Focus photographer Joel Domingo has explored different genres since he got his first camera. It was in the unpredictable realm of street photography, however, where he really got hooked. A consultant for Ericsson Singapore and a father of three, Joel has been in the telecom industry since 1999. He has worked in 8 countries but relishes his current situation in nearby Singapore because he could go home every time he wants. He concentrated on street photography a few years back, a creative decision that has well-suited his lifestyle. We now feature some of his favorite photos and delve into his thoughts about photography.
Q : How did you get started in photography? Tell us your story.
Joel : I have always wanted to have a camera since I was in high school. Back then we were using film cameras and we we were excited in waiting for the developed photos. When I started working the first savings I had I used it to buy a digital camera. Mainly used the camera for family portraits. I really like looking at photos and capturing moments. It was in 2007 that I decided to buy my first DSLR and told myself that I need to have a good camera. My work involves a lot of traveling, I wanted to have photos of every country I have been to. I bought photo books and joined different photography clubs to understand more about photography. Since then I have tried different genres.
Q : Of course in the beginning, you weren’t focused yet on street photography. What made you dedicated to street over the other genres?
J : In 2011, I was introduced to street photography when I attended a free workshop conducted by a photojournalist. After that I started reading books and checked the internet on different topics concerning street. The more I looked into street the more I got hooked to it.
Q : What is it about street photography that you think the other genres don’t have? What makes it unique?
J : It’s spontaneous. You need to have a good eye to do street, you need to know how to anticipate. It happens in the fraction of a second only. When you see a certain scene you know when you have to click on your shutter and you have to be fast in doing it. And when you have captured it, the joy that you get is unexplainable. Sometimes it is just pure luck that you are in the right place at the right time. But to be lucky you need to go out always. For other genres, it’s very predictable. When you do portraiture you are in control of everything. You set up the light, you tell your subject to do this and that. And if you want to do landscape photography, you have to spend some time in going to a particular place and you have to wait for the correct time. In street, you can do it everywhere and anytime. It’s not only street that I like, I also like doing documentary but that is another story.
Q : What’s your gear of choice when shooting street?
J : I prefer using a 35mm manual fixed lens, but sometimes I also use a 28mm when I’m walking on an alley. I always do zone focusing. I practice a lot so that I will know how I will set my camera in different situations.
Q : What are you shooting with now?
J : I am now using a Fuji XE1 and an Olympus OM1 film camera. I just sold my Ricoh GRD IV last year and planning to buy a compact camera soon if my wife will allow me.
Q : Is there a particular photo that is your ultimate favorite?
J : I don’t have a particular favorite photo. The photo that I like is the one that I will shoot tomorrow.
Q : What’s your most unforgettable experience while out there on the street, shooting?
J : I was doing a photo series on prostitutes at Geylang, a red-light district at Singapore. I have been doing it for several days. On one night, while I was doing my regular walk, a pimp approached me and asked me what I’m doing. I was scared, I didn’t know what to do and what to say. And then, I decided, to just run. So I did. Good thing he was slow and I was able to outrun him.
Q : How did the photo series turn out? Was it worth all the running?
J : I decided not to pursue it. Not safe for me since I'm also staying at Geylang area. Weeks after the incident the pimp saw me at one of the eatery near my apartment. He approached me and talked to me in Mandarin. The only English word he said was "photo". I just pretended that I don't know what he was saying and left the place.
Q : How do you work out your schedule to accommodate hours of going out to shoot?
J : The good thing about street is that you can do it anytime. When you are traveling to work, when you are at work and even at home. Since I don’t have my family with me, I always have time in the weekend to shoot. I usually go out with my friends from FSP (Filipino Street Photographer) and we go to different places where there are more people. Like other genres, you need to know the right time when you have good lighting. We usually go out before 8AM and shoot till 10AM. Take a rest, eat and have few drinks and go out again around 3 in the afternoon. It all depends if you have favorable light.
Q: How do you make yourself invisible, so to speak, while shooting street?
J : I do zone focusing. I always set my camera based on available light. I try to make it a point that from 1.5 to 3 meters everything is in focus. So that it would be easy when I want to take my shot. I just pull my camera from my side and just click. You also have to blend in with the crowd. A small camera will be better when doing street so that people will not get intimidated. A point-and-shoot will do. Sometimes I also pretend that I am shooting another thing, prefocus it from one angle and then when everything is set I direct my camera to the real subject. You can also pretend that you are just chimping but you are actually pressing the shutter.
More of Joel's favorite street photos (click thumbnails to view in full)
Q : Which aspects of photography do you still want to improve on?
J : I want to improve on my lighting skills. Some people are good in finding the right light. It takes a lot of practice. Looking for the right light and having to compose a shot in a few seconds.
Q : What advice would you give to those who would like to be good street photographers?
J : Street photography is not easy. It takes years of practice to be able to truly understand it. I suggest that you find a good mentor and group that has the same passion. Read a lot and look at a lot of photos.
Q : How about an advice for those who would like to try photography, or those just starting out?
J: Buy books, not gear.
Q : If you knew then what you know now, you would….?
J : Not buy trinity of lenses.
Q: What's your message for Focus members, and for Focus followers?
J : Whatever genre you are in, enjoy what you are doing and share it with your friends. Focus on what is important, the people clicking with you.
Photography has several distinct genres, all requiring sufficient time to master or excel in. Most photographers prefer to dabble in different genres, and who could blame them if they could? It's rare to see photographers who have the resolute commitment to a specific field. More often than not, they are the ones with a crystal-clear vision of what they want their photography to be. Focused, unambiguous, and effective. Exactly how a photo should be conveyed to the viewer. Joel Domingo figured it out while in the uncertain yet exciting world of street photography.
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