Searching for the right shot
For 17 years, no one knew Sharbat Gula’s name. Everyone knew her face, though — the haunting green eyes, olive skin, her apprehension and beauty. That face appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and instantly made her and her photographer — Steve McCurry — famous.
Gula was finally identified in 2002. By then, McCurry had cemented his reputation as perhaps the greatest travel photographer. Most of his images are iconic scenes from Asia: Burmese fishermen rowing with their legs; Shaolin monks robed in orange and hanging from their feet; Indian celebrants painted otherworldly shades of green, pink and purple. He has inspired throngs of younger photographers to rough it in Asia, looking for that perfect picture.
With the proliferation of digital photography and the ease of doing research on the internet, being a travel photographer has never been easier. Being a paid travel photographer, on the other hand, has never been so hard. More competition demands not only traveling to the world’s distant reaches, but also thinking creatively when you get there.
One Korea-based expat who has been doing just that is 23-year-old Mitzie van der Merwe. The South Africa native moved here recently and has been looking for unusual photo opportunities in the country. One of the most striking scenes she has found is an industrial facility on the southern coast. She went there to visit the Yeosu Expo 2012, but was most impressed by the lines, textures and shadows she found at the facility. She didn’t have a chance to photograph it then, but she plans to go back soon with her camera.
When she arrived in Eumseong, a small town in North Chungcheong Province where she lives, she was struck by the beauty of the surrounding rice fields. She also realized that rice fields and other beautiful but typical Korean scenes have been photographed many times before. Instead, she prefers to challenge herself with unique projects. One of her favorite subjects in Eumseong is the stuff people throw away. It’s fun to find beauty in things that most people perceive as valueless, she said.
Van der Merwe sharpened her skills earlier this year at a photography workshop run by another Korea-based photographer, Dylan Goldby.
Goldby, too, has found a niche in the world of travel photography. Two years ago, he and fellow expatriate photographer Shawn Parker began brainstorming about how to turn their love for photography into something more.
Goldby, an Australia native who became interested in photography several years ago and also shoots for Groove Korea, now derives much of his income from it. He shoots mostly commercial projects, recently having done the photography for the Australian government’s pavilion at the Yeosu Expo.
Parker, who is now based in the United States and Canada, has found success as a traditional travel photographer. His photos have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, American Way Magazine and Action Asia, among others.
Together, the two offer their expertise to others through their company, Flash Light Photography Expeditions. They’ve done five photography workshops in Korea so far.
They’ll fly to Thailand in November for their first international one.
The Korea workshops have focused on different aspects of photography, from the basics of composition to advanced techniques. Van der Merwe attended a workshop in Gangnam in the spring that focused on using flashes. Participants began by photographing their lunch using external flashes. Then they went to a wooded area nearby for portraits and finally to a bustling intersection, where they “froze” their subjects with a combination of flash and slow shutter speed.
“(We were) literally in the middle of the street at night going crazy, just really enjoying it,” Van der Merwe said.
Goldby echoed her words, saying, “It was good fun to see everybody going a little crazy to make a picture.”
Chris Agbalog, a 28-year-old from Hawaii, also attended the flash workshop. He remembers being struck by one of the photos Goldby took — a man doing a kick-flip on a skateboard, frozen by a flash and fast shutter speed. Agbalog took the course because he’s interested in developing his flash skills, and aims to sell his photos in the future.
The upcoming Thailand workshop will last seven days, during which Goldby and Parker will teach participants everything they need to know to get started in travel photography, from lighting food to portraiture to using long exposures. They’ll even coach their participants on how to approach people on the street for photos.
“The whole idea behind it is being able to make great photographs on the fly, particularly when traveling,” Goldby said.
Half of the workshop will take place in Chiang Mai, and half will take place on the island of Ko Phi Phi.
As part of the Chiang Mai leg, participants will visit hill tribe villages and shoot portraits of people using flashes and artificial light. They’ll also have the chance to take portraits of Thai kickboxers and action shots of them duking it out. There’s a major lantern festival going on at the time, and participants will shoot night scenes of paper lanterns ascending into the sky.
The Ko Phi Phi leg will focus more on landscapes. Participants will roam the island, finding unique vantage points from which to shoot the lush tropical landscape. For now, though, Goldby has some advice for aspiring travel photographers: “You have to become a jack of all trades.”
For more info:
You can learn more about Flash Light Photography Expeditions at flashlightexpeditions.com. Prices for workshops in Korea range from 50,000 won to 80,000 won. The Thailand workshops will run from Nov. 27 to Dec. 5. The price for the Thailand workshops is $100 per day, but participants who sign up for the full course will get a discount.