THE VISUAL STORYBOARD By Kah Kit Yoong
Kah Kit Yoong is a Melbourne-based travel and nature photographer. His background includes studies and qualifications in medicine and music. He was introduced to photography in 2005 while exploring the cobble stone streets of Italian towns. Later that year, he developed his skills while tramping the pristine wilderness of Tasmania. Kah Kit’s appreciation of the world’s wild places has inspired him to capture its landscapes. He has been widely published in numerous magazines, including National Geographic, Popular Photography and Nature’s Best. His work has been awarded both in his home country of Australia as well as in the UK and USA. This year he was a prize winner in the landscape category of the International Conservation Photography Awards, as well as receiving an honourable mention in the wildlife section. To view more of his photography visit his website www.magichourtravelscapes.com. News and more articles can be found on his new blog www.magichourunplugged.com.
Havana – a city of faded glories but still elegant in its decaying state. Nowhere is this more evident than the Prado, a marble-tiled, tree-lined avenue, surrounded by crumbling facades. It leads to another prominent feature of Havana, the Malecon, a roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 kilometres along the coast. In the afternoon, it will become a hub of activity for tourists and locals engaged in banter, people-watching, playing musical instruments or fishing. But this is dawn; the streets are almost empty save for the occasional vintage American car cruising past and the city is yet to rise from its slumber.
As I stroll down the Prado, I consider my options for my sunrise shoot. No doubt the Malecon at the end of the avenue would be an appealing subject. The rain clouds, responsible for the many puddles on the streets are starting to disperse and take on a pinkish hue. I am distracted by the brightness of some buildings at the end of a side street. The warm glow of sunrise is starting illuminate the taller buildings in the distance and my plans to proceed to the sea is abandoned in favour of exploring this part of the old city.
Very soon, I come across a beautiful green 54 Chevy. The building behind is in a state of dilapidation, rough exposed bricks showing where a facade had been stripped off. I shoot a few frames of the car juxtaposed against the bricks but what I really want to do is incorporate some of that gorgeous light filtering through the city. When I turn the corner, an even more striking red Chevy awaits, shiny and glistening with droplets after the overnight rain. This time, the effect of the first direct rays of the sun can now be seen on the distant buildings. My tripod is soon set up and I carefully make a composition. Several locals have stopped to watch me and a man in a blue T-shirt across the street appears staring intently at me. I take a few exposures, with shortening shutter speeds to make sure he is frozen in the frame.
I had heard that Cuba is a country seemingly in a time-warp, decades behind the Western civilization. Recent reports indicated that this would soon change. Hence, the time seemed ripe for a visit and I spent 12 days traveling around the country in 2009. It was a departure from the nature-based photography that I’m more familiar with. I knew that it would present an opportunity to shoot a wide range of subjects, extending my comfort zone and skills as a travel photographer.
One of the differences between a tourist and a travel photographer is the mindset in what they are trying to achieve with their images. The former usually takes photographs to preserve memories of the place as a way to document that they have been there. Their shots tell us the story about their trip. Travel photography, on the other hand, is about telling the story of the place. This may be from the photographer’s eyes but the best images feel as though we are seeing the place through those of a local. I don’t believe that you can truly capture the essence of a location in a single photo, but with a portfolio of images I think that is achievable. Certain images may go a long way in revealing the broad character of a place while others may only focus on very specific details. However seeing the images as a visual storyboard, the viewer should be able to get a good feel for the location, replacing the words of a description like the one above.
Since taking up photography, I have found that my senses are heightened when exploring a new city or country. I notice things on a grand scale as well as those small details that might have eluded me previously. There’s a process of deconstruction that I run through mentally : city, skyline, buildings, doorways and bricks. Or perhaps : traffic, car park, car, driver, bonnet, wheel, windows, etc. All of these may make suitable subjects in their own way. At the end of it all, by putting the images into a portfolio, the pieces are reconstructed to form a cohesive representation of the whole. I also find that photographing a wide cross-section of my subjects to be a useful and rewarding endeavour. As an example of this approach, when shooting portraits, I was sure to include both sexes in all the age groups : children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. The people of Cuba were very friendly and open to having their portraits taken so this became a major part of my portfolio.
Planning a shot list is an important part of putting together a visual storyboard. These may include specific subjects. My list for Cuba would have looked something like this : vintage cars, side streets, cobblestones, peeling facade, old men playing boardgames, doorways, rocking chairs, Malecon at sunset, musicians, instruments, hands, cigars, person smoking, factory worker, Coco taxi, farm animals, architecture, etc. Some of these are quite specific while other like cars are less so and benefit from a broader approach. I ended up with numerous Chevy images, including wide shots from numerous angles while other images focused on various components of the cars. For a different perspective, I took a few from a viewpoint behind the driver and experimented with panning moving vehicles as well as using slow shutter speeds while sitting in a Coco taxi to convey movement and speed. Other items on my shot list included concepts, ideas or feelings. Some examples : children having fun, rhythm, energy, the simple life, decay. Periodically, I made time to review all the photos that I have taken. I recall doing this the night before my last full day in Havana and realized that none of my images adequately conveyed ‘decay’. The afternoon, while exploring the old town, I pushed open the door to a set of apartments and found the exact scene I was looking for. It required some discipline not to photograph the brilliant sunset over the bay but from my image review the night before, I knew that I would have been going over old ground. It was with great satisfaction that I was able to shoot this last scene on a dilapidated staircase, knowing that it completed the story I wanted to tell about Cuba.