it's just not an issue.
The best part about shooting these festivals is access: access to individual people because they are relaxed; access to the performers behind the scenes, simply because you're a tourist; and access to locations within the dzongs (the fortified monasteries) that on other days are closed to the public.
So, what are the 10 most important things to shoot at festivals? Here's my suggestions:
1. Start with an overview of the location or the venue.
2. Photograph individual performers full length - aim for action shots or at least poses that have some meaning.
3. Photograph three quarter portraits with details of their costumes.
4. Get in close with a telephoto for full-frame portraits to show their makeup and masks.
5. Turn your camera on the audience - show how many people are there.
6. Photograph portraits of the audience reacting to the festivities.
7. Photograph the children who are disinterested in the performances.
8. Go behind the scenes to photograph the performers preparing.
9. Photograph details of their costumes and accessories.
10. Conclude with people leaving the performance, or perhaps an empty venue with the residue of the festivities.
Once again I've chosen some festival photos taken in Bhutan for this week's newsletter with the transparent intention of encouraging you to visit Bhutan later this year with David Oliver and me. Click the Read More link to see some more festival shots and to read why I think you should visit Bhutan this year!
Two young boys pose in the Paro Dzong at festival time, Bhutan.
14mm lens, 1/250 second @ f2.8, ISO 800
On the way home from school, Bhutan.
200mm lens, 1/320 second @ f2, ISO 100
The great thing about DSLR and CSCs is that we have control over our aperture and lens selection, whereas the majority of travellers with their smartphones or simple compact cameras do not! It means we can create much better portraits of the people we meet when travelling.
For instance, we can choose whether to use a telephoto or a wide-angle lens. And we can choose whether to use a small aperture that keeps everything in the background nice and sharp, or a large aperture so our subject is sharply focused against a dreamy background blur.
The photos accompanying this article were shot with two lenses: a 14mm ultra wide-angle which produces lots of depth-of-field and a 200mm shot at a maximum aperture of f2 for incredibly shallow depth-of-field. You will work out which is which pretty easily, I dare say! Which do you like the best? What lens will you take on your next trip? Maybe it will be both!
So, what are the tricks of the trade? With the wide-angle, it is almost impossible to blur the background, so you need to frame your subject against a simple or informative background. This usually means getting in quite close to your subject, even though they may still look quite distant in the final photo. With the 200mm at the wide-open aperture, the closer your subject is to the camera, the more blurred a distant background will be.
I've chosen some portraits taken in Bhutan for this week's newsletter with the transparent intention of encouraging you to visit Bhutan later this year with David Oliver and me. We'd love to have you along! Click the Read More link to see some more portraits and to read why I think you should visit Bhutan this year!
Our hosts Sue and Willy organised a flock of sheep for us in the late afternoon, their dogs enjoying the challenge of first bringing them over the distant ridges, and then having the circle around.
A neutral density filter and a long exposure created the movement.
Phase One XF 100MP, 55mm Schneider, 6 seconds @ f14, ISO 200.
Last month, Tony Hewitt and I presented an Art Photography Workshop at Middlehurst, a remote sheep station tucked away in the mountains up the north end of New Zealand's South Island. We spent six days and five nights with our small class of photographers, shooting around our shearer quarter lodgings or travelling around the property in a 4WD ute, a plane or a helicopter. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it!
Well, it was simply excellent and as this was an art photography workshop, we arranged to have a printer and paper with us so we could print our images as we worked on them. After all, real photographers make prints!
As Tony and I are Canson Ambassadors, we knew what papers we wanted to take along - Canson Platine, Aquarelle and Rag Photographique. Thanks to Canson and Rob Gatto at Kayell for making that happen. And thanks also for the assistance from our friends at Epson both here and in New Zealand. We borrowed an excellent Epson SureColor SC-P600. My apologies to Epson for the box which was slightly re-arranged so we could fit the printer into the tiny cargo hold of our Cesna Caravan (we flew from Wellington direct to Middlehurst Station).
Our Epson SureColor SC-P600 printer and Tony's new favourite, Canson Aquarelle.
So, what about the photography? What can I say? This is a sensational location. It is remote, it is Tolkein, and it is private property. Over the next few months, Tony and I will be posting some of our photographs and trying to encourage six photographers to join us on Middlehurst again next year - although following Tony's Facebook post, we may already have our six.
Check out Tony's home-made movie on our Facebook page here:
And check out the brochure for our 2016 Middlehurst workshop here - the 2017 will be very similar, but probably a day longer!
Trongsa ridgeline, Bhutan.
200mm lens, 1/1250 second @ f4, ISO 100
Photographers often ask what's the best lens to shoot landscapes with and the obvious answer is a wide-angle lens because 'you can fit it all in'. However, what happens when we use wide-angles? Everything is reduced in size and so those magnificent mountains in the distance become small and insignificant between a huge sky and an expansive foreground. Is this what you saw and felt when you were standing there with your camera?
The panorama landscape is generally shot with a wide-angle lens, but the format crops off unwanted sky and foreground so the eye can focus in on the more important part of the landscape. The way we create panoramas with digital equipment is to crop the image, or possibly stitch a series of images together. The resulting composition is the same and, often, an improved landscape.
However, if wide-angles are (sometimes) making our landscape subjects look insignificant, is there another way? Sometimes a telephoto lens will produce a better result. Note, a telephoto will struggle to give you a sense of wide open spaces, but it can certainly help you create mood and atmosphere.
I've chosen some telephoto landscapes shot in Bhutan for this week's newsletter - and if you're interested in visiting Bhutan later this year with David Oliver and me, we'd love to have you along. Click the Read More link to see another couple of telephoto landscapes and to read why you should visit Bhutan this year - before it changes even more!
Boab Tree, Wireless Station ruins, near Wyndham, Kimberley.
Phase One A-Series IQ3 100MP, Rodenstock Alpa HR Alpagon f5.6 23mm, 46 seconds @ f8, ISO 50
Light is everything. I wandered past this boab (from the other side) a couple of times earlier in the afternoon, noticing the unusual twin-trunk structure. It was a tree with potential, but at that stage of the day, the sun was still high in the sky and the location appeared incredibly busy. There was too much going on.
I was on a PODAS - a Phase One Digital Artist Series workshop - with Christian Fletcher, Tony Hewitt, Bruce Pottinger and Drew Altdoerffer (from Phase One), and 16 keen photographers who were kitted out with the latest Phase One medium format equipment for the week.
After sunset as I walked back along the track to the cars, I noticed Bruce Pottinger set up near this tree. And it was positively glowing! The challenge was to isolate it sufficiently within what was still a complex and busy landscape. One way is to stand back and use a telephoto lens, which probably would have been the polite thing to do given Bruce was shooting. Another option is to use a wide-angle lens and get in very close to your subject. I applied the latter logic on this occasion. Sorry, Bruce!
The evening was absolutely perfect with a feathering of clouds to break up a large blue sky. In May, 'they' say you are almost guaranteed blue skies every day, but this year the weather was a little mixed up, not just in Kununurra, but around the world it seems. However, photographers usually shy away from clear blue skies because they lack interest, but did I really want clouds in this photograph?