Overcoming GAS { guide}

For many years I’ve been struggling with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and some form of denial on this subject.

Occasionally I would even give sound advice to similar folks that I had encountered with the same symptoms. Heck, I might have written similar notes on this problem all the while being an addict to it.

Overcoming gas in Malaysia
The must have item

Our mind are truly instruments of awe and wonders. My mind would cook up various reasons why I needed that camera, that lens, one day it can be due to better bokeh, next month it is because of size, then comes that Leica glow, the list goes on and on.

Here is a list of excuses, maybe you might find some of these to be familiar :

– inspirational tool

– back pain

– corner sharpness

– wider is needed

– saves me money cause I would have bought Y that cost 3x the price

– fps I needed that for capturing natural portraits or moving subject

– most of my buddies are using brand X, we could share

– compression shots, I need that telephoto

– this build quality will last me a lifetime unlike that one

– this sharpness and micro contrast makes all the difference

– the shutter is so much more subtle (even though the current camera have electronic shutter)

– discreet on the street

– evf so I won’t be blinded

Cause Vivian Maier uses it

Coincidentally I notice that everytime I acquire the gear, I would go out and do some shooting to justify the purchase. Did the new gears helped with my photography, maybe…. Could I have done better with the other gears already in the collection, of course!

Like the war between the Jedis and the Sith Lords, the force is a tension that exist because of actions favoring one side of the equation and it seeks to balance it. That is why Luke decided to avoid keeping in touch with YL camera or eBay is the best decision.

Ha ha ha, ok that was just nonsense, but I hope u get the point. The endless cycle begins when we desire something that we believe would contribute to our happiness index in photography only to realize that the problem has nothing much to do with gears.

My dragon is better than your M6

Don’t get me wrong, good gears are essential in achieving good results, some photogs have been shooting kit lens and wonder why they can’t get any bokeh yet all the while refusing to get a bigger aperture lens. That is just silly.

However, when you already have cameras and lenses that could perform well within your genre and your mind keep selling you that next gear… You have a case of GAS.

Bow before the most advance rangefinder with F1

There is a special incident that kind of woke me up to look into the mirror closely. I had a friend that ammased tons of film cameras, particularly large formats, pack films and Polaroids bodies. One day his favorite 35mm Leica m3 fell to the ground while we were chatting at a cafe and that broke something in him. The next day he went on to make a listing of his inventory and put them on sale.

That incident didn’t stop my GAS but I became more self aware of the situation. Buying lesser and imposing more red tapes to my mental process of buying. I setup some items to sell off in Carousel and realized how hard it was to sell off gears that I easily acquired.

Those common lines in the thought process of “get it, you need it, you only live once, it doesn’t cost much anyway” were slowly replaced with “I rather spend it on experience or going to more interesting places. Shoot more. I could buy 100 rolls of film and do 100 session instead of buying that”.

They are useless in the dry box. Take them out (mixed owners)

The last gear I acquired was the F2-DS which I used as a prop repeatedly rather than a gear and it’s been the longest time now without any new GAS lining up.

A collection of books can be shared

I guess everyone have their own poison on what they want to collect. I m just betting that we would stop collecting if we realize the futility of it.

There was once an argument between two business men on who deserves to sit next to the king for dinner.

The first man exclaim “I have in my collection, 2000 watches handmade by the finest craftmen in the region. Surely my display of wealth and taste in quality deserves my seat next to His majesty”

The second man countered “I have acquired 100 limited edition cars of which 30 are anniversaries release. I could easily sell half of these and I could build a theme park if I wanted”

The king looked at the two and seems reluctant to give a decision. He then asked a random guy in the crowd “How about you, do you collect anything?”. The guy replied “I have bought but a collection of books and wines so that I could share with guests and visitors”

The king chose the guy to be seated next to Him. The two other business men were furious and the king explained “your collections serves no one except yourselves, while this guy’s collection brought other’s joy”

Portrait Sharing 1st Feb 2018 {film}

creating portraits that matters, malaysia

In following up with the guide i wrote about my opinion on natural model posing for outdoor portraits, i wanted to write a guide on how to create portraits that matters. I wrote a whole section about sunrise and sunset and why those moments add that magic to otherwise common portraits and four other elements. But i stopped.

One of the things i told myself this year is that i won’t be creating images driven by the need to feed the public. Neither should i be writing blogs about technicalities and compositions rules, instead i should be sharing what i feel, what is true to myself and the reasons i took the images.

*All the images here are taken on ProImage100, 50f1.4 on a Nikon U2 film camera.

creating portraits that matters Malaysia
“..and she turned around, with the glory of the sun behind her”

“There is this theme that i wanted to shoot. It’s going to be somewhere between Shah Alam and Klang and i am going to do it on film”, I told Angela. Angela, a popular social influencer and a friend of mine, wasn’t a big fan of film, her work requires her to publish image quickly and create interesting content. She uses Instax and Fujifilm X-A3 cameras, both choices suggest that getting results fast, matters.

This is not the first time that i did this nature, sunset theme but it is a theme that i should do more often cause it is one of those theme that i won’t get tired of doing.

sunset portraits film in malaysia
“the wind blew past her hair, the lilies greets the gentle breeze”

There really isn’t anything around that is more beautiful than that moment when the sun rises and when it retreats, the glorious golden light separates the night from the day. These are moments that you can find almost in anywhere else in the world and it lights up the landscapes and people caught in the rays beautifully.

film portraiture in sunset in Malaysia
“she embraces that moment, that whispers from nature itself”

Each day when i woke up, it is a gift. How often this divine gift is quickly drowned by the cares of this world, the evil news that floods my facebook timeline and the griefs of the world crying out to all who would hear. More than often, i swam with the flow and echoes what is out there. These images i create, i wish above all else, that it would be useful to my friends and it would grant the viewer a moment of serenity.

A moment that you breathe.

film portraits of models in analogue in Malaysia
“when the sun embraces her, it was as if a cosmic dress was worn, whose threads are made of gold”

Truth is, living is hard enough. Recently two korean pop artist left the world leaving both observers and fans grieving and fuming over the incidents. While it is very easy to point fingers at celebrities giving up their lives while others struggle to keep them, the crux of the matter is that it is simply the outcome of the lost of a battle. The battleground took place in the heart and the mind and not the physical world and when the battle is lost in your mind, your body could never survive. You have no idea how lonely these people are and why they felt that death, is the way out. The real cowards are not these celebrities that gave up, the real cowards are those who pledge religious cause to take away the life of the innocents.

Life was given to us free.

suicide is not the solution, Love is.
“she walks towards the unknown, the path is there, lighted by the sun”
film portrait of angela in malaysia
“a lily from the roadside”

I hope that these images would inspire you to create more images that promotes life, serenity, peace and love. These images are not about sexy, fine art nor highly fashionable in any sense. They are meant to be comforting to look at, to enact the moment of being there, seeing life in a care-free world.

film portrait of angela in malaysia
“life comes with gifts, sufficient on its own”

I just had to share this story. When we were at this place scouting to find a spot to shoot, we saw a cluster of giant lilies in the middle of the field. So I drove there slowly as the terrain is kinda off road, then we notice something moving in front of those giant lilies…a huge snake. We gave up the idea quickly and went to the roadside and this series was created.

Thanks for visiting and reading my blog. Sometimes my blogs are hard to read simply because they reflect fragments of my thoughts that could be unstructured.

When you don’t have the time to even read a blog, you can visit my instagram, they contain tags of my friends that i collaborated with and say hello while you are there.

* The films are developed by my favourite lab in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Bangkok, conscience {Street|film}

Bangkok street photography
Cats | proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2

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.

Bangkok street photography
Lunch | proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2
Bangkok street photography
Magazines? | Proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2

“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.

Proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2
Proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2
Proimage100 50f1.4 | Nikon U2

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?

Portrait of a Vietnamese Entrepreneur {film | portraiture}

petaling street portraiture

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.

petaling street portraiture

petaling street portraiture
ginny

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.

ginny petaling street portraits
ginny’s charming personality
best film portraits
ginny / olympus 35 SP black

We took a very short walk along the Petaling Street (china town) in Kuala Lumpur and a visit to the Chocha Food store for its vintage feel and ambiance.

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.

best outdoor film portraits
passion
best outdoor film portraits
serenity

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.

outdoor film portraits sample
smile at the world
outdoor film portraits fuji premium 400
Go get them, girl.

Ginny, all the best!

The Chronicles of F2 {portraiture | film}

best film portraits

“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.

 

film outdoor portraits by marcus low
In 1971, Nikon F2 ended the rangefinder war. 50 1.4 / Nikon U2 / ProImage Kodak

“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.

 

best film portraits by marcus low
Feel. 50 1.4 / Nikon U2 / ProImage Kodak

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.

life and portraits in film
Whisper. 50 1.4 / Nikon U2 / ProImage Kodak
best film portraits examples on film
Sufficient. 50 1.4 / Nikon U2 / ProImage Kodak

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 🙂

best film portraits by marcus low
50 1.4 / Nikon U2 / ProImage Kodak

 

nikon f2 f2s ds 2018 film
Nikon F2S with DS kit on an ai 50 1.4. Shot on Pixel2.

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.

Live and prosper my readers.

 

Personalities {portraiture}

malaysia top portrait photographer

Everyone have one. Personality. Some of us have more than one. The more conflicting personalities that you have, the stronger is your internal struggle with yourself.

malaysia top portrait photographer
angela lieche

What makes up a personality of a person? Is it a mask we put on our faces for others or is it a set of moral borders we set ourselves to live by.

How much of us are actually true to how we are being perceived by others, how many of us have no resemblance whatsoever to our outward projections.

 

Marcus’s random Natural outdoor portraiture guide {film|portraiture}

best guide for natural outdoor portraits

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

ig: marcus_low

1. It doesn’t always have to have eye contact

best natural outdoor portraiture guide
eye contact is not always necessary

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

best natural outdoor portraiture guide
Include more of the environment background with the model

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

best natural outdoor portraits
Even leaves, yes leaves.

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

best guide for natural outdoor portraits
Bokeh are a big differentiator

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

best outdoor portraiture photography guide
keep it natural.

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.