Thoughts

Studio Portrait . 291010

From the Archives:

As I look through my archives, I find more and more of my past works “unacceptable”. I think I have grown much more fussy and picky and difficult to live with. LOL…

Life is Imperfect . 111010

Medium Format Film

I LOVE FILM!

Because film is imperfect. Film is coated with a layer of chemical emulsion that can be easily scratched or finger-printed by human. Loading a roll of film requires human touch. Unloading a roll of film also requires human touch. In fact, the whole process of developing a roll of film, whether it’s by the lab or D.I.Y. requires human touch.

Unlike in digital, pixels are often perfect. Technology advances toward perfection. We have perfectly clean ISO6400 today. We also have super-sharp digital images, perfect white balance, and Photoshop to perfect our images further. Yet, so many software are trying to introduce “film flaws” back into digital photography via plug-ins, photo filters, etc. It’s ironic!

I love film because film is imperfect. It reminds me that life is imperfect. It reminds me to accept what I cannot change.

A friend in Facebook recently wrote: ” Life is not always a bed of roses. Will you allow your unhappiness to overwhelm you or will you try to find a ray of sunshine through the seemingly dark skies? It is all a matter of choice.”

My comment was, “To enjoy the fragrance, softness n beauty of roses, we need to accept the thorns too.”

What’s roses without thorns anyway? It creates depth of field. Hahaha…

Cheers!

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.

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.

My Dream PEN (as of now…)

NO, this is NOT a digital camera, neither is it the upcoming E-P3. This is my Olympus RC film rangefinder. I just hope Olympus will remember they ever made so many FAST and legendary lenses in history and why should they stop doing it? The other collectibles are the Olympus 35SP: 40/1.7 and the Olympus 35RD: 40/1.7.

Since the announcement of the Fuji X100 which made so many photographers drool for it (including me), I started thinking what I would like the next PEN to be. This is my wish list:

1. To have the dials on the E-P1/2

2. MUST have “auto-rotate” feature

3. 3-inch high resolution LCD with 360 degree tilt and swivel capability

4. Back LCD display to show filename, ISO, S, A, WB, Quality, format, date and time all at once. I like the way the NEX’s display shows the necessary info. I find the E-PL1’s display of pixel dimensions, in-camera sequence number unnecessary and the fonts too big.

5. Same MF assist system like the NEX (half-press shutter to exit magnification)

6. Useable ISO6400

7. AF infra red assist beam option

8. Full HD Video

9. Weather-proof body as an option (E-P3 tough?)

10. NEW collapsible kit zoom lens: m-zuiko 12-42mm F3.3-4.5 msc internal focusing type

11. External electronic viewfinder VF-2 can still be separate as I would like to keep the body small

12. Better AF capability in lowlight

13. 5 frames per sec

14. Lens hood bundled

15. Additional hook by the side with option to strap camera sideways

16. Additional accessory: leather hand strap

I think I am expecting reasonable improvements to the current PENs available which Olympus is well capable of producing. Personally, I am willing to pay MYR2500 (USD800) for a normal body and MYR3500 (USD1133) for a weather-proof body bundled with the NEW kit lens with hood. (well, the new kit lens can have a weather-proof version). I do hope the price of the VF-2 can be reduced to MYR800 (USD260).

This is the list of lenses I hope Olympus will produce other than the new kit lens I hope for mentioned above:

1. mzd 17/1.8 msc (effective 35mm great for street-shooting)

2. mzd 50/1.8 msc (effective 100mm great for portraits and candids)

3. mzd 30/2.8 macro msc (effective 60mm great for close distance macro)

My first preference setup (since I ‘m not a hardcore macro guy) will be E-P3 with 12-42/3.3-4.5, 17/1.8, 50/1.8, 9-18(spare), if necessary 75-300(for safari). The kit zoom will be able to do general macro which is good enough for me.

All the above is just my dream. My fingers are always crossed as to what Olympus will produce next. Being a lover of Olympus’s Jpegs, I do hope for the best in the development of Olympus.

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!

Portrait of a Stranger 2

This is another portrait I did in the series.

It was a spontaneous smile!

I have been very busy lately. But I thank God I still manage to walk the streets about once a week. Taking time to see what others do on the streets make me less self-focused. Human nature is selfish. Life is always about “I”, “Me”, “What I Want”, “What I Need”… we hardly even mention “We” (our loved ones), and much less “He” or “She” who are strangers to us.

For the ones who are close to us, it seems natural to just take them for granted. In the airline I used to work in, the most fussy complaining passengers are the ones getting the most attention. Our loved ones are often like the quiet passengers who appreciate us silently, or even doing things for us without us knowing. (there were those kind passengers I knew who would just walk into my galley to throw a used plastic cup into the trash bin or get a drink from us without pressing the call button when we were so busy…)

Sometimes, the people in our lives are like passengers. They come and go. There are the nasty ones as well as the kind ones. Our loved ones are our faithful passengers (without much of a choice). No one knows when this flight will end. But we are all called to serve. (with cheer)

It is relaxing for me to walk the streets. I do not have to shoot to enjoy myself. Being there, sometimes chatting with strangers is already enough for me. For these are the strangers who make me realize the world is NOT just about ME.

I thank God for them.

My Simplest Camera… …

also my MOST favourite camera, the Holga. This is no NEW Holga, it’s been with me for more than 8 years.

Sometimes, All you ever NEED is a plastic lens on a black plastic box loaded with film. This IS the BEST Therapy ever! Shutter Therapy, as my blogger friend Robin calls it.

Have you ever thought of quitting photography? Yes, I do, in some ways… …

Sometimes I just feel so tired of looking at tons of digital images everywhere, especially online, and ONLY FEW can make me look at it for longer than a quick glance. For example, it makes me wonder why some bothers to shoot 10 shots of the same cat in a similar pose and post them all in flickr!?

In the current wedding industry, it’s common for couples to receive 12 sequential shots of a groom wearing his bow tie, and another 12 sequential shots of the parents covering the bride with her veil… … the list goes on and on…

I ever hired an assistant photographer who gave me just that! And editing his shots after the wedding is a real pain in the ass!

I wanna throw a question to all you guys out there… Do you seriously think photography standards have improved TODAY as compared to film days? Or to be MORE specific, do you seriously think wedding photography standards have improved in recent years due to the latest technology, the MOST intelligent cameras, the Nikon D3S, Canon 5Dmk2, etc. and etc… …???

So what if we can shoot smooth and silky jpegs at ISO25600 at 9 frames per sec?

Who Says You Can’t Shoot Streets With A Telephoto?

I hardly promote anyone in any of my posts and have never just write a post directly referring you to another blog post or source for reading. But here is ONE I think really deserves it!

I can’t help but to share with you how Robin, my friend has handled the Olympus 70-300mm F4-5.6 lens so well FOR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY! Mind you, it’s NO F2.8 super-professional-expensive-fast-nano-aspherical-weatherproof-whatever lens we are talking about here! Guys and gals, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves if we shoot crap with the Leicas or big Nikons/Canons/what-nought…

Photography is from the heart and from the heart comes the CONTENT! Junk IN-Junk OUT. Shame to all those who only know how to shoot F2.8 bokeh shots of pretty girls on the streets and call that street photography. I am no fan of those shots. I like COMPELLING IMAGES!

CUT the talking, SEE IT HERE: ROBIN WONG

Photography: Art Or Gadget Lifestyle?

Taken with Holga 35mm Pinhole Camera using Tri-X 400 film, self-developed in Rodinal using stand development.

In recent years, photography has changed so much in the world from what it used to be. The advancement in photographic technology, the “super-duper-magical” digital cameras which can shoot at ISO1million (very soon I guess)… , the BOOMING camera-trading industry, the almost complete death of film once (Thank God, it’s very much back alive!), the death of very good professional labs…(they are still not revived yet)… , and the influx of thousands of “professional photographers” who become “professionals” literally overnight by getting themselves a 2000 bucks DSLR.

Recently, we have the PC Fair in Malaysia, and it’s not the first PC Fair to have camera booths selling cameras in it. I thought PC means personal computer? I know me and my wife are backdated… as my wife still asked me, “why are they selling cameras at a PC Fair?”

So many-a-times, I asked myself,” why the hell have I gone digital?”

Because of work, I’ve “gotta” upgrade my digital cameras every few years. (nowadays, the advancement is so fast that it’ll probably be shortened to every one year). Do I really have to upgrade? Even for photo-enthusiasts, they are upgrading, many even quicker than the pros usually. I only know of one wedding photographer around me so far, who upgrades as fast as a rich photo-enthusiast/gearhead, that most of us can’t even keep up to half his speed. LOL… :p

Shot at a wedding, Nikon FM3A, 85mm F1.8, Tri-X 400, self-developed in Rodinal.

What has photography become?

It used to be about mastering the ART of capturing fleeting moments that passes us by too quickly that a paintbrush is hard to describe. Is it still? Oh yes… maybe… and it’s has gone so much easier today with digital cameras isn’t it? Face-detection, smile-detection, what else?

But, why is it that it doesn’t seem any more enjoyable than the old days, when we don’t get to see the results immediately, when we often screw up in our exposures, etc. and etc.. For the new generation, you possibly do not know what I am talking about, then maybe, you should really try getting an old film camera, pop a roll of film in it, and try it out for yourself?

We have heard that Olympus has in her plans, the potential of making cameras that can shoot up to 100 frames per second, like what Casio once did… except that this time, if it’s successful, the images are gonna be stunning. It’s the “motion-jpeg concept” they talked about… when I can imagine future wedding photographers inviting their clients into their posh and cosy lounge, looking at huge screens with a remote control in their hands, viewing “motion-jpegs” or shall we call it video? … and pressing the pause button whenever they see a “moment” to do a screen capture for output as an enlargement print. Oh, not-to-forget some soft background music and two glasses of champagne too… Now, isn’t that lovely?

Will Henri Cartier-Bresson jump out of his grave since he strongly believed in “decisive moment” by the photographer but now, it’s about “decisive pauses” by the audience?

Shot with a camera called the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super, made in 1959.

Also shot with the 1959-made Contaflex, using cheap China Lucky Color Film

I am just being emotional again.

Photography is about being emotional. The whole photography process is emotional. By introducing “better” cameras that supposedly make life easier for the photographer to concentrate on ARTS can also at the same time, take away certain pleasures the photographer is enjoying.  I am imagining and asking myself, “if the whole world shoots using the “motion-jpeg/video concept”, will I still be a photographer? ”

I know it’s definitely exciting for technology to advance like this… exciting for the engineers, NOT the artists, not really for me. It’s a cool gadget to have, but not for serious photography I would wanna do.

Photography is such a hybrid. It involves heavily with gears and instruments, and yet you can develop it as ART. So, it’s not surprising that many photographers are more “involved” with changing equipments than actual shooting. You change your camera, you get a different result. Take the camera away from the photographer, and he/she can’t produce pictures anymore. Whereas, a painter can still try painting with his/her fingers. So, it’s definitely highly equipment-dependent.

But how should we develop our artistic vision in the midst of all this technology advancement? Cameras are no different from mobile phones nowadays. The newer and better cameras are always luring us to believe that owning them can make us better photographers, which is TOTALLY UNRELATED to your personal photographic vision!

Taken with Rollei 35, Ilford XP2, part of my personal project "Cari Makan"(earn-a-living).

Also taken with Rollei 35, but on Kodak BW400CN.

Simplify!

I have ever mentioned that the Olympus E-P1 helped me in expanding my photographic vision, unleashed the experimental part of me, and that it is a camera that gives you great JPEGs without much retouching. I used it in automatic mode so I could concentrate on my photographic vision. That’s one way. Get a camera which can produce wonderful images without having to do much post-processing and in-camera settings. Set it to auto and concentrate on your composition.

Shoot film.

Shooting film slows you down. From shooting thousands with my DSLRs, I slowed down to shooting 36 per roll, a few rolls per week. Recently, I shoot just 12 shots a day on my favourite medium format camera for about 3-4 days per week. I am telling you this “slowing” is gonna continue for me. I am currently addicted to seeing as high as 10-11 keeper shots out of 12 per roll. And this feeling definitely beats having 30 keeper shots out of a hundred odd digital snaps.

Photography: ART or Gadget Lifestyle for me?

It’s still partly ART and partly a gadget lifestyle for me since I am often tempted by good old film cameras and sometimes the small digitals. :p But, I’d rather keep to my First Love which is Shooting! I WILL NOT spend more time on the computer than going out there for actual shooting as long as my eyes can still SEE.

Do feel free to share the images you shoot with me by inviting me to your flickr or whatever photo-sharing website you have… I’d love to see them!

I’ve been doing private coaching for quite a while now and I am gonna have a group photography workshop soon, so please email me if you are interested. Thanks!

Related Posts:

1. Why Photo-enthusiasts are cool!

2. Good to stay “innocent”.