When “bokeh” can’t save you {portraiture}


deep depth of field requires strong elements

I have always depended on “bokeh” from my 1.4 and recently the 1.1 Noct to produce beautiful images. But after looking at a lot of beautiful photos (e.g instagram “pimtha”) i knew these type of photos is something that have eluded me for a long time.

Its pretty obvious these photos uses some kind of app filters, but isn’t thats exactly what i am doing in Photoshop when i edit the images and tones of the portraits. Last two weeks, with the Casio TR camera with me, i could not produce any satisfactory portraits depsite having access to Elaine in town. TR is a puny sized compact sensor 1/1.7 that Casio don’t even sell to their own japanese market, maybe its not an honortable thing to do, selling compact cameras at 8x the price of ordinary compacts. 

So i tried hard to use it to do portraits, force myself to carry only the TR. 

You see, there is a big difference how you shoot images that leverages on “bokeh” and those that don’t. I have been doing portraits for years and always paid heavy attention to the bokeh and blurring of background characteristics so much so that my eye for portraits are accustomed towards such setup.

Yesterday, while studying further images, it suddenly dawns on me the simple truths that when you can’t count on bokeh, you have to count the background in as strong elements. When i see those multiple repeated fences or columns or lights behind, i would have an idea how they would turned out with the 1.4 lens or the noct. That doesn’t work at all in the bokehless camera, in fact, almost all the poses that would work on beautifully with these fast lens and big sensors, would fail terribly on compacts or mobile phones. 

The image above is my first decent image using this new line of thinking. I am happy and excited to continue this journey. I will be sharing more of these images and my works #nobokeh

Getting close {Street photography | 18mm f4 Zeiss}


18mm f4 zeiss is one of those lens that keeps coming back to your side, sweet talking you into taking it out for some good time. Today i decided to shoot really close, 1.2-2 meters. This has to be done from the hips and its not something new to me as i prefer shooting silently as an observer rather than taking the VF up to my eyes. Granted, Leica ME/M9 uses mechanical shutters and its nowhere as silent as today’s electronic shutter that you can find in many mirrorless cameras. However once you are on the street, its barely audibe and could be used in almost any street photography except a quiet subway.

look left
look left

If there is one thing that i love about the 18mm more than any lens is the drama it brings to the image. 18 is not your average street photographer’s nor portrait lens, but that is exactly why its a compelling lens to used. While shooting at F4, base iso 160 and 1/250 on a cloudy midday, i notice i could easy frame and get the image almost exactly as i imagined it would be.


Street photography is very different from my model portraiture shoot. You don’t have all the time to focus and shoot and you would want as much elements in the picture as possible that shows the subject being in the street or environment. This particular shot i was very close to the subject and they came out from my left suddenly from the mall’s entrance. I set my camera to be in focus for 1.2 meter. Its really beautiful how manual focus lens have these distance markings easily readable when you are shooting from the hip. The masters of the old film days didn’t have any option but to shoot using distance zone focusing when they don’t want to miss the moment, hence the popular one liner of “F8 be there”. I use f4, i want the background to be visible enough buy not as sharp as the subjects.

where's mum
where’s mum

This photo is unedited. The beautiful subject isolation is caused by direction that these people are moving towards the bright outdoor. I notice the cute baby expression of being anxious and quickly move towards them.

leading lines
leading lines

This is probably a photo that i don’t feel like publishing because it actually resembles an upskirt kinda shoot but i am actually pretty far off and took this picture only because of the rare empty distance between me and the subject. When i imported my images to LR, i noticed how perfectly straight the lines are even though i took it from the hip and did not double check on it after the shot. Was tempted to put the caption as “stalked” after i converted it to B&W, but no.

cafe infestation
cafe infestation

Malaysia is undergoing some Cafe booming market right now. This is a standard Starbucks and look how full it is. There are so much activities and interesting people in a cafe.

The city of Ember {Portraiture|Noctilux f1}

Carbon & yosemite

The noctilux F1 continues to amaze me with its seemingly out of the world rendering. At the end one must ask, does the price justify the results?

the wanderer

Shooting with the noctilux F1 takes on a different kind of eyes. You need to pay attention to the background and to the formation of bokeh that might occur, often making your wildest guess as to what the results might be.

the wanderer’s stare

Using the M9/ME CCD sensor only adds surprises to the results. The M9 sensor is a bad performer in high iso, but with a F1, you only need to do ISO 250-400 max.

grace of light

I found myself torn between focusing on the model as well as trying to envision how the background bokeh might be. Its easy to lose yourself in either one and end up with average photos that focuses too much on bokeh or ignoring its possible distractions.

malaysia top barista, kfchan

Even the most mundane background produces a kind of art around the subject.


The noctilux is not a sharp lens by any modern top lens standard…

binary man

but it can render nothing that the modern lens have.


Being real {portraiture | noctilux F1}


misa yap
misa yap

Occasionally I come across a friend that has no fear of doing a portrait session without makeup and without editing. Miss Taylor Yap here used to be a freelance model but now pursues a full time job in auditing. If i may be frank about auditing, i find that it is a lifeless job where you spend hours and hours afterwork at client’s site.  Since i am using noctilux i am hoping that some of the softness of the lens would make this “nude face” photo-session a less intimidating session for the model.

the laughs
the laughs

Its 2.30 pm in the afternoon and its the worst time of the day to do any shooting. I had to hide among shades and try get some interesting shots. Miss Taylor here wore an interesting tops that have multiple holes. I know its kind of a trend nowadays, but coming from my generation, people would have thought she is in destitute of clothing. Haha, anyway her equally scratchy pants complements the tops.

that thing
that thing
easy smile
easy smile

The shoot ended around 30 minutes as we both feels that the weather and heat is really too much. I hope you enjoyed the images.

Then comes Noctilux F1.0 {Portraiture}



I’ve heard people paying crazy prices for lenses. But nothing is more ridiculous in price than the Leica Noctilux, trumped only by other limited edition of noctiluxes. The day came when i just have to have this lens and see for myself all the hearsays i have heard and the images i have seen about this lens. Is the legend true? Is its a lens worth spending usd 10k on.




Initially i went thru the same struggle that some folks did, should i go for the F1 or the new and modern Noctilux 0.95. After much consideration and the fact that i lost the bids in ebay, it seems fated that the F1 is the better option. For one, manufacturing of lenses have become so good and precise that we are getting just more and more of those clean, smooth bokeh images.

The F1 existed in the days when only the best craftmen and manual precision could produce the lens. It has some spiral feel to its bokeh and beautiful painterly colors that blends in the images.


As luck would have it, i got the lens yesterday thru ebay and decided to bring it to office. Later in the evening, i was surprised that Ramona dropped by the office and so it was an unplanned candid photo tryout at the nearby cafe.


Focusing on the rangefinder is not easy at all, its more like you can never tell if you focused correctly given the small margin for sharpness on the Noctilux F1. I am pretty sure this lens would produce super sharp images on the Sony A7/s lineup, but i only have the Leica ME and have no plans to acquire any further camera body, to me the search for camera body ended in one full circle when i returned to Leica.


I don’t find the size big at all, if anything i find it perfect for my use since i have small tremors on my hands and a good weight renders my photos less shaky. I read that some folks shoots the Noctilux at f4 or 5.6 and that is just pure silly. You don’t buy the noctilux to shoot it at any other aperture other than the biggest one, F1/F0.95.

There are also folks that claims you needed an ND filter to use on the noctilux, this is actually a rather subjective solution. I tried shooting in the morning today and F1.0 was fine even at 1/1000 in decent light. If you have to put your model or subject in harsh light whereby you can’t use base ISO and F1, i think you clearly have put the model in the wrong light.


Overall i am very happy and impressed with this Noctilux F1. Buying it via Ebay is pretty risky, but then there isn’t much choice since i cant really find a decently priced item in Malaysia. Is the lens worth it? I leave the images and my further upcoming project for your own evaluation.

r-L1002257 copy r-L1002267 copy

I hope you have enjoyed these images as much as i have made them. I am very lucky indeed to have own this perfect copy of V3, F1. All the best to your search.



Asian models, why she should pose differently {portraiture}


A large part of the fashion industry are driven by the Europeans. Millions of models photos are largely based on certain fashion ads and models expression. In asia i noticed that its inevitable that models here follows the style of shooting and poses as demonstrated by these portfolios. However, asian models inherently are shy in nature and portrays grace and the gentleness that are associated with asian culture. Think of the japanese cultural geishas, korean and chinese traditional costumes and you can imagine the presence and display of grace.


In this shoot, while i shamelessly refers to Emily Soto works and albums, i tried to focus on the poses that shows more of the Asian character rather than the european smokey eyes and strong angular poses. How does one portrays “shyness” of the asian models? A stolen stare and a tilted gaze brings out some of these characters.


Its ironic though that Mico Phun, the model i chose for this theme happened to just dyed her hair to blonde months ago. However, you can clearly see, the hair color don’t make her anymore European in anyway. One look at her face and you can tell she is an Asian, even a chinese perhaps. This makes the album more interesting as she poses in this beautiful garden in Bukit Jalil, Malaysia.


Overall i am very happy with this album. However, since i have done more than five(5) times floral shooting here, i decided to just apply a color change to the otherwise evergreen foliage in the garden. Crimson leaves highlights her golden hair.


Often the need for strong angular poses are only relevant in fashion poses and not when you want to showcase the calmness and quietness of the scene and the personality of asian models. Asian models, in their original nature are just that, shy and calm. Given that most girls i know rarely exceed 170cm, that rules out the ever speedy attitude in cat walk jobs that they can find.


Inspired? Try booking an Asian model and try to shoot her album without asking her to do those standard fashion poses and if that fails, just ask her to relax and be herself as though as no cameras are pointed at her.


I hope u enjoyed these images. They are all taken using Nokton 50 1.5 VM on the Leica ME.

Why you need a 1.4 lens for portraiture


The 1.4. Its a magical aperture for portraits. Traditionally folks wants to use 85mm for potraits, but in reality, ANY lens can be used for portraits. In this set that i am sharing, i am using the voigthlander 40 1.4. Its a cheap lens by any standard, you can find used around USD 300 and sometimes less.



With a 1.4 lens you can take low light using ISO around 400. The image above and the rest are done in a Starbucks cafe and you know how dim those lights are? Thats what a 1.4 lens can do for you. If you ever need those beautiful rendering of bokeh lights and portraits of your friends during ur night coffee time or when you just want to be alone in the cafe and think through your work. Grab a 1.4 lens. Its more therapeutic than coffee itself.



This set is unique because i shot these at night and right after a rain fall. Those lights you see surrounding Ramona here is magnified by the cold weather and humidity as well as reflection from wet surfaces.

I used the 40 mm 1.4 lens on the Leica ME. Love those CCD colors. But fret not, you could get good results using any camera of your choice, but the key point here is to use a lens that goes below the f1.8. The problem with today’s images is that there are just TOO many of them flooding the internet. The need to differentiate your images starts from the very choice you make from ur gears selection. A 1.4 lens is definitely higher in “rarity” than a 1.8 lens that most amateurs starts out with.

There you have it. My short answer to the title of this post, via images. Hope you enjoyed them and do leave me some comments 🙂


The traveller {portraiture on street}


More photos, less gears. This is my motto and mantra. All photos taken using the 58mm 1.4 AFG and Nikon DF.
The flexibility provided by FF on the 58 makes this the only lens i used. One lens + camera, thats all i need.
Miss Megan Khor here is a smart make-up artist from Kampar. When i saw some of the angle of her smile, i was thinking are you kidding me, she could easily pass off as model, at 170 cm.
So we took some photos casually and i ended up with three(3) amazing album in just one day.