Just the way you are

That was one of my favourites in the college years. I used to hum along to it as Billy Joel sang his romantic message to his (former) wife through my walkman’s headphones. Maybe I love the words so much, but I cannot explain any other way to describe my philosophy towards photograhing people. I just love you just the way you are, and that is what my photography captures.

This post is lots of words, but if you don’t mind it, please read on:

Mixi is a popular Japanese social network site. On the main page after log in, for the past few weeks I always see the same ad on the right hand side. It is an ad of the lip sticks called ‘Rouge Automatique’, with a slider on the side that reminds me of those ’80s big music stereo component and their equaliser sliders. Anyhow, I have problem with this photo, the one that is on my face as I log on every day.

Rouge Automatique 広告
Mixi にいつも表示される広告

The first word that comes to my mind is ‘ooh, what a fake!’. Sure, MAYBE, she actually looks like this. Maybe she actually has those deep true-blue eyes. If that is the case, I’d say, that is a fake-looking face. In any case, it is quite obvious that this ad was not made for Japan market. You don’t find women with skin tones like her. And you don’t find women with such striking pinkish rouge on, unless you go back to the ’80s when she had a big stereo system in their living room, complete with 10-point sound equaliser sliders. When I saw this oddly placed unfashionable ad, it reminded me of a video I’d seen many times before. It was rather sensational and it was well received in creative world, so you might know this.

I believe it received a number of creative awards. It was not shown in the places I’d lived in, or when I was regularly watching TV any way, and I saw it for the first time in some meeting in an ad agency when I was working there in Singapore. It has a strong brand message, the kind that appeals to the user’s loyalty. But when I see this ad on Mixi, what I remember is the end product of the process, the manufactured face.

It was probably 4-5 years ago, when many of the photos used in printed advertisement were fake. With multiple lighting to create a sense of the place, rather than shooting in a real environment, the image was ‘improved’ heavily on Photoshop, removing irregularity from the skin, hair and shape of the body. It has become more of an issue since they have negative impact on the teenagers with their perception of an ideal adult woman. We adults know that there is no way such a human being could exist or considered ideal, but kids don’t know that yet and they are bombarded with such manufactured extreme images through media.

If you look at ads of automobiles on magazines these days, most, if not all, are manufactured images of cars driving smoothly in an impossible situation. They are products of 3D imaging and the amazing technology in texture graphics. They are there to impress potential shoppers with positive feelings, so that they actually go to the point of sale.

In fashion, perhaps as a rebound from the extreme length it’s once gone to manufacture perfect images, or as a simple change in trends, many images are made in a natural, simple manner. Even in the top fashion magazines, many photos are made with a simple single-lighting set up, and the photos are often used in print with very little modification.

I personally enjoy shooting in a documentary style, so I normally do not modify my images much. One exception would be one time when I was working on a mother-and-child series. The mother came in and said she hasn’t got a make-up on but she wouldn’t worry too much about it. I prefer to keep that mood going on, so we got right into it. Of course I took care in choosing the lighting, but there was a moment where the emotion was visible and I could see the connection between her and her baby. The lighting was not ideal but to me the main thing is capturing the real feeling rather than takng ‘pretty’ pictures. So we pressed on, and it turned out to be a beautiful image. The lighting, however, emphasised the skin texture a bit and made her look more aged than she was. After all, she, just like many women out there, would put a make up on before being out in public, and a photograph, by nature, is something that should be displayed in public, among their other family photos. So I put the image in Photoshop, and assumed the role of the make-up artist. I lightened the wrinkles ever so slightly, and also powdered the spots around her nose. It is just so light and natural, rather than manufacturing something artificial. It looked like she had her make-up on, and others may not notice it from the natural image. I delivered the print in 6″x9″ which is not a small print, and I’m sure she would have noticed the make up that somebody else put on her face, but there was no mention of it. It was me who encouraged to proceed with the shoot right there and then, and it was my job to ensure she doesn’t look older in the frozen memory called photograph.

Any photographer with proper image editing skills can do that much. Controlling the tonal contrast in parts of an image to draw viewers into it more strongly is something photographers are used to doing. But fundamentally, it is about what and how I, the photographer, capture. What I really care about is the integrity in the reality, the real feeling, the real memory at the real place in the history of people I photograph. That is why I normally go to the customer’s house or some place that is familiar to them, dressed up like they normally would, and use the lighting of the location as much as possible, to make photographs that look just like how everyone in the family would remember how they are in that place and the point in time. I photogrpah just a day in life of a family, birthday party, gathering of relatives and friends, to weddings, as well as other, more corporate or creative photographs. If you like to have photographs of your history, your family and friends, just the way you are, please speak to me. I’ll work according to your schedule and location as much as possible.

mother's embrace

Daisy make-up class

Melbourne Open House

a long queue
a long queue

On Sunday, after the morning session in the studio, I rushed into the city. Only in the morning did I hear about this Melbourne Open House. I think I heard it on radio or TV not long ago, but I heard only a part of it and did not register. And I don’t subscribe to the paper so I missed the ad, too. It is basically one weekend in a year when the city opens up many famous buildings – heritage or modern design architecture – to the public. Flipping through the website on iPhone I noticed there is a photo contest as well. This is promising! When I got to Collins and Queen corner, it was just after 1pm and the queue had stretched 15-20 metres around the corner up Queen street. Somebody was saying the waiting time is about 1 hour. I took it to mean 1.5 hour.

Continue reading “Melbourne Open House”

Bride

Bride
Bride

I don’t consider myself particularly good at weddings. I’ve photographed a few in my life, some formal in a traditional setting, one religion or another, some modern, and some rather unusual and private. More than once I went to a wedding where somebody’s camera was somehow placed in my hands before things got going. For a bride who LOVES photographs taken, I brought a friend photographer together with me and gave her A LOT of attention, with cameras flashing her way from all over the place.

I do not like directing and I do not like to take over the show. It is, after all, the day for the couple. Well, ok, let’s admit it, it is the day for the bride and everything (should) take place exactly as she dreamed of. Although women seem to love to look at their wedding photographs again and again and again AND again, somehow I do not think a bride thinks much about the role of wedding photographer when she envisions her wedding day. She dreams of how she arrives at the venue of her wedding, be it a chapel, a park or the beach, and how she pronounces ‘I do.’ She knows exactly how her bride maids look and support her, and how her new husband stand exactly half a step behind and half a step on the side of her, never stepping on her train behind her. She knows exactly what makes her perfect reception, with perfect deco and lighting, and the perfect meal, perfect silverware and china, and the perfect speech. Her father cries as he takes her hand on the dance floor…

All that will be captured in spot-on focused and beautifully lit photographs in her album, like those stills of actors from movies. But she’d rather not have the guy with big camera and blinding flash passing her view every 2 seconds… It is not a movie set. She is not acting for the photographer so that the photographer can take the best shot.

That’s how I see it. The wedding. The girl’s most important day in her life. And I’m not a part of it (unless one day I end up being the one half step behind her), because I should be one of those guys in black suit walking around making sure everything works out just as she dreamed of. I do not ask the groom to do me a big dip while I take 2 minutes to take a picture of her looking uncomfortable. I do not ask them to throw the bouquet 10 times until I get the best shot. I don’t even ask them to freeze while cutting the cake, well, not more than a few seconds… I would walk around, see the venue as they see it, see the couple as the guests see them, and capture them. I would capture the family and friends with their smiles on, cheering on the newlyweds. I would capture the table setting, the result of her hours of consideration from the choices on the reception catalogue. And I would capture her, her partner, her father and mother, her girls in pink or purple or blue or whatever she’s chosen for them, and her partner’s parents so they won’t be upset when they are not found in the album later on. In short, I capture the moment. I capture the way you saw it, how you saw it, no more, no less. That’s my wedding shoot.

If you like the sound of it and would like to give it a go, well, let me know. Whether you want to do it again because you didn’t like the first one (not because of my photography but because things didn’t happen as you planned), or you loved the photos so much and want to do it again, well, I can’t take responsibility for the outcome of your marriage 🙂

Now, about the bride in the photo above. I had a pleasure of shooting her about a month ago. I was looking for a photograph that she would give to her love (I assume that would be her husband). I wanted her in the photo to look up to him saying how much she loves him. I could have taken a photo of her with her mouth half open, and draw a balloon with the words on a piece of paper and put next to her. It works. Guys are easy. But really, that wouldn’t be classy, would it? She looked very classy, with her perfect dress, perfect jewelry and her perfect big brown eyes, and she deserved a classy, traditional portrait. She was a bit tired with all the attention and dress and all that when I approached her sitting in the couch. I said a few things into her ears, which did the magic, and that expression appeared on her face, in her eyes. I took only 2 or 3 frames and I was happy with the result. I just knew it was there.

That one shot would have made this bride very happy and me proud of being a photographer, for being able to capture that special feeling, rather than stiff looking nervous girl in front of a big equipment. And… when it comes to bringing out the real feeling on the face of the subject, there is no difference between a real bride and a model in wedding dress who must have been pretty tired after freezing smile at every photographer passing by. At least I’d like to think that her emotion was genuine and I was successful in capturing exactly what I was looking for.

Many thanks to the beautiful model and people at Creative Photo Workshops who allowed me to make this very quick 2-minute shoot at their booth that I passed by while attending the recent PMA Digital Life Expo. Those guys seem to be making beautiful fashion-oriented shots at their workshops, so if you are interested in learning portrait, maybe it’s worth a try.