Monday, May 19, 2008

Quo vadis, Photographer?

I think my photographic life is somehow divided into 'half-years' or, in university jargon, semesters. It appears that every six months or so, I think about what I've been doing photographically in the last six months, and where I ought/want to go in the next six months.

It's also during these 'times of reflection' that I think about what sort of gear I'd like to invest in next, and how best I can work towards my goal(s).

It began in Mersing last year, when I added the wonderful 50mm f/1.8 lens to my arsenal. Armed also with two waterproof disposable cameras, I immensely enjoyed the trip and discovered incredible new horizons in photography.

I also rediscovered my love for photo montages and presented two of my finest montages to Teeming and SooT as birthday gifts.

In a nutshell, the word was theme. For the first time ever, I'd embarked on a quest to shoot following a theme (in this case, Psalm 104), and the pictures turned out with a coherence I'd never known before. It was also on this trip that the award-winning 'bird on bare tree' was shot!

Some seven months later, I found myself in the hills of Cameron Highlands. This time, I wasn't too keen on taking photos; perhaps it was due to excessive shooting in Malacca with my Form Six classmates during the three days prior to Camerons.

I only took over control of my camera when I felt the scene was really too good to miss, or when I wanted to demonstrate certain techniques to Joan (who gave me no end of inspiration). I found that the (relatively) few pictures I took turned out much better than I'd expected.

Equipment-wise, by this time I'd acquired the SB-600 flash unit and the Gorillapod.

On this trip I rediscovered the meaning of the word angle and as a tribute and mark of appreciation to Joan, I presented her a montage of the best I'd done at Camerons for her birthday.

2008 began with a sort of 'photography fast'. I only carried my compact digital around, and even so I barely shot anything. I resumed my hobby on 25 January when we did the shoot for Entangled the Musical.

Turns out the break was much needed, and the shoot was at once invigorating and exhausting. It set the tone for much of the semester, including my approach for the shooting of the cast and the show itself.

Indirectly, it was also because of this that I found a great use for the Canon EOS 300 and explored the world of black-and-white film a little. I began to pay close attention to the interplay between light and emotion and started to appreciate the dramatic lighting (almost always either over- or under-exposed) of Anton Corbijn's U2 pictures.

With the lens coupling ring, I have been able to get really close to things lately, such as this dandelion seed on the stalk, awaiting a gust of wind. (The black corners are due to vignetting, which is what happens when you use a RM28 'budget solution' coupling ring instead of a RM2800 'proper' macro lens!)

The only copy of my recent dandelion portfolio is in the hands of a very special girl.

I wouldn't say the adventures of the last few weeks yielded new discoveries or anything; the trip to the Butterfly Farm was more like target practice and 'revision', a reminder that I tend to shoot in somewhat unconventional ways. Uniqueness isn't always good (in the sense that sometimes you're the only one liking your photos), but the trip served as a reminder that such is the way I am, so I'd better learn to live with it, work with it and make the best of it.

And I've also learnt that, for all the wonders it unveils, the world of close-up photography isn't really for me; or rather, I'm not quite ready for it yet. I still love my environmental portraits (i.e. shooting subjects in context of their surroundings) and sweeping long exposures.

I think the word I'm learning (and not just in terms of photography) this season is patience. Learning to wait on, and trust in, God. That is why, when we go to Chini next weekend, I shall challenge myself to something I've never done on a trip before. It's a secret for now; will tell more once I return! (Don't worry, I'm not planning to leave my camera at home...)

Environmental portraits and sweeping long exposures. I think I'm quite certain of the gear I'll be investing in next...

* * * * *

Edit (7.15 p.m., 20 May 2008):

While walking to Li-Shia's house on her birthday, a thought came to me: I think I can best be described as a 'long shot' photographer. Three reasons:

1) I'm panjang.

2) It's a long shot to success in photography.

3) There's this trend today called 'snapshot' photography. Because cameras are becoming so ubiquitous (they're in handphones!) these days, it is not uncommon to see a person whip out his/her phone for a quick shot. With the advent of High ISO and Vibration Reduction technologies, handheld photography is now a breeze.

The masses have forgotten the tripod and 'slow' photography. The art of sitting down to photography as an artist sits down to a canvas, or a writer to a stack of paper, is nearly extinct. However, that is not to say photos today are thoughtlessly created: some brilliant minds function at MacBook Pro speed; mine just happens to be a bit of a 486 in comparison.

All in all, I'm quite a slow person (d'NAers especially are familiar with my pace at the dining table). Thus I find my tripod an invaluable piece of equipment (to compensate for this weakness of mine) on my photo trips. There you have it--I'm a 'long shot', not a 'quick shot'. ;-)

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