Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sinking and swimming

This news report says that Kodak Eastman has posted a loss of $37 million this quarter. It total it has lost $2 billion since it last made money as a company. :( Wow. And I thought that I had problems.

On a personal side, I have actually had enough work since I returned from my sabbatical to pay 3 staff! I am putting together a portfolio to show people and generate more work. Hopefully, I will be able to actually make some money for myself next year. But the equipment outlay is going to take a few years to recoup.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Frontier bows out

So I hear from Fotohub that the Frontier printers will not be used from next week onwards. So I have to make prints on the Noritsu machines. Bad news for portrait photography. I am contemplating buying the Epson 3850 so that I can make glossy prints in house.

People are using digital photography to push down the price of photographic work, pointing to the lack or film, processing and scanning. But the amount of time spent on buying and learning new equipment and software constantly is a challenge. Every time there is a new camera, computer, software upgrade, there is a cost and a learning curve. With the constant upgrades, the truth is that film is cheaper and more stable because it was a known quantity for a longer period of time.

The potential of the new digital equipment is very good, arguably much better than film scanned. But the learning curve to master the new equipment means that it will take time before a photographer actually can harness the full potential of the new equipment.

There is a lot of debate on whether the standard of photography has dropped or improved with the digital era. And in general, I think that a lot more people have gotten into photography because they do not have to pay for film and there is instant gratification of seeing things on the monitor. But the truth is good photography is undervalued nowadays. I hear that some of the older and more experienced photographers cannot command the prices they used to. The younger photographers shoot with really simple technique for large ad agencies who are trying to keep the price down. They depend on sweatshop photoshop artists to create the images. So 'Where is the love?'.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Focussing in a digital age Pt II

The second part on focussing on the digital age turned out to be a let down for me. The techniques described are more for landscape and still life photographers. As a portrait photographer whose subject is constantly moving, I cannot do something like take 5 shots at different focal lengths and stitch an image back together in software. At least not for most of my portraits. i will take note of this if I have a commercial use for it though.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A sense of community

Sometimes when you begin, you have your nose to the grindstone and all you can focus on is getting your work done. When you first start being a photographer, you know nothing and getting an image out of the camera is a success in itself. Then you get to a certain stage where you are comfortable with your equipment, but there does not seem to be any way to improve your ability or your way of thinking. No man is an island. It is important to engage with your community, people who may or may be in the same profession as you, but people who can help to widen your horizons.

Kay Chin kindly invited to speak on my internship in Chicago at a photographer's forum at Kay Ngee Tan Architects (Gallery). Also speaking was Ernest Goh speaking on his visit to the Perpignan Photo Festival. This used to be a photo festival for photojournalist to meet with editors of major publications. But now, the festival has grown much larger. There was also Sherman Ong, an artist who uses photography and film as his medium. He was talking about his experience of exhibiting his work in the Nordelicht photographic festival. Sherman also got a scholarship from the Goethe institute to do work in Hanoi for a month.

I think that as different as all the three of us are as photographic practitioners, we are all balancing our practise with survival. All of us have come to the conclusion that photography in Singapore is of an international standard. And as the market for photography is too small, we all have to find ways of working overseas or for overseas clients. This is the most obvious conclusion from the forum.

However, I was intrigued by Sherman's viewpoint of art photography. The idea that photographers in America, Europe and China have rich art cultures and histories to build on. Photographers coming from a rich artistic heritage are able to get a grasp on composition and technique quicker, and there work has more depth. I have to agree on this point. The work I see in Singapore has some technical merit, but tends to lack depth and/or a coherent aesthetic. But being a Singaporean, I have to believe that we have to either study aesthetics from more mature societies or create our own. Actually we have an artistic tradition in Singapore from people in the Nanyang School to the potter Iskandar. It is just that they are not as well promoted as Zoe Tay and Fann Wong. Ugh. Anyway, I believe that practising photographers need to explore rich art histories and derive their own visions. Being able to copy commerical styles is not going far enough.

On a side note, KF Seetoh was at the forum too and shared his own experience about his stock agency and his suing M1. He is now focusing more on his company Makansutra. Just listening to what he has done is breathtaking. You can't keep a determined man down.

Then on Tuesday I had brunch at my friend Juliana's home. Juliana had invited a group of arts people to meet French sound artist, Emmanuelle Loubet, working in Japan. She records sounds and makes interactive flash programmes to play the sounds. One of the other guest was Samuel Ong, a young pipa player who played a piece for us. And then there was Angela Liong from Arts Fission, Joyce Teo who heads a Gamelan group and Aaron Kuek, artistic director of dance group Ah Hock and Peng Yu. People that I have known for a while now. It was a chance for all of us to catch up and find out what is going on. And whether I do any photographic projects with these friends or not, I learn things about how they work and get inspired by their projects.

Aaron is setting up a studio in Kuala Lumpur. He hopes to teach classes there and also rent out space to other people who need studio space. He told me that his activities came about after what I told him at my dinner table once. When he was younger, he and his friends were always bitching about things and people. I told him that I was not interested in the bitching, I was more interested in people doing things and sharing their experiences. Now he is doing things in Kuala Lumpur and he is willing to share his experiences with other people. How wonderful.

We all need community to go further. Nuff said.

Ok Go - on treadmills

This is one of the hottest and funniest videos on youtube. I am busy with work so here is a piece of brilliant entertainment. :) Thanks Qian for the link.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Focusing in the digital era by Gary Ferguson

This is an interesting article on Focusing in the digital era.

It seems that the physics of lens and cameras have not changed, but the demands of larger prints nowadays, makes focusing a more demanding process. The first part describes the current situation. I am looking forward to the next article that discusses the tools that we can use to ensure sharpness in images.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The New Portfolio revised

Hmm.. I put together my portfolio yesterday using what I thought was my latest and strongest work. But although the images are good, it lacked a theme and/or character. I decided to put away a few of the newer photos, which I think are more suited to a different portfolio, like a fashion one.

I have recalled some of my earlier work to put together a portfolio that I like to think of as a visual tease. :) I think its more fun, and it represents the quirky Ngiap Heng much better. My work is eclectic and mixed, so I cannot put together a defining look like some photographers. Instead I present a definig quirkiness of Heng. Muahahaha! I am not sure if it will bring more commercial work, but I think it is a more memorable portfolio.

Presenting Portfolio2, a visual tease.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The New Portfolio

Portfolio1 (Please download the file and view it on Adobe Acrobat Reader)

I set about changing my company's direction in September last year. It has been almost a year, but the groundwork in my office is almost complete. I had to re look at my portfolio after Chicago, it just was not strong enough in general. So I did quite a few test shoots and some work since I came back in June. I finally feel confident to present my work. Some people will think that important chunks of my work is missing, and it may be, but I want to be a commercial portrait photographer. That is why my portfolio is put together the way it is.

Basically, this is where I draw the line. On this work my photographic career will continue to grow or it will fail. Plan B will be to have a garage sale of my photographic kit and raise funds to turn the studio into a cafe. :)

If you are interested, you can download the portfolio and view it. I do warn you, it is about 6.7Mb and you should use Adobe Acrobat 5 and above to view it.

Aquarius Horoscope

You have been working especially hard, and you are beginning to wonder if all your effort has been for naught. A restructuring at work leaves you wondering just where you fit in exactly, or if you even fit in at all. You may have a troubling few days, dear Aquarius, but will be relieved to learn that the higher-ups have big plans for you in the newly organized, streamlined company.

I guess that all those you will meet your ideal partner predictions just have not worked for me. :) But this prediction, man I hope it comes through.


I guess it is still a marketing pitch. But Dove is at least trying to redress the impossible idea of beauty that we are being sold by the media. This is a really interesting video.

Self Esteem

How Do You Photograph the Amish? Let Us Count the Ways

There is an interesting article on the Columbia Journalism Review. It is about how photojournalist shoot the Amish, a community who are not supposed to allow themselves to be photographed. Interesting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dare you to move - The Video

Last year I posted the lyrics to this song. I just finished presenting my work to a company. I was nervous, but I trust my work. As I sit having a coffee this song is played over the public speakers, and I remind myself to keep moving... or die.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Daily Candy Sample

Thanks to RoyalAppleBaconRoll for introducing me to the Daily Candy. Here is a sample.

19 July 2005

Lexicon XIV

Welcome to the DailyCandy Lexicon, a regular feature in which we provide you with new vocabulary. (There will not be a test). Today’s subject is the dating game — that labyrinth of mystery, intrigue and confusion that can leave you feeling lost for words.

So we’ve made some up for you.

bonk statement
n. the reply you must give to the question that every prospective lover will casually pose after you first have sex. (So, how many people have you slept with before me)?

n. the worst kind of foreplay, which rarely, if ever, leads to intercourse.

v. to regularly and repeatedly have drunken intercourse (never sober) with the same person. (If my liver could take it, I’d inebridate John for at least another couple of months).

n. a relationship based solely on proximity, such as with your neighbour.

adj. a quality in a man by which his behavior, sexual and otherwise, raises question about his sexual orientation.

textual harassment
n. a proposition via text message; received, generally speaking, quite late in the evening. Similar to a textual advance, only far more annoying.

Corinne Bailey Rae - Like A star

Absolutely mesmerizing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another Duck

So many photographers are putting What the Duck on their blogs. I have been resisting posting strips although it is on my side column. But I just had to put this one up. :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Total Photographer - Lost in Translation


So often in teaching photography, we go from vision to technology. But I think that there is a vital, crucial step, that many photographers stumble through. And although there is no way to completely by pass this step, it is often sub-conscious and turns out to be the weak point in a photographer's process. What am I talking about? I am talking about how a vision should be translated into an image.

What I hear very often of photographers is 'Ohhh, I like that look.' or 'That effect is killer.' And how an image is produced is generally a subconscious mixture of visual influences and chance. Although photography needs an element of spontaneity to remain alive, it does help if the photographer is conscious of how a vision is translated to an image.

What are the elements or tools needed by a photographer to translate a vision into engaging photographs?

1. Composition -
How is a subject framed in an image? A portrait of a person filling most of a frame and in the centre of the image is a still direct image. A portrait of a person only using a small part of a larger composition, places the person in a location and implies a relationship between a person and that place. Going in close and taking parts of a person's face, is an abstraction, and can provoke the viewer to engage more into why the image is not complete, or is it?

2. Design -
The rule of thirds is a very popular design rule in photography, based on the simple fact that people tend to look at things in the thirds of the image more than the centre. But that is not the only design we should be looking out for. As a photographer, taking the straight lines in an image as a diagonal instead of horizontal of vertical makes the image more dynamic. Or are there circular swirls in the image we are shooting that we can highlight. Are there repetition of objects like chairs or shoes that can add a pattern to the image?

3. Colour -
There is a psychology of colour. Red tends to get people excited, green tends to calm people down. Blue reminds people of water and the sea. Sunset light does not just add nice long shadows to an image, it also introduces a warm, living glow to an image. We, as digital photographers, have a lot more control over the colour and tint of an image that ever before. We should all know how to get a daylight adjusted look with our images, but we must also be able to add colours to create moods. Sometimes the absence of colour, as in a black and white image, creates its own mood. A black and white image, very often seems to be like instant history.

4. Harshness and Softness -
There are two things that can determine if an image looks hard or soft. One is the quality of the light. A hard light is quite often used to make contemporary, clean images. A soft light is used with romantic images or images reflecting on memories. There is also the sharpness of the lens we use. Although it is nice to have a really sharp lens, sometimes opening a lens up wide to have a short depth of field helps to create a soft mood. There are lenses that are specially designed to give a soft look while maintaining the ability to hold edge detail. So what type of look do we as image makers want?

5. Object relationships -
The act of putting a couple of more subjects in an image creates a relationship between those objects. Depending on the placement of the subjects, different implications can be read and the photographer must realise at least what the relationships imply. For example, in a group shot of a company, would you put the chairman at the front of the image, or put the chairman amidst everyone else. All these relationships matter.

6. Shooting angle -
If every image is shot while we are standing up, then there is only one view and it is a common view for adults. To see what a child sees, shoot from close to the ground. To have an overview of what is happening, shoot from a high location. Shooting angles can change how an object is perceived.

7. Story telling elements -
With what you are trying to say, you have to consider what people, if any, should be in your shot. You need to find a location for your vision and make sure that it is properly dressed up. If you have people they need clothes that are appropriate and they may need make-up and styling if your vision calls for it. Are props needed for the shot and how does one get these props?

8. The decisive moment -
When do we click the shutter? It seems more obvious in street of candid photography that we are looking for moments of drama and human interaction. Or we could be waiting for a moment of sunset or sunrise to create a dramatic landscape. People may think that portrait photography is dead, but the best portraits are moments of interaction between the sitter and the photographer too.

These are just a few things to consider when translating a vision into an image. Even a street photographer considers some of these issues, albeit on a different scale from a creative photographer. At a certain point of shooting, these types of considerations become superfluous, a hindrance to the immediacy of making an image. But just like driving, cooking, speaking a language, learning the tools of vision translation will enable the photographer to become a more complete image maker. For very experienced photographers, the tools of translation are internalised. But for young image makers who have the vision and know the technology, understanding translation is a vital step.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Blood of a thousand - Request for Help

I plan to shoot another installment of Blood of a Thousand in November. I am looking for a nursery room to shoot in. A room with pastel blue walls and pretty stickers on the wall. Is anyone willing to lend me such a room or have access to such a room. Apprecitae the hlep.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Singapore air quality in moderate range with PSI of 83

Saturday October 7, 4:17 PM

SINGAPORE: Singapore's air quality dropped back into the moderate range with 3-hour PSI of 83 on Saturday at 3pm.
The highest PSI reading for the year was 130 at 10am on Saturday morning, and the all time high was 226 in 1997.

The 3-hours PSI first entered the unhealthy range at 8am on Saturday morning, with a PSI reading of 101.

The latest satellite pictures showed there were 506 hotspots and thick smoke haze in Sumatra, mainly in Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra, and winds blowing in a southerly to southwesterly direction had brought smoke haze from southern Sumatra to Singapore.

NEA added that the prevailing winds are also transporting the smoke haze towards the Malacca Straits and Peninsular Malaysia.

"The prevailing winds are transporting the smoke haze towards the Malacca Straits, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore," the agency said.

The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Friday also reported unhealthy air levels, while flights were disrupted in the country's Sarawak province on Borneo island.

A spokesman for Singapore's Changi Airport on Saturday said the haze had not affected operations at the regional aviation hub.

Hundreds of firefighters in Indonesian Borneo, aided by police and volunteers, were Friday dousing illegal forest fires causing acrid haze that blanketed western parts of the island, officials in the neighbouring country said.

Indonesia's annual burn-off causes a haze that typically smothers parts of Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as well as Indonesia itself.

The NEA advises people with existing heart or respiratory ailments to reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity. - CNA /dt

Well, the photographers shooting outdoors in these conditions are all going WTF??

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Total Photographer - Vision


It is useless to study technique in advance of having a motive. Instead of establishing a vast stock of technical tricks, it would be far wiser to develop creative power by constant search for means particular to a motive already in mind, by studying and developing just that technique which you feel the immediate need of, and which alone will serve you for the idea or the emotion which has move you to expression. You will not only develop your power to see the means, but you will acquire power to organize the means to a purpose.In this form of study there will be no less familiarization with what is generally found in all technical study. You will acquire a habit and ability to select and correlate. You will become a master and organizer of means, and you will understand the value of means as no mere collector of means ever can.
Robert Henri

I read somewhere that people take photographs on holidays because in some way they want to own the trip, to have something physical like as if they owned land. There is no need for any vision for this type of photography. Evidence need only be recognizable.

For people who actually look at their holiday images, it is an aide memoir. On my first trip to India, I took a lot of pictures and some images stood out for me. India is a really easy place to shoot, with so much texture and wonderful characters, one only need point a camera with eyes closed to make an interesting image. The images that stood out for me though are the ones that conveyed an emotional trigger. When I first got back my photographs, I had no idea what all of this was about. Actually, the images that stood out were the ones with drama, a boy monk standing in a door way between the light and darkness was one image. This was the beginning of travel photography.

Was there a part of me that wanted to own the trip? Probably. But I liked the idea of adventure. I went inter railing in Eastern Europe, walking the winding streets of Amsterdam and Lisbon. All these were new experiences for me. Taking photographs was also a new experience, an adventure. And I guess my vision for my travel images has always been a sense of adventure. It helped me to find interesting angles and surprising subjects.

The next subject that set my vision ablaze was weddings. I shot my sister's weddings and picked out moments of human interactions. The romantic in me was drawn to the moments when people made contact. Not just the bride and groom, but mother and child, father and son or just friends. I have built a photographic career on shooting moments of 'love', in the largest sense of the word. From the vision, the choice of camera, film, treatment, printing, editing, all followed naturally. My choicest were made to embellish the love ideal.

But the vision that launched my career was that of bodies in dance motion, expressing the culmination of artistic and physical training. I wanted to be a dancer so badly. I watched some of the most excruciatingly beautiful dance when I was studying in London. And I spent a year in the London Contemporary Dance School training to be a dancer. Doing that one year of dance training felt like my body had been asleep all my life and the training was just about waking it up. But I knew that I would not have a career in dance and dropped it. But that love of dance has always been in me. To me there is a power and elegance to a body expressing life itself. And that was the intense drama and life that my performing arts photography tries to capture. There are moments in performances, where all the action and emotions climax, and framing it just right creates an explosive image. So much of my early work is informed by the passion and drama of dance emotion. My lighting and styling is often inspired by what I have seen on stage. And even for portraits in my studio, I will get a musician to play or a dancer to dance.

I have moved on and other visions haunt my dreams and are demanding from the inside that I birth them. But as Robert Henri says, technique is not worth anything without a compelling reason for creating a work of art.

To people who ask me how to improve their photography, my first answer is always to live a full life. Let things inspire you, give you the raw materials that will sprout into visions. And the visions will naturally tell you what you need to learn to birth those visions. And if a photographer needs to practise technique, then practise on a subject that is close to the photographer's heart.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hasselblad H3D concerns

Wow. It seems that Hasselblad are trying to lock out their competitors with the introduction of their H3D. Read about it in

Hasselblad H3D concerns.

Just goes to show, making images is one thing, running a business is something else.

Is this for real?

I came across SGblog, a listing for Singaporean blogs and thought about listing there. Then I read through the terms of usages and under item no. 7 I found,

Submission of Content on this Web Site.
By providing any Content to our web site:
(a) you agree to grant to us a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive right and license (including any moral rights or other necessary rights) to use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, distribute, perform, promote, archive, translate, and to create derivative works and compilations, in whole or in part. Such license will apply with respect to any form, media, technology known or later developed;
(b) you warrant and represent that you have all legal, moral, and other rights that may be necessary to grant us with the license set forth in this Section 7;
(c) you acknowledge and agree that we shall have the right (but not obligation), in our sole discretion, to refuse to publish or to remove or block access to any Content you provide at any time and for any reason, with or without notice.

I am not sure, but it seems like by signing on I am giving sgblog the right to do whatever they want with my writing and images. Or am I wrong??