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When people think about me, or see me in person, they often associate me with a few things, notable one being a camera reviewer. Eric Kim, during his short visit to Malaysia did ask me before if my blog is gear review oriented, in an attempt to persuade me to use a proper website domain name (eg, robinwong.com) instead of having the suffix dot blogspot dot com after my blog name. He was trying to determine the purpose of this site, and I can truly understand his observation and analysis that my blog somehow has transformed into a site where people come here with the main intention of reading my gear reviews (or more specifically put, Olympus gear reviews because I rarely do review any other stuff).
Not that I mind people seeing me as a camera reviewer, but that was not my sole purpose of photography involvement and surely not the only thing I want to be known for. Thank goodness I do blog religiously week after week with fresh photographs from my shutter therapy adventures, to fill in the long gap between gear reviews, which only happened about 3 times per year! I would like to think that the reason people come to my blog is a lot more than just reading my reviews. And surely I am doing my best to improve my photography skills (by shooting more and experimenting with techniques, meeting new photographers, etc) and as usual, share as much as I can along this never-ending journey of photography.
In this blog entry, I am re-cycling some of my photographs taken within this year 2013 and I am taking a deeper look into them, describing to you how I managed to capture the shots, what caught my attention in the first place and why I thought the shots worked. I am more or less thinking out loud.
That, and of course, an excuse for not having fresh photographs recently to make my usual blog entry but that is besides the point.
Holi Festival 2013
I think one of the hardest things to do for me to shoot a photograph is to include, or show emotions. I am a male photographer I do not show excessive explosive burst of feeling, even when I am not shooting and surely it is a big challenge to make that happen in my photographs. Photography is a lot more than just nice colors or composition or lighting control, I believe a good photograph should be able to have the audience to feel "something". For the above shot, it was not too difficult to capture emotions, as I was in a huge festival celebrating joy and happiness, the annual Holi Festival (or Festival of Colors). As the people splashed each other in color and water it was heaven for photography!
There are many things that can make and break a photograph. We were always told to observe the geometrical balance, the repetitive subjects, the lines and the way to frame or lead the eye to the main subject within the frame. At the same time we have to incorporate a good subject content, and the subject has got to do something or is subject to other actions, thus creating a more dynamic impact. All these things happen in this one single photo, which is a rare thing. I saw it, and in that 1 second of consideration I knew everything would come together nicely. It is of course far from being perfect, despite all the ticks in the checklist, the photo was taken close to noon (look at the shadows), which meant harsh and unflattering image. Of course by now we should accept that no photograph is perfect and sometimes it is the imperfection that makes the photograph interesting. I like this photograph mainly because I can see the kid struggling as he climbed up the bridge and there were people trailing him from behind, and the boy/bicycle combo was framed within lines/shapes which added to the scene constructively.
One of my fears, or worries when I am shooting almost anything at all, is not being able to respond fast enough. I find that many photography opportunities happen too fast, and the window of opportunity to capture them is just too narrow. I am also fully aware that many street photographs or those "national geographic" travel photographs are staged and orchestrated to a degree that you know it is impossible to happen even if you waited 10,000 years for that perfect shot, but what is the fun in that? The biggest thrill I have while shooting (macro, street, weddings, anything!) is not knowing what to find, and when I do see the opportunity, the move in to kill part was the highlight of the day, and be surprised by what I have shot. I am not against the pre-planned or staged shooting, it is an entirely different category to talk about. For my own shooting, I like to keep an open mind and have a great time discovering different images as I move along. I would have never predicted that I will find a mother embracing her baby so affectionately on the street (of all places) but that scene pulled something in my heart and I just knew I have to capture that spontaneous moment, which would not be the same 2 seconds later.
I was shooting the preparation of devotees before the Thaipusam celebration, and the devotees had to shave their head clean. There were many "subjects" to choose from, and in this particular situation, I was inclined to shoot the subjects with more interesting lighting. It was early morning with sun shining from the side, providing a dramatic directional effect, adding contrast and depth to my images. If you can choose always find the better/more appealing subjects! Always watch the light and if somehow the light can make things better, go for it! I am not a strictly available light shooter, so if you have to do what you have to do to make the shot better, go for it. A lot of this has to do with the photographer being able to recognize the quality, direction and impact of light (available, or additional) to the subjects he is shooting.
Portrait of a Stranger
One common misconception is that I can shoot anyone, anywhere on the street. Truth? I cannot, and out of 20 people I have chanced upon on the street, I would probably shoot only one. That is very, very few, and in reality, maybe fewer. I do not just shoot any random people, there must be a reason that I am drawn to the people I am shooting. First, I have to weigh if the people is worth shooting (YES, we CHOOSE what we want to shoot), and if we like that particular person's appearance (I sound shallow, but seriously, you decide what you want to shoot). To me, I find something unusual, maybe the way the person dressed, or in the photograph of the stranger above, his turban and the long, white beard. These are the characteristics that make the photograph stand out. Sometimes, it is about the way the stranger smiled, or maybe the stranger has a set of very beautiful eyes.
Man and Birds
I do my best to keep my shots as simple and straightforward as possible. This year, one of my constant effort (not many successful attempts, unfortunately) is to break that stereotype and try to incorporate more subjects within one frame, as well as creating more layers (physical layers, and layers of meaning). I am still very, very new to this and sometimes, my experiments worked, such as the above image. Initially, in my simple, straight minded planning I wanted to shoot just the man and the river, and then moved on to shoot the birds and the river, which was synonymous with my usual approach of shooting one subject against one background. Then it hit me, what if I put them together! You know I come from engineering background and that means thinking outside the box is not something I do very well. But I am trying.
The Boathouse, Swan River
When I saw this scene in Perth, WA earlier this year I almost beat myself to death because I did not have my tripod and ND filter with me, which I have left in my luggage and erroneously forgot to carry with me. I would have loved to stay a bit longer, waiting for sunset (it was near) and just do some slow shutter shooting as the light dimmed. Or better, do a bracketed shooting and merge the shots into HDR! And perhaps throw in some panorama shooting as well, you know, for that added width. Sometimes I think I oversimplify things. That is not a good thing, and the image could have gotten much better if I actually put more work to it. In other words, sometimes, I am just being too lazy.
Considering the huge Chinese community in Malaysia, we do have a lot of temples around and shooting at temples is something the local photographers here like to do. I have shot the incense coils many, many times with all sorts of possible compositions and techniques, but none of the previous shots stood out, until this one which I took very recently. I placed the camera underneath one of the incense coils and have the lens pointed upward (I can still compose with ease with the aid of the tilted LCD screen of the OM-D E-M5). I do not quite know why this shot was much better than my other shots but I liked it somehow. One constant reminder I gave to myself while shooting was exploring different angles and perspective, and not just stick to the eye level boring point of view.
Creating a unique photograph is not easy. Everything has been shot many times before by many photographers everywhere in the world that there is the common saying that goes there really is nothing original about photography any more. I want to believe that is not true, but being original is not an easy thing to do when your ideas and thoughts may very well be the same with everyone else chasing the same thing. If I have attempted to run closer to the man and shoot him against the simple background, I might just have reproduced many of similarly done shots elsewhere. One of the great challenges in shooting a photograph is forcing the viewer to explore the image, having beautiful surrounding environment or multiple sub-subjects, while at the same time successfully maintaining significant attention to the main subject. I believe this was achieved in the above shot, with the man walking away nicely framed by the walkway (walls, ceiling and floor forming a framing square), and I chose to include a dominating foreground to show the sense of location, hinting what the place actually was: a market.
Ok, I will throw in a few more of my favourite images, well, because I like them.