Friday, May 28, 2010
When was the last time you fought for something so hard? I just did. I thought I was doing things right. I thought I've learnt well from two years ago. I thought lightning doesn't strike the same place twice.
Obviously not. Its a huge slap in the face when all your efforts are unrequited. It's a nail biting, gut wrenching experience, and you wonder why you bothered to do all those things in the first place. They say after a storm comes a calm, but I don't think I'll ever see it.
I hope my love for photography will bring me through this time, as always.
Posted by brandon at 9:35 am
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Gramps passed on this morning at the age of 81. Although someone else will be presenting the official eulogy, I guess I'll make my own speech here, although not as many folks will get to hear it.
Gramps was multi talented. A look through his old photo albums showed that he participated actively in sports, such as the 100 meter race. His fit, lanky body allowed him to run far, and do all sorts of activities that the young folk of his days did. He was also involved in music, having a small organ upstairs. I last heard him play a tune a very long time ago, but its pretty remarkable that he could still remember it by heart. Perhaps thats why my aunt naturally pursued music as a hobby.
My grandparents settled down in a small town named Buso. I've been to their shophouse once. Its proximity near the river meant that floods occured once in a while. Well, not to worry, you could always retreat to the upper floor. Gramps was a headmaster in SMK Paku, and I'm sure he was quite a stern principal. He believed in sending his kids for the highest possible standards of education, hence my uncle and aunt were able to study in Australia while my mum was one of the first female Physics graduates in Malaysia. This was when University Malaya was one of the top universities in Asia. It has unfortunately declined steadily since.
As far as I can remember, gramps retained several interests until he became mentally incapacitated a few years ago.
Its remarkable that during a time when women did most of the cooking, my gramps could manage to cook for the whole of my family when required. When I returned from school, I was almost guaranteed a hearty meal when I sat down at the dining table. It ranged from my favourite fried tenggiri (a local fish), to soy sauce chicken, and the necessary stirfried vegetables. Fresh fruits were a must, and pink guava was one of his favourites. Naturally he also had to do the marketing and diligently went to the third mile market almost every morning.
Like my cameras, carpentry tools were his life. I remember he had saws, screwdrivers, rulers and gadgets of all kinds, large and small. I reminisce the time in Form 3 when we were supposed to makea a small timber stool to sit on. My hands were obviously not as talented as my classmates - I couldn't cut a piece of timber as straight as the rest. Hence I brought the poor stool to gramps, who then took it apart without delay and made sure the timber was straight. He also gave it a good lacquer finish. It was pretty hard to convince my tutor that I made the bench on my own the following lesson. But oh well, at least I passed. Trouble will surely come should we mess around with his stuff. I cheekily advised my brother to drill a hole into a table he crafted. Unfortunately, gramps had eyes like a hawk and dished out his discipline immediately with a rotan (cane).
He loved plants. Late in the afternoon everyday, he would tend to his garden and made sure the plants were watered and tidied from weeds. He also grew some guava trees and picked a few fruits to be eaten every day. One of his favourites is the 'bunga raja' which blossoms at night and withers a few hours later.When fully blossomed, the flower gives out a very aromatic smell. My mum still tends to some of his plants in our garden. Gramps brought several pots over when he and gran came to stay with us.
Gramps would sometimes walk long distances to keep fit. I remember 7 years back when we were still residing in the old house, he would sometimes walk 2 km from Ong Tiang Swee to our house near Hui Sing. His legs could not stop walking and got him lost at times. My mom dropped him off at a hairdresser one day, and after getting his hair cut, he just walked calmly out of the door. My mom found him a while later behind some shops, lost and exhausted.
His last few days were spent in silence. Debilitated by his most recent stay in the hospital, his mind finally gave in. We had to do everything manually for him - feed him, brush his teeth, give him a bath, even help him to walk. I doubted that he could respond to anything, but he could utter a faint grunt whenever we asked him a question. But his feet were still as steady as iron. Fearing that he would fall, he would grab on to things like a vice. It took some effort from us to lift up his feet and remove his shoes. His iron feet were still determined to move on.
Yesterday, he was shivering all over, as if his body was telling him that it was about time to go. Although I should've sensed it, he stared me straight in the eye with a look of helplessness. Mom jabbed him with insulin because his blood sugar was too high, but it didn't solve the problem.
This morning I was awoken by frantic crys for help from the maid. Gramps lay slumped in the chair. I touched his clammy hands and there wasn't any pulse. There was a very faint pulse from his chest however. We got him on the wheelchair and it was a struggle to transfer his body into the back seat of the car. It was a race against time. The maid called for some towels, and she wiped what seemed like dried, blackened blood from his mouth. Internal bleeding - not a good sign. Mom bolted out of the house to the hospital while I promised to follow behind.
After heading out from the house, I stopped by for a breakfast of kueh teow and teh si. Inside my mind, I sort of knew that the end was very near. As I drove to the hospital, impeded by heavy traffic, I was wondering what would happen. I finally got to the accident and emergency ward, I saw grandma slumped, crying by his side. He's finally at peace. The doctor there who happened to be a good friend of my parents said that nothing else could be done even though we wanted to.
I guess one of the things I regret is not being able to say how much I appreciate what he's done for me. Would he be proud if I told him that I am a photographer? Would he praise me for the pictures I've done and tell me I've done well? I guess I'll never know the answer to that. But I'm sure right now, he's looking down from above and telling me to be strong and chase (or rather walk towards) my dreams. He's taking a very long walk for eternity. Thats what I'll remember gramps for.
Posted by brandon at 7:13 pm
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I was reading today the 'Connection' magazine compiled by the Chinese Methodist Message. Inside, a pastor who formerly preached in my church gave a strong testimony about his service in the church. I've copied down some extracts which are meaningful to me which I'd like to share with you. They're not precise word for word, but they have the main points.
There were times I received complaints of all kinds. These complaints challenged every aspect of my life. They included my integrity, character, family life, negligence, failures, weaknesses, imperfect sermons, etc. I can never finish naming them. Every year I am bound to get a few. Of course I was hurt, disappointed, felt unappreciated, discouraged, frustrated, humiliated, embarrassed, sinful, guilty, etc.
How do I deal with them? Praise God that I discover that I am my own greatest enemy. I come to realise that I need to deal with my own sin like self-centeredness, greed, anger, being judgmental, pride, carelessness, etc. I realise I cannot be perfect. I need to deal with the imperfect self in me.
I also discover that it is very important to not let the complaints, demands, judgments, condemnations, misunderstandings, anger of other people define your worth and identity. If there were times I was in big trouble and got very emotional, it was because I allowed my worth and identity to be defined by what others said about and did to me. I find that when I allow myself to do so, I kill my own spirit and self-esteem.
When I received harsh, hurting words and challenging situations in my early days o ministry, I tended to react with anger and frustration, and I tried to justify myself. I hoped to get away with it. But later, I learned to look at people, situations and circumstances from the perspective that God wanted me to learn something. Once again, I experience that knowing there are lots of room for improvement, I am motivated to move on and gain strength from Jesus to be better and more like him next time.
Why does this speak to me? As a photographer, I am also humbly reminded that I too have my own pride. I'm at times blinded so much so that I do not want to listen to critics, and get fidgety over the simplest comments.
Its about time that I discover my own photographic style and passion. I have always been adamant about pushing myself and raising the bar, but never have I verbalized it, or have been so determined to do so. This is a competitive world, and we have to make ourselves noticed if we are to be successful (with the right methods, of course).
We should always have an open mind to listen to what our critics have to say, but never ever allow them to make us discouraged or divert our passion for the craft. The real world is a harsh world, and for us to be successful, we need to learn how to be resilient and smart survivors. My work may not be your cup of tea to some of you, but I believe I've always tried my best. Hence I'll continue to persevere on in what I believe I should do in order to improve.
I've been having several portrait shoots these last few days which I have begun to assert my personal style with my new gear, and I'm loving it. I am indebted to my friends / models for being so cooperative and fun to work with. You may view the images here. If you'd like some portrait pictures taken of yourself with family or friends please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
Posted by brandon at 3:58 am
Friday, May 21, 2010
There was a time in my photographic journey when my life was basically about buying gear, getting into debt, living on the forums, and just shooting blindly whatever I saw. At first I was doing some street shooting, and making myself available for public events at Federation Square. I was also photographing OCF (Overseas Christian Fellowship) events and Thursday night dinners when I was free. I signed up for the Australian Uni Games, and got myself shooting the most sports events I can ever think of in one week compared to a lifetime (eg. cycling, football, volleyball, swimming, basketball). But nonetheless, I reminisce the times when I was fighting for my first jobs. I eagerly volunteered myself to shoot my friend's weddings as often as I could (although its not a volume to be admired at all) to gain more experience in this competitive field albeit the small fee. I also offered to shoot some graduations (I did seven of them in fact end of last year), and it was quite an experience visiting three universities in a span of several weeks.
There's too much mediocrity in our local industry and media nowadays. I too have produced more than my fair share of digital junk. But that mediocrity you've been shooting plays a part in your photographic journey. You gain experience that you can't get from forums, where measurebators are more than keen to outdo each other with gear porn, MTF charts, and bokeh comparisons from L or nanocoated lenses. You learn how to talk to clients, be consistent, and keep tight deadlines, among other things. I reckon it's a small price to pay for taking mediocre photos if you can learn things which you cannot source from books,lectures and even so called local photography institutions. You just have to get your hands dirty to know what this field is really all about.
This statement may seem passe, but I find joy through photographing people, and interacting with them and seeing them smile, laugh, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. You learn from every compromise, from the failures you can't overcome because of your technical incompetencies, or the inability to interact with your subjects. At the same time, I play with my equipment, finding the best ways to tune it and prime it for the job at hand. It could be as simple as fiddling with the ISO button, to the best way of attatching a neck strap and hand strap at the same time to the Olympus E-3 camera so that it doesn't get in the way of my work.
At times I ask myself if my work on par with the highest standards of the industry. And the answer is pretty obvious - Of course not! I fight it constantly. I'm still producing underpar images because of my technical incompetencies, but I'm getting better. If its substandard, I analyze it critically and find out a way how to improve my game. I need someone higher up the food chain to call me up, and give me a beating as to what I should do to produce better photography. When we were beginners, we tried to nail the exposure and get the composition right. But we've just made a portrait where any typical studio can do for you - a bland image with none or little impact. You have come some way and made it to a certain level, but that level is a low one. We must all rise, as the bar is set much higher than that.
The hardships that we all go through as photographers is very real, though some are lucky enough to be spared from these misfortunes. I've known friends who've got their gear stolen, while others have their most beloved lens smashed to bits after it falls on hard tarmac (and no, insurance doesn't really cover the repair costs). Others accidentally slip and have their workhorses submerged underwater, paying a fortune to get them dried out and fixed. I myself have gone through the agony of sleepless nights, wondering whether to fork out a lifetime of savings for gear that would potentially change the way how I approach my photography due to a simple accident. But I did, and it is indeed a very humbling and emotionally draining experience. My parents, siblings and relatives wouldn't understand. Heck, even the person who is closest to me couldn't understand why I would agonise over a box with a hole. I shall spare you the details, but a normal person would call me crazy.
Photography is a labour of love for the craft, even though our viewers can neither see nor appreciate it. My more often than not mediocre work will never appeal to all walks of life in our diverse human culture, but it is still something meaningful to me because I shot it, and it is mine. Someday, I trust and believe with all my heart that I will produce good, impactful photography, which viewers will see and appreciate for what they are.
The whole experience and process of photography shouldn't be undermined. We all go though different and diverse experiences, but the golden lessons that we've learnt will never be taken away from us. The joy, and the pain, the successes and failures ... are all worth it for the love of photography.
Posted by brandon at 2:06 am
Thursday, May 20, 2010
It's raining this morning. My bro and I drove across the road to Premier 101 for breakfast. The cafe is supposedly own by someone from St Joseph's church, and is absolutely packed on Sundays for lunch.
No doubt, today is a bit chilly for cold drinks. But at least it tastes alright.
It's a pity that the food at some of the newer cafes here aren't up to par with the older establishments. But nonetheless, I do recommend that you give it a try, if I can remember its name!
Posted by brandon at 2:31 pm
sifu (plural sifu or sifus)
A pair of Cantonese terms, homophones, used in English to mean "master" or "teacher" in the context of martial arts, especially kung fu and tai chi, also used to denote "spiritual father" in esoteric uses.
I guess most of us have watched the kungfu / comedy movie "Drunken Master". The actor Jackie Chan in his younger days is assigned by his strict father to be taught by sifu "Beggar Su", an unassuming, dirty and unkept old man. Although the old fellow ragged Jackie to bits, Jackie eventually became a very powerful kungfu master which could defeat the toughest of bad guys (in which case was this fierced moustached fellow using Shadow Palm kungfu, or something like that).
As photographers, we all have our sifus in one way or another. When we start out with our DSLR, we just reach out to everyone who has at least some experience in handling a camera, even though they may only have a few weeks experience.
Today's convenience offered by digital photography brings the emergence of what some may call, digital garbage. We may shoot (and brag) alot but unlike the good old times, we aren't capable of sifting the gold from the dirt. That is why we encounter thousands of photographs each day, some with tremendous impact, some with none.
It's the same with sifus (self proclaimed or not). These sifus will tell us many things. For example:
1. Attend my photography course, because I've asked the best photographers in the business (eg. Joe McNally). A local photographer has been actively proclaiming his photography school in the papers, and hundreds of student have willingly paid more than RM18k to be thought by a bunch of freelance teachers who may not even have the proper qualifications to teach. Frankly, I'd rather take my money to learn elsewhere, or purchase a 5D mkII system with some nice lenses.
2. You can be rich like me within two years. Proclaim yourselves loudly at wedding expos, and gasp with surprise if somebody doesn't know you (Why shouldn't they? I'm famous!). Use your contacts to the max (even the ones at church), and have many, many facebook accounts, even a fan page, where hopefully one day, 500,000 users will be your fans. Be a Leica or a Canon ambassador, and be envied my many. By the way, in the UK, I feel Canon ambassadors like Jeff Ascough really deserve the title as compared to some of the pros in Malaysia who prefer to kill each other for the title for their own selfish gains.
3. Be proud to proclaim your students when they become successful. The only issue is when the sifu is plagued with certain negative habits, his student will just be a chip of the old block and will continue to swindle other couples from their hard earned money. What they say is just a nice front, while their actual products are less glamorous than what they appear to be. I heard that the local Canon ambassador (and his student) machine guns away using the latest 1D bodies and L lenses at a wedding, and in the end delivers his client 7,000 ++ unedited jpeg images. Now the poor couple have to look through 7,000 unprocessed images which may not be professionally taken, and compile their wedding album on their own while they should be enjoying themselves from their honeymoon.
Of course, not all that they teach would be suitable for your workflow. I met a photographer who likes to apply 'unique' split toning effects to his wedding photos. I tried my best to acknowledge his work, but in my heart and mind, I prefer the styles of photographers such as Neil van Kerk who loves to augment the natural colours of his images through the use of off camera strobes.
The best sifus today are lurking around and don't have prominent web identities like most of today's phtoographers.. They have various identities and may not even be professional photographers at all. I'm talking about war hardened veterans who've been lugging all-manual film cameras since the 70s and 80s, who know the proper basics of film photography, and who've been to the toughest of places (such as the war-ravaged nation of Sudan). They don't have million dollar apartments and S-class Mercedes cars. Instead, they live in small towns, have simple lives, and drive old, road worthy cars. OK, I'm generalising, but I hope you understand what I mean.
Some of the best sifus that I know shoot with the most humble equipment, such as a small 24mm prime and a humble manual focus 75-150mm f/3.5 lens which makes it easier to lug around, especially if they're seasoned travel/landscape photographers like Galen Rowell. I also read a blog post where another photographer is looking forward to dump his fourthirds gear in return for a Micro43rds Panasonic GF1, and a Panasonic 7-14mm/4 and 20mm/1.7. Some also revert back even further by shooting with hardy film cameras such as an Olympus OM-1 and a Zuiko 50mm f/1.4.
They also emphasize the basics of good technical skill and artistic creativity, because without the basics, we'll continue to produce digital garbage from whats essentially a dumb box which lets light inside. It can be as simple as the techniques of how to press the shutter and hold your camera properly to obtain absolutely sharp images at 1/15 sec and lower. OK, its not applicable all the time, but if you'd like to use lower ISOs to reduce noise at the expense of lower shutter speeds, that may be the only option for you.
I sometimes see albums posted on Facebook with the caption "Simply snap only", or "Bang Bang Bang". Are we that shallow? If a true sifu was among us, he would compel us to ask these questions: How would the lighting affect the clarity and mood of the photograph? How fast should the shutter speed be? How large a lens opening should be used? (more often that not, we suffer from a lack of subjects in focus because we're spoilt with using large aperture lenses that limit our depth of field). What belongs in a frame and what doesn't? What lens should be used? For most of us (myself included), we ignore all these questions, snap and continue filling our ever expanding 64GB CF cards with more and more digital garbage.
Their expertise and experience isn't limited to photography only. They sometimes go out of their way and treat their disciples as friends. We can share freely about issues that trouble us, and discuss ways to build each other up instead of tearing each other down like what some other pros do to each nowadays. Nothing's feels better than sitting down with your sifu with a cup of teh tarik at your local mamak store talking about life :)
And fortunately, these sifus aren't lured by goodies or charge exorbitant tuition fees to their students. They genuinely want to take in students who have a keen eye and a willing heart to learn, instead of those which have a 'get rich quick' attitude. It's a far cry from how our dear Prime Minister liberally threw millions of ringgit (which is actually our hard earned tax payers money) to the people of Sibu in the recent by election.
They also uphold commendable virtues, such as honesty, self respect, and being hard working. They also respect the subjects that they're photographing. I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention this again. Olympus visionary John Isaac says - I am a human being first and a photojournalist second. Never take away someone's dignity, just as I would not like someone to take away my dignity.
Indeed, one of the best advice one of my sifus told me was "Don't become a (full time) photographer, you'll be going through the school of hard knocks in no time!"
Friends, if you have a good mentor whom you respect, treat them like gold and do not take them for granted. Keep in touch with them once in a while even though you may not see them, and honestly complement their work. They are hard to come by, and once you've realised what you've lost, it might be too late.
Posted by brandon at 1:47 am
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Some folks have asked me why I took up photography in the first place. Well, I took it up because I was going through a relationship crisis two year ago, and I needed something to distract myself really badly. And photography did provide that avenue to express myself through pictures and to forget the pain. (I know it sounds morbid, but its true). And once again, I'm confounded with this issue, and I had to distract myself today through shutter therapy. Dear, these pics are for you.
I tested the rig's capabilities using the RAW file format in SRGB colour space, which offered better post processing capabilities in lightroom (duh!). The tonal gradation is fantastic and packed with detail. To emphasize the blue skies, I used the vivid picture control mode.You can easily pick out the foliage on the island across the river when viewing the full resolution files.
That's about it for today. For more pictures, please click here. Thanks!
Posted by brandon at 10:40 pm
Posted by brandon at 12:56 pm
Sunday, May 16, 2010
What would force me to wake up at 7am on a Saturday morning and drive like a mad man to the Sarawak Cultural Village at such an unearthly hour while braving the rain?
Posted by brandon at 11:55 am
Friday, May 14, 2010
..whereas on this image, I added +1 to the saturation value. It looks a little overcooked for my taste, hence I guess I will stick to the original settings.
Hence I'm going to experiment with NEF files, and see if things turn out better. Wish me luck~ :)
Posted by brandon at 1:40 am