Portrait Photography – Rule #1 – Have Fun

     After writing an almost four hundred worder on what I think is the single most important aspect of producing a good photo, focal point, I trashed it and started over. Started another article, almost reaching five hundred words, on focal point again, with some points on the differences between focal point and subject matter infused throughout. Ended up trashing that. Thought about it for a while and the article just didn’t seem right. Sure, focal point is very important, but the fact of the matter is, there are more important factors in producing good photos. Focal point is important, as is subject matter, sharpness, composition, etc, etc, but over and over again, while writing the article, I almost had to “force” the subject. Well, you know what, after I sat back for a while, it finally came to me what is the most important single aspect in producing a good image. For me, it is just plain having fun.

     Think about it, and I’m not talking a paying job photo type shoot. If you’re out all miserable, taking shots here and there, how many photos do you actually like when looking back at them. If photos are about memories, who wants to be reminded of a bad day out. If you’re not enjoying taking the photos, why even bother. The answer to that is, for me, there really is no reason.

          Being an avid “people photography” kind of person, not having fun can really show through in the photos you are taking also. I often find myself in “poorer” (monetarily that is) parts of the world where you don’t see happiness all the time. In my experience though, happiness is always there, in some form or way. You just need to get it to show. This is where having fun can really shine through in your photos.

     When I am having fun, it always seems to come through in the photos. Big, happy smiles on my subjects faces. Bright colors, happy people, laughter. The trick for me is to not only have fun but try to include your subject in the fun. Talk, joke, laugh… Make your subject forget about their situation, and worry maybe just a bit less, for at least a few minutes. Show them the pictures on your LCD. Make them smile. Don’t just run up and take a shot. Sit, communicate and share a little. …and if you haven’t tried, no matter what language you speak, a smile is universal, and goes a long way in communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. If you have a mad tone of voice and a frown on your face, how do think your subject will react to that? Doesn’t work for me, and it usually doesn’t work for people who have not met that particular person, but are just looking at the photograph.

     I have never had a problem with communication with my subject for some reason, whether I’m in India, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nepal, China or anywhere else on earth. No, maybe I can’t have a conversation with them on world issues or the political state of their country, but I can communicate that I want to take a picture of them, I mean no harm, and I am just trying to have fun.

     So, I’ll talk about focal point, subject matter, communication and whatever else another time. If you’re looking for a more technical type of insight to photography, there are plenty of articles out there written everyday. There are also plenty of people who will argue that sharpness, color, contrast, focal length, and the like are the most important aspects in obtaining a good portrait. It is all opinion, and everyone’s is different, but my opinion is that these people will never truly realize why their portraits aren’t any good, or hold any real connection between the subject and viewer. Sure, they may be sharp, with great color, but there is more to a great photograph than that. Again, not talking about a studio shoot here, but more about “out and about” photography.

     For now, my best advice would be to just have fun, and I would almost bet that your photos will be better and hold dearer memories for you, as well as being a bit more interesting for people looking at those photos. It works for me, so I say go out have some fun. See what happens. Maybe you’ll like the results!!! Sure, there is more to a great photo than just having fun, but it is a great place to start, and you have to start somewhere.

     …and, of course, a few examples of what I’m talking about. A picture is worth a thousand, happy, words. Up above, to the left, a young girl from Chong Kneas in Cambodia, subject of a previous post that can be seen here. That one was easy, as she was looking to have fun and smile. Above, to the right, a girl selling peanuts at one of the temples of Bagan, Myanmar. If you’ve never been, and are saying to yourself “What is she wearing on her face?” …It is thanaka, sometimes called tanaka. Natures sunscreen, made of bark mashed into a paste. Seen on women’s faces throughout Myanmar, spread into any and every design imaginable.

     What do you do with a girl from Debark, Ethiopia, homeless and living on the street, both parents gone…???… Make her forget all that. Make her laugh!!! Have fun.

    Below, a homeless woman on the steps of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur, India. I like to call her Joy. You could tell she wasn’t very well off, and it looked like she could use a laugh. I spent some time sitting on those steps, amid the sadhus, holy men, holy women, the more unfortunate of the town.

      I didn’t just run up, take a shot, and run away. I sat and saw what the people there saw. She made fun of me. I made fun of her. I showed her some pictures I had taken. She showed me her bruises and cuts. I took a shot, she didn’t smile. I smiled as I yelled at her to smile. Showed her what she looked like on my LCD. She fixed her hair, laughed, smiled and forgot about life for a minute or two. Great woman. Both of us had fun. Great memories, not only of Joy herself, and the happiness that some have to just be alive, but of Udaipur and the Indian people themselves. Thinking about it, I could probably write a whole article on Joy herself. Hmmm …maybe I will.


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Book Review: Lonely Planet Afghanistan

     Ok. Before I even get started on this one I wanna say that I did go to Afghanistan in July, 2009, and I did read this book beforehand and during my stay there. I’m the “adventurous” type and went simply for a holiday. Not as part of an NGO or military or work or anything like that. Just for the fun of it I guess you would say. From my personal experience I can say, adamantly, DO NOT USE THIS AS A GUIDEBOOK along the lines of where to stay, visit, eat or anything else like that. This is one guidebook that can get you killed.

     The 1st edition, published in 2007. I’m not sure this was a wise decision by Lonely Planet. Actually, what I should say, is this was published to make money and that is it. There is no way anyone can publish a book on a country like Afghanistan and even slightly think that it will help their readers with lodging and visiting decisions. The book was probably outdated a few months before the publishing date…

     Take everything in this book with a grain of salt. It’s a fast moving country and to try to list “tourist” sites, places to stay, and places to eat could be potentially deadly. Good background info read before you go, definitely, but used as a “guide” …good luck.

     Case in point: I originally was going to stay at a highly recommended hotel in the book. I got there, Kabul that is, walked out of the airport and, talking to the mercs there, found out that the manager of that particular hotel was killed a few months earlier. …in the lobby of the hotel. Shot right behind the front desk. The mercs were really adamant about not staying there as the hotel was now compromised and an extremely dangerous place to stay. They gave me about a 75% chance of being kidnapped. Hmm. LP gave it a highly rated…

     Now, it’s not all bad. If your thinking of going than I would definitely recommend this as a good, comprehensive background and general overview type read of the country. In that sense one of the more recent out there. Written and published in the easy and eye pleasing Lonely Planet style, I would even say it’s worth the money if you’re at all interested in the country. I even learned a few important phrases before I went. CBIED, DBIED, DCIED …and things like that. The authors do have multiple “warnings” about information in the book also, so hats off to them there. Maybe even one of the more interesting lonely Planet’s I’ve read. So, in the historical and background context of the book, I would definitely give it a highly recommended.

     As a guidebook though, not recommended at all. If you are going though, and don’t feel like spending the money, I left mine in the library of the Serena Kabul. Really didn’t wanna part with it, but didn’t wanna carry it around for the next two months either.

Bottom Line:
…as a Background Read: Highly Recommended
…as a Guidebook: Potentially Deadly

     Help me keep traveling, reviewing, and taking pictures. If you want to buy this book, or any other book through Amazon, than click and buy through the photo above. Thank you!!! John

Gulp

Simien Mountains National Park, Northern Ethiopia.

It was a good idea at the time.
A hundred and fifty Gelada Baboons coming.
Quick, jump in their path and just sit there, I don’t think they see me…
Wait for them to come to you. Just pretend you don’t notice them.

…about thirty seconds later,
Surrounded.
I got this guy below “buzzing” me. About five feet away here.
Just slowly “strutting” around. He’s got the perfect “sideways glance” goin’ on.
Just like one of those tough guys on a Philly corner.

…rethinking.
Baboon babies surrounding me, within ten feet.
In the middle of nowhere. By myself.
I think the patriarch is laughing at me now.
I can’t move even if I wanted too …or could.

…quick math.
These guys have eight times the muscle density of a human.
I can lift a hundred and fifty pounds.
Gulp.
They have arms around four times the circumference of mine.
Gulp.
Eight times four times 150 is…
Gulp.
Divided by the amount of force it takes to rip a human head off the body.
Gulp.
Add in very big and sharp teeth.
Times the distance to a hospital (at least four countries over).
Gulp.

…still thinking.
They really don’t seem to care that I’m here.
I think the big guy just gave me that glance again while laughing.
Stay still, move slowly, click, click, gulp.
Pretend you don’t see him, gulp.
He’s eating grass and pretending not to notice me…
Gulp, gulp.

…as he rips down an entire tree.
Hey buddy, great move. Click …click.
Hey, if I’m gonna die, I may as well get some pictures of it.
Click, click.

…as the group slowly moves away.
Whewww.
Good boy. Gulp. Smile. That whole having fun thing…
He turns around one more time and gives me a smile,
probably just showing off those inch long canines,
and gives me one of those “your lucky” looks.

Good times.
Stupid is as stupid does…
Ethiopia is one of my favorite countries…

           December 28, 2007

The River

Taken on the Niger River, two days cruise from Mopti headed towards Timbuktu, Mali.

     It’s everything here, the river that is. The Niger River that is. Running through the largest and one of the harshest deserts in the world, it is truly everything. Without it, and these kids and their families are for the most part, gone. It’s life. It’s a source of food. A source of transportation. It’s the bathtub, shower, clothes washer, dish washer. Maybe the best part, as seen here, it’s the playground…

March 5, 2008

Sapa

Sapa, Vietnam.

Just having a bit of fun in the backtrails of Sapa.
This little guy was particularly animated, taking time out from sliding
down the trail on his two wheeled skateboard. Think rollerblade board.
Those big eyes only got bigger in front of the camera…

September 20, 2010