Archive for July, 2009

Chiaroscuro – Sculpting with light

July 31, 2009

Reang-Woman Since I’ve been pretty much consumed by all things light related recently, writing texts for my new e-book, I decided to write a post in the spirit of, you guessed it – light.

When I’m shooting, particularly when shooting portraits I have an obsession with creating a sense of volume and depth, making my photographic subjects appear sculpted, three dimensional. Turns out there has been a word for this “look”, since long before photography. The word is – “chiaroscuro”.

Now, call me an idiot, or a bad student, since I’m sure we learned this in my art history class at university, but when I heard the word from a traveling artist I befriended in Indonesia, I didn’t really know what he was on about.

Of course I put on a smart, understanding face, the first time I heard it, 🙂 but after he used the word a second time, remarking how much he loved the presence of “chiaroscuro” in my work, (which I was showing him) I could pretend no longer 🙂 – “chiaro-what?”  He gave me a definition along the lines of what I later found later on Wikipedia:

Chiaroscuro (Italian for light-dark) is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually applied to bold contrasts affecting a whole composition, but is also more technically used by artists and art historians for the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body.”

Today, as I was looking at some of my images, trying to explain the natural light in them and to break down into diagrams how it can be managed, I remembered the word and decided to Google it.

Caravaggio and Rembrant are two famous artists known for their mastery of “chiaroscuro”. I’m not making a revelation when I say that they’re masters for a reason. One thing is for a photographer to see the light and to position the subject in a way that will create the “chiaroscuro” look and another is to actually paint it. Every little detail is noticed and needless to say, the work of these artists is inspirational, even a few hundred years after its creation.

One important thing to note is that the masters were able to create compelling images without any of the amazing technology we have today (lighting or photographic). Many still do this there’s something to be said there. We don’t need fancy light set ups, artists have sculpted with light for hundreds of years. The first step for us as photographers is to see the light that is before us and understand how to work with it. There’s no sense in rejecting the creative opportunities that artificial light brings – that would be “counter evolutionary”, but there’s also no reason to ignore the power of natural light.

My stance is all for making the most of available light, in the literal sense of the word – any and all light available to the photographer on the move, that’s what I really want to explore in the e-book.

On a side note: I wander if any of the painters rave on about their gear or debate about which paint or brush is better, as photographers often do?

A blast from the past.

July 26, 2009

happy group

Well, again it’s been much too long since my last post. I’ve been busy – yes. But I did have a few ideas that I wanted to share here. Unfortunately my ideas for posts often take very long to cook up and when they do, they sometimes start morphing into something completely different.

I have many things on my plate at the moment. There are several things I’m working on  at once – one of them is another e-book. This one is going to be on lighting for travel photographers and those on the move. It’ll cover the use of off camera flash, reflector and of course natural light. The e-book will be similar format to “Understanding Post Processing” in that I will break down how certain images of mine were created. But there will be more examples, diagrams/illustrations of light set ups and lots of explanations. I’m pretty excited about it, but more on that in the coming days (or weeks).

The post from the beginning of the month “Some words to aspiring travel photographers” seems to have struck a chord with many and as I was sorting through some images from Indonesia, I came across photos from that ferry I mentioned. The one packed with goats, chickens, furniture, dry fish and lovely fellow passengers who chain-smoke and continuously spit on the floor.

And so, rather than bore you with a half-thought-out blog post, I leave you with images taken on the morning of our 16 hour, overnight ferry ride from an island called Lembata to one called Alor. The photo at the top of the page is obviously of the fellow passengers who didn’t impress me much with their smoking and spitting. I guess the image doesn’t do them “justice”.

anxious passengers on bags of dry fish

transporting an armchair

transporting couches


The silly little things that come back to bite you in the …

July 9, 2009


The image above is from a spread of my photos in the “Gallery” section of “Digital Photo” magazine. The issue should be out in the UK in a week or two.

That’s great and all, but here’s a short story with an important point.

The pay for being featured in this particular section of the magazine, is not significant, it’s better than what most magazines will give for something similar, but it’s insignificant nevertheless. My main motivation for sending images in was not the money, but the exposure. “Digital Photo” is one of the most widely read photography magazines in the UK and probably Australia. It’s a great platform for spreading the word about what I do to thousands of people.

Ideally this is what I would want to happen – readers see my images, they like them, they go to my website and see what else I do. Hopefully someone wants to buy a print, someone else might be interested in a workshop and a few others may want to buy the ebook tutorial. Good idea. Well, not so fast. Why? Because the website URL is not there! Why is it not there? Good question.

When submitting images to “Digital Photo” you have to provide all your contact details, as well as a website URL, if you have one. All that info goes to someone, though I am not exactly sure to whom. I thought that since I had provided the URL of my website it would automatically be included, along with my images. Incorrect!

My initial reaction was a good amount of cursing, out loud. That’s my reaction to many things that frustrate me or make me angry, but once I get that out of my system, 🙂 I take a deep breath, relax and analyze – what went wrong? The answer is simple – I assumed without actually communicating what was important to me, without verifying anything. I assumed wrong. Good opportunity wasted, lesson learned.

Editors have a lot of stuff on their hands and including my website info into a publication is likely not on their “to do list”, especially not if they haven’t been requested and reminded. Even when they are requested and reminded, things can and will go wrong and in that case the editor in question should have a good kick up the butt. Not the case here, instead, what I thought was common sense, a silly, little insignificant thing, came to bite me in the place where the uncooperative editor should be kicked.

The lesson is one that applies to anything in life – if something is important to you, go after it, let the relevant people know, remind them and remind them again. Sure you there’s a chance that you may come across as annoying, but I’d rather come across as annoying and have an opportunity to maximize the return from my efforts than be a nice, complacent fellow who gets almost nothing for his hard work. Simple as that. Don’t do what I did. 🙂

Some words to aspiring travel photographers

July 2, 2009


It may be borderline pretentious of me to be offering words to “aspiring” travel photographers, since until pretty recently I was only “aspiring” to do this thing myself. The reason for the post is a question, which I have received numerous times over the past couple of week, in various forms:

How does one become a travel photographer and go on to make enough money in this profession?

At first the question makes me laugh. Who the hell am I to be giving people advice on anything career-related? I’ve never had much of a plan and I always considered that a lot of my success was a result of pure luck. Regardless of whether I’ve changed from an “aspiring travel photographer” to whatever else, I have realized that I am now doing something that many dream of –  I travel, take photos and mange to “survive” off the income generated by these photos. On second look I think that there may be reason to my “madness” and perhaps my own story can be useful to other young people starting out. Here it goes. 🙂

To “become a travel photographer” I worked all sorts of shitty jobs, occasionally committed intellectual and creative suicide by shooting what I consider trash, I used every opportunity in sight to get on the road. There’s an interesting concept I heard somewhere on the net (probably Brooks Jensen’s podcast) – you need to dedicate 10,000 hours to something in order to become proficient at it. Sounds like a fair assumption. That’s basically what I did without realizing. I never quite thought of it as a 10,000 hour thing, but I did know that to be decent at shooting particular themes I needed to shoot them for an extended period of time and so I totally immersed myself in doing just that, while I went off on trips that ranged from six weeks to seven months.

After my third India/Nepal trip (the seven month one) I felt that I really had an idea of what I was doing and incidentally that’s when other things started to click. I began to get published in magazines, had an exhibition and made print sales (more though magazines then from the exhibition). As much as everyone today says that print media is on its last legs, I’ll say that it’s pretty important to get your work published. There’s just a certain type of validity that comes with having your work in print. It means that someone at least thought enough of it to spend their money on the required paper and ink.

With the publications, I saw that my work had some value and I asked myself this question: How can I generate a more regular income from my photos? I looked at image/stock agencies. Got a contract with Lonely Planet Images (on my second attempt), but terminated it before long – this isn’t the place to go into the details, Lonely Planet make great guidebooks… and let’s leave it at that. 🙂

I still wanted to have my photos represented by an agency, those who are seriously working with the big name agencies know how important they can be and so, I went on a search. A bit of luck, weeks of waiting, empty phone calls and emails, weeks more of being bounced around and I finally managed to get in with Getty Images – everyone’s “favorite” stock selling (not so gentle) giant. 🙂

This brings me to How do you make enough money? part of the question. Well, it all depends on what you want enough for. A comfy life in inner-city Sydney? There’s a very slim chance that your travel photography will generate enough income for that in the first years. But having your images make you enough to travel and live around the cheaper parts of the world? Very possible, that’s what I do. 🙂

After a couple of years of very intense photographing and relatively recent, almost equally intense attempts at finding ways to make money from it, I have to say that I’m still very very far from striking it rich. Every month Getty sells some of my work and probably makes me enough to get by in most of Asia. I am still submitting to magazines and looking for alternative incomes from my photos, I’m even still willing to sell my soul, to shoot what I don’t love every now and then. However, importantly I no longer have to do what I don’t like, my images are finally “working” for me. Even more importantly I don’t have to work in retail, restaurants or wherever else just to save enough for the next journey.

But still, in all honesty, the way that me and Tanya (my wife) live is not for everyone. Certain comforts must be forgotten, while you’re on the road with a limited income, you simply can’t afford them.

Of course much of the beautiful, amazing things associated with travel are completely free, but if you ever compare your experiences with those of a friend, who may have traveled the same route as you during his four-week annual holiday, you realize that the pleasure you get out of traveling is very different to his. Your pleasure has a perverted twist. While he enjoys sipping cocktails on a luxury boat-cruise, you jump on a ferry packed with goats, chickens, furniture and dry fish, with lovely fellow passengers who chain-smoke and continuously spit on the floor. The journey exhausts and frustrates,  and  by the end you reek of that damn dry fish and your own sweat. But you’ve made new friends, learned words in a foreign language and have one heck of a story to tell when you get home. The pleasure comes from the experience and from the fact that you survived it. Your friend didn’t “suffer” on the luxury boat, but nor did he experience the ‘realness’ of actually being in another country, among regular people from a different culture.

If your cup of tea is the ferry ride and you’re really into your photography, then perhaps things don’t need to be very complicated.

I’ll borrow words from Chase Jarvis. He’s not a travel photographer, but unlike me, he really knows what he’s talking about. 🙂

There are two things you need to succeed: to be undeniably awesome at what you do, and to persevere.

Applies to everything, even travel photography.

(The confused character with ski-goggles above is none other than me. 🙂 I used to wear the ski-goggles when riding the motorcycle. In this image I’m riding in the back of a bullock cart during an early morning in Rajasthan’s, Bundi District. Didn’t get a good picture, but the ride was kinda interesting.