MANILA, MAY 27, 2009 (STAR) JACKIE O' FLASH By Bea Ledesma - What advice do you have for people interested in photography?” I asked photographer Juan Caguicla during our YStyle shoot the other day.

“Tell them not to do it,” he answered brusquely. “Seriously, it’s not worth it.”

Not exactly handy advice for this article but Juan’s reply serves as the perfect conversation-opener for most beginners’ fears about photography.

It’s intimidating to enter a field already filled to the brim with cocky, self-proclaimed artists equipped with fancy equipment and even fancier art degrees. But that shouldn’t stop you from trying out photography if it interests you — either as a hobby or future career.

Based on the number of people who attended the recent launch of Lubitel, the latest Lomo camera now up for sale at Team Manila stores, and the number of albums popping up on local Flicker sites, there are a lot of people passionate about photography.

For those too afraid to take up the art or too busy worrying over doomsayers like Juan, take heart in stories like that of Tammy David, a documentary photographer in her early 20s who took up photography in her early teens.

Despite her day job at a public relations firm, the photo junkie recently concluded her participation in the Asia-Europe Emerging Photographers’ Forum 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, representing the Philippines on discussions of creative economies.

A few years ago, she was been experimenting with cameras as a hobby; now, after cutting her teeth interning at the photo department of Agence France-Presse and participating in group exhibits, she’s slowly earning her stripes in photography.

First Step

Fine art photographer Isa Lorenzo, who earned her MA in photography at the Parsons School of Design in NYC and has exhibited at the MOMA in New York, says that learning is doing. “Pick up a camera and just start shooting. It’s more fun if it has a manual mode that you can adjust shutter speed/aperture/ISO,” she explains. “It’s best to learn by playing — that’s how kids learn, right?”

“Shoot a lot so you can recognize your strengths,” says Jo Ann Bitagcol who successfully transitioned from model to photographer a few years ago and has numerous published fashion editorials under her belt.

“Shoot the stuff you are most interested in or curious with,” says Tammy David. “Don’t take pictures of churches, sunsets or starving kids just because everybody is doing it. When pictures start to look great — not pretty good, but great — then explore other subjects/another field or medium.”

Isa has plenty of advice for newbies. “Don’t join a camera club, you’ll end up shooting like everyone else.” And: “listen to music, read books, go to museums and galleries to volumize the art experience and influence your own way of seeing.”

“Read as much as you can and practice, practice, practice,” recommends photographer Sara Black. “Don’t be afraid to experiment with unusual compositions and exposures. The rules are there but go ahead and break them.”

Isa emphasizes theory and plumbing the work of innovators in the field. “There is a whole history of photography behind you, learn about it.”

Starter Cameras

Photographers often play favorites when it comes to cameras, but for beginners it isn’t about the pedigree of the gadget. Says Isa, “Put a P300,000 camera in the hands of a bad photographer and you get bad photographs; put a P500 camera in the hands of a good photographer, you’ll get good photographs.”

“I suggest beginners start with basic 135 film camera before going digital,” says Jo Ann. “This way you’ll discipline yourself by allowing your mind to think before shooting.”

Photographers like Steve Tirona are fans of Ricoh, while Isa suggests the canon G10 since it’s a “great digital point and shoot that shoots raw and has a fully manual mode.”

“Get a lomo,” Juan snarkily suggests. “Most idiot photographers use them anyway.”

Don’t be put off by Juan’s advice. Manila is filled with passionate Lomography fans who regularly exhibit their colorful images.

Photography For Dummies

Learning the ropes shouldn’t be tricky for beginners willing to pay for advice. “UP Diliman offers a basic black and white photography workshop every summer,” says Jo Ann Bitagcol.

“There are classes at Silverlens every two months,” says Isa Lorenzo. “We give beginner’s classes all the way up to theory classes, film and digital welcome.” (For more info, visit, call 816-0044, or e-mail for schedule.)

Photoworks, a basic photography course by professional photographer and trainer Leo Castillo now on its 49th run, begins this June 2 and will be held in DPI XL Studios in Makati. “Designed for hobbyists who want to know how to take professional-quality images and how to maximize the features of their cameras, whether they be point-and-shoots or SLRs,” the six-session course offers practice lessons and photo assignments. With a starting fee of P5,500 (the studio is offering a discount for anyone who signs up by Tuesday), the course is open to working folk (since classes run from 7-10 p.m.) and students. (Visit or call 0920-9541559 for more info.)

Learning Curve

It can take years to cultivate a good eye. For some, the skill comes naturally, like Mark Nicdao who quickly transitioned from intern to professional photographer in a span of a year. Others don’t have it so easy.

“I only considered pursuing photography as a profession when I interned at the photo department of Agence France-Presse, the home of great photojournalists Romeo Gacad, Jay Directo, Luis Liwanag and Jason Gutierrez. They made the job look so easy and exciting. I changed my mind after 6 months,” Tammy laughs.

But there’s always hope for people interested in tackling photography. “I always tell beginners to read the manual, understand the language of photography and enjoy taking great pictures first and foremost,” says Tammy.

Thanks to photo sharing sites, uploading your images and sharing it with the world — and receiving instant feedback — allow budding photographers to learn and grow.

Perhaps every beginner should keep Isa’s advice in mind when starting out: “Rely on your instinct,” she says, “a lot of photography is instinct.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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