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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Scouting Report: Papua New Guinea


Preparing for South Pacific photo opportunities

You’ll spend a few days on the Sepik visiting villages, touring spirit houses and buying crafts. The latter make for great detail shots, and you can isolate a series of masks using the long end of your telephoto zoom. The interiors of the spirit houses are pitch dark, and rather than lose the ambiance by using a big pop of direct flash, hang the 32-inch reflector on a wall, white side out, (or ask one of your group to hold it) and bounce the strobe for a more natural-looking light.

Another must-see occurs in August and September, when all the clans gather for a large show, or “sing-sing,” in Mt. Hagen or Goroka. The Highland Cultural Show remains my most memorable as a travel shooter—I’ve never made more exposures in one four-hour period!

Besides taking plenty of cards and batteries (there are no camera stores up here!), there are a few other things to keep in mind should you be lucky enough to attend a Highland Show. (If you can’t make one of the main two, there are several smaller ones throughout the year.)

A tripod will only slow you down, but take the folding reflector. The 32-inch size folds down to a third of that diameter and slips in the back pocket of many camera bags. If you travel with a companion, he or she can be the reflector jockey, providing much needed fill light in the tropical sun. You also can recruit other visitors and even other tribesmen as “instant assistants.” If no one is around to hold a reflector, you always have your Speedlight to do some fill-flash.

You’ll be out for hours in the hot tropical sun, so sunscreen and a hat are needed, as is a bottle of water (there are soft drinks for sale at the event if you need more). Arrive several hours before the actual show time because that’s when the groups apply makeup and rehearse, and are at their most approachable.

You can shoot during the show, of course, but I found my most successful pictures were taken during the makeup and rehearsal period, when the groups are more relaxed and approachable.

Photographing the Highland Cultural Show is guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your traveling career. You’ll expend more pixels and energy here in one day than you would have thought possible. But one final tip: Even though you’ll be on your feet for hours on end, avoid the temptation to sit down on the job to relax and reload. As I learned firsthand, you don’t want to be sitting in between a group of Papua New Guinea warriors and their adoring public!

Scouting Report is an occasional series to appear in Photo Traveler, covering popular destinations for outdoor and travel photographers and how to plan and photograph a trip.

Visit Bob Krist’s website at www.bobkrist.com. For more information on planning a trip to Papua New Guinea, visit Trans Niugini Tours at www.pngtours.com.

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