Everytime I go out for street photography in SEA countries, I face a dilemma. I feel uncomfortable looking at some of the daily activities of common folks hawking their stuffs on the road side.
If i am going to be brutally honest,I feel sad and often my mind wonders off into questions of their survival and livelihood. This leads on to inevitable realization that I couldn’t provide any help at all.
“They been surviving so far without you lifting a finger to help and they will continue to survive”, I comfort myself along these lines and quotes.
These scenes are in stark contrast when I visit European countries like Denmark, Paris or even Iceland. Perhaps their Govs have gone a long way on helping out the struggling citizens and we find less of those who trade for basic living vs average lifestyle.
Nevertheless, once the conscience tugging moments passed, I feel that these people are the true survivors and fighters. They work hard with their bare hands and whatever means to make a humble living instead of falling astray into committing crimes.
It’s rather pathetic for a country like Malaysia when I compare the crime rates with Vietnam and Thailand. In Malaysia, snatch thefts are an epidemic and I personally don’t feel safe even with my camera bag. I have been snatched once and almost 1:3 person I know of, have encountered or seen snatch theft incidents.
Overall I only managed to spend a day doing street photography in Bangkok and I had to attend a beautiful garden wedding.
Does anyone else feels the same as I do when you do street photography?
Ginny comes from a popular startup in Vietnam, Grab. However there seems to be a culture in Vietnam whereby the female citizens are more willing to explore the path of entrepreneurship. She left Vietnam to join a startup in Malaysia and wasn’t satisfied with just a job, she ventured into starting her own business, a shoe cleaning service for sneakers : shoemo.
It’s is surprisingly a virgin market in Malaysia as we have high end heels repair services but never had a cleaning service just for sneakers. Soon clients begin to pour in and investors contacted Ginny to expand her modest business which is already turning in profits.
I took the opportunity to have lunch with her and took some portraits during those short hours. All the images here are shot on Nikon U2 / 50 1.4 sigma non-art on either Premium400 or ColorPlus200 films.
I make it a point to know more about a person when i take her portraits. I needed that element of knowing her character personally so that the images would reflect the essence of her personality.
Ginny is a person that brings in the adage of “more than meets the eye“. For her shoot, i decided to bring in an equally interesting prop in my collection, the Olympus SP 35, a camera whose lens matches even the leica summilux but totally underrated.
Starting your own business is akin to travelling to another country alone and trying to make a living there. In that sense, taking such risks is nothing new to Miss Ginny here. That confidence that she has and the willingness to go all out doing what you believe to be worth risking, is an attribute that is hard to be captured on her portrait.
January 2018 will be her last month with her current startup. I am glad to have met her in this short time and as much as her colleagues and managers would wished she would stay, we all know deep down, that given such an opportunity, no one should stop her from pursuing her dreams.
With this note, here are the two of my favourite images taken during this session.
“Nope. thats not it”, i fumbled with the menu on the Sony A7s looking for a way to move the cursor for focusing on the electronic viewfinder. Behind those mountains of menus, lies a simple and important feature that i needed, one that just selects one of the focusing points on the camera. It’s deja’vu when i looked at the menu’s on the Canon 6D and the Nikon DF, “what? why would i want to select a 7Mp pixel only on a three given options and why would i want a fine jpg when the basic looks just as good.”
A moment of flashback happened, I was 15 and standing at the school’s field hanging out with my fellow friends, a weird crowd some say. Kien Hong, an introvert that went on to become the top graduate in the country, was just next to me. “hey kien hong, see i got myself a new pen and here is my notebook (paper) that i gonna write my school notes on.”, I showed off my fancy pen and premium notebook and how excited i am to use these tools to improve on my grades, Kien Hong gave me a friendly smile and took out his 555 small notebook and a kilometrico pen, those were the most economic and simple stationaries you can find back then, same combo used by the canteen’s food seller for jotting down the 4D magnum sports toto number.
“How in the world did we ended up here?”, i snapped back into today’s timeline and thought about the direction we are heading in our social interaction, cameras and life in a glance. In my bag are two old film camera, a Nikon F2 and Nikon U2. The F2 in particular was the older camera and with a legendary status while the U2 was premature in its arrival and DOA on 2003.
The F2 changes everything when it was introduced. It quickly became the standard for photojournalists and professionals for 35mm. Some say that it killed Leica’s dominance and pushed Leica towards a niche market and Leica never did recovered.
Film cameras are amazingly simple. You have that Shutter, Aperture that you control on your lens and you lived with whatever ISO film u used. Planning ahead is almost a necessity for the shoot that you do. Life was simple then and even now, i enjoyed using the same basic controls. That Kien Hong’s combo is a constant reminder on how little adding bells and whistles complicates the actual learning process and results.
Images, especially portraits, should be about “feel“. Feel cannot be measured in megapixels, sharpness nor does it gets better just because the camera have a longer and updated technical spec. Last week, Malaysia experienced what we called the “winter” days. Unprecedented and unheard of here, we saw the temperature plummets to 22C, in contrast my usual room air conditioning is 25C. Such drastic drop in temperature on an equatorial country is laughable, almost as ironic as the crypto-currencies volatilities.
We added so much complexities to life and instead of having more quality of life, we are suffocating it. Mark Zuckerberg recently announced a change of heart in how he wants Facebook to be used, God bless his soul, those ads and baits in social medias didn’t add any value to any social interactions.
In respond to the letter written by the 27 year old girl who have passed away, we all can make decisions to have a richer life and even what we have now should never be taken for granted. Collecting items is just one of those things that adds nothing to life equations nor to the quality of life.
Watches, cameras, bags, phones and cars. Well you name it, chances are you know somebody who is into it. I am all into “being” rather than “having” as a resolution for the year. It’s a worthy resolution 🙂
The F2 have seen more than most of us in this lifetime. That was never it’s intention. It was supposed to be a tool for us to see more of life.
Sometimes…maybe often, i would look for new portraits inspiration on the Internet. The best came from some obscure photographers that publishes their work more for storage rather than sharing, many good ones comes from social influencers that thru practice and hard work became skilful in creating them. However…there are quite a number that appears on seemingly professional photographers websites but are cringe worthy and makes me wonder if perhaps i have a different level of acceptance or culture.
I learn portraits by practice, joining workshops and practice. I am blessed with lots of beautiful friends that i met while pursuing my photography passion and it would be an injustice to them and myself if i didn’t focus on portraits.
I would therefore share 5 of the key reminders that i personally use in my portraits and i do mostly outdoor portraits based on available light. I am going to skip thru the normal guides like “look for interesting light”, “rules of 3rd” and those other stuffs that you can find elsewhere.
I shot all images here on Nikon U2 with Kodak ProImage100 film on a 50mm lens.Model friends ig: x.x.angela, stephyyiwen
Join a group shoot and look at the photos, chances are 90/100 of those photos are images of the model or person looking straight into your camera.
While its ok and you should definitely have photos with eye contact with the model, those images quickly becomes boring when almost every single one of them are the same expression of “look into the camera”.
For shoulder and head portraits, eye contact are classical approach for getting good portraits, but it should not be more than 70% of your total images.
I find the approach of being the invisible photographer a much more rewarding approach than “look into the camera” approach. The best images are always the most natural and one where you want the person to feel very relax as though ur not there.
2. Head and shoulders portraits are boring
There is a true story of a group of friends that book a flight to a overseas country and went to a beautiful site to do a photoshoot of a model that joined them in the trip. They then proceed to take out their 85mm and 135mm lenses and started shooting.
The resulting images are all photos of the model without any background whatsoever. The blurring of the background and the background inclusion were so minimal that one might as well rent a studio to save cost.
Always try to include some of the environment that the model is in, preferably if the model can have some form of interaction with the environment.
On the other hand, if you going to shoot for wedding photographs, (this is where i differ from the current trend seen in Asia), it’s not a scenery shoot, don’t go shooting the couples looking like miniature figures in a beautiful scenery. A few years down the road the son or daughter will be looking at that image and wonder who are those people in the scenery. Might as well buy a poster of that scenery and pin it up.
3. This is not a fashion show, don’t pose like one
Unless you are doing a fashion shoot where you have this tall model wearing some designer ultra urban dress, avoid doing fashion poses in the natural outdoor. Those poses often only makes sense when showing off the clothes or if it’s done with conceptual/artistic background.
For everyone else, including the model that just dressed nice and looking beautiful, your aim should be to take photos that makes her look natural. Poses can be interesting by having some props around like a camera, book, bag or even leaves.
Poses are very important to give the image a sense of comfort and candid feel.
4. Bokeh are good if they are 1.4
There are only two kinds of photographers in portraiture. Those that use bokeh and those that use f1.4 bokeh. I am not saying 1.4 is the same across all focal length, the idea is to use the largest aperture lens that you can find and use that to your advantage.
You see, bokeh and shooting with shallow depth of field differentiates your images with those fake iphones/android types of portraits. If you are not shooting with shallow dof and leveraging on bokeh characteristic of lenses, you might as well shoot with a phone. Eric Kim once posted something silly about his Samsung results are as good as a medium format and he could just be right if you are shooting without any shallow dof.
If you are using a 50mm lens, well, 50 1.8 is the most common 50 mm lens that is available in almost any camera, the idea is to avoid that “normal” range and go for the 1.4. You want different results, use something different (probably the least important criteria to get good results, but good vs different is a different story, get it?)
5. Don’t over edit
Hell have a special place for three(3) types of photographers. First, those who exploit new models for nude shoot in the name of art, those who use HDR on portraits and lastly, this group outnumber the first two by a large margin…those who liquify and edit their subject generously.
While its perfectly understandable that female subjects would love to look flattering in your photos, you know the edit is too much if anyone who sees that person have an “ouch” effect. “Ouch, she don’t look like anything in her photos” kinda ouch.
Clearing blemishes, spots and lighten the dark circles and the model would look really good as though as he/she had a very good makeup artist. But slimming her down like 30% or making those alien V faces and pulling the legs longer is just no no no. Fact is you would be doing the model more harm than good and you should be drawing anime instead of photography.
* this photo has editing done on the eye’s dark circles.
In 2018, i would love to do more collaborations with models for outdoor shoot but with heavy focus on “feel”. How do we define “feel”, it is that feeling that you get when you look at the photo and you could feel the serenity, loneliness or the joy of that person.
It dawn upon me that some of the “best” photographers are the famous photographers. In today’s age of internet and social media, popularity and fame falls upon those that are able to blog and express their photos. Maybe its not a popular opinion but from time to time i am often confounded at the quality of portraits or streets that are shared by some online photographers. Its not that they are bad, they just didn’t satisfy my thirst for inspirations.
So i asked myself, “if u think ur better, why don’t u share more of your portraits, gears and street photos, maybe similar minded folks out there could be looking for some inspirations too”. Thank you, 2018, lets just do more of that. In my posts i will attempt to share images, gears and street photos all in one article per post.
I visited Hanoi on 26th-30th december, hazy and cloudy, there isn’t much good lighting to look forward to but i was really excited to see some of the unique scene in Hanoi and wanted to do some shoot there with a model.
I had this peculiar camera with me, its nearly a 80 years old and do or die, it’s the only gear i brought with me.
I brought along some Kodak 400 porta and Fuji 160NS 120 films. After walking around the streets i notice a unique occurrence in the Old Quarters where a live railway runs thru the city, this is it, i told myself, i need to do an album here.
Thru SanAsia Event, a model was selected for my shooting, her name is Phuong Thao. The agent Miss Dao Thuong from SanAsia Event is a savvy and charming lady, she told me that Phuong Thao is one of the top 30 in Miss Vietnam search but her dreams are cut short because she could not fund her own glamour outfits nor photo-shoot.
Miss Thao could understand english but her pronunciations of the english language sounded queer to me. The agent Miss Dao told me that this is a common problem in Hanoi, mainly because graduates are taught in the wrong pronunciations.
While shooting i thought of how lucky the other pageants and contests are in other countries as most of the requirements and needs are covered by sponsorships and the organizers.
After shooting two rolls of film, Miss Dao from SanAsia suggested that we should do the next shoot at Long Bien Bridge, a french architecture marvel that is still supporting the commuting activities in Hanoi.
Despite the weather which was hazy and the light is flat, film tones are just so beautiful. It brings out the moment and the very life of the scene, when i look at these images i thought to myself, “wow, i could just reenact the scene and hear the sounds of the bikes and see the hazy ambiance”.
Shooting with film has always been special because i need to manually focus the Rolleiflex and i always shoot wide open regardless of camera and lens. On the Rolleiflex automat this require a lot more effort because the focusing screen is just a ground glass, relatively dim with no split screen or focus confirmation of any sorts, you just have to see the image and when you believe you got it in “focus”, you press the shutter.
The efforts slows down your photoshooting tremendously, i needed to do it fast so that Miss Phuong Thao here won’t be posing too awkwardly waiting for me. It is those very effort and focus that you do while shooting film that your mind embeds the scene with everything in it far beyond what you can remember on a casual snapshot.
So how fast was i? Here is an image of a man riding a bicycle while walking his dog in Hanoi.
The guy running the film lab in Kuala Lumpur didn’t believe this is possible. Well, it is. In fact i am a lot slower than Vivian Maier if you have seen her works, those photos that she did with shallow depth of field on the street, they are impossible to be shot slowly.
Here are some other images on the street that i took.
I did bring along a backup camera, my phone, the Google Pixel2. I also took some pictures using it on the rails and the bridge, the results are too crappy to be shared here. Despite being the latest and greatest in mobile photography, “portrait mode” results is far from usable except in the most common scenario of poses.
Feel free to see some of the fail cases of Google Pixel2 here.
Today we live in a world where instant gratification and yada yada is cutting short our experiences and joy in many ways. Film photography as painful as it is, brings back some “pauses” to this world.