Photo Essay

Top 10 out of 15,000

7th month opera

My digital photography journey began on 16 November 2007, when I bought the Fuji S5 Pro digital slr.

I was late in embarking on this journey. I was a film / slide diehard. There is a certain magic that comes from looking at a piece of slide, even just holding it up against a light. Digital images are still unable to reproduce this magic, although they get closer with improvements in technolgy.

And so for a long time, I had lots of reasons for not going digital. One reason was that I did not have the money. But I once declared that, if I had the money, I would rather spend it on a dedicated negative / slide scanner instead of a digital camera. To that, one digital photography enthusiast retorted: "My camera has a built in scanner!"

He is right. The technology is truly amazing. As I write this one year after I purchased my first digital SLR, I am now a fully converted digital photographer - because I never realised how far that digital journey would take me.

I believe I have grown tremendously as a photographer during the past one year. I have become more of a photographer - much much more.

One of the reasons I used to cite against digital photography was that it encourages the "bad habit" of taking too many pictures - of taking pictures without thinking simply because it is free.

It used to cost me about S$1 (approx US 68 cents) per image for negative, processing and scanning, and I don't even get a print. I had to think carefully before I shoot and I consider that to be good training in photography.

Even though I remain conscious about not taking pictures mindlessly, I still did not expect to take so many pictures - about 10,000 in my first 11 months, and close to 5,000 in my 12th month! That is more than all the photographs I had taken in the previous 30 years!

The big change in me was that I used to take pictures only on special "photography outings" - whether with friends or alone. Now, I carry my camera almost wherever I go, including at night.

I also began to actively seek out photo opportunities, looking into various events calendars. And I discovered that The Esplanade, Singapore's arts and cultural centre, has free - and often excellent - performances every weekend. This explains my surge in photo taking during the past month.

All that practice has not gone to waste. In the past, there had been times when I return from a photo outing disappointed, with just a handful of barely ok pictures out of two to four rolls. Now, I find myself consistently getting good pictures, and often enough getting pictures that I consider great.

Here, then, is a sharing of my 10 "best" out of close to 15,000 images taken during my first year of digital photography.

The first that comes to mind is this Evil, Ugly Fella, taken during a recent trip to the Singapore Bird Park. It had a big impact on me - it made me keep going back to the Jurong Bird Park and even buy a one-year season ticket:

And, to my own surprise, I have another two bird pictures among my "Top 10". I was previously never interested in photographing birds.

This abstract image of a crowned crane (Frenzied preening) was from my third visit to the Jurong Bird Park.

And this also somewhat abstract image of a blue stock (White asleep), was from my fourth visit. I actually have another very similar image, with the eyes open. It probably has more popular appeal, but I like this version better.

Another new area for me is night photography. With digital cameras offering sensitivity of up to ISO 3200 in the case of my Fuji S5 Pro, and even higher in the case of some newer cameras, I became somewhat of a "night photographer" and took hundreds, if not more than a thousand, night photographs. I am most proud of the one taken at Chinatown, with Chinese lanterns and street lamps, which I title 3+2.

Also at night are the various performances. Here, my interest is not so much in photographing scenes of the performances, but in taking close up portraits of the artistes - musicians, dancers and others.

And so I have another few memorable images in this category. The one most deeply etched in my mind is this Chinese opera actress (main picture), taken at the Chinese temple near my block of flats during Chinese 7th month - The festival of hungry ghosts.

Just as memorable for me was the Chinese mid-autumn festival where one dancer from China got me enchanted. I kept returning to her performance just to take pictures of her. Plus, I did a photo essay, Seven Portraits of a Mid-Autumn Dancer.It was very well received. It got featured on the cover page of JPG for a while, and attracted close to 2,000 views!

That, in turn, started me on a series of photo essays featuring portraits, usually Seven Portraits... My personal favourite series is Seven Portraits of a Didgeridoo Artiste. I like this series best because I managed to put together seven images of the same person, in the same performance, yet all seven images are sufficiently different from each other.

Also, the Didgeridoo artiste series yielded another great photograph of hands. In fact, thanks to digital photography - which increased the effective maximum focal length of my zoom lens to 450 mm - my collection of photographs of hands is expanding very quickly.

Another favourite is Hands at Rest, from Thaipusam 2008, my first "digital Thaipusam":

One more "photograph of hands" made it into my Top 10 list from the past year of digital photography, this one from a back alley near the Sultan Mosque.

Finally, an old theme - the lotus. One of the first things I did when I started digital photography was to re-visit the lotus pond near my home. I had taken lots of lotus flower pictures in the past.

Even though the lotus is a cliched subject, especially among Asian photographers, I find it challenging to capture lotus images that are out of the ordinary.

On the day that I visited the lotus pond, there weren't that many flowers. In fact, most of the pond consisted of dead or dying leaves. And I captured this image of two lotus leaves, one dead, one alive.

It has no flower. Yet it is, to me and some of my friends, the best lotus image that I have ever created!

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4 responses

  • Karen K Smith

    Karen K Smith said (16 Nov 2008):

    I bought my first digital SLR from my son. It was only 10 months old. Between the two of us we shot it out, literally in 20 months. I can't stop shooting once I start. Isn't it wonderful, just delete! I too have been hardcore film, but the new digital cameras are convincing me that the digital future is here. Well written story, Richard and great photos. Thanks for sharing. Yes it Rocks!

  • Eric Sayah

    Eric Sayah gave props (23 Nov 2008):

    Wonderful essay and photographs! My vote

  • Camil Seisanu

    Camil Seisanu gave props (27 May 2009):

    AWESOME, with capitals !

  • Zerina Phillip

    Zerina Phillip gave props (19 Oct 2009):

    Got my vote...awesome.

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