Thursday, April 26, 2007

Photo School

I have an interest in photography that's been simmering for most of my life. A short experimental phase in high school died a quick death when I realized the cost of film and lab time. Snapshots were taken over the years, but when I look back I've lived a fairly undocumented existence. But this is the digital era, and I'm a digital guy, so now on most days I can be found with either camera strapped around my neck or tucked safely inside my day pack. My interest has come to a boil.

It's one thing to take photos and another to know how to take photos. There have been some lucky shots in the past few weeks (here, here and here), but generally I've been frustrated with my lack of knowledge and ability in photography.

Soon after buying my Canon digital SLR, I emailed my friend Brent Murray, formerly a photo editor for, for advice. He said he thought my photos were pretty good (thanks Brent!) and that one of the best things I could do was to find a professional photographer and start asking questions.

Most hotels in Singapore offer free Internet. This not only makes web addicts like myself very happy, it offers the chance to interact with other travelers glued to their laptops. On my first full day in Singapore, I shared a electrical outlet with a guy who I overheard mention that he was a photographer. A short conversation later, I had learned that Giovanni Del Brenna was in Singapore working on a personal project that he hoped to sell to an Italian magazine. As a graduate of a program at the International Center for Photography in New York, and a former assistant the photojournalist James Nachtwey, Giovanni is now supporting himself with a camera (three, actually). He showed me his work, and I was genuinely impressed. He's not only got an eye for his subjects, he takes the kind of photos that I'm attracted to. Check out his work here.

I showed him some of my photos on Flickr and he was supportive (work more with light, do more in Photoshop). He then agreed to let me tag along while he took photos the next morning. His plan was to go to Singapore's central business district and see what happens.

Giovanni and a Singapore Coffee

We met at 7:30 the next morning and traveled downtown. I felt a bit like a schoolboy tackling a real-world assignment, but Giovanni was nice about the whole thing and it soon became nothing more than a couple of guys with cameras on the streets of Singapore. The difference being he was shooting with film using an old Leica with a fixed lens and I was the new kid on the block, shooting digital with a zoom lens.

There's not a lot of activity during rush hour here. Nothing like other major cities, with the hustle and bustle of people hurrying to work. At 8 am, the streets were dead and we killed time drinking Singapore coffee and eating kaya toast (thick coffee with condensed milk and toast slathered in a jelly made from coconut, egg and sugar).

By 9 am, there wasn't much more activity. Still, we walked a few miles, heading north to Clarke Quay and finally down to Chinatown for an early lunch. We snapped photos along the way, and Giovanni was kind enough to not only answer all my questions, but to conduct a mini-tutorial in light, shutter speed, aperture and composition. I learned more in a few hours than I'd learned trolling the web in a a few weeks. Hands on instruction beats book learning any day.

Giovanni at Work

My thanks go out to Giovanni for the lesson and the friendship.

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Blogger Peggy said...

Hi Matt:

It has been so enjoyable to be able to catch up a bit on your latest and greatest blogs. As mentioned in my prior e-mail to you today, I should have left my computer hours ago, but reading your blogs is better than reading a fast-paced mystery novel. The stories of your travels started out great but they just get better and better.

Your Montana "sky traveler" friend, Peg

P.S. Where is the peacoat?

7:29 AM  

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