So here’s the thing.
As a full frame rangefinder / DLSR shooter, I was not impressed with the cropped sensor X100F.
I was losing depth of field, the shutter wasn’t as responsive, I have to be aware of the ND filter constantly, and the electronic viewfinder was, well, electronic.
Its saving grace is the size. So compact. Super compact. Have I told you how compact it was?
Then again, I do have a phone that has a camera.
Oh, but the sensor. Good sensor, not full frame, but almost. Like a rocket.
In your pocket.
I guess this was how the medium format users felt in the 90s when the Olympus mju came out.
When the Contax T2 was announced.
So the couple above? I did not, and still, don’t know them.
I have finished shooting Handmade – a wine and food event held at the Builders Arms Hotel, and was ready to leave.
I would not have noticed them if they weren’t sitting next to my bag.
The shot was taken as I was walking towards the door.
In fact, I did not know what I was taking as I pressed the shutter without looking.
What I saw on my computer screen this morning gave me goosebumps.
Such intimacy from two complete strangers.
The way she held out her pinky? Even my normal wedding clients don’t often reveal that much.
I felt like I did something wrong. Yet at the same time, so right.
If I didn’t have the X100 with me, I would not have taken this photo.
That’s a fact.
A DSLR would’ve ruined the moment completely.
A phone camera would’ve given me blown highlights or grainy shadows.
I guess camera reviews nowadays are simply missing the point.
It’s never about what’s under the hood.
It is all about intent.
You simply need to ask yourself what are you going to do with the images.
Are you going to print it out? Are you simply going to share on social media?
Are you shooting for personal work? Are you shooting for clients?
Are you going to be moving around a lot? Will you be clamping the camera to a tripod held down by sandbags?
I think in terms of getting people to open up, capturing the fleeting and unexpected moments, the X100F is better than a DSLR.
Now you have to decide if that’s important to the way you work, and if you’re willing to spend money for that.
” I’m a morning person. I enjoy long walks at the park, reading, and cooking at home. ”
Whenever I read profile descriptions like that, I would scoff.
Like, unless you’re 104 years old, no one in real life is like that.
Every morning, my daughter would wake up at 6 am.
We know because she’s learned to crawl next to us, and she’s howling right into our faces.
Once I ‘snoozed’ myself long enough, I’d take her out to the closest coffee shop. (They know me and my order by heart now.)
That way, at least mum gets to sleep.
On my way back Hana would fall asleep for 30 minutes.
I sit at the park with a book, most likely borrowed from the library.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays we go to the market.
Victoria Markets is vastly different in the early mornings. I get ‘thank you’s and a full view of the fishes without being elbowed.
After 10 years, I can finally say that I know a ‘guy’ at a ‘shop’ who sells the best strawberries. Like, strawberry flavoured meat.
We started making pizza from scratch, we made tofu from scratch.
When I talk to my couples, I ask what they are cooking on their days off.
I have a digital folder of recipes now.
If I’m not out shooting, I’d be editing furiously for a couple of hours during the day.
Then I’d prep and cook dinner while mum bathes baby and get her to sleep.
And because we were up since 6 am, we’d hit the sack roughly by 9 pm.
I have become a morning person who enjoys taking long walks at the park, who reads and cooks at home.
Being a dad means my life has been distilled to a dating profile.
My past life is probably scoffing at me now.
Weirdly, I’m completely ok with that.
I adore this photo.
Before I took this shot, before they were transported from bridal suite to reception, I spent an hour with the bridal party.
The bride’s getting her hair and make-up adjusted, the bridesmaids were tired because they were up since 6 am, the groomsmen were going through their emcee jokes / speeches.
I was there because I had nowhere to go during the break, and thought I might as well document what they were doing behind the scenes.
One of the groomsmen asked me what do I do in my spare time.
I said I have a baby now I have no spare time – maybe cooking?
And then we started talking about food.
How Malaysians steal everything from Indonesia.
And then Singaporeans stole everything from Malaysia.
The bridesmaids joined in.
We started swapping restaurant recommendations.
Nowadays it is quite rare to be able to pause and chat with the bridal party.
Most of the time we don’t fully meet before the ceremony.
I know I’m one of the many many vendors and suppliers they have to deal with on the day.
I adore this photo because I feel like I captured everyone’s personalities.
Maybe it’s because I felt like I knew them a little bit more?
Or perhaps after spending some time together, they were more relaxed with me?
Maybe, it’s just the golf buggy.
Golf buggies bring the best out of everyone.
Garett is an award-winning advertising creative and Emily is an interior designer.
Her family is a 4th generation farmer they have been on this farm for over a hundred years.
You can’t book this venue.
I can give you the address of the slope leading up to the point where the sky meets hill, but you’ll probably have to go through Em’s dad or their dog.
The dress, which Em’s aunt secretly sewn their initials on the inside?
Yea you can’t find it online either.
Some weddings are not only special, they are sacred.
People from all over the world gather at one place, one specific time.
They gather around a semi-circle, they cheer, they cry, they drink, they eat.
After dancing, they disperse.
Hoping that they could do it again.
Perhaps for their children one day.
But not too soon; then again not too late either.
Every job has its ups and down.
I’d have never found Tasmania if not for wedding photography.
Shooting this wedding in Sassafras, Davenport was an experience.
But it wasn’t until I started looking at the photos a year later, that I felt the reward – this ‘up’ of what I do for a living.
I was watching a documentary about General Tso’s chicken, and it mentioned that Chinese food in America is always tied to politics.
At first, the Chinese rushed to San Francisco over gold – that’s how Chop Suey was invented.
Chinese food was seen as ‘dirty’ migrant food so it was limited to random stir-fries without any specific meanings.
Then Nixon visited China for the first time in 1972, and the whole world saw Zhou En Lai entertained the president with a shot of Moutai, amongst a giant elaborated banquet.
Americans saw how elegant Chinese food can be, and started demanding the same.
I thought that was interesting.
Life is weird sometimes – a few days later Moutai Australia approached me to photograph an event at The Den at Crown.
It is to celebrate the Lunar New Year while featuring Moutai-flavoured cocktails.
If you have not heard of Moutai, just know this: it is the national pride of China.
And it costs $300 for a 500ml bottle.
It is 53% alcohol and the general tasting note is ‘liquid razor with a hint of soy sauce’.
It’s was interesting for me to see an Australian take of a Chinese spirit, especially during the cocktail masterclasses.
With ingredients like burnt orange, pomegranate, with a Manhattan twist, and a name like ‘Rooster’s Neck’, or ‘Sneaky Beak’.
I guess because of its history, Moutai is seen primarily as a diplomatic tool.
The downside is that people find it stuffy, somewhat linked to the older (try Qing Dynasty old) generation.
By introducing the concept of cocktails, it is trying to shed that skin.
What I took from the covering the event is that you don’t necessarily have to adapt to run a business.
But all successful ones definitely do so.
When it comes to baby photography, my go-to mental reference is the one Annie Leibovitz took of her first daughter.
Sitting in a pram, with a neutral expression.
I knew if I ever have a baby, I’ll be attempting the same thing.
On Monday morning, I lugged around a Mamiya 645, found an alley across the park and aimed Hana’s head towards the skyline.
It took a while for her to not get excited, or pout, or smile.
Eventually, I got the expression I wanted and I finished the last few frames left in the roll of Portra 400.
And as I compare this photo with the ‘default’ shot I had in mind, I’m surprised by the differences.
For one, the subjects look different to start with. (Duh.)
The cameras are different too, but I don’t believe in blaming the tools.
I was still attending university when I first saw Annie’s photo, but it is obvious now that she shot with studio lighting and a much smaller aperture.
Her framing was landscape with the baby taking up half of the frame; mine was in portrait with a deliberate separation of blue and white back drop.
The only similarity I can find is the catch light in the eyes.
And that’s enough for me to call this an homage.
I’d known Bridget since uni days.
On her wedding day there was sun, then rain.
And then a rainbow.
She thought she didn’t need a jacket, but it became freezing as we did our portraits in the alleys of Fitzroy.
They had donuts instead of a wedding cake.
There were rabbit ears. Non-stop laughter.
She went live on Facebook while I drove them back to their hotel.
As I arrived at the groom’s place, the father asked ” how was Bridget? ”
“Bridget was Bridget,” I replied.
Most weddings I shoot, I see a glimpse of the bride’s life.
I try to paint a profile by photographing the dress, the wedding car, the guests, the decoration, the entry song, their first dance.
And I’m never sure if I’m ever accurate.
Yet I’m pretty sure, this wedding day?
Bridget did it her way.
” You are so not like your website,” she said.
” In a good way? Or a bad way? ” I asked.
” No no, in a good way. You are more approachable and chattier than I imagined. I was expecting a ‘take it or leave it’ guy before we met. ”
That was from another client meeting two weeks ago.
That weekend I thought a lot about how I write.
Perhaps because English was my second language, my brain tends to find the shortest way to express how I feel.
Most people are time poor, I need to say what I have to say within 2 minutes.
I can’t waste their time with flash plugins and background music and inspirational quotes.
So today’s workshop post about photography, I’m going to talk about writing.
Because it is integral to my livelihood, and most likely yours too.
The easiest and fastest way to improve your writing is to hire a copywriter.
Or a ghost writer, if you have a blog.
But if you’re interested in a bit of self-improvement, here’re my recommendations.
The bible of all copywriters is The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
It is the manual of concise writing, and every time as I reread it, I cringe at the mistakes I vowed not to make the last time.
My favourite is rule 14: use the active voice – it is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive.
It has stayed with me for the last 10 years.
After that, you can move on to On Writing by Stephen King.
If The Elements of Style is the bible, then On Writing is Playboy.
King wrote the book after a near-death experience, so it is very introspective as he dissects his own writing and his very own life experience.
Most important of all, he writes like that older brother who saw the real world outside of yours, giving pointers in between dirty jokes and reinforced that tone of voice is so important.
Here’s an excerpt: good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Affectation itself, beginning with the need to define some sort of writing as ‘good’ and other sorts as ‘bad’, is fearful behaviour. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with.
And after that, you can try Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:
The problem that comes up over and over again is that these people want to get published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way.
She is the fairy godmother of this passage to better writing and understanding of life.
This book made me realised that all creative processes lead to Rome.
To write better, you need to read and write more.
To be a better photographer, you need to observe and simply shoot more.
Not easy, often frustrating.
I’m not sure if reading this 3 books will make you into a successful writer, but I’m sure all successful writers adheres to the rules of these books.
Maybe the essence of this post is not really in writing itself, but to find parallels and inspirations outside the world of photography.
It really takes the edge off the feeling of being cocooned in a dark room.
As I said before, you can hire a copywriter for sure.
But I personally feel it’s much more fun to learn and develop new skills.
Maybe not to write a book.
But a better email.
A better product description.
A better proposal.
A love letter.
They all add up.
End of lesson.
It’s not simple to be simple.
When I was in uni everyone liked to leave plenty of negative space because it’s cool (and of course easy) to say ‘less is more’.
Like Apple, like Google.
But they seldom teach that white only works when the product is brilliant.
When there’s nothing else to say.
To bare yourself one needs courage.
No primary colours, no click-bait title or fancy typography to distract attention.
Just the product.
If this were a restaurant review I’d say the owners of Chotto are batshit insane (sorry client).
They are focusing on kaiseki ryori – traditional Japanese food you find usually at hot spring resorts.
Most Japanese don’t usually get to enjoy these dishes in Japan.
One of the highlights of kaiseki ryori is that food is always seasonal.
These photos were taken six months ago so my heart aches for the orange mille-feuillee.
The owners are always constantly on the look-out for new ingredients to update their menu.
They also source teas directly from Japan and only serve sustainable fish.
They grate wasabi to order, cook the stock by painfully simmering kelp and bonito flakes, and slow-grill their meat over charcoal.
The ikebana flower piece in the table, arranged by a professional.
Maybe the Japanese spirit is to be batshit insane after all.
I’d slowly discovered that a few of my friends are die-hard customers and they all praise on Chotto’s simplicity.
As I said in the beginning, it is never simple.
I miss heated seats.
I miss genkan – the half doorway, half front porch space where I remove and put on my shoes.
I miss the stone steps I imagined hopping on with my daughter in the future.
I miss green tea, oh my gawd I miss the tannins of a hot cup of green tea right after a bite of red bean cake.
I miss punctuality. I miss having hooks for my umbrella in the toilet.
Magazines with information so dense that you feel safe and almost proud to be a geek.
I miss old and new.
I miss the 5’o clock sun.
I miss baths. And the vinegar drink right after.
I miss cutting-edge packaging with crazy instructions.
The almost too formal illustrations and tight kerning of fonts.
I miss using the same card to board trains and purchase ramen.
I miss sliding doors.
I miss driving next to the mountains.
Using the hazard signal to say ‘thank you’ when someone lets me through.
It’s the little things.
It’s always the little things.