Doesn’t matter which part of town or what country you go to, there is always a hidden story that is waiting for you to discover. If not, there is always a person who is itching to tell you a secret. Whatever it is, these hidden pieces of information will add depth and value to your photographs.
Last month, I stumbled on to Umberto Verdoliva’s website; the visual elements in each of his photographs made me want to burn all the photos I collected in the past twenty some years. Since that day, I have spent at least an hour or more every day studying his composition and his way of telling stories through his images.
Each day, I look at a different photo from Verdoliva’s collection. My prying eyes search for mistakes—and I find nothing but perfect compositions and stories, I take notes of everything I see. Then I look at my photos, take notes and compare. After that, I set out with my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and experimenting with Verdoliva’s style and technique. I’ve learned a lot in the past 30 days.
Although I haven’t fully mastered his technique yet, here are some tips that I can’t wait to share with my readers.
Each person is a different universe. Not all men are from Mars and all women are from Venus. They are from other planets too—kidding. If you pay attention to how they dress themselves or their body languages and gestures, you can easily identify their origins; whether they’re from New York or Australia. I like to sit at a busy street corner or in a quiet coffee shop and study the people. Different coffee shop has different customers and different corner has different crowds.
Every place has its own mystery. Look around you. Our world is full of mysteries. They’re right in front of our eyes but we’re too busy searching for something that isn’t there, we let the beauties in front of us escape our visions. Ask yourself why that stencil is on that wall. Who’s the artist created that graffiti. Is he famous? How long has that pawnshop been there? What does it look like inside? That’s what I do when I’m out hunting for images on the streets.
Iconic landmarks and human elements. Sometime, these two don’t go well when you put them together in one shot but don’t let the scene slips away from you. Find an angle to reflect the conflict or contrast between the two subjects. If you don’t see the story in color, switch your film mode to black and white. Move into the shade or shoot into the sun. Be creative with whatever the camera and lens you have with you. If you want to capture the lives of the locals, start conversations, move closer and ask for their portraits along with any story they wish to tell.
Room with a view. If you are in a restaurant or on a bus, position yourself where you can have at least 80% of the view. I usually choose a window seat or stand in the back when I’m on a public transportation. When I’m in a restaurant, I’d try to get a table near the entrance and close to the window. I get better lighting for my food shots as well as candid shots with the light that creeps through windows and doors.
Shoot the tourists. They’re aliens in disguise. Shoot ‘em. Just kidding. But it is always fun to play the third shooter role where you can get both the photographers and the posers in one frame. Many tourists open for conversations and they’d not have any problem if you ask them to pose for you.
When in Rome, eat pizza. Try out local’s restaurants and their special dishes. Some dishes may look strange and even have weird tastes, but you will have some photos and experience to tell about your trip. Just don’t try the Seven Courts of Dog when you’re in Vietnam. That’s awfully wrong and your Chihuahua will pee on you while you’re sleeping if he/she finds out you had committed that unforgivable sins.
Capture the essence of your plate. Use the macro mode or at least zoom into the main part of your meal. Food pictures always look better in detail.
Not just the beauties and the riches. I often talk to cab drivers, waiters, doormen to find out which parts of the city that isn’t on the tourist map but safe enough for an outsider to wander around. Obviously, these parts of town aren’t the place for you to walk around with your Leica M9-P around your neck. They are the places for you to poke around with your compact camera. I always find a coffee shop, hang out for a while, talk to someone and ask if he/she would interest to guide me around. Sixty percent will say yes. People love to make friends and show off the coolest parts of their hometown.