As our #eCaptureMo Travel Photo Contest draws to a close, it’s about time we unveil the one person tasked to pick the best of the best among the entries.
She is none other than Arlene P. Donaire—an economist, development planner, columnist, photographer, and community volunteer. She serves as an inspiration for every budding and devoted artist on how she has managed to incorporate photography with her work and advocacies.
When she’s not working full-time to help build more infrastructures and employment opportunities in the country, she writes and takes captivating photos in her free time.
Her journey toward following her passion is exceptional, mainly because she first built a successful career, and started being “serious” with photography later in life. One can even say that her achievements and recognitions in photography perfectly match her impressive resume.
We asked her some questions about photography, where she gave us some insights on how you can take awe-inspiring photos and generally improve your craft.
When and how did you start with photography?
I became a “vested and serious hobbyist” mid 2008 when I bought my first DSLR, attended my first formal workshop, and began shooting in local festivals. It was right after I recovered from a life-changing surgery; I decided to begin a new hobby and I wanted to motivate myself to move on to a new focus of interest.
Prior to this, though, I had been casually shooting family and work events with a simple instamatic and later, point-and-shoot cams, when digital became affordable. Since 2009 I haven’t turned back; just kept on learning and improving myself. I intend to shoot until my vision is intact and the finger can still manage to press the shutter.
Aside from photography, what other things keep you busy?
I have graduate degrees in both economics and public administration, so I have been an economist, development planner, public policy specialist, and project manager by profession since 1988. I have worked in both public and corporate settings, either as employee or consultant.
For the last four years, I have been working as Team Leader of the Infrastructure and Electricity Component of a USAID-funded Technical Assistance Project called “Advancing Philippine Competitiveness,” which is helping the Philippine Government on various activities that aim to promote increased investments in agribusiness, tourism, and SMEs.
I am also a freelance writer and photographer, more a vocation—I write the banner story on “Photographer of the Week” for the Manila Bulletin’s Picture Perfect Magazine (every two weeks) and I write/shoot for my own monthly feature on Philippine and Asian Adventures in a Tokyo-based magazine for Filipinos, called The Filipino Japanese Journal.
Travel and road trips with family and friends are something I enjoy a lot, hence the interest in photography, as complementary activity. I also prefer outdoor and nature-related activities like hiking and camping.
When time and resources allow, I volunteer in varied community and advocacy activities, where I get to use my skill in photography and writing for socially relevant and useful purposes.
What do you think makes a captivating photo?
Photography is all about “painting with light.” It implies that an effective image is one that manages to combine light with technique, and vision; to capture a moment and make it permanent, immortalized, memorable.
In my pursuit of making captivating photos, I consciously remember the three elements and then try to convey the emotion that I felt during the time of capture.
For me, a photo is captivating if it is able to elicit a profound reaction from the viewer and invites one to relish the intent, scene, or message that is embodied in the visual experience.
Since most people use smartphones to take memorable snaps, what advice could you give our followers on taking photos?
Make your photos count! Create meaningful images that will matter, even after the experience of making it is long gone. Having a camera on one’s smartphone is a free license to be your own historian and bio-journalist so make every photo valuable, contribute to your treasure trove of memories.
In photos: See some of Arlene Donaire’s best works
Technique is important to transform your visual intent into a captivating photo—try to imbibe good techniques in composing your images but also remember that your vision, as translated in your images, will largely define your character, especially if your images appear in social media.
Personally, I try to be positive about all aspects in life, so when I create images depicting the downside of things, I balance them off by presenting in a positive light, adding lesson-filled captions.
What are some of the things that aspiring photographers should learn early on?
I have a long way to go in terms of becoming a legit artist-photographer or writer-photographer. But in in my own way and over time, I think I have evolved into someone better than I was when I first started out.
Some lessons I can share, which I personally follow, are:
- Be your own critic but do not be too harsh on yourself! Many great artists learned from their errors; not everyone is born with the golden eye or shutter finger.
- In my case, I have learned to self-edit and self-motivate on equal terms. It has been a good exercise on grounding myself to the reality of who I am and what I can do and a great way to set my sight on who I want to become as a photographer.
- Learn techniques from the masters but create your own style! As you evolve from being a casual to serious shooter, it will become apparent that you’ll need to learn more and more and try to “differentiate” yourself from the pack, especially if you set your sights on using your photographs for a social or personal mission.
- Once you make up your mind that photography is a calling and something you can commit to, be faithful to the study of the art and the need for constant self-improvement.
- Not everything is about the gear! Beauty shines through even if you are using a simple camera to create your images. Of course, having additional or higher quality gear adds to the sophistication and quality of finished products.
- The fundamental element is your vision, how you see things. Master the art of seeing with multiple points of view and begin to understand that beauty is omnipresent. For me, this is what photography has taught me most.