I remember the time when I just first stepped into the world of photography, where everything was new, tempting and exciting. From the gear point of perspective, there were so many lenses to lust for, that ultra wide angle, that super long gigantic lens, or that macro lens, all seem like they can make my life so much better. Then there were endless list of shooting techniques to explore: HDR photography, long shutter speed exposure, etc and of course. being overly adventurous when it comes to post-processing, spending heaps of time trying to make the photograph look better by sliding the adjustment bars here and there and clicking a few more magic buttons to add that "creative" effect. The burning sensation, and the stamina to go on and on were abundant. However, as I went along the journey, little by little, the processes that used to entice me got stripped away. After countless hours of shooting session, only I came to realize photography is a lot more about seeing, conveying my personal vision and inner voice, and imprinting parts and pieces of my own characteristics and personality into my pictures.
Gone were the days of "I wish I had that lens", or exploring funky techniques, or copy some unorthodox shooting methods done by popular photographers. Now, when I am out there shooting, I am happy with an obsolete Sony A350 (the camera is.... 6 years old?), and just one or two of the cheapest prime lenses in the Sony lens line-up: 35mm F1.8 or 50mm F1.8, and I never wished for anything more. Instead of trying to process my images to make them "pop", now I am more inclined to just convert my files to black and white, and actually I found myself loving black and white more often than I originally thought I would. Everything has been simplified, and the main focus was shifted heavily on finding my subject, creating a vision and making that happen in photographs. I still find myself struggling in this area: translating my visual thoughts into physical images (well... I consider pixels as physical quantifiable entities), but I have noticed my lack of strength in this area, and I am pushing myself to see better, and really shoot more than just technically accurate photograph. I believe photography is a lot more than just properly focused, accurately exposed images.
All images in this entry were taken with Sony Alpha A350 and 50mm F1.8 or 35mm F1.8 lens
Looking at the Photographer
Edge of a Building
In the very beginning, most of photography new-comers would struggle with "how" to shoot. What is the right aperture, is the lens sufficiently wide open to create shallow depth of field, should I worry about the high ISO noise if I push further one more stop, did I switch back the white balance settings to Auto.... will the focusing be fast enough to grab that moving shot, etc. Well, all those thoughts will always run around in the head somewhere, but they should not be the deciding factor of creating a good photograph. The main question I ask myself now, is not "how" to shoot, but "what" to shoot. Choosing the right subject matter, deciding on the interesting point of view, and knowing "what" works in a good image, those are the main priorities in determining the shot. Only after I figured out "what" I want to shoot, then the "how" to make it happen came along.
For example, the photo of the cat above in "Looking at the photographer". I saw that the cat was standing at the walkway, that was the initial impression. Then I asked myself "what" I wanted to do with the cat in the shot, and I decided I needed a good background, and conveniently there was a few men nearby doing something at the back kitchen. Immediately I decided in the photograph, the cat would be the foreground and the men in the background, I moved myself until the positions aligned the way I had in mind. Now I have my subjects right (both foreground and background) I decided on my composition next. I wanted to include a lot more of the surrounding to strengthen the main subject. I wanted more width. On my Sony A350, I had the 35mm F1.8 on, which was barely a wide angle lens. To compose the frame to see the side red wall (which was nice) and a bit of the zinc roof to create the sense of location, I moved myself back about 4-5 steps. All the above happened in about 3 seconds, and as I was making final composition my other fingers were fiddling with the settings: setting the aperture wide open to F1.8 for shallow depth of field (I love bokeh) and setting the focus point to the right position. Now was the time to figure out how the shot worked, and I knew to shoot an animal, it was best to get down to their eye level, so I bent down and turned the live view on, and I took one shot. I was not satisfied because the cat initially was not looking at me. I made sure everything was setup properly, and then I "meowed" at the cat, thankfully it responded and it looked back at me, voila!! I immediately clicked the shutter button.
I doubt that shot would win any awards. I do not think anyone else will think that it was anything special. To me, it was my own vision that made the photograph happen, and I wanted it that way. It fulfilled "what" I wanted to shoot, and as I got the shot, there was a sense of satisfaction, no matter how simple the photograph turned out to be. It did not matter if my gear was cheap and lousy. It did not matter if the image was almost straight out of camera with no "magic" post-processing to turn the cat into a tiger. It was the whole process of getting the shot that was really fun, and worth going out there and shoot. This was the part that got me going and going.
Cooked vs Raw
In the pot
I think it is extremely crucial to decide what you really want in your photograph, before shooting. Often I noticed new comers to photography just randomly shooting away, hoping that they would capture that lucky shot. Or they thought that anything that their amazing latest super megapixel high ISO camera with lenses (that are so expensive that you can buy a car with it) can automatically create national geographic kind of images. I think the sense of knowing what works and what do not only develop over time, similarly this applies to personal photography style.
Getting the basics right is paramount for any new photographers, I must admit that. Hence, concentrating on the technicalities of photography, it is rather difficult to think about the other part of the photograph which you cannot directly control from the camera (how to direct your portrait model to pose, how to control the lighting setup, how to find the right angle to shoot the flower). Only when you have reached a level where you are comfortable with the camera controls, with no second guessing on the exact aperture opening you want for a shot, or knowing how slow the shutter speed is needed for a particular panning moving shot, and most important of all: having absolute confidence on the trinity exposure relationship (aperture-ISO-shutter speed): then you can progress further, because those technical settings will no longer get in the way of your shooting. The main thought process should be the main subject, what you can do to capture it creatively, not what shutter speed or ISO for the subject !!
Most people would easily understand what shutter speed, aperture and ISO are, individually. When you combine all three together, most of the time, everything fell into a mess. If you have not mastered these very basics, take up photography courses, workshop, find a mentor, practice, practice, practice and practice until you get it imprinted in your head. Mastering your camera settings with ease will open yourself more flexibility and possibilities, because your main thought process centers on what you are shooting, not how you set the camera.
Kevin, Moon and Ripi
That... that..... evil temptation !!!!
Ripi giving it a go
Kevin testing out that amazing RX1. Amazing camera, seriously.
And finally, that was me in action. Thanks Kevin for the snap.
Photo Credit: Kevin Ng, taken with Sony RX1
On the personal side of things, my work has become unexpectedly busy, eating out a huge chunk of whatever that was left of my free time. I have been working on the past few Saturdays, hence no shutter therapy session, and it has been about 3 weeks since I last shot on the street !!! Imagine how itchy my hands were, and I actually bargained my way out of work for today. To be fair, I stayed up working overtime till midnight for the past week, everyday, and on Thurday night, I actually stayed until Friday morning ungodly 2.00am, supervising a construction site, and got home about 2.30am. Yet at 8am, I have to start my work on site all over again. I then told my colleagues I needed rest and they all agreed that having Saturday off was not too far of a stretch that I actually deserve, after all that late nights.
Kevin texted me last night asking if I would be free to accompany him as he wwas going to test his Sony RX1 on the streets. I immediately said yes. As we were shooting at Petaling Street, Ripi suddenly called and asked to join me, because his morning shooting session at the Putrajaya Hot Air Balloon Festival has ended early. Joining Ripi was Moon, and then we moved as a group, which was rather spontaneous, but hey, I think this was the most fun I have had for weeks. I know I have been involved with huge photography functions, such as the Sony Experience (conference whole day thing), Olympus Macro workshop and the Fujifilm Athena Carey photowalk thing, but nothing truly beats a relaxing, slow walk, and shooting on the streets. Shutter therapy was what I have been missing the past few weeks, and being able to do it this morning with a group of beautiful people, I was happy and suddenly all the stress and pressure from work were lifted.
The weekend is still young. Tomorrow, MORE SHUTTER THERAPY !!!!!!!!!