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Photography: The games we play

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Late last year my better half and I were in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on a small group tour of this fascinating region of Central Asia. Nine people in total, plus a guide and a driver in each country. Great people, a great trip, and rich in history and sights. Our first major tourist stop was at Registan Square in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. A dull wet day, but still impressive both inside and out.

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Photo fun developed

Early on it became evident that four of us in the group were keen photographers, some might say over-keen or maybe even a bit obsessive. But I’d have to disagree with such descriptors. How could anyone be over-keen or obsessive about image making? Others in the group had greater and lesser interests in photography so they tolerated us, although one of our guides did make it a rule that the first ten minutes at any location were to be listen-to-the-guide times, and only then could the “photographers wander off”.

So, there were four of us who began to have a side adventure. Specifically, as well as the tourist images, we should also try to make images that were a bit “different”, and then bring such an image from the previous day to breakfast on an iPad or tablet. It was to be a simple breakfast exhibition, not a competition. And it turned out to be good fun.

Nigel always took his time carefully composing, Robyn often shot her images from slightly different perspectives. And Peter was always moving off trying to find something different.

Nigel

On the first morning of our exhibitions, Nigel blew us away with a very clever reflection shot from the Summer Palace in Bukhara. How did he do it? Tricky technique, thinking involved, quite admired at breakfast. The following comprise this particular image and two others of his good ‘uns from different days, all produced with his Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with an Olympus 12-100mm f/4 lens.

Robyn

With her Olympus OMD E-M5 and 14-150mm f/4-5.6 OM lens, Robyn took full advantage of the capacity of its SD card. She loved the excitement of the places and sights and took lots of shots. Among them, she got some that struck a chord. Here are four from her collection:

Peter

Peter was the quiet achiever. While the rest of us were scurrying around clicking away, he would move away on a carefully considered tangent to find an image that would be different from anything that the rest of us would see. He delighted in thoughtful, careful photography. So, here are three of his images caught by his Sony a6500 with Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 lens.

Me – the fourth in the Gang of Four.

I had to try to keep up with the triumvirate. I had the lightweight compact Leica D Lux 9 attached to my wrist most of the time, aiming to catch those moments that are quickly seen, then gone in a flash. It’s a very personal choice but I liked my shot of the donkey cart taken through the very dirty window of our wet minibus as we travelled one rainy day. Here ‘tis, along with two other opportunity shots caught by the little Leica.

Above: The landlord’s daughter, at our homestay in Margib village in the remote mountains of Tajikistan. She was outside on the balcony having fun trying to communicate in Tajik with English-speaking Robyn. At one point she turned and looked at me through the window as I was inside changing camera batteries. The camera didn’t even have time to focus completely. One image, caught in an informal instant.

Bottom Line – When travelling, the camera really doesn’t matter

The only commonality in our individually chosen travel gear was that we all had a preference for a compact camera with a relatively short zoom lens. Others might have chosen prime lenses or larger sensors rather than the APS-C and m4/3 cameras that we used. Brand doesn’t matter. In fact, I’d propose that the gear really doesn’t matter at all.

Compact, smartphone or monster DSLR isn’t important, they are all capable of providing memorable and interesting images. The challenge for us lay in looking each day for something different to catch on the sensor. Then subject matter, light, perspective and composition became the major determinants of the game.

Overall the exercise provided great fun in the ‘Stans, in a secondary mode during our visit to a wonderful area. Certainly not planned by any of us at the start, but the breakfast exhibition quickly became an enjoyable way to start each day. Well, it was for photography nuts at least.

Read more from Wayne Gerlach on Macfilos

25 COMMENTS

  1. So when are you folks going do other five STANS? Loved the photos and looks like your crew enjoyed themselves. Thanks for the ride!

    • Gday John.
      We did think about doing some of the other ‘stans as well. But decided to do more in-depth travels to just two of them. A toss of the coin, but the final decision was made on a basis of not always travelling from one location to another every day. My wionderfulfinancial controller isn’t one for continual daily travel.

  2. Lovely photos, Wayne, from all concerned. If I can be so bold as to pick out a favourite, it is Robyn’s photo of the different generations in a bazaar in Tajikistan. The composition and the combination of facial expressions are just perfect. Some of the architecture seems similar to that in Iran. We had hoped to visit Iran in 2009 as we were living only a few hundred miles away. Then there was trouble following a disputed election result in Iran and we decided to go to Syria instead. Little did we know.

    I agree about the cameras, it is the photographers that count. The best camera is, of course, the one (or two etc) you have with you.

    William

    • Thank you William. Yes, Robyn’s image of the generations is one that I enjoyed when compiling this report. It isn’t just a picture, it is a look through time, along down the generations, captured well with composition elements spot on.

    • Hello Kevin.
      We had a great morning at the Summer Palace. It’s a quiet location on the outskirts of Bukhara. Not over the top – Restrained riches both inside and outside.

  3. A wonderful article Wayne. Two images stand out to my eyes: your image of your landlord’s daughter, a perfect candid shot, and Nigel’s image of the summer palace in Bukhara. You were lucky to have a group of photographers with you. The only time I’ve travelled with a group was in Sri Lanka and it was an experience my wife have never repeated (just hated the idea of being forced to go as planned and having no time for photography + having to stand a company we did not appreciate). I couldn’t agree more with you as to the small camera size as long as you bind with the camera you pick up. These small cameras whatever the brand are great “socializer” tools. I may be biased but I can’t imagine myself carrying a bulky DSLR + lens(es). Compact cameras have gone a long way and can produce quality images on par with DSLR images. You made your D-Lux shine. Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you Jean. Yes, a good compact camera is ideal for travel and indeed general photography for me too. I choose not to be lugging weight and changing lenses. But each to their own, some folks enjoy the dSLR approach – more power to them and their images if that is the approach they choose.
      Keep enjoying your Ricoh GRs and X2.

  4. What a lovely idea, Wayne, and a fine spread of ‘seeing eyes’. I do like Robyn’s travel set, but your grab shot of the Landlord’s Daughter captures the essence of portraiture while travelling.

    • Thanks David. It was quite interesting to consider our individual approaches to travel photography. Nigel the careful composer, Robyn the memory card filler, Peter the searcher for individually distinct images, and me the wrist-strap gunslinger who often shot one-handed to catch the image but sometimes beat the autofocus in doing so. I trust I’m being kind as well as accurate to them. They were great colleagues to travel with. All keen enthusiastic photographers.

  5. What a very generous article sharing the photos of four different persons! I never cease to be stunned by islamic architecture (first two pictures in particular), but my favourite is also the landlord’s daughter shot. There is an endearing simplicity about this, even if it could have been taken in any one of many places. But, of course, choosing is a bit ridiculous when served with such a stunning menu! Thank you.
    By the way did you mean the D-lux typ 109 or the D-lux 7 ? I gather there’s not that much difference between them. I am just getting to know my D-lux 7 and enjoying it very much.

    • Hello John. I’m very grateful to the other three for agreeing to contribute their images to this article. They each have a number of other images just as worthy of presentation.

      And yes, I must admit that I took so much care getting their camera and lens descriptions correct that I completely missed the typo regarding my camera. It should have indicated D Lux 109.
      I did look at the D Lux 7 when it was released but decided that the extra megapixels wasn’t enough reason for me to upgrade. The excellent lens and form factor of both cameras is the same. A very personal view, I know, but I do really like the size, weight, feel and image quality for travel and everyday photography. Have fun with your D Lux 7.

  6. A great article and interesting to see the different styles of the four photographers. All of the images are done well but my favourite is the landlords daughter looking through the window. I kept going back to relook at it. It is interesting on so many levels. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Brian. As indicated in my reply to David A. above, we each had our own way of capturing images, and each appreciated each other’s approach. Each different, yet each trying to find that special image each day.

  7. Music to accompany “The Games we Play” could be none other than “In the Steppes of Central Asia” by Alexander Borodin, renowned chemist in his day job and immortal composer in his spare time. I like all the images and particularly Diffused light at the Summer Palace and The Landlord’s daughter as well as the wonderful architectural ones. Thank you for a great article and some evocative images, Wayne. I enjoyed the whole production!

    • Cheers, David. The diffused light at the summer palace was quite unexpectedly special, we walked from a tapestry lined dark corridor into a room flooded with liquid light from windows on three sides. Peter carefully got the mood in his shot.

  8. These are a great shots and nicely curated. One of the challenges of going to countries that are not on the tourist map is photographing people. How do you do it without putting them into a goldfish bowl, be respectful of the privacy, yet capture the character of the people and the country?

    The landlord’s daughter is a lovely example of getting it right – thank you!

  9. Hello Le Chef. Photographing people when travelling is an aspect that I’m sure we all find challenging. My approach is to always be sure that images are respectful to the person(s) and their locaation. Also that, where possible, they are aware that I’d like to take a photograph, and that I don’t take the shot if they protest or feel in any way uncomfortable.
    That said, photographs of children present a different level of complexity. I did struggle with myself whether to present the image of the landlord’s daughter. I decided to do so in the end because it is respectful towards her, she was having a fun time laughing and joking with Robyn, and after I took the first informal shot she was quite aware that I was using a camera and she began to ham it up for me at the window while I caught a few more images – but none of the subsequent images conveyed her confident curiosity that was evident in that first image.

  10. Great article, Wayne. Great locations, great shots, great premise.

    I like to think of myself as a “Peter” – looking for my own angle and point of interest, but i probably mix in a fair bit of Robyn at times – lots and lots of shots.

    It looks like a great trip and the two Em5 users is interesting – something i may have something to say about on Macfilos soon(ish). And the tolerance of non-photographers on a travel trip is something i also try to keep in mind, but i know i test the patience of my wife (and others) a lot, lol.

    Jason.

    • Good call Jason, that an individual might flip or combine travel photography styles. I hadn’t considered that one – On our trip we each generally stayed with our personal default modes, well within our comfort zones.
      Each of the photographers felt very comfortable with their chosen weapon. I’ll be interested to read your OMD thoughts as you hinted. Nigel and Robyn were proudly and emotionally attached to their OMD kits.

  11. Lovely little sets of images. There is a touch of good luck in the “generations” photo where the girl is at the back is holding onto a hidden person’s arm. In such images as of the three boys in Margib it always strikes me as wonderful how content some people can be with bits of sticks and other odds and ends to play with. And the image of the girl is something to cherish. I hope you gave her mum a print!

    • Hi Farhiz.
      I agree with you that Peter’s image of the three older children is great. They have a knowing yet curious look. And I like the different natural textures throughout the image.
      Regarding the image of the landlord’s daughter, I would like to get a print to her family but their village very remote and isolated in the mountains. Logistics are a major challenge.

  12. I loved the image of the young lady looking through the window, a wonderful classic moment captured in all its refinery. Well done on this one.

    The reflection is also a promising spot, and well realised – the sort of thing I go looking for when out and about.

    I love the idea of four photographers shooting the same area, and then producing an article based on their differing views, personal experience and just seeing what their eyes saw. We all see the same thing in some many different layers and ways that it makes our hobby (substitute passion if need be) all the more uniquely satisfying. I reckon most contributors on here could go there on the same day, and we would all return with different images.

    Nice stuff Wayne, I look forward to seeing what you come up with next, or more importantly, how many photographers you can travel with next. lol.

    I do hope the chief financier allows you to visit the other stans. Would be nice to see more compelling reasons to trek out there.

    • Gday Dave. It was a learning experience for me to realize how very differently individual photographers can approach the same location. I previously hadn’t significantly thought about it.
      Not likely that we will be back in Central Asia any time soon. There are lots of other remote regions to experience. The Chief Financial Officer has already signed off on twio new locations this year – I’d better not push my luck !

      • Glad to hear the chief financial officer is allowing new adventures, in new places (very generous) – hopefully we will see the produce of those journeys here – even better if you happen to spend time with a group of photographers again.

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