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© Nevada Wier Camagüey, Cuba.
Canon 5D MarkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM 19mm 0.6sec at f/6.3 ISO 800
Aperture Priority. Evaluative Metering
No flash fired, on a tripod.
I don’t remember who said, “If your photographs are boring then find a better subject”. I certainly cannot argue with that statement. Most of us search for interesting landscapes, story and project ideas in our hometowns. However I have an opposite problem: Because of all the place to which I travel — I am overflowing with interesting subjects, in fact, sometimes I think I am cursed with them.
I think travel photography is one of the hardest genres because of this. I have seen some of the best editorial and commercial photographers show some of the most boring, mundane travel images in presentations. The elation of travel trumped the artistry of photography
Travel is an elixir. I am addicted to travel; I am a sensory junkie. I love the smells, the feelings of adventure, newness and self-discovery. I revel in the unknown and being off-kilter. I love meeting new people, eating unusual foods, and not knowing what the next minute will bring my way. Photography is fine friend with which to travel – it has forced me to interaction intimately, non-verbally, and honestly with strangers. I am forced to come in close and initiate the relationship. I have become a better person because I travel.
So of course we are emotionally attached to our travel photographs. They are snapshots of us, the ultimate selfie. When we exhibit a photograph made during our travels, we are showing a little bit of our soul. However, honestly, any photograph is a bit of our soul. It is not enough to render an image of an interesting person that we met, or a stunning statue, or intricate architecture. Our job as a photographer is to make an interesting image of whatever we decide to immortalize. There is no such thing as a boring subject, just boring ways of photographing it. An interesting subject also demands an interesting or unique viewpoint.
I have the luxury of traveling to some of the most intriguing places in the world, primarily to photograph the cultures that live within.
Cuba is on the photo radar! And, it is a photographers dream: imaginative decay, intriguing people, unexpected color, and exuberant expressions! Color, light, action, pattern! And, plenty of gestures!
It is too easy. Just walk down a street in Cuba and without thinking you will find your hands on your camera “click”, “click”, “click”. It is infectious and joyful. There are very few shy people and very few “no!” I open my arms and I feel as if I can hug Cuba. That is a great travel feeling.
Yet, as a photographer I have to not only feel, but think. I have to not only experience, but also interpret. I have to make an interesting image of an interesting subject.
This is a long preachy, preamble to talking about the above image. But it is part of its anatomy.
The image above was taken early in 2014 when I was traveling throughout Cuba with a two photographer friends, American and Cuban. Carlos, my Cuban friend, had met Luis Antonio (80 years old) on previous trip. He lived in a one of those sad, beautiful, decrepit, extraordinary, run-down, “how-can-anyone-live-here!” houses that is too prevalent in Cuba.
If you are only a street photojournalist, trying to be an unobtrusive observer, then you can wait find the “decisive” moments. I have a bit more in repertoire and often find that I have to compose a portrait, and that requires extending myself in order to create a relationship. This time I had an entrée, and that makes it easier of course. Often times I have to be open and outright, and invite myself inside someone’s home (“Puedo?”). Often amusing (or horrifying) them with my pathetic Spanish (or non-existent language since I primarily travel in Asia).
Luis was charming; his neighbors were charming. I loved the entire experience. But, I wanted to make a different portrait of him. I walked all around his decaying house. I marveled at the colors in the “how-can-he-cook-here!” kitchen. It was dark. I had my workhorse Canon 5DMarkIII but photographing handheld would have required cranking the ISO to such a high degree that I knew the image would fall apart upon close inspection. I rarely travel with a tripod but this time I had one with me.
I decided to photograph Luis from the within the kitchen with my widest-angle lens. The colors were a subtle pastel palette. I used the highest ISO that I knew would hold the most detail with the least amount of noise. Since it was still image I knew a slow shutter speed was fine… but not too slow.
I like environmental portraits where the environment is as important as the person within it.
So tomorrow I head to Cuba again. And, it WILL be fun!! And, I will enjoy being a traveler there. And, I will also have to see differently and make images with impact, intent, and originality. Not an easy task!
Check out my new blog post on the B&H InDepth Blog! Enjoy!
5DMarkII 24mm f/1.4 1/40sec at f/1.4 ISO 1250
I am starting a new section call Anatomy of a Photo. I’ll post different images (mostly recent) and explain the inner workings of how they were made. Enjoy!
I was in Peru a couple of months ago; I hadn’t there for five years and I really loved it. We went to Lampa, a lovely small town, north of Julicaca. I enjoyed photographing in the late afternoon when the shadows were deep and long, however I knew that plaza would be lovely just after the sun set and the artificial lights appeared. Lampa is 15 degrees south of the equator so the dusk does not linger. The sun set at 5:35pm on July 11th. I figured there would be 10 – 15 minutes of “dull” light before the ambient artificial light glowed with the same intensity as the lingering blue in the sky. Then there would only be 10 to 15 minutes, maximum, to photograph before the sky turned too dark.
The first evening I brought my 5DMarkII with a 24mm f/1.4 lens and photographed hand holding, occasionally with an off-camera flash with a 1/2CTO gel. It was fine and I got some reasonable images. However, the church was a dominating presence and it begged to be sharp. The next evening I returned with my tripod and set up near a food stall and waited for people to cross into my frame. It is not a busy plaza, even on a Saturday night. I felt very lucky to have this confluence of activity. I only had ONE opportunity, and ONE click of the shutter when the spacing between the subjects was perfect.
It was taken on 7/11/2011 at 5:53 PM. A couple of minutes later the sky was too dark.
So why did I use such a shallow depth of field since I was on a tripod? Because I needed a relatively fast shutter speed so that my subjects would not ghost out. I did want a bit of motion blur but not too much; the subjects had to be recognizable. The church was at “infinity” and I almost parallel to it so I know it would be sharp even at the very shallow f/stop of 1.4. (You get what you pay for… the Canon 24mm f/1.4 fast lens is expensive but sharp). I kept my White Balance on Daylight to preserve the Kelvin temperature of the various mixed lighting. ISO 1250 was as high as I wanted to go with this camera.
Any other questions?
I returned a few weeks ago from five weeks in India leading a National Geographic Expedition photo group to Rajasthan (great fun, great group!) and then I was photographing tribal groups in Orissa and Chattisgarh for three weeks. I wore my neck brace 24/7 (see this post). I felt like a robot since I had to turn my entire body whenever I needed to look to the side; but interestingly, only a few people ever commented on it. I think most tribals thought the brace was a fashion statement (and I was accessorizing with a buff and scarves).
Well, as I wrote in the previous post, I never found a suitable lightweight photo vest for tropical weather, so I tested travel vests and decided on the Magellan Travel Vest. It failed “the photo vest test”. In its defense, the Magellan travel vest is not meant to be a photo vest. However, it also failed “the travel vest test”. I love the fabric and cut of the vest. Yet for the pockets to be truly useable they really do need to be bigger (and there is room). I did wear the vest a few times when I didn’t want to carry my Eagle Creek Departure waist pouch (see this post) but needed a place to hide money in an interior pocket and stow my sunglasses. Otherwise the vest was not that useful and since it was hot in India I abandoned it most of the time.
Now the good news! I love the Lowepro Street and Field system. It was perfect for walking around markets and in villages. I brought all my gear over in my trusty Lowepro Orion AW bag (I may have to mount a campaign for Lowepro to resurrect this great camera bag from its discontinued status, join me!) but it was primarily a vessel for my equipment and stayed in the car most of the time. Honestly I usually only needed two lenses: the 16-35m f/2.8 and usually the 24-70mm. Occasionally I also carried the 24mm f/ 1.6 (I love it, so sharp!). I think I only walked around with my 100-400mm f/4.5 a couple of times.
So I had 2-3 pouches on the waist belt for the 1-2 lenses and one pouch for flash accessories. I also carried my Garmin GPS and Canon S95 on the belt. In addition, I usually had my converted Canon 5D infrared camera in an older TopLoad Zoom (it is not as bulky as the new ones) slung over a shoulder to my left side. So I still looked armed and dangerous (well, not so dangerous) but all the weight was off my shoulders and my neck. It really was just perfect.
I also found that I could slip my Canon 580EX flash into one of the pockets with the Rogue Flashbender – Small Positionable Reflector or LumiQuest FX diffuser and have a workable off-camera flash when I was kneeling and photographing upwards. The new Pocket Wizards Flex TT5 and Mini TT1 Radio Slave for Canon function so much better than the Canon wireless transmitter.
Now I’m on my way to Myanmar and am taking the same setup with me. I have some suggestions for Lowepro about the pouches but generally I am really happy with the gear.
I have graduated to a soft collar and am beginning to get some movement back in my neck. Bless the healing power of bones, and bless seat belts!
I am going to have to design a photo vest though.
Friday, July 9th was the premier of my new show OUTER INDIA. Twenty-eight images from a work-in-progress on the lesser-known tribal regions of India is at the Verve Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, NM July 9 – August 29th, 2010. Over 400 people attended the opening!! And some of my wonderful friends came from out of town. I am so thrilled. Excelsior!
Check out this post I wrote for the Singh-Ray blog!
“Traveling the back roads and narrow trails of Asia, Africa and South America for hours at a time to reach the world’s most remote tribal areas and cultures gives National Geographic photographerNevada Wier plenty of time to think about the gear she takes with her… what stuff is important and what might not be. “Believe me, my filters are important. In particular three kinds of Singh-Ray filters go with me everywhere. There’s a Hi-Lux filter on each of my lenses, and I also carry a 77mm LB Warming Polarizer and a 77mm Vari-ND filter. Each one of these filters is essential and fits neatly in my camera bag that I have to carry around all day.
“I keep a Hi-Lux UV filter on each lens because I want the best possible glass between my lens and the world. I photograph in extreme elemental conditions — rain, snow, fog, hot days, cold nights… you name it. I’ve learned the importance of protecting my valuable lenses. However, I do not want a filter that degrades my image quality so I always go with the Hi-Lux.
To read the rest go to … http://singhray.blogspot.com/2010/06/on-narrowest-trails-in-most-faraway.html
Chattisgarh. India 2009
I’m back in blogging mode. I looked at the comments people made in my poll “I would like you write more about…” and it is time to answer your questions. The overwhelming category in which you are most interested is Creative Photography. I’m thrilled about that because creativity is the heart and soul of photography. It is not enough to just aim the camera at a spectacular subject and click the shutter; anyone can do that. You have reach in and grab the essential moment in a personal and creative way. So I’m going to continue to address this over the summer months.
Also, in the comments section, a number of you asked me to write about The Editing Process. I think learning how to edit your images goes hand-in-hand with being a a Virtuoso of Seeing. Recently I was having a critique session with a photographer whose photographic method mostly meant aiming the camera at an interesting subject, then cropping it into an interesting photograph during editing, and then saturating the heck out of it! I was amazed (and horrified to be honest) at this process. It seemed bass-ackwards to me. If you have taken a workshop with me you know that I’m all about “Get it all in the frame and get it right”. Since I evolved from world of slide film and picky editors, I learned very early on that I had to have it perfect in that slender piece of celluloid–no cropping and no changing of content (of course that wasn’t possible in the pre-Photoshop era).
During my travels I have absolutely no desire to document everything in front of me. I am wandering about enjoying myself waiting for that spark of synchronicity with a subject (whether it be animate or inanimate). When I find a subject that touches me then it up to me to interpret it creativity and honestly. Sometimes it is just one click of the shutter, but other times there is time to work it. Usually I am looking for not just one interpretation, but many. Many, many, many if I can. If it is a great subject, then keep evaluating and sensing and thinking until the moment is over, or the person is gone, or it just feels over.
I want to come home and look through a lot of good images and find A Great One. Click and keep on reading, it’s good stuff!
I’m back from my travels in Northern Thailand (more on that later). My re-entry day involves A Day of Autism … which might mean going for a long walk, but usually means just watching TV or going to the movies. Today I watched the Olympics and reveled in what it means to be a virtuoso of the body and senses (a distant cousin to being a travel photographer).
I decided to take a break from the exhausting physical exertion of the Olympics to watch The Hurt Locker.
The first words on screen are “War is a Drug“.
I gasped; stopped the movie and thought about this. I was dangerously close to becoming a current event photographer. But I was scared. No, not of combat or unknown harsh humanity; but of the potential addiction to feeling “acutely aware on the razor edge of death”. I was a climber, kayaker, and mountaineer…so this was an obvious allure–a kind of photographic Olympics to the next deadly level. I pulled back from the allure of those intense endorphins. Yet, the thought still makes me gasp.
So it begs the question: Are photojournalist/war photographers in two categories? Ones who want to make a difference (but do they have the skills to survive)? Or, ones who thrive on risk yet have the skills to survive brutal adversity (but still need the empathy?). Or, as I believe, the best possess it all, and then they must also be maestros of photography.
Downhill skiing seems much simpler at this moment.
Back to the The Hurt Locker.. and it is only a movie… but it brings up very real feelings.
My last post was about how I unpacked my gear. Well, I’ve packed it all up again and am now in Bangkok on my way to Northern Thailand to photograph a few of the hill tribe New Year celebrations. You can refer back to older posts about how I pack my gear (and in a future post I’ll post some more photos about how I pack my camera bag, but I just can’t at the moment as I’m about ready to get on a flight to Chiang Mai.).
So what is the most important photo item that I packed besides my camera and CF cards (duh!). Drum roll — Advil! For all the gear I carry.
Aside from that, here is a short list of favorites:
Favorite camera: Canon 5D MarkII (my 1Ds Mark III is my backup)
Favorite lens: 16-35mm f/2.8 (2nd choice 24-70 f/2.8)
Favorite CF card: 16GB Sandisk Extreme IV
Favorite camera bag: Lowepro Orion AW (but I’m also taking a belt with lens pouches to go light)
Favorite new compact camera: Canon S90
Favorite flash accessory: LumiQuest FX
Favorite beer: Singha (okay, I have to edit this and be honest… Singha in Thailand but Negro Modelo in the Universe)
And here is a favorite IR image from a recent assignment in Orissa, India
© nevada wier Orissa, India
I’m in Yangon and, shock of all shocks, I have wireless at the Trader’s Hotel. I’ve been traveling here since 1986 … this is first. I don’t know why… but it means that I can tell you this tale:
I’m at lovely Shwedagon Pagoda, as the full moon begins the wane, I’m staring through star candle lanterns at the spire, photographing and reveling in the joy of the moment, and I hear a voice, “you aren’t just looking at the light, you are absorbing it”. I turn and there is a young Burmese monk with a friend, of gentle demeanor, yet sharp eyes. I say “Yes, it is tasty!”. And we proceed to converse. “Where are you from?”, they ask. “USA. New Mexico”, I reply. “Ah, yes … Land of Enchantment”, says the rakish friend with a baseball cap. “How did you know that!”, I exclaim. He says dryly, “It is on your license plate.” “Well, I know that, but how do you?” “I read it in a book.” And, we continue to have a wonderful conversation ending with me saying thank you in Burmese and he said “Da Nada”. I love to travel!