Yesterday I shot my first-ever Henna night.
They had to announce my arrival as the ceremony is strictly for women.
A ceremony to receive blessings from the mothers, sisters, nieces, cousins.
As I wandered around, I could sense tension as many tightened up their hijabs.
And then the bride entered, and everything changed.
I can’t describe the tempo, the rhythm, the dancing.
The bride left for a dress change, and suddenly everyone was asking me if I had eaten.
If I wanted their food, drinks, sweets.
Sit down, there’s nothing to photograph now, she’s getting ready, they said.
A 4-year-old asked me to take a photo of her, ran away half way as she realised she shouldn’t be so vain, but then changed her mind again and posed.
She then asked if she could take a photo using my camera.
She later bossed me around.
It’s been a strange week.
There was a (tiki) fire torch protest about race.
There’s been a violent attack in Spain.
An Australian politician pulled a stunt using a Burqa.
All these actions are chisels of a line.
A line that says ‘we’re here, and you’re there’.
As I walked out Sydney Road under the rain yesterday, I’ve never been more proud of what I do for a living.
I don’t have to consider where I stand.
My job itself is a statement.
The joy of celebration is universal.
As I’m writing this in the year 2017, I realised $2500 is the tipping point for a camera’s image quality to become irrelevant.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony – once you pay more than that amount for a camera body, it’s not about quality anymore; it’s all up to personal taste.
After that threshold, we’re paying extra for the equivalent of dual climate zone control air conditioning.
It’s the equivalent of sun roofs, bigger alloy wheels, touch screen panels, phone connectivity, spoilers, auto parking.
Is it nice to have? Sure.
Is it a necessity to create great photos? Absolutely not.
A $2500 camera has as much camera as a $5000 camera.
If you can’t take a decent photograph with a $2500 camera, a $5000 camera won’t help much.
The Canon 5D Mark 4 is such a camera.
I had the chance to use one over last Easter weekend shooting a pre-wedding session and a restaurant.
The touch screen is great, the dual pixel thingy is great, the extra megapixels is also great.
If this is your first ever full frame DSLR (and if a DSLR is what you need), don’t think about it.
Get one – don’t look back.
It’s worth every single penny for the next five years to come.
I envy you.
I’m just not sure if it’s good enough to completely overthrow the Mark 3.
I have friends who are still hanging on to their Mark 2 because the sensor is considered unique now.
It produces a certain look that stands out from the new mainstream look with infinite amount shadow and highlight recovery.
My conclusion is that the 5D Mark 4 will make my photos look up to date, like an operating system.
But it will not make me a better photographer at this point in time.
And having images that look like everyone else’s is not a top priority for me.
Eventually, I’ll get it.
I’m just not in a rush.
The topic of childcare is inevitable when you have a baby, or when you have friends with babies.
Recently a friend shared his experience.
Before sending his kid to a place full of strangers, he was worried.
The environment at childcare centres will never be as cosy as home.
Will they love his child as much as himself?
Will the child be given enough attention?
Turns out, the kid did not miss home at all.
She was engrossed in all the activities she never experienced at home.
She was more sociable, more switched on, and more responsive.
My friend said, sure, the caretakers might be operating on auto-pilot mode.
But they have been trained. They have experience.
They have seen so many other kids, so many different scenarios, that they don’t have to love your kids to educate them.
Their 50% is better than his 100%.
I relate that experience to being a professional wedding photographer.
We do not need to love our job to do a good job.
We do not have to love your wedding, your family, share all your aesthetic value, the same spirit animal to do a good a job.
Our job is to show up and document what we see.
Find the best lighting, find good composition, know when to click the shutter and make sure important things are in focus.
In fact, I’d argue we’d work better if we do not care.
For example, I treat my cameras like I hate them.
Because when I make a dash for that moment, when I need to get to a higher or lower ground, I do not have the capacity to care about my camera, my lens.
If I break my camera, I have another in my bag.
That’s why we have insurance.
To not care about the trivial stuff and focus on getting the best possible outcome.
I’d argue being a professional means we deliver under ANY circumstances.
When the bridal car is running late.
When we don’t have natural lighting.
When we have to change location.
We don’t need to get along with the bridal party to capture a great portrait or moment.
(Although, it would help a great deal if they don’t spit in my face.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to hire sloppy assholes.
But perhaps next time when you consider hiring a person who’s never shot a wedding but has a passion for photography, bear in mind ‘passion’ might not be enough to carry the weight of a wedding.
I’m a good cook, but never in a thousand years I’d volunteer to cater for a party.
Here’s a question:
Would you entrust your newborn baby with an inexperienced babysitter?
Then why would you entrust the memory of your wedding day – a VERY important day, to an inexperienced photographer?
End of lesson.
I like last minute jobs.
While last minute usually means ‘disorganised’, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about the ‘organised’ last minute jobs.
The client has X budget, needs to be delivered by Y day, no questions asked.
They get me excited.
Not because of the adrenaline, but because of the lack of time and crystal clear requirement.
Because there’s no time to ponder, to go back and forth, to reconfirm ‘stuff’.
They have to trust the person to make all the decision one was supposed to make anyway.
I feel like that’s when real jobs actually get done.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a design agency to photograph Templestowe for a development project.
I was briefed on a Wednesday, shot everything on a Friday, shots delivered Monday.
And perhaps this is my past advertising self-talking, but you really feel like a professional when you manage to deliver unexpected results under stress.
Wedding photography or not.
Diamonds, after all, are made under pressure.
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.