Jeffrey Tinagan loves challenges.
He's a sports buff, having competed in swimming and basketball at school intramurals and then representing his high school and making it to the regional meet in badminton and table tennis.
He loves math and has always been fascinated with numbers, equations, and solving problems. So much so that he also competed in the annual Metrobank-MTAP-DepEd Math Challenge from elementary till high school. When it was time to enter college, he decided to major in Mathematics (what else) with his Secondary Education degree. He then overcame his initial apprehension of teaching math (in his own words : "madali ang mag-solve, ibang usapan ang pagtuturo paano mag-solve",) and turned it to a short yet fulfilling career at the biggest public high school in Central Luzon (Malolos City's Marcelo H. del Pilar National High School).
When Jeff got hooked on photography, it was a fusion of two elements that he's very much used to. In photography, he saw a practical application of math. He also viewed photography (at least in the beginning) as a sort of competition. He termed it a "race", something you'll read about later. Overcoming obstacles and learning curves, he has made photography not just a creative pastime but also a money-making endeavor.
Now trying his luck teaching junior high English in Japan, he wants to expand his portfolio and better equip his arsenal of camera skills while away from home. Who knows what challenge he decides to try next?
Jeff Tinagan is the featured Focus photographer of the month and this is his story.
When and how did your penchant for photography start?
J : I already had the desire to take photos and videos using my Nokia N70 phone. Before, I was more inclined to videos because I liked making highlights of our family trips and school activities in college. Then I began to see the limitations of mobile cameras and I had thoughts of trying a DSLR. In 2012, I started working as a teacher and thoughts of buying a DSLR kept coming back. However, my pocket disagreed with the price of a brandnew camera. I thought of asking a favor from a person that I was really close to, he's like my real brother. It was my cousin, Raffy, who was in Japan to participate in an exchange program on agriculture. Before their contract ended, I asked him to buy me a secondhand camera there because Japan was famous for its used camera shops. The word “selfie” was not yet coined that time but that was how my penchant for photography started. I wanted myself to be the highlight of every shot and clip of my Nikon D3100. I wanted to make music covers and I liked my games of basketball, table tennis, and badminton to be covered by my first DSLR. However, while I was into the basics of the DSLR learning curve, my goal changed. I had different subjects that I enjoyed. It wasn’t about my selfie music covers or sports games anymore but the joy I get when I take pictures of others. Seeing how they liked and appreciated my simple photos made me work hard to learn and get better.
You’re a teacher by profession, and you taught mathematics. Does math, in any way, benefit you in photography?
J : Yes, indeed. It was beneficial to me because I already had the ideas of symmetry, parallelism, triangles, diagonals, fractions, golden ratio, and the like. The process of halving and doubling the aperture’s f-number is also a geometric sequence. The fractional aspect of shutter speed and ISO element into one picture translates into real-life mathematics. Getting good exposure using manual mode , to me, is a problem-solving skill. The road from auto to manual mode was tough but mathematics made my early photography life easier. The concept of equations made me realize that manual exposure is about balance with direct and indirect variations. If you add or subtract a number on the left side of the equation, you must also add or subtract the same number at the right side of the equation. I could say photographers and videographers are actually calculating good math problems during a shoot without knowing that they're real and abstract concepts of math. Although mathematics in photography is more on junior high school math, I believe math enthusiasts have a slight advantage in learning photography.
Alright, that last question was quite heavy to digest. How about this : how would you compare and contrast math and photography?
J : Math and photography both need problem-solving skills that depend on different situations. Math may have many solutions with one correct answer while photography may also have many solutions with a number of answers. These are answers that depend on the eye of the photographer. A photographer may deliver darker or lighter, tilted or normal, portrait or landscape, fast or slow shutter answer or output. Mathematics is absolute on the final output while photography goes beyond a photographer’s creativity. Nevertheless, these two are friends. They go out in a harmonious manner. Both of them make the world meaningful and a lovable place to live. I believe, just like creativity, mathematics is embedded on the roots of photography.
Describe to us how was it like when you were starting out in photography, like your struggles, your joys, et cetera.
J : The common reaction of a person getting his first DSLR is to shoot everything. You read it right, everything. I find joys in it even when they were taken in full automatic mode. But, there were obstacles too. First, I had a time when I didn’t know what kind of photography I should focus on. Even though I identified the kind of photography I wanted to take, the lens lineup and equipment were too much to bear. Photography seemed to be a luxurious hobby. That time, I had to find ways to save, save, and save to get the types of glass that I needed. Second, I thought photography was a race. I knew friends and other people who picked up their new camera the same year I acquired mine. I could see how they progressed through Facebook and Instagram. I thought photography was not for me. It was like my turtle against their rabbits on the photography race. I seemed to progress very, very slowly. But I realized that comparing yourself to others could kill you. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my own race against myself because I had no pressure, just pure learning. Hurdling obstacles made me almost quit photography. However, it is where the excitement lies : when you turn struggles into joys and laughter. It was Focus Bulacan that was the game changer. Focus Bulacan was the turning point. I owe a lot to the group as this club addressed all my struggles as a beginner photographer. Meeting new friends, shooting and joining photo contests and be at photo gatherings make every member keep the fire burning from within.
Now you have an events coverage team. How did you get into professionally shooting events? How is it like as another source of income?
J : From the limitations of my kit lenses, an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm, I managed to buy my first fast aperture lens, a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. It was from my bonus on my first job which is my teaching career. However, I felt a little regret because of investing so much for my hobby. I thought I exceeded my hobby-spending limit. So, after persuasion from my friends, I accepted the challenge to shoot events. I started with debuts, then weddings and basketball games. Same concept as before, if I bought a lens or anything, I should shoot events for its Return of Investment. It being my second source of income is a lifesaver for emergency funding and additional allowances. At some point, I felt like leaving my teaching job for photography but the idea did not succeed because I still love teaching the youth. The part-time job also opens windows for quicker camera and lens upgrades but time element as the downside. I teach on weekdays and shoot on weekends. In between I edit or I sometimes end up sleepless at nights for editing and early calltime events.
Who are photographers you look up to? What inspired you about their works?
J : My pick would be the likes of Lito Sy and Sherwin Bonifacio for wedding, and Jer Sandel, Glenn Bernasol, and Cris Magsino for landscape. Sy and Bonifacio’s portfolios are magical as they bend light to their advantage during wedding and prenups. Sandel, Bernasol, and Magsino’s landscape photos are carefully planned and they could bring a dead scene into life. Go check out their folios.
What has been your proudest moment so far as a photographer?
J : Let me see. Hmmmmmmm…. perhaps when I was awarded as Focus Bulacan's Newcomer of the Year. I didn’t see it coming. What I did was just shoot and shoot, join photowalks and make friends. I didn’t know I was winning contest points for the Newcomer of the Year award.
What was the most unforgettable shoot you’ve experienced?
J : I suppose the sexy, "implied nude" shoot of my friends. We had two very gorgeous models. We were twelve to sixteen photographers divided into two groups. We took turns in shooting the model for a couple of minutes. My hands holding the cameras were a bit shaky because of the hot models. It was unforgettable because I didn’t know how to direct poses for them and I mostly observed how the senpai photographers did it. I know what you’re thinking. Hahahha. I asked permission from my girlfriend, Ren, to shoot that kind of concept. It was my first and last time to shoot that kind though.
Do you have a photography bucket list? Care to share what’s in it?
J : First, landscape photos shot abroad. Second, a Milky Way shot taken in Japan. Next, underwater photography. Also, self-portraits while traveling alone. Lastly, light painting on a wedding couple or pre-nuptial shoot.
What event would be your dream project to cover?
J : Hmmmmmm… A national event like the Bb. Pilipinas pageant or international events like the Tokyo Olympics or Miss Universe.
What’s the most important photography advice you have received so far?
J : Shoot and shoot. Practice and practice. Commit mistakes and learn from it. I think it doesn’t apply only to photography but to almost everything. You don’t excel at something without any practice.
Show us your most favorite photo, and tell us the story behind it.
J : It's a photo I took of my fellow Focus Bulacan member Julius Calzo. Not Photoshopped. Not a multiple exposure. 70% prayer with 30% luck. This was the most meticulous photo I ever shot. It was for the Focus Portrait Project where members work by pairs. A photo that was shot in a very dark outdoor place. I had my remote shutter and a flash. I created the idea but I regretted it after the shoot. Because it was really not easy. If my memory serves me right, it took 17 long exposures to get me to this. Insects especially mosquitos were not friendly that time. Not so perfect but that’s the closest we could get. I had three concerns to address : one, I should get the right light from my flash for every shot of the face. The front face is better lit than the faces on the sides. I must also direct the flash at the correct angle. Second, I must hold and release the shutter in a very timely manner. Last, I should direct Julius to the correct movement of the face after the flash is off even without light to see ourselves. Five bursts of flash, five facial poses and a lot of trials to get the closest photo that we needed. I suppose it paid off because this photo secured a Top 3 spot at Focus Portrait Project 2017. (Photo shown above.)
Jeff's other favorite photos (Click thumbnails to view photos in full)
If you could address a specific photographic skill that you want to improve on, what would it be?
J : Timeliness and timelessness. Timeliness.. I had issues of time management because of my main work versus my part-time work. Finishing everything on time, especially quick and efficient editing, is my waterloo. I hope I’d happen to acquire this skill on editing. Timelessness... I hope I’ll improve more on getting shots of landscapes that give photos a timeless appeal.
Five to ten years from now, how do you see yourself and your craft?
J : I pray and hope to meet clients or couples to shoot abroad especially in Japan. Bring my folio into a different realm of sakura and autumn colors. I could also see myself as a travel photographer of the most beautiful places in the Philippines.
If you knew then what you know now, you would……?
J : I would have started learning photography earlier. The earlier the better.
Message to Focus followers and fellow members.
J : Maraming salamat sa mainit na pagtanggap, Focus members, noong ako'y nag-uumpisa pa lamang. Salamat sa patnubay at gabay sa iba’t ibang klase ng photography na meron tayo sa photo theme contests. Hindi ko makakalimutan na naging parte ako nitong isang respetadong pangkat ng photographers ng Bulacan. Special mention kay kuya Mark Jayson Cruz or MJC na naging schoolmate ko sa LCUP or dating Regina Carmeli, salamat sa paghikayat sa akin na ipagpatuloy ang nasimulan sa larangang ito, at sa paggabay sa procedure ng aplikasyon sa Focus Bulacan. Kay master Alih Viaje na unang nagmulat sakin sa concert photography. Silent Sanctuary concert sa LCUP noon. Siya ang pangalawang Focus member na nakilala ko at nakasabay ko pa mag-shoot. May real-time tutorial kami noon sa harap ng stage. Dahil doon, nagustuhan ko na rin ang pag-shoot ng live bands. Kay Sir Jeremy, isa ka po sa mga hinahangaan ko sa Pilipinas. Alam ko ikaw ang utak ng Focus Bulacan at ang dedikasyon mo sa club na ito ay sobra pa sa pagiging hobby. Salamat po. Sana 'wag ka magsawang mag-train ng photographers sa henerasyon namin. Hahaha. At marami pang iba… 'Di ko na iisa-isahin ang pagpapasalamat sa inyo. Masaya ako sa grupo at mga kaibigan na nakilala ko sa Focus Bulacan. For Focus followers, if you have the passion for photography and you want to bring your talent to another level, then Focus Bulacan is for you. Hope to see you soon!
It might be a stretch to say but it seems like Jeff loves the difficult side of life.
Facts don't lie : Math, numbers, and problems. Sports, discipline, and pain. Challenges, competition, and pressure. Passion to profession turning into stress and sacrifices. These are things most people would rather skip than face head-on. But there lies the difference... because the way Jeff sees it, they're all beautiful complications. Simplifying them is always key to success, be it in photography, math, or life in general.
Every month, we have a feature on our members, our photography idols, and other photography issues we feel deserve a heads-up.