Until now, I’ve never shot a picture in black and white because I don’t know what I’m missing, in the first place.
Then I toured Intramuros under an overcast sky the other day to test the Huawei P9’s dual Leica lens camera.
A Leica camera costs anywhere between P200,000 to P2 Million though the one they placed in my hand for the photowalk-cum-contest goes for P23,900 because it’s inside a Huawei smartphone . (The bigger version, the P9 Plus costs P29,990.)
They say the P9’s the best camfone todate.
I joined 17 online media practitioners to vie for “The Best Picture” after the Huawei P9 photo workshop of Leica Club Manila Founder Billy Mondoñedo at the Bayleaf Hotel.
We have three designated pit stops and 15 minutes to take pictures per stop, afterwhich we submit one entry – our best pic – for the competition.
To inspire us, our mentor showed samples in his portfolio – a shot of pencil shavings which fetched P45,000 from an educational company, a composition with sea shells and plant debris which an advertising firm paid for at a higher price, landscapes, action shots, interiors and the like.
Frankly, I’ve always found photography difficult even though I’ve been drawing and painting before I learned to read and write.
It’s easier to play god on an empty canvas, blank board or paper. I can put in anything I want knowing I can manipulate the images whenever I please with the stroke of a brush or the scrape of a palette knife.
On the other hand, using the camera lens to make the world see what I see is a process of ruthless elimination, selecting and framing my subject from a chaos of imagery and defining them via light and shadow.
It’s the lighting of the subject that dictates the drama in photography and once I’ve clicked the shutter, I can’t change the result – unless I photoshop the image, which is a no-no with our purist mentor.
Bearing that in mind, I set out in the cobbled streets of the Walled City in the scorching high noon heat.
Intramuros is a photographer’s paradise, a favorite of history buffs, foodies, religious as well as poverty tourists.
Not surprisingly, we were warned against thieves. Coordinators and local government security staff escorted us throughout our walk. After all, we’re brandishing over half a million worth of smartphones.
First stop was Bambike – a shop full of handmade bamboo bikes.
The cobblestones of the street outside are fabulous by themselves, though I thought it would have been better under the rain, all wet and glistening.
Bone-dry as they were, I might still have a winner if only I can conjure shadows of walkers, bicycles or animals falling on their surface.
While others lingered on the shop front, I sneaked inside and emerged into a stone courtyard with parked bambikes. Resigned to the flat lighting, I fired away sans interesting creatures around.
The second stop, San Augustin Church, proved more fruitful. The old beggar lady huddled against the wall by the side of the basilica was the subject of at least two final entries for the contest.
As soon as I saw her, I began firing away, though she glared at me, unmoving.
The lines and crags of her weather-beaten face, the depravity and suffering etched there evoked pathos. I felt even her static presence personified ultimate destitution.
Still, our mentor noted that in the shots we took of her, she was not doing anything, except sitting on the pavement. A good picture tells a story, he stressed.
San Augustin was closed so we searched desperately for subjects on the churchyard.
I snapped away at an angry-looking guy crouched on the wall and an old man guarded by his dog until I spotted a child on the doorway of her mother’s stall.
A student in uniform cooed to the child – her sister, I suppose. I pussyfooted close to them. Fortunately, the P9 is quiet and unobtrusive so I managed to be within arm’s reach as I snapped away.
Had I been lugging a two pound DSLR camera, my subjects would have bolted at the first click of the shutter. I would have needed a telephoto lens to capture spontaneous intimate scenes such as this, if I’m not employing models to do specific poses.
Only in the very last moment, when the child looked up and tried to duck behind the doorless threshold, that she realized she’s being lensed.
Our last stop was the Manila Cathedral, with interesting-looking vendors loitering about, a scraggly cat perched on top of a rusted appliance and knocked-out pedicab drivers – in addition to the usual tourists and bystanders.
I took shots of the bell tower then an amputee peddling rosaries by the portal before deciding to hunt for some dramatic light inside the basilica.
The massive Romanesque interior was dark and infernally hot with dead electric fans plus a sparse scattering of devotees praying.
Half-blinded with sweat pouring down my face, I stood against a column and lensed the shafts of light slanting down from the high altar.
I did one depicting just the light, another with a silhouette of a man outside the portal and a third with a man passing through the light shafts.
The final shot I entered for the contest was light shafts falling on the blurred crucifix of the rosary in my hands.
It should have won too, Billy, our mentor-judge, told me. That is, if I had included a human figure, even just a silhouette, in the frame for interest.
Too bad, that was the shot I didn’t submit.
Many others I failed to take because I didn’t press the shutter fast enough or simply because I didn’t have the time to wait till everything fell in place – street kids half-flying in mid-air to catch a ball, a girl nuzzling a dog inside a pedicab, a woman dragging out colorful rags from the trash as her pooch pawed her, soliciting play, a cat eyeing me behind a meshed window…
Of course, I can always return to Intramuros, sans colleagues, escorts, mentors and sponsors.
Definitely, I’ll revisit my almost-winning piece, maybe recapture those eerie shafts of light, both in color, then again, in black and white.
But maybe I need a P9 to get the shot.