I’ve realised that more and more of my audience is now comprised of amateur photographers like myself, so I thought I’d write about the easiest and most important tip to improving your photography- Filling the Frame.
When most people start photographing stuff, their first instinct is to ‘get as much into the frame as possible’. They try to keep their subjects wholly in the frame. What they don’t realise is that this killing their shot. There is a lot of ‘dead space’ around the main subject, and has the end effect of making the viewer feel like they are completely removed- and disengaged- from the action.
Instead, get right into the thick of things. Keep your edges right at the edge of the frame- and preferably spill out of the frame if you have to. The more of the frame your subject takes up, the more people feel like they’re involved in what’s happening. This is like the trick that writers or movie directors use when they start off the plot in the thick of action. Nobody wants to navigate past the empty space to get to the good stuff. Just give it to them already.
Above: I came across this motorcycle in Little India. I was immediately taken by the tones of the paint on it. It really looks like the flames of a fire, gently enveloping the entire vehicle. Notice that you can’t see the whole motorcycle- the wheels and handlebars are cut off, and the result is that the bulk of the picture is taken up by the most subject of most interest- the paint on the body.
Above: This is another version of a picture I took a few weeks ago. The statues on the left are leaning left, and it looks like they’re doing so to make room for the lamps on the right. Note how I composed the picture so that everything just fits into the frame. In fact, the statues on the left are partly cut off. This adds to dynamic motion within this static picture- I am showcasing an off-balance lean, not a steady pose. Thematically, the two elements of the picture, statue and lamp, are united by a single bronzed color cast across the entire scene.
My approach to photography in the past has mostly been ‘turn the camera off once the light goes off’. There’s good reason for that- I really deplore using flash, since I can’t be bothered to use off-camera flash (too much trouble once you add in reflectors, gelling, and so on), and on-camera flash makes everything look like you just hit them in the face with a spotlight.
Indoors, however, there is just enough ambient light so that you can use the appropriate (read: large aperture) lens to achieve good results. You can even do this outdoors, as long as the image is well-lit. Buildings for instance are good candidates for photography, and taking stuff illuminated by street lamps works too.
Above: As the sun begins to set, you get opportunities to photograph it. In this case, it was slowly setting, although still too bright to photograph directly. But I got lucky. I spotted a window of opportunity when the sun began to hide itself behind an ominous-looking cloud. When I was young, my mom used to tell me that they used to call a lunar eclipse 天狗吃月亮 (roughly translated: “the heavenly dog devours the moon”). When I showed her this picture, she said it reminded her of this.
Left: This was the building I was photographing that night. The diagonal lines you see are the results of stray light from a street lamp hitting the lens and resulting in lens flare. Technically that makes for a poorer picture, but in this case the effect was wonderful, so I kept the picture. This is the Westin, and the round circles you see at the top of the building are of New Asia Bar. I made everything look dark, and with a purple tinge, so it looks more like something out of a comic book, than a real-life building. What can I say, I have a preference for very graphical pictures.
Above: At the restaurant that I was at for dinner, I looked down and saw the light under the counter. This was being reflected off some metallic surfaces and I thought it was worth photographing. I waited for a waiter to appear on the right of the frame to balance out the picture before taking the shot. Notice how I timed it so that his feet are both off the ground- he’s reaching up for something. This frozen movement adds some dynamism.
Right: This picture was taken at Shanghai Tang. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, retail never fails to wow me. It seems there’s always good design- of colours, of ambience, and of lines- to be seen at retail outlets these days. Shanghai Tang is definitely one of the those that focuses on design. Their look is a vibrant, almost futuristic look- using smooth reflective plastic materials for their furniture, and using cool lighting to set the mood. I took this picture without the head of the shop assistant to simulate the look of a mannequin. His body position also fits this interpretation- it is passive, like an unmoving plastic model.
Above: I took this picture as I was leaving the mall. The reflection of the brights lights in the glass, contrasted with the solid shapes of the people through the other side of the door, makes this an interesting shot with a lot going on. You can see both the McDonalds sign as well as the menu options in the reflection of the glass. It’s not immediately clear that this is a reflection, however, which adds some intrigue to the shot- what are all these lights doing in the middle of the shot? This picture tempts you to look twice, which should be the aim of any good photograph.
I got to the newly built Punggol Park this last weekend and really enjoyed taking pictures that day. Among all the fantastic shots I got, one particular bridge- on the flyover above the park- really captivated me.
Above: This is the first picture of the bridge that I took as I got to Punggol Park. I love the strong curvature in the structure, and the single lamp-post balances out the emptiness of the landscape. I was lucky- the drama in the clouds made the background look exciting. In fact, the clouds at the bottom of the picture make the whole structure look like it’s at a very high altitude- which it’s not. And leading the viewer down exciting, ‘impossible’ paths is something I always enjoy.
Above: One thing I always try to do is to get different angles of a subject. This involves more legwork, but there are times when the subject is just worth it. In this case, the bridge had a vertical arc extending upwards, but also a horizontal one where people could stand and look out at the park. You can see the shadow of a rail on the left hand side of the picture- this adds a bit of drama to the monotony of the shot, so I left it in. This rail is part of the flyover above the park.
Above: This is a view of the horizontal arc where you can see what it was meant for- sight-seeing. It was a beautiful day out, and there were lots of people walking about enjoying the view. Ironically, I spent so much time walking around and taking photos of the bridge that I never actually went on it. But that’s what you gotta do when you only have a short window of time to take pictures with (I got there late afternoon, and the light was starting to fade).
Above: One good thing of getting there in the late afternoon is that if you’re lucky, you get to take a picture of the sunset. I took several pictures of the bridge at this time- some with people, and some without. Ultimately, I chose this one. I think the Punggol Park is a place of community, for families and friends to gather, and having people in the shot emphasises this more. I was lucky with this shot: a boy on the right can be distinctly seen pointing towards the sun. This adds dynamism and motion to the picture, and also (together with the two lamp-posts in the centre-right) provides a leading visual line into the center of the frame.
A while back I took a trip to East Coast for wings. I ALWAYS love wings. It was my roommate in college who got me converted to these. I didn’t use to like them (they are way more trouble than drumsticks), but as he put it, it’s all skin, what’s there not to like?
Yup. So anyway this place was offering a deal a while back. The deal validity ended 13 Sep, but when we visited recently there were zero people there at dinner time. Zero. So much for Groupon-type deals driving repeat business, huh? Sure, we got there a bit earlier (6pm), but it was a Saturday night, the carpark was full, and by the time we had finished eating, there was a queue forming to eat the Korean BBQ buffet opposite this restaurant. Our choice for dinner? Still empty. Yikes. Doesn’t bode well.
But anyway we didn’t know all this when we got there. There were two guys about my age there running the place, so I assumed they were young, enterprising guys with a fantastic product (why else would they open such a shop? It’s not like this will earn them millions). So just go in and try, lor.
The wings themselves are ok, quite well priced. $1.59 per wing- not winglet. $0.99 if you go during happy hour (we missed it). Although really, given their traffic… maybe every hour should be happy hour. Haha. Anyway, shan’t be so mean.
You can choose some interesting flavours, including cajun jerk, wasabi, and so on. We tried cajun, since I’ve always loved jerk chicken (you had to tear me away from them in college… Yum…) That slightly sweet and tangy sauce, blackened and smokey flavour.. mmmm!
This is what we got:
Erm, this is just deep fried chicken with chili powder. It is not blackened in anyway whatsoever, and it is certainly not cajun. The Wasabi chicken was no better:
As you can see, it’s a (very similar) deep fried chicken with wasabi mayo. Honestly, it’s like something you expect from a cheap-KFC, not from true aficionados of chicken wings. Tip 1: not everything has to be fried. Tip 2: go for authenticity with your sauces please.
Anyway, it was disappointing. Also, minimum order per flavour is five huge wings. Even though I eat a lot, I still couldn’t finish. Again, considering the lack of clients, maybe these guys should have some ‘sampler’ type dishes so we can try more flavours instead. These two weren’t up to mark.
If you come expecting KFC-type chicken, though, they’re okay. Plus gotta admire their passion for food, starting a cafe at such a young age. Anyway, afterwards took a nice walk around East Coast Park. A pasar malam was going on: very happening! Maybe next time I’ll try the Korean BBQ Buffet 🙂
Above: This carousel was part of a carnival/pasar malam (night market) that was going on. You know, those make-shift ones you pay a few dollars for.
Above: This being a flea market, there was lots of stuff to buy. It’s a bit early for Christmas, but well, why not, eh?
Above: There was also a McDonald’s in the vicinity. For some reason, I was most interested in Ronald McDonald’s feet. hmm…
Wild About Wings
#A-10 Marine Cove@East Coast Park
1000 East Coast Parkway
So this week I went to the place I volunteer at, and they had a Halloween party all planned. It was very nicely done! The whole place was very scary- really gets one in the mood. These guys are definitely more artistically inclined than I am. Anyway, we’re not allowed to take pictures of people (privacy concerns), but here are some pictures of the decorations. Most of it was hand-made, too! The pictures are in black and white for more effect.
Above: This macabre doll reminded me a bit of a game I used to play as a kid: Grim Fandango. The game itself was modeled after the Mexican festival, “Day of the Dead”.
Above: This mix of a Spider & Crab looked really strange. More cute than scary. The dry ice makes it look like it is emerging from a swamp, misty effect and all. PS, that ‘dry ice’ is really cotton wool.
Above: This hand was REALLY life-like. They had a wound painted in, too, to make it look like the hand had been cut from some dead corpse. Good stuff.
Above: Another sin-city style shot of a scary idol doll. I really like how the fresh red blood contrasts against the grey and black doll.
Above: What is Halloween without a pumpkin? This Jack O’Lantern had a spider crawling all over it, for added effect.
Above: This red lamp was like the genie in the bottle. I guess you just gotta rub her the right way? Yuck, count me out.
Apart from black and white, I’ve started to explore single-color photography in, well, other colours. They’re all similar in that they’re primarily explorations of tone, texture and line, but the tone sometimes gives a very different feeling. Black and white can be calming but sometimes aloof and a tad intellectual. My second choice is typically sepia. The yellow, golden colour makes everything feel warm. Kinda like summer.
Above: This first picture has a beautiful golden tinge. I love the layered shadows, and how contrasts against the golden light. I can almost feel the warm metallic texture of this car door. Notice how the picture has leading lines from the bottom left to the top right of the frame. This adds some motion and dynamism to the shot.
Above: Here there is a warmer, more orange, spotlight shining on the colourful balls of light in the background. It’s as if a powerful spot of light suddenly illuminated this scene, not unlike a spotlight on a stage. Actually, the image that comes to my mind is an alien ship shining a light down in search of someone to abduct. On a technical note, I like the lens flare through the glass.
Above: I took this picture of a statue at a restaurant. I think the old, washed-out look fits the roman-ancient subject, and I framed the image such that we see only the middle portion of their torso- easily the most interesting part, IMO. *wink*
Above: This gold panel was taken at the same restaurant as above. I preserved its more shiny look- makes it look like it’s really made out of gold. PS, it’s just wood.
Above: This picture of the full-moon was framed against some trees and leaves swaying gently in the wind. Some leaves are blurred as a result. The sky was also quite ominous that night- eerie dark clouds scattered across the sky. I like the strong lines of the branches. If I had a chance to do this shot again, I would take a longer exposure to get rid of the black fringes. Or even use a HDR shot. As it stands, the center looks okay, the rest- not as much.
Above: This is my take of the myraid pictures of landscapes being reflected off of water- here is a reflection from a table. This bowl was taken in Chinatown, with a red cloth as background. I used the table as a prop to explore the reflection of the red cloth, then filtered everything with a pale red-orange color for effect. The picture is taken in a style very unlike my norm- I normally go very dark, or very saturated. Seldom do I come up with pictures that are very pale. This fits both the subject matter (old bowl in an old hawker center) and the colors (red, white, orange, yellow), though.
I’ve continued to explore black and white photography more. I’ve always loved washed out, graphical abstract black and whites but I’ve also recently begun to enjoy shooting darker pictures that force one to explore different tones of gray. This picture is like that. Kinda like a grey portrait of cars. I love the spotlight on the cars, and I love how everything is in shades of gray. Really reminds me of a stage. This was taking at night, with the street-lamps masquerading as ‘spotlights’.
This last weekend I also went to botanic gardens. It is really convenient to get there now- the MRT gets you right to the doorstep.
Botanic gardens is really boring to me. Greens are relaxing, but for me they really don’t make good pictures. Nonetheless, I guess I couldn’t leave the botanic gardens without taking some pictures of greens. But argh, I hate the yellowish-green color of leaves. They look sickly and pale- not inspiring at all. So I took these colours out, and I was left with a ‘sin-city’ style grey and red.
Just celebrated my dad’s 61st birthday at one of his favourite restaurants. Yay! Happy Birthday dad!
If, like me, you like all things retro, then you’ll definitely appreciate how the new mirrorless cameras allow you to breathe new life into old lenses. Since they don’t have a mirror, adapters of all thickness exist to either simulate the extra distance a mirror would have taken up, or just to mount the lens on the camera.
Vintage lenses, like old cinema, don’t have as good sharpness, contrast, and eye-popping color as their modern counterparts. But they come with lots of character, unique color, and romantic notions of where they’ve been before. Some of the lenses I’ve been using date back to the 1950s or 1960s! Think old black and white cinema vs HD movies. The latter looks much more arresting, but the former will always have a special place in my heart.
Isco Göttingen Westron 35mm 2.8
Part of the fun has also been finding out about the history of the lenses. This lens was manufactured by the West German company Isco, based in Göttingen. It has been manufacturing lenses since 1936, and I have certainly never heard of it. It has a 35mm field of field (70mm equivalent on my camera), and a max aperture of 2.8. I love it for its deep color and sharpness.
PS, just look at the sharpness of the leaves on that last black and white photo…
Fujinon 75mm 1.8
This lens is not actually that old. They’re still selling it. But it’s typically used for commercial high-resolution manufacturing purposes. Since the whole name of the game is ‘finding another use for lenses’, it qualifies. 🙂 Apparently, as far as such lenses go, this one was specially built for a ‘higher-resolution’ of 5 megapixels. That is of course far short of the 12 megapixels that my EP3 can shoot, but the extra resolution really comes through in the ability of this camera to resolve tones well. I have not seen a more beautiful black and white/ single-color tone lens. It has very pale and muted colors, but when those are translated into black and white, it shows an ability to differentiate between the many subtle shades of grey very beautifully.
First up, a color picture that I downloaded from the net taken with this lens. (Credit goes to Yu-Lin Chan from Toronto for the picture). Notice how the colors don’t really ‘pop out’ at you.
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F/4 ASPH
As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s a picture taken with a modern lens to show you the contrast and sharpness they’re capable of, and the VERY different look that ends up being created.