I have always told people I am happiest when I am travelling, writing, capturing photos with my camera, as well as scuba diving. That’s almost always the line I use to describe myself.
But digging into myself further, I have come to realise my growing passion for stories during my sabbatical journey in the last year; be it listening to them or telling them to others, to the point that whenever I meet a stranger, I always ask, “so, what’s your story?” Many times, that usually happens after I realise I have talked too much. Mind you, I have always been a believer that you can’t expect others to open up to you before you do.
Telling a story through written words and conversation is fun, and while not everybody can articulate a great story, most people can do it relatively easy. Telling a story through photographs is another thing. It’s an art on its own, and one that I always wanted to learn given my love for photography as well. The rise of photography as a hobby has been phenomenal with DSLR cameras being more affordable these days, not to mention the much-improved technology of mobile phone cameras that these days, even a toddler can take a photo. What differentiates the good and bad photographers, in my humble opinion, is one who can capture a story behind the photo. Not an easy task, but with right photo, or series of photos, and the right technique, it’s a useful art to learn.
A dear friend of mine – let’s call him Mr G – who’s an avid reader of this blog by the way, told me about Michael Freeman photography workshop which I attended over the weekend, “Storytelling with Photographs”. I knew of Michael Freeman, the legendary British photographer from seeing his many how-to photography books in book stores as well as seeing at least 20 (or was it 50?) of them on the said friend’s bookshelf. Naturally, Mr G has been a long time fan, and asked me to come along to the 1-day seminar and 2-days workshop. Initially, I hesitated to go but he convinced me that this would be a good investment for what I want to do with writing and photography.
And boy, was I glad I listened to him.
The seminar was held in the new Pullman Hotel Central Park Jakarta, a very retro-whimsical-pop-art designed hotel. I love the interior design; it almost felt like I was in a modern art gallery. The ballroom was only half filled with at least 40 people attending while they could have filled it will at least 100 people. I’m not sure whether Periplus, the organiser, did not do enough promotion or there was simply not enough interest in the seminar (instead of the actual field workshop)
Tantyo Bangun, an Indonesian photojournalist and previous editor of National Geography Indonesia, gave an opening talk before Michael took us through his material for the day on how to create and prepare for a photo story. The next two days followed with a field workshop (limited to 30 people each day) in Museum Bank Indonesia in Jakarta’s Kota Tua (Old Town) area where we went out for actual photo hunts and shared our photos with everyone including with Michael giving us feedback.
Things I learned during from attending this:
- Like an essay, a photo story should have a structure with opening (opening picture or establishing shot), body (a series of photos for the main stories), and closing (the closer).
- In order for something to stand out, some things need to take a back seat, and this goes the same with some not so great photos. Don’t discount on showing them as part of the story building.
- Art directing on photo layout is important. Visually this makes an impact on how the story goes.
- Remember that what happens on a shoot is never always according to plan. So plan as much as possible then let go. Improvise and make the most of things on the shoot.
- Develop an eye for great composition. Michael’s pictures are nothing short of great composition. After all, one of his best selling books is the Photographer’s Eye.
Michael Freeman is a very down to earth man who takes his time to talk to you. I found myself comfortably chatting to him, even sharing with him my story on how I quit last year to take a sabbatical to spend time on travel, photography and writing. His eyes lit up, and said “that’s how I started to become a photographer! I took a sabbatical”.
He spent a few months off from his advertising job as an account manager to take photos in the Amazon that made the Brazilian tourism department impressed that somehow he ended up holding his photo exhibition. Needless to say, he resigned soon after and actually ended up with a two weeks photo assignment from the same employer he resigned from.
Talk about following and doing what you love for a living, and the universe conspiring to make it happen.
He is a great storyteller. I found it enjoyable and easy to understand him sharing many of conceptual ideas instead of the technical side of things. Interestingly though, one attendant actually expected a more technical and textbook application workshop. Personally, I always think technical matters can be read through in the textbook (and he certainly has covered many technical stuff in some of his books). You certainly can’t teach creativity and formulate it like a textbook but knowing the experts’ thinking process help to build your own creativity. After all, art is a very subjective matter.
I managed to come up with a few concepts and themes during the weekend after listening to his seminar and even shared a photo story idea with Michael. That prompted him to give me tips and ideas as to how to plan and shoot for it. I can only be flattered that the idea got him thinking and he got inspired to shoot the same subjects during the workshop.
Here are some of the shots I took over the weekend. I”ll post some of the themed photo story I developed in over the weekend in the future on a different blog post.
We were in Kota Tua (Fatahillah Square) on day 1 and Sunda Kelapa port on day 2. On both days, the sun was scorching hot. One would be crazy to take photos with such harsh lights, but Michael actually taught us on how to take advantage of harsh lights.
For the record, if I ever published a photography book before I die, my first book shall be dedicated to Mr G. He’s one of the few people with a big heart, who believes in what I do and is always encouraging. So much so that he gave me this workshop’s ticket as present. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
Oh, and one last thing I learned – as I was about to do some post-production processing – always, always, always, check your camera settings for its format. Even if you think you have set it correctly. For someone who always shoots in RAW, those photos above were shot in JPEG (and I have no idea how that happened). Thank goodness for Nikon’s colour setting.
As Mr G puts it, all is well that ends well.