Sunday, June 12, 2005

Wedding Photography on the edge

There are people who like my candid black and white candid wedding photography. I too like shooting people's wedding. However, the way I shoot weddings is often on the edge of what is possible and it takes a lot of effort for me to shoot a wedding.

What has always been the focus of my photography at weddings is the interactions between people. Not just between the wedding couple but also between the couple and their parents, between friends, between children playing. Black and white photography lets me focus on these interactions without the chaos of the surrounding colours becoming a distraction. To keep the mood of the surroundings I try to avoid using flash photography as much as possible.

With my intentions of capturing human interactions and creating romantic images, has dictated my choice of equipment and film. I use the contax Aria with prime lenses. My most used lens is the 35mm f1.4. Other lenses that I have are the 25mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.4. I use Fuji neopan 400 rated at iso 250. This gives me a 2/3 stop over exposure.

I shoot a lot under artificial lighting indoors. At iso 250, I shoot many images at the shutter set at 1/30th of a second and the aperture set at f1.4. I have a very short depth of field and I am constantly focusing manually. I have to know what I want to focus on, and in candid photography this can be very difficult because this happens so quickly. I have tried using an autofocus camera which under low lighting conditions is actually more of a hinderance than help. It actually focuses on what I do not want it to or it spends to much time hunting for focus lock. I do not always get what I want in focus but I have a much better hit rate with myself in charge than autofocus.

Is the Zeiss lens important? Definitely. Normal lenses give an appearance of being sharp by having a high contrast. In the contrasty lighting conditions of weddings, a lot of information is lost in the highlight and shadow areas. Zeiss and Leica lenses are still able to pull the information out in these 2 areas.

Many diehard black and white film photographers use Kodak Tri-X, a high contrast, relatively grainy film. I do like Tri-X too but I find that faces tend to blow out. Neopan, although slightly flat, gives a nicer skin tone. As I do not like using flash, I started using TMZ 3200 for low light conditions. With overhead lighting, many of my clients faces were in the shadow and looked dark. There was also the issue of large grain. I have resorted to using a small metz flash set to f4.0. By using a shutter speed of 1/30 I am able to bring out some of the background while lighting the foreground. sometimes I use a shutter speed of 1/15 or even 1/8 and I get slow sync effects.

I have laid bare my photographic technique. There are comments that my photographs are soft. Which is a fair comment. When you spend most of your time shooting at f1.4 and 1/30, you will get soft images. However, if you catch important moments and frame them well, the moments are enchanced by the photographic technique.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Peninsular Carpark. Muslim sticker on Motorbicycle. Posted by Hello

Peninsular Carpark Motorbicycle detail. Posted by Hello

Peninsular Car Park Motorbicycle. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 06, 2005

Why am I doing this? Part II

I realize that my first post on why am I doing this is a very practical view point.
I want to say more about what moves me to be a photographer. Like I first said, some photos are learning experiences and some are work which pays my bills. However, if I only wanted to pay bills I could have earned as much money as I did last year working at McDonald's. I would have had a lot less stress too.

There are images that demands the viewer's attention. A small amount of these images capture the essence of the subject or some greater truth and reveal more with repeated viewings. Some images that stick in my mind are the gold miners taken by Sebastio Salgado and various portraits by Albert Watson.

I am a journeyman in the world of photography, practicing to create images that express my inner vision. With grace, some of these images will take a life of their own.

What drives me are images that haunt the inner recesses of my memory. Images that go beyond mere photo-taking to convey a compelling vision. This is the visual equivalent of Mt. Everest that I want to climb.

Is this pursuit noble? Is it as meaningful as solving world hunger and poverty? No. My motives for making the images I do are not altruistic. But I have a reason to be a photographer, to get out of bed each day and face the hurdles I do. And if my images serve my clients' purposes and touch people, I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Why am I doing this?

"If we are lucky, we will work many days doing things we are not so thrilled about so we can spend hours doing what we love."
Robert Louey Principal,
Louey Rubino Design

Taking photographs is not just a past time for me like it used to be. It is a part of my life. Yet I need to know, in a macro sense, why I should be taking photographs. It cannot be a reflex reaction. I take photographs for three different reasons,

1. Something moves me to take the photograph.
2. I learn something about photography from taking a photograph.
3. I get paid to take a photograph.

I probably started on photography like most people, taking snaps on holidays and at some relative's wedding. I am moved by a beautiful scene or some tender moment and I would make a picture. When I first started taking photographs I did not know what would work and I would try a lot of different things. Nowadays, when I see something worth shooting I still take quite a lot of photographs, but finding something worth shooting has become harder.

Shooting portraits of people has become more and more challenging to me and what gets me out of bed is the thought that I could be making a portrait that really says something about my subject. Interesting portrait shoots invigorate me and keep me going.

When I first started photography, I would take on almost any job someone would ask of me. The most common work is to cover an event like a charity dinner. I also shot products for magazines and even tried my hand on an interior shoot. I was learning. I am still learning now, shooting a large format camera to see how it works and how I will be able to use it in the future.

With my present experience, I am not always shooting photographs because I want to or am learning something from it. Most of the time I am shooting because I am providing a service for a client. I take photographs for a fee so that I can pay my bills and so that I can afford to take photographs that interest me.

I guess what I have just said is plain common sense, but are there other reasons to take out the camera? Maybe, maybe not. You can take a photo of a car accident for documentary purposes, but I guess that is not really what I am talking about.

Should I take photographs in the hope that it will bring me more recognition or that it will bring me more work in the future? I think that it is quite unlikely. From my experience, work done without payment or with little payment usually does not get enough visibility to bring any future gain. People who do not have a budget to pay you decently usually also do not have a budget to get high quality designers and run a large campaigns that bhow you off to a wider audience.

Should I not take holiday photographs since I paid an obscene amount of money to get to location X. Not if the light is bad. It does not matter how expensive your holiday is, it does not garuntee good weather and interesting scenery. Bragging photos just irritate your friends and are a real waste of money and space. I only take out my camera when the light is good and there is something of interest to take.

The dream shoot for me would be one where I would give my left arm to shoot anyway but someone is actually paying me for it. The icing on the cake would be that the shoot challenged me to shoot in a creative and new way.

Taking photographs is not an end in itself. Shoot for a reason.

Friday, June 03, 2005

401 Design Meditations - #122

Throughout my life, I have been searching for a language that makes it possible to convey to others the world of my inner emotions and pictures which have acquired their own life.

João Machado João Machado Design

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Digital Debate has ended for me

A couple of things happened this week. Agfa, one of the major suppliers of black and white paper are filing for bankruptcy. Epson has launched the Epson 4800 printer using 3 black inks. I went down to Epsite Singapore to see black and white prints by 4 local photographers including Tay Kay Chin, Ken Seet and Geoff Ang. I think that digital black and white prints have arrived.

I am sure that the debate on whether digital prints can match black and white handprints is going to rage for some time to come. For me the debate has ended simply because hand printed black and white is not a viable commercial product anymore. I cannot keep clients waiting because the black and white paper companies are facing financial ruin. For better or worse, it is time to go digital.

I have been a professional photographer for six years now. I started with 35mm Nikon equipment and bought a Hassleblad 501 for commercial assignments. I still use it for personal work. However, after 2 years with the equipment I bought the ill-fated Kodak DCS pro 14 hoping that it would let me into the digital area without have to re-invest in lenses. Sad to say I lost quite a bit of money because the Pro 14 was just too noisy to use and I shifted to Canon. The image size of the Nikon D2s just did not cut it for me. Now 60% of my work is done on a Canon 1D mk II. I still shoot black and white film for actual day wedding work. I am in the midst of testing digital capture for black and white prints.

My camera of choice for actual day wedding photography is the Contax Aria. A small inconspicuous camera coupled with wonderful Zeiss optics. Unfortunately Contax has been discontinued by its parent company and I hear that Leica is filing for bankruptcy too. By using a special adapter, I am now testing my Zeiss optics on Canon digital bodies.

It is a time of transition and like all other transitions there is pain and frustration. Yet I see hope. I see hope in companies like Canon and Epson who are committed to enabling the photographer to produce their vision. There is much to learn in how to produce high quality black and white prints. There is more work as photographers take printing into their own hands. As much as I mourn the passing of an era in photography, I see new horizons to explore. We have an exciting journey ahead of us.