The Vietnam Connection {portraits | film | experience}

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.

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The rolleiflex 75mm f3.5 automat

 

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.

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Miss Thao Phuong, Rolleiflex 75 f3.5, Fuji 160Pro film
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Miss Thao Phuong, Rolleiflex 75 f3.5, Fuji 160NS

 

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.

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Long Bien Bridge, Rolleiflex 75 f3.5, Porta400

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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.

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man, bicycle and a dog, Rolleiflex 75 f3.5 Porta400

 

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.

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Farmers of Ninh Bimh, north of Hanoi, Rolleiflex 75 f3.5, Fuji 160NS

 

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.

Beautiful Portraiture at 35mm {portraiture}

Recently I have been shooting on both the sigma dp2x and the canon 6d digital. It’s Chinese New Year and the film labs are not open so i invited Stephy chang over for a session.

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Sigma dp2x

Sigma have amazing colors but highlights often blown easily. Despite what some die hard sigma fans will defensively tell you, it’s pretty much Sigma’s silly decision to put the AFE conponent into an otherwise usable camera.

Well regardless of brands and advantages, let’s just enjoy some of these images.

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Sigma dp2x
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dp2x on vertical portraits, 3 meters away

I have a lot of beautiful images taken by the canon 6D, it’s amazing how easy the common cameras are in delivering results vs sigma. There is this beautiful airbnb site “sekeping jugra” that allows various interesting scene with the play of light. If you happened to be in KL, do drop by this place or make it your accommodation.

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Canon 6d. Added grains
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Canon. Moving candids are easy on canon, impossible on sigma

 

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Canon 6d

The sigma images are shot on 41mm and the canon images on 35mm. I am a fan of using non standard portraiture lenses focal length because I needed the outdoor scene for context . I find it often hilarious how some would travel far and shoot models on 85mm losing any relevant context to the images.

What is your favourite outdoor portrait lens ? I have once tried using 18mm for portraits.

 

Penang beach {portraiture}

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Serenity

One of the unexpected nice location for photoshoot in Penang is this small opening at Babylon restaurant .

I have always strived for taking portraits that are natural with an element of candid feel to it. With the wind on my side and a close and happy model at the scene, the right recipe for a beautiful album that presents itself.

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True smiles, a rarity among portraits

Eilein Pang have collaborated with me for over a year now for her albums and her popularity and freelance jobs have grown too. Often we would chat about some local issues that are faced by the freelancers and the individuals that we could draw inspirations from.

She has never doubted my  constant preference to try new ideas on different mediums and gears. When I pursued film for the skin tones and organic feel she was pretty patient with the waiting period that her generation have never experienced before.

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Horizon
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Calmness

I will be visiting this place again if I visit Penang. Curious as to how the light would be at sunrise.  I hope you enjoyed these short series of images.

■ amanda ■ Sands {portraiture | ccd sensor}

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This is Amanda CME (fb,insta: mak3upqueen). I met her 3 years ago and last sunday we decided to collaborate. I shot this album using both film and CCD digital. Unfortunately film is still processing and not out yet, so do enjoy my digital version. Shot on the “lousiest nikon camera – ken rockwell” D3000.

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As much as i am eager to see the output from the 6×7 film i shot, these CCD output from my Nikon camera are just awesome. Amanda have done so much makeup for her clients, doing model poses is like a walk in the park.
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Hope you enjoyed the photos. I am the best portrait photographer in Malaysia, not commercially, but in my thoughts, reach out and passion.  Do forgive me for the arrogance 😉

Film + Digital and why LCA120 should be avoided {glance review| sharing}

 

 

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LCA120 shot from 1 meter

I going to be real blunt here even if that includes shooting myself on my feet. Having been thru several sessions and shooting both films and digital, it gives me the pleasure of filtering out the gems from the garbage.

First off let’s talk about LOMO LCA120. This is a medium format film camera that i bought after using the LCA+ for few weeks. My opinion was that if i had so much fun with LCA+, LCA120 would be worth the purchase. My opinion now is that it is a camera that should be avoided. Like many others i read phoblographer’s raving review on LCA120 but here are some reasons why i am find it off my recommendation list.

  • 4.5 is a slow for the LCA120, the problem is the shutter button, unlike the LCA+, the button on LCA120 is challenging to press. Makes me wonders what got into Phoblographer for even recommending this camera. While the LCA+ have an aperture of f2.8, its usability was decent. On a light plastic camera like the LCA120, its horrible. Don’t expect to use it anywhere except bright outdoor or tripod.

 

LCA120 auto exposure
LCA120 auto exposure (note the distortion pillar)
  • At f4.5 the autoexposure is crap when used on a medium format LCA120. Vignetting on a medium format is just silly when you have to pay over USD 400. When phoblograher says this is best for street shoot, i think what he means is this is only usable for bright, outdoor street. period.
  • Distortion everywhere. See the picture above, notice how distorted the pillar is. Unless you are shooting infinite all the time, expect all kinds of distortion on this Minigon 38 f4.5 lens.

 

LCA with f2.8
LCA+ with f2.8

So get yourself the LCA+ from the same LOMO company and ditch any idea to buy the LCA120. I have a LCA120 totally like new now with all the original box and packaging if you want to give it a go, make me an offer. But my conclusion is that LCA120 is best used as a prop not as a photographic tool, its defnitely nowhere as fun or as useful as the LCA+ .

 

digital on FZ1000 at f2.8 25mm
digital on FZ1000 at f2.8 25mm

When you own and major in shooting film, sometimes the digital itch rears its head and i digged out whatever digital camera that is left with me to bring to a shoot along with my film gears. The picture above is taken with FZ1000, took me like 2 seconds to take it and 10 minutes to post process it with a barrage of mix presets from VSCO.  You know that saying “Once you go film you can’t go back” …it’s true (though i made up this quote).  I find digital output a bit too clean and not a single picture i took ever since was released without post processing them with grain. If you like film grains, use the Color EfexPro, its not just adding grain blindly, its adding them like how a film would have them.

 

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F100 50mm 1.4 Sigma, Fuji400HPro

Film gears comes in two flavours. The Autofocus and the manual ones. The F100 that i use for this picture is autofocus and it works with any lens created for Nikon F mount as well as older autofocus lenses such as the “d” lenses. While i do enjoy shooting film manually, sometimes its a joy using autofocus when you want to lean your thoughts more towards results and yet enjoy the beautiful tones from professional grade films like Porta or Fuji Pro.

 

nikon D610, sigma 50 1.4
nikon D610, Nikon 50 1.4 D.

I have sold off my Nikon D610 too to a good friend, at a huge discount. During my ownership of the camera, i often spend way too much time processing the output into film hence i rather use F100 for my projects. Example above is a result of processing with VSCO AGFA preset .

 

noctilux f1, kodak superia 200 film
noctilux f1, kodak superia 200 film

 

Noctilux f1, Kodak Porta 160
Noctilux f1, Kodak Porta 160

 

XA2, FujiChrome, 16 f1.4
XA2, FujiChrome, 16 f1.4

These last 2 pictures are taken on the Fuji XA2 and 16 f1.4 fujinon lenses using in camera film simulation of FujiChrome. The still look digital to me, but the film simulation provides a closer gap between film and digital.

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XA2 Fujichrome 16 f1.4

 

I will be going on a trip to Croatia soon and after much pondering, i will bring the fuji with f1.4 over. It is a family trip and travelling light is the priority. I do find myself mulling over this decision and thinking of ways to fit in one of my film gears with me, perhaps the Leica M7 with 35mm zeiss.

kim {film | portraiture | LC-A 120 | Leica M7}

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lc-a 120

I had a fantastic weekend unwinding by doing a set of portraiture using the LC-A 120 medium format film camera and my trusty Leica M7.

One of the challenge that i faced is that LC-A and the bigger LC-A 120 have exposure control. This means that if you shoot backlighting photos, you will just end up with silhouette images. But as you can see in the images here, i managed to come up with a technique to fool the camera without using any filters or add ons.

Lomo cameras should be used with a lot of common sense and thoughts to get good images. If there is one thing you should forget, is to forget the 10 rules of lomography. There is no shortcut for good images and visualization.

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lc-a 120

All these photos are shot on a Fuji 400H pro for both the LC-A 120 and the Leica M7.  You can easily differentiates the pictures of the LC-A 120 by its square format and the Leica being rectangle. These are taken at the beach and hotel called “LonePine” in Penang, an island on the northern state of Malaysia.

 

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lc-a 120

Miss Kim here is a top 10 Miss Malaysia in 2013. Though it has been years since she got involved in any beauty contest, you can see that she doesn’t require much effort to be photogenic. On the LC-A 120 camera, i took these images by standing just 1 meter apart. In lomography sites, you often see that almost all the images shown are taken on a centre subject and with light facing it else its dark, my examples here are unique because for once you get to see images taken using the LC-A 120 backlighting and yet decently exposed on the subject. 

 

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lc-a 120

The technique is very simple. PM me if you want to find out 😛

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leica m7, 35mm biogon

Now i did a complete album using the M7 and fuji 400h pro film. It’s an emotional theme that portrays the relationship between a girl, a vintage camera at a lonely room. Do enjoy the images here, the complete set could be found at my facebook, fb:marcuslowphoto.

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leica m7, 35mm biogon
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leica m7, 35mm biogon
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leica m7, 35mm biogon

Next, i be sharing some of the  candid photos i took on the LC-A 120 as well as street photos. Till then, adios.

 

5 things that can affect your images more than anything else {portraiture}

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Elaine Cheah, Diva Nikon D4, 24mm 1.4 ISO 500.

Some say a tool is just a tool.
Some say a high quality sensor, FF and a set of premium lens helps a long way in making any images stands out more.
Some opt for higher resolution while others harp on low light performance and high iso cleanliness.
Some say all you need is the mobile phone since its the camera that is with you all the time.
Some swear on nikon, some canon, some says Sony mirrorless is the dawn of the new age.

All true.
All useless points.

I would like to share the following on my personal opinion on gears and how it actually affects our output and choices. You may be surprised at the conclusion that i settled on.

1. INSPIRATION MATTERS
Like every other creative work be it writing or painting. Creativity starts from inspiration. Without inspiration, you are as good as dead. What makes a particular work creative or inspirational is an inspired person.
A bigger sensor or bigger lens won’t grant you inspiration anymore than buying 2 pens allows you to write a successful novel.

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Elaine Cheah, Diva Nikon D4. 85mm f 1.4.

2. GEARS THAT SPARKS INSPIRATION, WINS
There is a reason why the images shot on Elaine and those on Taylor differs greatly in style, tones, objective and appeal.
When i hold a D4, it feels like a professional, commercial tool. So despite that i usually talk to Elaine in a very casual way, when i am shooting with D4, you feel “inspired” to shoot something more of the higher-end genre of fashion.
When i hold the Konica Hexar, i feel i am holding a camera that have seen the ups and down of life. These inspiration comes from the very design and nature of the camera’s purpose and timeline. With the Hexar, you feel that life is to be appreciated in a simple way as though as your walking down memory lane.

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taylor yap. colors. Konica Hexar.

3. Limitations are like physics.

Every action there is an equally opposing reaction. I can’t recall the exact words uttered by my physics teacher but this holds true not just in physics but in everything else. A limitation imposed by a camera causes you to use it in a very different way than a camera that does not limit you.

There was a time i got the Leica Xvario. A beautifully crafted camera that will have its owner going through a love/hate relationship. That camera have a mediocre 28mm f3.5->70mm f6.4. Ouch. You can’t get any worse specs than this in any new APSC camera.
But because i paid a silly amount for it, I was adamant to use it to the best of my knowledge and i actually spent time creating images that caters for that camera’s strength, IQ and natural muted colors.

Leica Xvario. Lavi, Cameron 2014.
Leica Xvario. Lavi, Cameron 2014.

The Xvario didn’t have any bokeh that i could use to isolate the subject so i had to use its rather deep DOF and decent image quality. That was the only time i agreed to go on a local trip driving up all the way to the hills.
I shot the above using F3.5. While this may surprised some but it highlights the personal struggle i had with the Xvario. I am only interested to shoot wide open any of my lens regardless of its make and at f3.5 i easily hand held the shot.

Leica Xvario. Victoria, Singapore.
Leica Xvario. Victoria, Singapore.

4. Ergonomics will break you or raise you

Before i ever owned a Leica, the logical side of me says that Leica users are either dumb ass or arrogant fools. I am a known veteran in the developer’s community and security. I founded the Python user group Malaysia, wrote some crazy shit VPN and Firewall from scratch and part of my code are were once used by the US ministry of Defense in mid 90s.
But when i hold my M9 few years ago, i just felt like going out to shoot. It was pretty silly because i am shooting models most of the time, before i could take one shot, my friend next to me took 10. The M9 felt fantastic when held on to, the knobs and dials are just there with a function.

I eventually argued myself out of it and went for the Sony A7r, during a time in 2013 when i had a fallout with someone i cared for very much. The Sony was cold, computer like camera that i distracted myself mostly by using all kinds of vintage lens on it. Everything just felt cold. My images became technically “clean” and scientific.

If you are reading this and where it is going you probably think that i am promoting leica. No. No, you can find extremely inspirational tools in film cameras as well. I borrowed a friend of mine a Nikon FM3A and the next day itself he is already sold on getting one despite being a digital user all these while. The FM3a is just so beautiful and simple that you can’t help but to feel like creating art with it.

Leica just got it right by keeping to the designs and film cameras. There are loads of solid, inspired-imbued film cameras just waiting for you. Please, just stay clear of Lomo plastics. If Lomo were to produce solid film cameras i would line up in support, but as of now, its anything but a toy.

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Taylor Yap. Colors. Konica Hexar

5. Subject Matters
I am an advocate of portraiture because i believe the image of a person is priceless. The communication, friendship, joy and discovery that photography grants you could only be found in portraiture, not in scenery. While there are awesome sceneries that deserves to be in the hall of eternity, there is just no one else in eternity, like you.