Reflections on my photography
After 7 years and three cameras that I mostly used on full-auto settings, I’ve upgraded to a full-frame DSLR camera, a Nikon D600 – and have finally begun to learn to use a camera properly.
I’ve wanted to learn photography for ages but always felt I was too busy. I wasn’t prepared to commit to a short course over several weeks. A one-day course didn’t appeal to me either – to be honest, I felt intimidated by the idea of being in a class with other people. One way or another, I kept talking myself out of it. Recently, my friend Christina suggested taking private lessons with a professional photographer. It was the old cliché light-bulb moment.
My friend Charlene recommended Seng Mah, a professional photographer who runs classes and workshops via his company Venture Photography in Fremantle. I contacted Seng and booked in for one of his “Mastering your DSLR” 1-on-1 workshops. The 1-on-1 sessions cost more than the standard beginners group classes (AU$480 for three hours solo versus AU$220 for a 6-hour “Getting Started in DSLR Photography” session with up to 15 participants), but I really wanted to have a lesson customised to my interests. I told Seng about my blog and about the kinds of photographs I like to take (food, people, markets and street scenes, travel pictures; definitely not into studio set-ups and fussing around with lights etc) and what I was hoping to get out of the workshop. He tailored my workshop towards my key interests and goals.
Seng was an excellent teacher. He explained things very clearly, and although I was out of my comfort zone most of the time, I felt at ease, motivated and inspired. I had read through my camera manual, but the manual didn’t explain the hows and whys like Seng did. I came out of the session with the basic knowledge of photography I’d been lacking, reinforced the theory behind some things I’d been doing instinctively, learned what I had been doing wrong, identified ways to improve, and gained confidence to use my camera controls rather than leaving it in full-auto mode. Seng also gave me a set of comprehensive notes so I didn’t have to worry about writing anything down during the class, which was great, as I could then have a camera in my hands the entire time rather than pen and notepad. I’m still no expert – it takes more than photography class, it will take many, many, many shots – I’ll keep working on that!
When I started taking pictures of food in public places (restaurants, food courts, markets etc) I was very self-conscious about it. I’d do my best to be stealthy, snap a quick picture and put the camera away. Back then, more than seven years ago, no one used the term ‘food blogger’.
These days, I am not self-conscious at all taking photographs wherever I may be – as long it’s not inappropriate, insensitive or disrespectful to do so. For example, earlier this year, after discussing it with my mum and family and especially paying heed to what Mum wanted, I took photographs at my father’s funeral service – deliberately avoiding taking shots of grieving friends and family. It was a sad, difficult day for everyone but Mum has appreciated having a visual record of it.
As long as my camera and I are not in danger, and I won’t offend or upset anyone, I have no qualms about being noticed taking photographs. I don’t mind being talked about, stared at, pointed at, mocked or laughed at (these all happen regularly!). I take my camera almost everywhere with me, and I feel myself twitch if I can’t take a photograph when I see something I find interesting, beautiful or delicious. It’s become an extension of me. When you meet me, you usually meet my camera too.
In recent times, I’ve copped criticism from some readers because I’ve been featuring photographs of subjects other than food. I still love to photograph food as much as I love to eat it, but I am increasingly taking pictures of other subjects, especially people. The stories you’re now reading on this blog are have moved well beyond just what’s on the plate before me. Yes, food is glorious and gorgeous, will always make my eyes light up and my heart sing, I am still obsessed with bacon, and I still plan every holiday itinerary around the meals, but there are so many more stories that my pictures can tell and share – of cooks and chefs in action, the producers behind the amazing food, the bustle and energy of markets, the people I meet, and scenes of everyday interaction and life, right here in Perth and wherever else I happen to be. In the past couple of years I’ve travelled more than in all the other years of my life put together, and I’m excited by all the photographic possibilities. I’m also keen to keep showing off our fantastic state of Western Australia. I reckon next trip should be somewhere warm up North…
For my fellow photography nerds who may be interested, I’m now using:
35mm f/2 D (bought this one secondhand, was Charlene’s!)
On my recent trip to Dubai, I used a Lowepro Stealth Reporter D400 AW bag as my carry-on baggage for all my camera gear and other essentials (batteries, chargers, medication, passport etc). My everyday and general event/dining out bag is a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home. The camera comes with me to work each day but I don’t carry all the lenses with me; I mostly use the 24-70mm lens at events and markets; the 35mm is currently my go-everywhere lens. I’m working out what works best for me in different situations.
Here are some photographs taken with the new camera and a sneak peek at what’s coming up on the blog in the coming weeks.
Pixel, now over a decade old, is at her most leonine in winter.
Literally two minutes after I took this photo of Truffle, she was terrorising Pixel with unwanted bum sniffs and bear hugs.
I love photographing kids. They’re usually less self-conscious than adults and almost always more photogenic. When I take pictures of my nieces and nephew, I hang out, talk and interact with them – I don’t just point the camera at them.
Quite a few people have been asking about my photos from the Dubai trip. Here are several (more to come when I blog the trip).
My first afternoon in Dubai was spent at the beach. The others mostly sunbathed and swam, I walked around and took photographs. We had a brilliant view of the gleaming Burj Al Arab Hotel.
A highlight of the trip was the Arabian Adventures Sundowner Desert Safari. It was windy out in the desert and I was worried about the damage desert dust might do to a camera. I took this picture with my camera in a Glad bag with a hole cut in the corner for just the lens to poke through, which was also protected by a polarising filter. It looked terribly daggy but did the trick.
A falconry demo was part of the Desert Safari. With the bright sun in the background behind my shadowy moving subjects, I did my best to remember what I’d learned in my photography class – I’m so thrilled I managed to get a couple of decent shots during the falconry show, which was over very quickly – it was definitely a case of “faff around too much with your camera and you’ll miss it”.
We visited the Dubai Fruit and Vegetable Market, where the stallholders were friendly and welcoming. They saw my camera and big zoom lens and asked if I was a journalist or photographer (it was always easiest to say yes to either question). They’d tell me their names and I’d tell them mine. They were all intrigued when I said I was from Australia (maybe because I’m Asian rather than Caucasian). And then they’d pose for me, sometimes grinning, sometimes serious, but always standing very proudly with their produce. I mentioned this in my most recent Vietnam post – a smile and courteous, friendly approach usually earns you the same in return, whatever the size of your camera.
A surprise was waiting for me in my room at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, Dubai on my first night – when I first saw this I really did think it was sushi, then realised with delight – it was dessert!
And with this new camera, I’ve been really enjoying the challenges of low-light photography.
As we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jac’s niece Savannah, I struggled with capturing the moment and worrying about that ice cream cake underneath all those hot candles. I got my shots and the ice cream cake was fine. And delicious – it was a classic Freddo ice cream cake.
I’ve talked about my wish for Smell-O-Vision before, and I do wish this image could convey the hot, seductive aroma at Shak Shuka, the Moroccan food stall at the Twilight Hawkers Market last Friday night, Perth. Fresh free range eggs are broken into the bubbling spicy tomato sauce, where they are left to poach, before being served with chorizo, crusty baguette and harissa. The Twilight Hawkers Market is back on in Forrest Place this Friday, by the way – 5 to 9pm and on every Friday until the end of April 2013, with a short break for Christmas.
After more than two years of using the much smaller, lighter Panasonic G2 with a 20mm pancake lens, I’m adjusting to the different focal lengths and weights of my new lenses. Funnily enough, I’m finding the people and action shots easy; it’s the food shots that are the most difficult now. I know I’ll get there eventually. As I said earlier – I need to take many more pictures.
Below is the exquisitely smooth and shiny chocolate and pear tart – the tarte du jour at Bistro Guillaume, Crown Perth. There’s definitely a blog post on that meal coming up.
When you eat a magnificent roast dinner someone else has cooked for you, do you compliment the cook or the oven?
Of course the camera does play a significant part in the photographs that are produced, but it’s the photographer who composes the shots and chooses to press the button. Yes, I got a new camera, but it’s up to me to get the best out of it.
I do want to make the point that I’m well aware that a bigger camera or bigger lens doesn’t necessarily mean better pictures, and the secret to great photographs is definitely not determined by how expensive your camera is.
I made the decision to upgrade my camera because the DSLR camera delivers higher quality images (I’m talking in terms of digital data rather than subjective, quality judgements on what makes a “good” photo) – I’m keen to produce sharper, more detailed higher resolution images that can be printed at larger sizes – and the DSLR has greater capabilities in low light, which has been my nemesis at dinner time in many restaurants. I’ve learned to use the manual settings on my camera because I want greater control over my equipment.
For years, I trusted my camera to decide what would work best for my shots; I’m now learning to trust myself. I’m eager to try new things with my photography and keep learning. For now, the DSLR is right for me – but I’m only describing my personal experience and am not suggesting a DSLR is for every aspiring food blogger. For many, a smaller, more compact camera is simply more practical. Not everyone wants or needs interchangeable lenses. And if a camera’s too big to be practical, it won’t be in your hand when you need it – I’ve heard many a photographer say “the best camera is the one you have with you”. I admit, it is tiring to lug around the camera when the 24-70mm lens is attached – it’s a monster. But I’m having fun with my new camera, and right now, it IS the camera I happily choose to have with me.
I can’t predict how else my interests in photography will change, but I know they will keep evolving, just as this blog has over the years. Whatever happens, I plan to keep blogging and taking photographs. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.