Macro redux: Getting lost in the insect world

When I want an escape from the world, I simply pick up my macro gear and indulge in some insect macro photography. I find the process to be both physically and mentally challenging and lose my myself quite easily in the tiny world of bugs. The little creatures often hide in the most unexpected places that require me to flex and stretch my body in impossible ways while holding the camera and the flash steady. The mind must be entirely focused on getting the shot and doing it quickly because insects do not stay still for very long. All kinds of calculations and considerations come to play, as you juggle between lighting, getting closer for better magnification, ensuring critically sharp focus and not to forget, composition! There is just so much the mind and body needs to coordinate and execute to achieve one simple insect macro shot. In that brief moment, I find myself entering a different universe where only getting the shot matters to me.

For today’s set of images, I hiked the trails of the Bukit Gasing Forest Park to find the critters. Half of the fun was in the hunt for the bugs. All the images shown in this article were shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro lens. I used the FL-50R flash off camera. If you have questions about my technique, I’ve shared those in detail in a previous article here.

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To be a specialist, you have to be a good generalist

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Here’s today’s provocation of the day: there is really no such thing as a specialist. I’m going to explain why, using photography as the background context. The general expectation is a specialist in one particular topic or subject or tightly defined discipline should be familiar with and understand how to handle the vast majority of variations encountered around that topic or subject. They would probably have to keep up to date with new developments or changes and do enough experimentation to answer any self-doubt or uncertainty: an expert sports photographer, for instance, would know how to deal with indoor arena lighting, outdoor high noon and night games – and still produce an image that would pass muster for their clients. An aerial photographer would know how to deal with haze – either to minimise in post, or to use as a feature of the image. Yet I keep encountering this odd resistance…even amongst supposedly educated and image-savvy people. Why?

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The shooting experience

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In the past, I’ve written about our own emotional/ personal motivations, concepts of idealised hardware and even why hardware itself can be a strong creative motivator. I’ve also talked about the appliance-camera and the ideal format. We’ve defined the concept of a shooting envelope – i.e. the breadth of scenarios under which a camera can deliver most or all of its maximum image quality potential – and the degree to which that’s operator dependent (i.e. heavily). I’ve even talked a lot about what makes sense from a commercial and business standpoint, but I don’t think I’ve ever really examined the experience of the process as a whole – as an enthusiast and hobbyist and somebody seeking enjoyment in both the journey and the results. That’s the purpose of this article.

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To photography competition entrants

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“…we who are about to die, salute you!”

Whoops, wrong scene, wrong side of the dock.

I’ve been on the judging panel for a few competitions this year – and on discussion with fellow judges, found we were encountering the same things across not only different competitions, but different geographies. Today’s post is intended to be a little behind the scenes guidance on what makes an image stand out to a jury, and hopefully win you a prize. It is of course impossible to turn this into a formula: the very nature of competition means that the benchmarks shift every year, and so does the whole idea of ‘different’. There’s so little QC these days it’s almost easier to judge competitions by people who don’t mess up than those who excel; that said, there are fortunately still a few who manage to surprise us. Read on for the breakdown.

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Finding inspiration, redux

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Following on from the earlier thoughts on making ‘good enough’ images getting ever harder with increased productivity – the flip side of the coin becomes a question of how we find sufficient inspiration to get over that activation energy threshold*. How do we firstly get inspired enough to get out the camera and attempt to produce something at all, and furthermore – produce something that will satisfy us. In reality, what needs to happen is we must find sufficient motivation to make us want to answer the question of ‘how will the finished image look?’ There are several ways of doing this, I think. And hopefully – if you’ve been on hiatus or feeling photographically jaded, this might help get the camera out again.

*I promise one day I’ll write that long-delayed article on physics and photography.

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Why GAS might actually turn out to be good for you

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One is bad enough. Two is…well, probably a signal that some form of clinical treatment is required. Full disclosure: the second one was supplied as a spare for the Thaipusam video; we didn’t use it.

At the risk of severely contradicting myself, I’m going to offer an alternative point of view to several of my posts from earlier this year (namely, this one on diminishing returns; this one on finding the right camera and moving on; this one on ideal formats for a given creative output). Many of you have pointed out in the comments and subsequent emails etc. that things are not really quite so clear cut; I’ve given this some thought and spent some time rationalising my own equipment journey – especially since from an external standpoint, it might appear that I’m probably the worst offender of all. The conclusion, is of course one of very fine balance – like most things in photography; and like most things creative, a little tension is required to produce not-safe and not-boring results. Here are my thoughts on why…

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Drone diaries: differentiated aerial perspectives

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More months, more flying. I’ve come to believe that real appeal of aerial photography lies solely in one thing: the ability to see familiar places or objects or classes of objects from a drastically and otherwise physically inaccessible perspective. An image shot from a slightly elevated level with gimbal only slightly down is not that different to standing on a hill or building; an image shot from some altitude and entirely top down is at the other end of the scale. Most of the really interesting drone images I’ve seen or personally captured seem to fall into the latter category. We are coming dangerously close to the automated and the formulaic, here. Or are we?

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Frequently asked questions at street photography workshops

For the several years, I have conducted basic street photography workshops for Olympus Malaysia and it’s been a great joy for me to be able to share some tips and tricks on street shooting with my workshop participants. After each and every session, I am amazed at how, regardless of the diversity in participants, the same questions were asked repeatedly. Therefore, I thought I’d share some of these frequently asked questions and a few things I have learned during these sessions today. [Read more…]

Medium telephoto lenses for street photography

Given how widely practiced it is, its no surprise that street photography has many rules-of-thumb, and one of them has to do with focal lengths – the traditionally preferred ones have been on the wider end such as 28mm, 35mm and 50mm. However, I’ve often found myself using an unconventional focal length of 90mm. While the wider focal lengths may be more suited for environmental portraits and story telling, using a longer focal lengths allows me to break away from that stereotype and to create a more dramatic outcome.

In this article, I will explore why medium telephoto is my preferred focal length and the advantages of using tighter framing in street photography. It’s important to not that since I primarily shoot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 these days, “medium telephoto” here refers to 90mm in 35mm terms.

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Opinion: Sensible perspectives on film and digital in current times

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Today’s post has been a long time brewing. The recent resurgence in the popularity of film is undeniable, to the point that there are both new brands and revivals of old ones happening on a fairly regular basis. It seems to be not so interesting for the big guys – look at the continual Fuji price increases as prime exhibit – but this has meant that there business is more open to the enthusiasts and those creating film specifically for the demands of those markets (such as JCH Street Pan). Anybody who gets off their comfortable chair to put money and action where their mouths are deserves a round of applause, in my book. Given all of this – it’s only natural that there have also been a lot of people rising to the defence of the medium, in the comments here, and sometimes much more aggressively over email. In the interests of saving much angst, it’s probably about time I make my personal position on film clear, and more importantly, the rationale behind it.

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