Portraits

Photo of the Day . 031010

Leica M6, 15 Heliar, NPH400.

I am not a big fan of digital HDR (high dynamic range) shots. Few HDR shots I’ve seen impressed me. That does not mean I will not attempt a HDR shot in future, but I prefer to keep things as it is.

As for the above shot, I saw a silhouette, it’s a silhouette, it’s never HDR to my eyes. I find most digital HDR artificial-looking. It’s my personal preference, period.

HDR has become so easily achievable digitally today (even the latest Olympus E-5 has an Art Filter for it). But if we start depending more and more on what “surprises” latest software is gonna give us, we naturally become less and less of a photographer.

We will grow so dependent on what software can give us that we will attempt to shoot anything, in any angle, under any lighting condition, with any composition cause the software will make it look “good” ultimately. You will be amazed at how an ordinary-looking snapshot in the mid day sun with totally flat details will stand out after a HDR processing for example.

After we have batch-processed the hundreds to thousands of shots with software, we just have to select the few “best” to feature as our portfolio. Not much thought needed during shooting, isn’t it?

At post-processing stage, if a certain effect doesn’t look good, we can try another effect. With such high megapixels from affordable full frame cameras today, we can also crop till it works during post-processing. We no longer need to nail the composition right at the point of shooting.

“… for nothing is impossible with 21MP 5Dmk2…” the book of Canon 1:37

The invention of AF (autofocus) has already made many photographers slaves to it. Many photographers swear by fast and accurate AF and can’t live without it. We easily will dump a 45 point AF system for a 51 point AF system without much consideration. Our priority in choosing cameras become centered on AF system more than actual image quality.

Now is year 2010. Will our works be taken over by software and modern digital cameras by year 2020? Will the “photographer’s eye” still be as highly regarded in another 10 years’ time? Will “the decisive moment” still be sought after when digital cameras do more than 100 frames per sec?

I don’t know.

But I choose to follow my heart to do what I love and continue to hone my photographic skills and vision. It’s the “decisive moment” that gives me the kick in photography, not rescuing photos at post-processing.

Photo of the Day . 021010

Still thinking of how to compile my portfolio, it’s all over the place, badly needs organizing. Here’s a photo for the day. If I don’t start the ball rolling, nothing will ever get done. That’s life.

Holga, medium format film.

Wedding

My blog has been void of wedding images for a long while now. If you have been following my blog, you would have known that I have quit from shooting weddings as my main genre since last year.

What I basically did was I cut down the number of weddings I shoot to about less than 6 a year, in order to rediscover my passion in photography and re-learn photography all over again.

My life has been so much more fruitful since then and I am enjoying photography like a fresh new enthusiast once again after more than 10 years in the business. I realized there’s still so much to learn, and there’s so much I have been missing out as a professional all these years.

The “professional” label is lame. It means nothing more than you are making money out of photography and you are dependent on it for livelihood. It certainly does not necessarily mean you are skilled, knowledgeable and passionate in today’s context. If the level of judgment/fussiness by our clients in this part of the world suddenly increase by 50%, I guess more than 1/2 of the professionals around us might be facing unemployment.

Doing photography as a job is entirely different from living photography as a lifestyle. Doing photography as a job is to meet the standards of our clients. Living photography as a lifestyle is to constantly strive to reach higher standards set by ourselves.

A painter won’t choose to paint a same painting over and over again in his life if he’s an artist. I can’t paint the same stuff over and over again either. Shooting less weddings enable me to focus better on each job and personalize my brush strokes, my eyes for each wedding. NOT looking at other wedding photographers’ works IS a MUST in carving out your own style.

Guess it’s about time I update my portfolio. Here’s just one photograph for the day to start with. (I must admit I have a self-discipline problem to tackle)

I love the quality from a medium format film and the skin tones from the NPH400.

Stranger

The meaning of the word stranger can be easily found HERE.

It basically also means alien and foreigner.

Life is ironic. We depend on one another but we refuse to know one another. We are supposed to be educated NOT to be racist, but we still are racists in our hearts at times. We are taught NOT to judge a book by it’s cover, but yet we judge all the time.

In portrait photography, I discover the joy of knowing people.

I am well trained for years in photographing wedding couples (since the 1990s), posing untrained “models” for pre-wedding portraits, catching them in their best angle and in their most natural but flattering state. I took pride in my ability to photograph ordinary people cause I think they are much harder than trained fashion models.

To me, there’s ONLY one word in portrait photography: Communication.

You can use the best equipment, a F1 portrait lens BUT have absolutely no positive communication with your subject.

It’s hard, cause it drains emotion, it drains energy, it tests your true sincerity in photographing your subject. Sometimes, when I am emotionally tired, I just can’t do it the way I want it.

In wedding jobs which I have done for years, I must say there were times I knew I just didn’t “make the mark” I wanted, BUT I did make the mark the clients wanted. Whew! (I have since quit being a “hardcore” wedding photographer since 2009 and am concentrating on developing my photography passion afresh)

In street photography, we are actually photographing strangers all the time (unless you have made some friends on the streets you regularly go to). Now, this is even harder, cause they don’t pay us to photograph them, and many of them do not even wish to be photographed.

I am still learning and I think this learning will never end.

It’s NOT just photography I am learning. It’s 90% communication, 10% photography I am learning.

Each time I go out on the the streets for a shoot, it’s a test to my sincerity, a test to whether I am genuinely interested in my subjects.

I meet them FIRST as a person, and second as a photographer interested in making some good portraits of ART. When we put ourselves in the shoes of our subjects, we will naturally NOT do to them what we do not wish others do to us.

There are generally two approaches to street portrait photography: one is to photograph unobtrusively, at times “stealing” shots without really asking for permission, AND another is verbally or non-verbally (the use of body language) asking for permission before shooting. I do both.

Shot in Penang.

It is interesting when Strangers are turned into acquaintances when you give yourself a chance to put down your camera, have a chat with your subject, get to know them, or even help them… before you pick up your camera to take a shot again.

An old man in Ipoh, with one eye blind. He used to live in a rented wooden house with a broken roof but his son has since fetched him home.

So, the next time you pick up your camera, think of yourself FIRST as a person, second as a photographer. Take some time to care for your subjects before rushing to take a shot. It’s a totally different experience!

More Strangers’ Portraits

This is in continuation to my series on “Portraits of Strangers”

I’ve got lotsa works to sort out. It’s about time I start compiling my works on the streets since March 2009. Being retrospective helps to study the progress I make.

It’s amazing how much a photograph can tell. It shows the state of mind of the photographer when the shot is made. If you can read further, you can literally read the photographer’s mind, his/her intention, his/her personality and how he/she looks at life.

I personally feel that women are better photographers in general. They seem more sensitive. Men are often bogged down by what equipment they use and all the technicalities of the camera. Worse, if they are shopaholics like me…  they end up having too many cameras to choose from even before they go out for a shoot. (I used to stare at my dry cabinet for more than 30mins before I could decide what to bring with me… haha)

It took me more than 20 years since I bought my first camera to realize that there is no perfect camera!

That’s the fun in photography, having fun with different cameras… but also this becomes the necessary evil at the same time.

It’s necessary for new inspiration to be injected as different cameras produce different results, but also an evil when it becomes too easy to turn us into Gadget Men rather than real photographers who are focused on producing better and better images.

It becomes a personal choice for one to choose sitting around in coffee shops comparing gears OR getting out there to shoot something. I walked through both stages.

So, if you have a camera lying around not used, take it out and shoot something. You never know what you can do unless you go find out. Or sell it to one who will actually use it to produce images that speak…

Photography is about shooting, NOT talking.