2015: A Photographic Retrospective

For the first few months of 2015, I pretty much took photos from same as before: standard JPEG settings only in the camera and mostly on aperture priority, which means I decide on the aperture I want to use for a photo and the camera automatically calculates the shutter speed. I think it was some time in March I decided to seriously think about the types of photography I like and I came across Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama, known for his gritty and blurry photos of urban Japan. 



Not everyone agrees to Moriyama’s style and aesthetics but I enjoyed the very natural and often unposed shots which he did- often he just snapped the photo and walked off casually. It led me to buy the Ricoh GR series camera which was inspired by him as he often used the film versions of these compact cameras. I also started to watch videos on the fundamentals of photography, not so much techniques but on the history and early pioneers, especially on YouTube channels like The Art of Photography (which I highly recommend, especially on the history of certain cameras and early pioneers of different styles of photography). 



By around June I already decided to shoot in RAW setting as it gave me more ‘room’ to work with during post-processing but of course it depleted memory space much faster. But it is not a bad thing as photography is about being precise and producing quality work, “not spray and pray” that you will get a good shot out of hundreds or thousands. A critical part of being inspired to produce better photographs was learning from someone who is a professional, which I can say I had the privilege of experiencing with Wei Yuet during the 28th SEA Games cycling events’ coverage.



28th SEA Games 

It always pays to be prepared for the shots you are going to take: that means researching and paying attention to details and timings. For instance, Wei Yuet and I will sit down and discuss what shots we wanted to get, how to approach certain the different races and predict the timings the riders/peloton would appear at different timings (we were lucky as it was a circuit style race so we just had to nail the timing for each lap and plan the shots). Although it was exhausting for the 4 days of cycling coverage, I must say I learnt a lot from Wei Yuet, from being precise with shots and the fact that you do not have to have the best gear to get the best shots. Wei Yuet had minimal gear but the shots he got were way better than those who had much higher-end equipment than him. 

Weddings



I shared in some detail before about how being a first time wedding photographer was like. I can’t say I am totally comfortable taking on covering a wedding on my own at this stage but I definitely know about what gear best suits my style/approach of shooting and which positions to adopt to get the shots I want. I agreed to help a close school friend to take his wedding photos in November 2016, so I have 11 months to level up and hopefully produce work I can be proud of!



Canon Photo Marathon Singapore 2015 

This is probably Singapore’s largest one-day photo competition with up to 2500 participants and I decided to take part in it for experience and use it as a way to level up my skills. Never did I expect that I would actually win the top prize for the final theme of the competition. It definitely felt good to win something in a competition as I had not taken part in and won any competitions in a long time. The prizes I won (thanks to Canon Singapore) also enabled me to have my ideal set up for covering weddings, which is a really a great blessing. 

Photography Pal

Weekly trips (for a few months) to Funan Centre/Peninsular Centre & Plaza aka ‘poisonland’ to check out camera gear were mostly done with Samuel. We went for countless photowalks as well, took part in Canon Photo Marathon together, done some paid shoots together and I must say I learnt a lot from him, especially on the technical side of photography which comes very naturally to him. Having someone share the same passion and interest in photography really helped me level up and work towards being a better photographer.

Inspirational photographers


Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama is one of my personal favourites but closer to home, I am really inspired by fellow Singaporean Sim Chi Yin, who is a full-time freelance photographer and a member of the prestigious VII Photo Agency. Her resolve and drive to bring out migrant/labor issues in her work (which often puts her own life and safety at risk) as well as dwelling deeper into her own family’s history is simply amazing. I was glad to have attended her talk in September for her photo book launch “Roots” as well as her film screening, “Dying to Breathe” at the Singapore International Film Festival in November. 


Reflections of a First-Time Wedding Photographer

10/10/15.
 十全十美。
Perfect 10. 

There were all kinds of auspicious meanings associated with the 10th of October, particularly in the context of a Chinese wedding. For such occasions, positive meanings and vibes are everything, especially for the older generations (i.e. parents and grandparents). However, the date was actually most significant for the couple in that it was exactly the 10th anniversary when they first got together. 



It was also the same day I worked a full-day as a wedding photographer, specifically, the second or secondary shooter.



Preparation



When I first agreed to be the secondary shooter, it was about 4-5 months away from the actual wedding day so the natural thing to do was practice. The first practice was actually helping out in one of the couple’s casual pre-wedding photoshoots in June. The next logical thing was to practice at other weddings I attended: I actually attended 5 weddings before the 10th of October, so on each occasion I actually brought my camera gear along to practice. 

These practice sessions enabled me to try different camera set ups and to figure out shooting positions (without getting in the way of the actual main photographer, of course) and for the last wedding I attended before 10 October, I tried a two camera set up, the most ideal configuration as there was no need to swap lenses because both cameras (with 35mm & 85mm lenses) could handle wide and tight shots respectively. 



Actual Day (Morning)



The couple decided not to have any gatecrash aka groom and buddies torturing session on the actual wedding day because they “wanted to sleep longer” so there was no need for me to start the day at 5am, which was a relief. So I walked to the groom’s house to get some shots as the main photographer was covering at the bride’s place. After some delay from the bride’s side due to some make-up issues, I followed the groom into his car as he made his way to the bride’s place. 

 That was probably when things got into full-swing as the groom finally meets the bride and soon we went back to the groom’s place for the Chinese tea ceremony, in which the couple would serve tea to their parents and relatives. Then it was a rush to the church for the actual full ceremony. At the church, the bride would be waiting somewhere before the walk-in while the groom was just busy mingling and greeting the guests.

 During the actual wedding service and ceremony, I was basically in my own world and “in the zone”, scrambling for positions to get the best shots and trying to make as little noise as possible. I must have walked around the church sanctuary to and fro at least 10 times. After the service, the main photographer took some massive group shots and then it was time for lunch. 

Actual Day (Evening) 

There was a small pocket of time to relax before beginning work for the wedding banquet in the evening but it was mostly taken up to process the day shots so that we could do up a photo montage for the guests at the banquet. It was comparatively relaxed (although we were quite tired from the day’s work already) and the emphasis was more on the group table shots with the couple, which was taken care of by the main photographer who had an ultra-wide 14mm lens, perfect for table shots with big groups. My first full-day wedding photography coverage ended around 11pm.



Concluding Thoughts



I am not sure when I will have the opportunity to cover a full-day wedding again but it has been an invaluable experience. I think it was also special that the couple were my long time church friends and at some point during the wedding service I could not help but feel emotional, especially when the couple has waited a full decade before their special day.



From a photographer’s standpoint, a wedding is probably one of the most stressful and demanding events one can endeavour in: he/she needs to capture the all the key moments, pay attention to the surroundings and to a certain extent, also have a good rapport with the couple and guests. For church services/ceremonies, flash photography is usually not allowed so the lenses used must perform well in low light conditions (I highly recommend prime lenses) and for indoor shots/group shots/wedding banquets, a flash is a must for even lighting on the subjects. As with any assignments, it is always good to be over prepared: have an extra camera body if possible, charge all your batteries and spares and bring along extra memory cards. 


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