A glimpse of glory » Manila Bulletin Lifestyle

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By Macel Feliciano

Gian Paolo Duterte proclaims his love for the Philippines and encourages every Filipino to do the same. He does this not through politics as his surname might suggest, but through his lens.

“My ultimate goal as a visual artist is to instill a deep appreciation and respect for nature, especially for the many natural wonders our country has to offer. I hope that my images will encourage more Filipinos to see more of our country first and fall in love with it. Because trust me, you will,” he confidently asserts.

Gian’s love for photography and for our country began during a low point in his life. Taken ahold by wanderlust, this Cagayan de Oro local backpacked across our archipelago. The breathtaking scenery he discovered and the varied cultures he experienced have inspired him to document his adventures. He initially set out with his father’s Canon 400D and kit lens, armed only with the knowledge of the basics,with zero training on composition. As the awe of God’s creation swelled in his heart, the desire to share and give justice to the beauty he was privileged to witness also surged.

  • Lake Apo, Valencia City, Bukidnon (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Sanur, Bali (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali, Indonesia (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Tooth Temple, Singapore (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • City in the Clouds (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Uyapa, Cagayan de Oro (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Tukad Unda Dam, Bali (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Gardens by the Bay, Singapore (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Singapore Skyline (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Old Bagan, Myanmar (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Higalaay Festival, Cagayan de Oro City (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Beryl (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Pasih Uug (Broken) Beach in Nusa Penida, Bali (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Myanmar (Gian Paolo Duterte)

  • Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes (Gian Paolo Duterte)


“I resolved to take photography more seriously. I enrolled in different workshops under Canon ambassadors—Jay Jallorina, Edwin Martinez, and Raymond Cruz. My photography skills were also built on a solid foundation that is Oro Photographic Society (OPS). Through the club, I learned beyond the basics and was exposed to different shooting techniques. Our routine fun shoot at the outskirts of town served as effective training sessions. Practicing regularly brought me to where I am today as a lensman.”

For Gian, an effective photograph is one that evokes emotions. “It makes the viewer stop and stare, because it has moved something in him—perhaps a memory, a longing, a sense of awe and gratitude for God’s creations. The longer the stare, the better.”

Not surprisingly, Gian specializes in landscape and travel photography. He uses it as a respite from the hustle of urban living and the pressure of patiently treating children daily as a pediatric dentist. “The best thing about being a landscape photographer in particular is the thrill of getting front row seats at the best show on earth: the golden hour. What’s stunning any other time of the day becomes magical during golden hour—the striking display of lights, dreamlike clouds, and blend of colors.”

Mood is key for Gian, though he lets the scene inspire him. He follows a certain method to his calmness. “Art is subjective. How do I find the good in a place, when I myself am not in a good place? Every time I go on location, I take a moment to first feel the vibe of the place. I look for a quiet corner, light a cigarette, scan the surroundings, sometimes even closing my eyes, to come to a relaxed state. After this routine, it almost feels like the right composition reveals itself to me.”

Truly, photography is experiential for Gian. “With landscape photography, I don’t only create art, I experience it—the cold crisp air at dawn, the warm rays of the sun, the sound of waves gently crashing, the sight of clouds rolling. I see, feel, breathe the beauty facing my lens. And no matter how many times you come back to a location, the experience is always different but majestic all the same. You discover that a single location can offer unique scenes at different times throughout the day. Even when the weather’s not at its best, you can always find beauty in it. You just need to unravel nature’s tricks and treats yourself.”

As Gian’s compositions improved and his confidence soared, he tried his hand at photo competitions. He has won several awards in the monthly contests of the Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation (FPPF) and other local photography events. Though he considers being able to share his knowledge and skills to budding photographers through the Canon Professional Program as the best recognition he has received as a lensman.

However, he derives fulfillment from something even deeper. “My truest sense of accomplishment lies in the inspiration I leave viewers—inspiring people to go out and explore. I‘m not much for awards or praises, but knowing that I’ve inspired complete strangers to go out, explore, and seek the beauty I’ve seen for myself, now that, for me, is mission accomplished.”

He’s definitely come a long way, a feat Gian attributes to his strong support system: his dad, who gave him his first camera; his lovely wife, Beryl, who introduced him to the arts; and his shooting buddies who’ve all helped him improve and mature his style.

Gian also shares his credo,“Being a photographer, you make memories while capturing memories. My fundamental principle as a lensman is respect for nature, people, culture, history, and life in general. We don’t own what we capture; only a representation of it. From there, we can position ourselves accordingly.”

The deep love Gian has for photography is evidenced in how he views it.“Photography is a compelling art form that moves people and transports them to a certain time or place. Its impact knows no bounds. It’s not just the pictures. It’s not defined by equipment, technique, or skill. It’s about the artistic process and the experience of both the artist and the viewer, which is almost always fulfilling. If it feels like a chore, you’re not doing photography; you’re simply taking pictures.”

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