Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Sanctuary within

1. Robert Henri proposes that there is a time when the things around an artist, like light and surroundings, align with the heart and mind of an artist so that a piece of art can be created.

2. A cup that is full overflows when you pour water into it.

There is a space within us, a sanctuary, from which our creativity springs. This space is within the heart, not the mind. When the space is infused with love, and the surroundings align, we are able to create art. It takes a meditative effort to reach the sanctuary within. Problem solving, outside stress, can drain us and make it difficult to reach our creative sanctuary. In this sanctuary, art making is not a logical process but an organic and spontaneous one.

Sometimes we are in the midst of a fantstic artistic opportunity, but we are in our problem solving mode, or distracted by some mundane issue and we miss an opportunity. Sometimes we are in an artistic sanctuary, but it is midnight or some other inconvinient time and you have not the opportunity to create. When the time comes you are no longer in your sanctuary.

We need to be in that artistic sanctuary to create art. We need to be there as much as possible so that artistic opportunities are not wasted.

Commercial work is good for the bank book, but do not confuse commercial work for art. Keep your commercial work tidy, so that you are not overwhelmed by work and too drained to reach santuary.

The people around are important. That is why photographers have assistants, so that the assistants can solve as much technical problems as possible. The photographer can then have the energy to create. Find good problem solvers and make them part of your team. If someone gives you more problems, that is not good.

Be technically proficient, always check out your equipment and understand it so that it becomes second nature to you. It can be very frustrating when you have no idea whether you are going to be able to create something or your tools are going to let you down.

You have to make and nuture your own sanctuary. You need supportive people around you and a method for finding sanctuary. Don't take it for granted unless you are a creative genius like Mozart.

Creative Blocks and art

I was flipping through the September/October 2002 issue of Picture and re-read an article on 'Working through Creative Blocks'. Let me quote a section on Ian Summers, a creative consultant. Ian says

"Artists of many disciplines come to me for help with overcoming creative blocks. Those who seem to have the most trouble come from the commercial art fields of photography, illustration, graphic design and art direction. I find those blocks for commercial artists often come from the confusion between art and commerce. Commercial artists often choose their profession because someone along the way told them that if they were to be an artist it is necessary to make a living. So they wander into a field that demands problem solving which I believe to be the antithesis of creating. In this country and in most fields, we are trained to be problem solvers and we are rewarded by how innovative and practical the solutions may be. With problem solving the impetus comes from the outside, someone presents you with a problem. The role of the artist is to make the problem go away with an often-innovative concept that sells more widgets. This is required for most commercial artists and most are good at it, however, it is not art; it is art for commerce. In problem solving, the energy comes from the outside.

Commercial artists remember what it was like to make work that comes from their hearts - work that may be cherished and may challenege - work that demands participation from the viewer - work that does not need to sell anything. I believe that creating is causing what you love or what matters to come into being. And with this definition we can see the frustrations that lead to some forms of creative block. The source is profoundly different. The energy comes from the heart and not the brain and not someone outside oneself. So we looki inside. And when we are creating we are manifesting not makng something go away. The challenge for most commercial artists is to go back and retrieve the energy they experience as young artists before they chose to sell widgets."

More on this in the next post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

APSN outakes

The sun came out for me again today. It was the last shoot for the APSN 30th anniversary book. This could very well be my last paying job for the year!! Wooppeee!! I get to play now! But what a last shot!! It was the light. I keep telling people that nobody lights as well as God. :)

Here are a few of my favourites that for various reasons will not make it to the book.

An Era of Chaos

Lenswork is a niche Black and White Art photography magazine. Instead of the now predominant gritty, sexy models found on most publications, Lenswork focuses on well-crafted black and white photographs, usually of landscapes and other worthy subjects. Still I started to listen to the audio blog by the editor and publisher, Brooks Jensen and it has been very intellectually engaging. He really has an insight into not just the world of photography, but also how the real world affects the practice of photography today.

One of his blogs focuses on how we now live in a niche world. Unlike the past where there were a handful of major television channels, we now have many television channels catering to the tastes of a wide group of people. There is no major movement in anything nowadays. The market is fragmented. The technology that we have is changing daily, enabling us to recall so many different types of media, through time and genres... You get the point.

What does that mean for photography, or any form of art for that matter? It means that it is impossible to be as famous as Picasso, Henri-Cartier Bresson or the Beatles. It is almost impossible to be one of the 'Greats' anymore, for there are too many differing viewpoints.

In general what this means is that if you want to be rich, you gotta be a businessman like Donald Trump. If you want to be famous, be a politician in a large country. If you really, really want to do photography, do it for love, be passionate about it. We will all be lucky just to survive doing our jobs anyway, so it might as well be something that blows us away. For example, the photographers amongst you will be aware of who Geoff Ang is. But when I told non-photography friends about the course that I was on with Geoff, they just went "Geoff who?"

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Grey Day to remember

Yesterday was my last actual wedding day shoot. It was a tough day to shoot under grey skies but at least the rain held when I had to shoot outdoors. My clients Mark and Nellie were very pleasant to work with too. After hours of intermittent rain and the Justice of the Peace (JP) arriving late, the sky opened up to welcome the JP at 6pm, and the solemnisation was lit by a warm sunset. It was great for Mark and Nellie, and a great way to end my days of shooting weddings. Strange, but my last two bridal shoots were done under grey skies which opened up in the evening for the final section in Sentosa. Maybe it is nothing, but I hope that it is a sign that I am doing the right thing.

I once thought that I would be satisfied shooting weddings for the rest of my life. I also thought that I would always be a black and white film photographer. Something in me changed and is searching for more. Somethings outside me changed and I have to embrace the new digital age. Whether from the inside or the outside, changes are sweeping me to an uncertain future. Yet I cannot deny it. I can only go forward till the day that I will also pass into memory.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Decided to colour the flowers. :)

Christmas look

My 100th post!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Earth From Above

I am finally finding some free time in my life and I ended up at the top end of Orchard Road. I took the opportunity to look at Yann Arthus-Bertrand's exhibition Earth from Above. It is an exhibition that is at once awe-inspiring in it's beauty and depressing in the reflection of the worse of our human behaviour. There were little facts printed on the bottom of the images and one such fact was,

80% of the world's welath is owned by 15% of the inhabitants of the richest countries.

We are so caught up in these little dramas of our own lives, and it seems like the world is dying right under our feet. In my mind our 'problems' seem so trivial compared to the fact that the natural disasters that we will be facing in the future are being caused by our behaviour now.

See the exhibition and marvel at how large the world outside Singapore is and how fast we are killing it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Geoff Ang Experience

Here are some of the images from the class on fashion photography that I took with Geoff Ang. I have been a bit jaded with photography of late and this was the photographic equivalent for me of a double expresso!! Thanks Geoff.

So what did I learn from this three and a half days with Geoff? I am sure that every student took away different things from this course. Well, for me, it was strange that everything that I learnt technically, I had already had some knowledge of it. Both in the studio and in photoshop this applied. It was the way that Geoff used the tools in the studio and photoshop, maximizing the potential that was really the eye-opener. So the things I learnt was

1. There are no rules in the studio, play and find new solutions to the final image.

2. If there is a need for a certain look or result, sometimes you have to spend the money. The obvious one now is that I am considering buying a medium format back. I still have to consider my clientele, but this is on my mind. The ring flash and a portable lighting system are now also under consideration. I have to consider how often these new equipment will be used and for which clients.

3. You have to work very hard. Geoff showed us some videos of the shoots that he has done, and it is a full commitment thing. He does not stinge on the things that he needs to make his shoot work, like lights, talent, props. It has confirmed in my mind that stingy attitudes will result in less than satisfactory images. He pays a lot of attention to detail in his shoots.

4. To continue on the idea of being stingy, sometimes you have to do your dream jobs for free or you will never get to do them. Geoff showed us three of his LookBook shoots where he personally put his own money into the shoot, but the results are stunning. It may sound stupid to some, but he is getting work now because he proved that he could pull off his vision.

5. One thing I learnt about my own journey is that I cannot use some of the techniques from fashion. I am going to be a portrait photographer and some of the lighting setups are too extreme. Normal people just cannot take that type of lighting. I guess that we all know it, but once again, fashion images are idealizations. But hey, I learnt a few really fun things. :)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fashion Class behind the scenes

I might start sounding like a broken record on my own blog. :) Even though Emmeline from Objectifs assures me that my money's worth will be in tomorrow's session on fashion digital touch ups, I feel that I have already got my money's worth from the studio sessions. I feel very liberated by seeing what a creative can do with basic studio lighting. I have always told young photographers who talk to me to use the frame to tell the story but my lighting has been more or less basic. Geoff showed me a few things about using lighting to tell the story. Right now I will say it, if you have done some studio lighting and want to take it to the next level, sign up for Geoff Ang's course now!! :)

Some workshop teachers hold back. They don't want to give everything to the students. I think that Geoff is very generous. And I think that he can afford to be because he has so much to give that if we only follow his techniques, we could only be second class Geoff Angs. The challenge will be to learn from his attitude and push ourselves beyond ourselves.

I will eventually put some of the resulting shots on the blog but you can already see from the backstage shots the type of things happening.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Serangoon Seranade

The going was slow for the first day in the studio. For some attendees, it was the first time using studio lighting and a medium format camera with digital back. And as with Murphy's law, the medium format cameras seized up a couple of times.

I am more accustomed to studio lighting than most of the other students but I must say that some of the setups that Geoff uses is just brilliant. It is like having microsoft word for 5 years and not knowing some of the fantastic functions available. Now I have a couple of things more and I think that it will really help. The down side is that I know that I will have to do some more expensive studio investment. Eadwine has cursed me for introducing expensive toys to him in photography. Man oh man, just wait till you see a fashion photographer's toys!! You can really go broke!!

From teacher to student

Today was the first lecture by Geoff Ang on Fashion photography. For the next two days the class will be learning and doing studio photography. On Sunday, we will be doing digital touch ups on the images. It was quite an eye-opener listening to what Geoff does and how he created some of his work. Already, there were a lot of interesting tips on lighting and studio equipment. There was also an insight into how much effort it takes to do a large shoot. After doing the same thing in photography for so long, this course is truly exciting me. It also confirms what I have said before in this blog, I have to think big. To do fantastic commercial work, a photographer needs a whole team to do the job. For me to go to the next level, I have to pull larger jobs and grow my team.

It is funny that I am now a course mate with a couple of my ex-students from my lighting course. The truth is that if I am to grow, I have to eat humble-pie. Geoff is very good and he has a wealth of knowledge. I am fortunate that I am able to be on a course taught by him. If anything, I wish that I was able to be in his course earlier, but I have always been too busy.

I always feel that I am just at the beginning and there are mountains ahead of me to climb. Once in a while I reach a peak and see a beautiful sight before me. That is what I live for, to climb those peaks and see the view beyond.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Extra! Extra!

Last Saturday I was an Extra in the film short 'I'll Live a Day for You.' I was just a member of the Umbrella gang.

The film won the Judge's choice and Audience's Choice at the Fly By Night 2005 competition.

Well done to Randy Ang for dreaming up this crazy escapade and pulling the people together to pull it off.

The filim can be seen at

The thing about the Freedom series

Sorry I got side tracked on the difficulty of working in Singapore. :(

The point of the Freedom series is that maybe we should not be asking intellectual questions only like, Was the exposure correct?, What lens should I use?, Should I chop off parts of the face?.

When we shoot, we should also ask, Man, does this do it for me? Is this the emotion I have in me coming out in the image? Does the audience get a kick out of this or what?

The other thing is that it is easier to ask the intellectual and technical stuff. It is much harder to have a grasp on living and your opinion on life, and then to get all that experience and intention in your life to come out coherently in an image. :)

Photography, easy to learn, impossible to master.

The Freedom Series

What Paul Elledge taught me was to be connected to my emotional response while I was shooting. What I used to do was get inspired to do a shoot and get very intellectual while I was shooting. So the original inspiration of the shoot, let me put together elements of a shoot, but without considering the emotional feedback while I did a shoot, something did not feel right.

The first thing that Paul asked each workshop attendee to do was to relate the most intense emotion or experience in their lives. I talked about the year I was in dance school and how free I felt. So, for a week, I tried to recapture a sense of freedom through my photographs. And as I shot, I tried to immerse myself in a sense of freedom. Living and working in Singapore, this was harder than it sounds. There were times I felt a physical pain in my chest as I tried to free myself emotionally. In Singapore, I was always trying to control those emotions.

I realize then that to live in a practical society like Singapore, very often I have to die to my emotions and myself, or the pain of rejection becomes unbearable. Unfortunately, burying emotions also has the effect cutting off my artistic inclinations. For example, someone passed by my portraits at Citilink as it was being set up and said that he could not understand at all why such portraits were taken. This guy had no clue why I had taken dramatic portraits and thought my work was a waste of time. He runs events and needs photographers to shoot events. Event shots are practical and the money is honestly bad. Do I feed my stomach or do I feed my soul?

The ironic part is that if I do manage to free my soul and shoot outstanding portraits, I would also be able to make much more money than all this practical stuff.

I have said it before and I will say it again... Singapore is a city without exceptions, that is why we are an unexceptional city. Until we foster a more open-minded and embracing society, we will continue to be mundane and be bitter that people in other city centers seem so vibrant. We are all human beings and have the same potential. We just lack the balls and imagination to do it in Singapore. Simply too conditioned to do what is 'right', however limited that 'right' is.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Toilet Shot

I use the toilet shot for my portrait because it is immediately humorous, but it has a story.

I went to spend three weeks at the Santa Fe Workshops and was in my third week when this image was taken. Each week there are about seven different workshops happening and being each lead by a different photographer. As I was a self-taught photographer and eager to learn the basics, I was on a course called Designing a Photograph by Bill Smith. Paul Elledge was teaching Contemporary portraits and gave a slideshow of his work to all the workshop students. All the teachers gave slide shows of their work and they were always eye-opening. But Paul's work just blew me away. I had been on course for 3 weeks and seen great work by people like Joyce Tennyson, but something about Paul's portraits kept me up awake.

A friend of mine had said that the men's toilet was an interesting space to shoot. So wide awake at 3am in the morning, I went to take photographs of the men's toilet at the Santa Fe Workshops! As I was shooting myself in the mirror, a groggy workshop attendee stumbled into the toilet to relieve himself and I just took the shot!

The next year I took a workshop with Paul Elledge in Tuscany and took my series of images on Freedom. Wesley, my friend and fellow photographer, told me that I learnt more in that week in Tuscany than in the 3 weeks that I had spent in Santa Fe.

Next year, I will be spending three months interning at the studio of Paul Elledge during my sabbatical.

So it is not just a toilet portrait.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Walking a tightrope in Singapore

I am fortunate that not only am I able to make a living from photography, but that I can create the time and space to shoot what I want to. I try to make what I enjoy shooting, i.e. portraits, financially viable and succeed sometimes.

The horror stories of making a living as a photographer in Singapore just keep coming up. Younger photographers, some with real talent, ask me how do they make a photographic career in Singapore? Beyond asking them to be true to their vision of photography, I am at a loss too. Here are the issues with being a photographer in Singapore:

1. There are no real standards and benchmarking in Singapore. Anyone who buys a decent 8 megapixel DSLR can become a professional photographer. There are at least a couple of organisations that have tried to band together professional photographers, but to no avail. It is a dog-eat-dog city and it is not just the young photographers that will undercut you, some of the more established photographers with high overheads will do so too. It is a buyer's market and truly, I think that sometimes it would be less stressful and more financially rewarding to work at MacDonald's. Personally, I am still doing this because I am crazily obsessed with making the images that haunt me in my sleep.

2. We have an immature market. A lot of people paying for photographers treat photography on the same level as cleaning the toilet or running a carpark. Famous hawkers probably get more respect than photographers. To some clients,the photographer pushes the button and the camera does the work. In fact quite a few marketing departments will not hire a professional photographer for simpler events. A marketing person with a digital compact with built in flash will suffice. And do you know what? Sometimes you really DO NOT need a professional photographer. The problem is that the entire photographic industry gets tarred with the same brush. So many people are just interested in sharp, bright pictures, with maybe the people in the pictures smiling. For 'artistic' work it is simple to wack on a few filters in photoshop. Let's not talk about concept, design, emotional impact of vision. We live in a practical society where creativity is only needed to find more ways of making money, not improve the quality of life's experiences or *gasp* photographic images.

3. The last issue is probably the most worrying. Theoretically, photographer's can come together to protect themselves and the country can mature to appreciate the finer things in life. The fact is that Singapore is a small market. People working for magazines in Singapore just do not get paid very well. A lot of magazine work is sponsored in the hope that some high paying advertising work comes along. However, for magazines in the American or European market, the number of magazines sold per issue make our local magazine circulation look like chicken shit. So a two page spread in an American magazine can command a 6 figure US$ price tag. What price can a Singaporean magazine charge its advertisers? How much do you think our locally produced magazines can pay their contributers? Someone pointed out to me that given a 6 figure charge for advertising in a magazine, which advertiser would then go on to use a half-baked advertisement? Our advertisers in Singapore will also spend on advertising what they can earn. And honestly folks, we are a small red dot on the world map.

I think that unless you have to energy to chase peanuts for the rest of your life, you have to think big as a photographer in Singapore. You have to find a strategy to go regional or global, either physically like John Clang, or electronically like some photographers who are selling stock images of Asian themes.

Reality checked...

Prelude to Black and White - The Histogram

Regardless of whether we intend to make color or black and white images, we need to expose an image correctly. As an aesthetic choice we can take photographs that are underexposed or overexposed. However, I still feel that we should capture an image with as much detail in it as possible. We can make an artistic judgment afterwards and blow highlights or make dark images in photoshop.

Now, how do we know we are capturing as much information as possible? The preview screen is inaccurate and our eyes can play tricks on us. The best way of judging whether we have captured the correct information is to look at the histogram. And just what is the histogram? This article on the Canon Europe web site gives a nice introduction to histograms and what is the best practice. Recommended reading for anyone with a decent digital camera. Very important if you want to create good black and white images.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The new Pond web site

My web site has be redone. It reflects the change in direction of The Pond to focus on portrait photography. I am trying to keep the site more lean. My personal stuff will continue to appear on this blog.

Thanks to Troy Toon for the great job done. You can contact Troy at

Monday, November 07, 2005

Association of People with Special Needs

The Association of People with Special Needs is going to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. Caffeine Creative is designing the commerative book and invited me to shoot portraits for the book. The project has been yeilding some photographs that I like a lot. I also like doing these projects that help raise the awareness of charitable organisations. I hope to do at least one project of this nature a year.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Laws of Returns

Fredo Viola - The Sad Song

I guess that I am obsessed with photography at the moment. I look so hard at my own work that I forget to come out and breathe. Then I come across a small piece of work like The Sad Song by Fred Viola. It is so complex and layered on so many levels, it in includes music and video and multiple images so well put together. I feel that I have to keep dying to my past to embrace a new future.

The Sad Song

Friday, November 04, 2005

Lyndon and Pearlyn - Introduction

It is ironic that as I am leaving actual day photography, I learn how to convert digital colour photos to black and white. I am sure that I will be using b/w conversion for other purposes, but the main purpose was to find an alternative to shooting b/w film for actual day wedding. With fewer people who know how to develop b/w film and making good prints, digital is the way to go. There is also the issue that fewer companies are producing conventional chemical based products for photography, let alone black and white photography. From some time last year, the writing was already on the wall. With the introduction of the Epson 4000 printer, it was time to move. Now with the Epson 4800 printer, digital b/w is here to stay. I am sure that it will continue to develop.

Lyndon and Pearlyn's wedding was shot on the 1d MK II and the 350D with Carl Zeiss lenses. I shot everything on RAW.

I think that I will describe the conversion process in another post. However, I will mention that doing anything well takes time. There is no shortcut for projects like this. Every image needs burning, dodging and individual attention. Sure it is much easier than doing it in the darkroom, but there is no one button solution to this. Finding the process that suits me for the b/w conversion took months. I have also been reading up more and more on photoshop as I go along. Like wine and good food, getting the full flavour is a slow process.

Lyndon and Pearlyn - Pt I

Lyndon and Pearlyn - Pt II

Lyndon and Pearlyn - Pt III