Wutai Photo Assignment
Photography assignments are generally a lot of fun; they can impart a bit of direction and purpose to doing what I love — taking photos. Some are easy, like a recent tree assignment in which I had over a month to research tree types, find them, and take the photos in nice light with a bit of breadth of topic. Others can get you great access to events where you would otherwise be unable to get close enough for a decent shot and even get you into an event that is already sold out! But some assignments can be extremely challenging because of timing (not enough time, or a seasonal subject), weather (not just bad weather like rain but also the wrong weather — maybe the assignment calls for rain and you have only beautiful sunny days), access (private property, events and people may not be available or willing to be photographed), getting a nice range of subject matter (publications will have little use for ten stunning photos of one subject, usually a broad content range is required) and even interest (some things, like hotel rooms, can bore the photographer to death). With one or many of these limitations the photographer still needs to produce a good selection of quality photographs with a broad subject matter and appeal for the editor… consistently.
Often, I will submit photos that I’m not personally happy with because I have to work around poor lighting, limited time and a subject matter I don’t identify with or know enough about. While planning can go a long way in limiting some of these problems, more often than not you have to live with certain limitations and use experience and technique to devise workarounds. Conversely, it is often these hardships, and accompanying lucky breaks, that make assignments so enjoyable — pushing yourself to create nice photos in difficult circumstances… consistently.
I recently had an assignment to accompany Steven Crook’s Wutai article for Topics. I had already pushed back the due date to accommodate my family vacation, and had only one day to procure some decent shots. The weather was horrible, light rain fell all day, so there was little chance of getting any decent sky/mountain scenic shots of the area that can be so spectacular. It was the first time I had ever been to Wutai so I didn’t have a very comprehensive plan worked out for the day, nor did I have any archive photos to pull from. On the drive to Pingtung, I was expecting to have to submit a pretty weak assignment.
In a very lucky break, I happened upon this rehearsal for a festival en route to Wutai which enabled me to get some nice Aboriginal people shots to fill out the assignment.
For editorial photography, reading the article your photos are illustrating before the shoot is invaluable. Knowing what things are covered and trying to cover as much as possible ensures a broad range of subjects for the editor to choose from. I knew churches were a focus in Steven’s article and exterior shots with the overcast weather were dull and uninteresting, but interior shots were great with nice non-directional light coming through all the windows.
Here the range of light was still to great with the small windows not lighting the whole church evenly so I resorted to HDR.
Keeping dull grey or white skies out of the frame for scenic photos is one way of dealing with bad weather.
This was easy enough with such steep high mountains that are typical for the area.
Close-up and detail shots are another option ideal for the lovely soft quality of light that fog and clouds create.
Later in the day the weather cleared for a bit and I took this HDR composite hoping I could pull some detail out of the sky. It was the little portion of road on the left that drew me to take the picture but I wasn’t quite able to create what I had envisioned and the photo falls a little short of usable for publication.
Kabalhelayane Village, Sandimen, Pingtung County, Taiwan
This lovely lady was mashing corn on the side of the road and she happily posed for me then put on her flower wreath and walked me down to her daughter’s Betel nut stand. I took this photo on the way back to her house with an old manual Nikkor 28mm f/2 lens (I was very close!) which I quite like, except for its unexceptional bokeh — which is quite evident here.