The Importance of seeking out Critiques - An evening of learning with Jose Jeuland

While penning down my next project, Culture X, I could not help but ask myself if I really was good enough to take it up a notch with a project like that. The fact that this question was lingering around in my mind, distracting me from my research, made me feel that I needed to speak to someone about it.

Poster taken from www.josejeuland.com

Poster taken from www.josejeuland.com

I reached out to renowned documentary and travel photographer, Jose Jeuland, whom I have been following on social media to know if I could get some words of advice from him. Jose, whose work has been featured on far too many platforms for me to mention given my word limit for this article, is a FUJIFILM ambassador, and is supported by BenQ, Manfrotto, Epson and Gravity Backdrops. He was, at that time, running an exhibition in Singapore titled, “Longevity Okinawa”, which had on display portraits of Okinawans aged between 89 to 106 taken by him.     

Why would someone like myself, who has spent nearly a decade taking photographs through various assignments and personal projects, need the opinion of another photographer? Consider the following:

  1. It could be an opportunity to experience something new.

    Of course, it is always satisfying to hear compliments but learning comes from knowing what is lacking in our work. The varying opinions of another keen-eyed photographer can help with giving different perspectives and with singling out mistakes made that can be avoided in other assignments or projects.

    Jose used a large-screened BenQ display to review a collection of my edited photographs. I was blown away at how much detail (and mistakes) in those photographs I had not noticed before. Through using the large display, Jose was able to make it obvious to me how I have a tendency of over-processing some of my photographs. While he maintained that different people tend to have different styles and preferences, the white halo-like lines that appear on the edges of the subject in the photograph (a sign of an over-processing) can be very distracting on print which is why he uses such a large screen to identify such issues in photographs before they are printed out.

    While I have heard countless times about the sheer joy of editing on a large screen I have never gotten to experience it on my own. Thus, in this case, right at the very beginning of the workshop, I already had the pleasure of experiencing something new.

  2. Critique sessions and workshops are not just about criticizing your work.

    To Critique” and “to Criticize” mean two different things altogether.

    An often forgotten fact is that professional photographers are not going to dedicate their time to critique your work just so that they can bash it. They could be spending that same amount of time working on a project or resting up before their next assignment.

    It is important to bear in mind that if a professional photographer puts in the effort to give you his or her time, it only means that they are passionate about imparting their knowledge. Throughout the workshop, Jose repeatedly mentioned that there is no right or wrong and that his critiques are based on his personal point of view which can vary from person to person. He also asked me for some background story or context and then proceeded to give his critique for each photograph. He emphasized on, not just the things that did not work in the photographs, but also on what worked. In addition to that, never once did he see the need to say something negative and, instead, shared how he would have taken the photographs which offered me a different perspective to consider.

    It is never about someone else trying to impose their opinions, especially in the case of professionals who would know how to conduct themselves respectfully. Therefore, if you approach the right people and attend the session/ workshop with an open-mind, chances are that you will definitely enjoy the process!

  3. It is a great opportunity to get some Pro-tips on the business of photography as well.

    While there are many ways to acquire ideas and tips from professional photographers, I am of the opinion that the best way would be to speak to them personally. It is a sincere and direct way of communication that does not risk you looking like you have an agenda.

    At the end of the workshop, Jose and I spent a while more discussing assignments, business and sponsorships that would assist in running projects smoothly. The grand take-away of it all was that nothing can replace good work as that is what industry-giants are going to take note of first but there are many things in between that can be done to put ourselves out there in a more professional light that could help the process.


I, personally, regard myself as a photographer who has only just started the professional stage of his career and while I do believe in hard work, that alone, is not going to help me sustain a successful professional career. Everything I have covered boils down to one simple thing: Learning. There is no point in doing something the same way over and over again if it does not get you the desired results. I am glad that right before the beginning of my dream project, Culture X, I was able to regain my confidence and that is my biggest gain from seeking out Jose Jeuland’s critiques.

We’re all Artists; learning never ever stops for us!

On Self-Development - An Artist at 30, Critiques on his 25 years old Self

5 years is a long time to fit into one article’s read, but a growing itch since the last 2 weeks of February has succeeded in influencing me to at least attempt this article. You can expect a lot of drama that is infused with great stories of dangerous adventures, soul-stirring romance, and spirited heroism in this entry…

Just kidding.

The past 5 years has seen me live through a great deal of achievements and disappointments in the crazy world of art and photography. Of course, in reality, I have not been a photographer for just 5 years only. I bought my first camera, the Canon EOS 50D, many years before that. I am taking into consideration only the past 5 years, starting from the time I had started HyperFrontal Productions (a photography and video services company), because, according to me, that was the point when I had really turned into a “true-blue professional”. In other words, that was when “**** got real”. So, for those of you who have grown disinterested in my article already thinking that it is going to be a long rant or nothing of value, don’t cut me out just yet. What I am going to be sharing about is how 5 years worth of experience has, today, made me more aware about my abilities as an artist and photographer, and, has helped me learn how to make better decisions for my work.

With Filmmaker Sarah Howell - One of my first few Portrait shoots

With Filmmaker Sarah Howell - One of my first few Portrait shoots

STARTING UP - WAS IT THAT EASY?

Incorporating a business was the easy part, but knowing what to do next was the big question that I, admittedly, didn’t have the answer to. Many articles out there tell you to have a business plan that reflects your current financial state and projects where you want your business to be in 3, 5 and 10 years. I had nothing like that on paper. I swiftly started to work on my logo and website and, ‘Voila!’, HyperFrontal Productions was created!

A fancy website and a creative logo only got me so far. There were no new jobs coming in and something didn’t feel right about all this being so easy. I started reading up more articles and photography related YouTube channels to learn more and realized that I had barely scratched the surface.

According to Dane Sanders in his book Fast Track Photographer: In the 1st year, 60% of photographers give up their business. Of that remaining 40%, another 25% will fail within the 2nd year. The ones that make it are the remaining 15% who endure through the 3rd year.

https://www.colesclassroom.com/why-photographers-fail-how-to-succeed/

As creative folks, what some (or most) of us do not realize from the beginning is that being good at what you do is not enough. You still need a shrewd business acumen to take you to the next level. Despite all the resources available online to help me, I willingly chose to do things my way which sent me on a journey of questionable decisions and unnecessary expenditure that never got me closer to my goals - all of which could have been avoided.

Image from my First In-studio Portrait shoot

Image from my First In-studio Portrait shoot

LEARNING NEVER STOPS

Research and Development are two key factors that should never stop if you are in the pursuit of success. In one of my favorite reads, “Photographers and Research: The Role of Research in Contemporary Photographic Practice” authors Shirley Read and Mike Simmons suggested that doing research is one of the pillars of developing and furthering skills as a photographer. This would be something I would apply as a staple principle.

Being an avid reader meant that reading came naturally for me because it was something I enjoyed very much. So an effort was made to align my hobby of reading with researching on photography. I started purchasing many photography books and swallowed them whole! Some of my favorite books that I recommend you to check out are:

1) Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits - An inspirational book on the creative processes of Gregory Heisler while taking readers through a plethora of important assignments.

2) Stunning Digital Photography by Tony Northrup - The #1 photography e-book on Amazon with over 100,000 readers authored by popular photography educators and YouTubers, Tony and Chelsea Northrup.

3) A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 by Annie Leibovitz - Famed photographer, Annie Leibovitz, publishes a book that contrasts her glitzy and glamorous work-life with that of her personal life.

Through such books, I was able to understand the ropes even better. I, as a matter of a fact, began to realize that I had stepped into the industry with the wrong idea - chasing fame or money was not the way to do it. Excellence was the key and to achieve that I needed to step down from my high-horse and put all my readings into practice.

Image from Assignment with actor/ model Fei Chua

Image from Assignment with actor/ model Fei Chua

Practice versus Over-working - The Death of HyperFrontal Productions

It is an obvious fact that you need to put in the time to get to where you want to be. Steve McCurry did not just wake up one day with National Geographic flying him all over the world. He too had to put in his fair share of time and effort into practicing his craft.

My area of interest, from portraiture, started to lean towards more abstract, conceptual/ surrealist and story-telling work. By this time, I had already moved on to having better equipment, and, after years of investing on such equipment and building a contact base of like-minded creative folks, I took the plunge into the unforgiving world of fine art photography.

It was a rocky start at the beginning given that I had so many ideas and so much inspiration flowing out of me. The act of practicing should never be confused with over-working and over-spending (both of which I was famous for). I was spending way too much time conceptualizing my own projects and too much money on booking studios that I had forgotten that I was running a business too. This would be catalytic in the eventual, and inevitable, DEATH of HyperFrontal Productions.

Image from my first Fine Art project called, Intentions, in 2016.

Image from my first Fine Art project called, Intentions, in 2016.

Making my Comeback

Surely, running a business down to the ground indicated that I was not meant for business, right? Wrong. If Donald Trump could “fake” a comeback from major financial setbacks with a Television show (The Apprentice), why, then, could I not make a genuine return to the business of photography? Surely, stories of comebacks aren’t just reserved for “celebrities”?

In late-2017, I decided that no matter what the result may be, I should at least attempt a comeback. Unlike when starting up HyperFrontal Productions, never once did I feel that this was easy. My financial blunders had, also, cost me family and friends so it felt more lonelier than ever before (to their credit, some people did reconnect with me again). However, what I did find “easier” was answering the question; what I am supposed to do next. Perhaps, this was because I had experienced failure before and this time I knew what to do to avoid it.

Image from my best-selling photo-series called, The Ratirahasya.

Image from my best-selling photo-series called, The Ratirahasya.

SUMMARY

Whenever I look back at all the experiences I collected over the years, a sense of gratitude comforts my mind and eases away all the doubts and regrets. I have learned to continue to grow and develop to be a better version of myself. The real failure is not in experiencing failure, but, in negligently taking that downward spiral into the dark abyss of self-loathing. The 30 years old me congratulates the younger me for all my failures because, today, I am a better Artist and Photographer.

How to approach Models for Assignments or Collaborations (and not be a Dick about it)

Image by ErikaWittlieb on Pixabay

Image by ErikaWittlieb on Pixabay

A good part of my conversations with photographers and models often involves discussing communication and, while respect comes from both sides, I notice a disturbing trend of wanting more of the unnecessary than the needed. How we communicate with models, or any other talent for that matter, can have serious impact on our credibility as professional photographers. It is far too often that we see a model speaking up about unprofessional approaches which has led to the death of the careers of many photographers.

As someone who’s entire career was built on work that requires models, I do believe that this is a topic that does not get enough awareness. So, here’s sharing some principles that I apply when approaching a model for an assignment or collaboration which may help you stay out of trouble.

PXG_4271.jpg
  1. KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT PLEASE THE WHOLE WORLD
    Before making the decision to approach any model, it is always wise to bear in mind that you are not going to be able to please the entire world. As mentioned earlier, respect comes from both sides.

    Several months back, I had contacted a model with interest to hire her for an assignment. I requested a meet-up to discuss further, however, what followed next was a string of unnecessarily cold responses. A lot of my work requires heavy physical and mental commitment from the model. This is only achieved if there is good chemistry and understanding between the model and myself. Therefore, I prefer setting up a meeting between us to see if we can vibe through discussing the shoot and, ultimately, signing a model release form. While many models have communicated their appreciation for this process, there are still some who feedback otherwise.

    In such situations, there is nothing that you can do other than look for someone else to work with. Your methods and processes are yours and while you should not bend them for anyone else, know that there is nothing you can do about it and that, sometimes, it is best to avoid models you know you cannot work with.

  2. LET YOUR PORTFOLIO DO MOST OF THE TALKING
    Several models I have worked with told me that the main reason for agreeing to work with me is my portfolio. Most of us invest in expensive websites to showcase our portfolio - so why not use it to the best of its potential?

    A template I follow when introducing myself always includes a link to my website. This would give the model confidence that the photographer approaching them knows what he or she is talking about and has a relevant body of work to prove it. In addition to that, I am of the opinion that the stronger your portfolio is, the more comfortable a model would be with working with you. This is because a strong portfolio can (most of the time) represent your professionalism.

  3. Consider the Model’s Portfolio
    Often times, many photographers only look at how many followers models have on their social media and this becomes the basis of their decision to hire them. Not only is this naive, it is also a disturbing trend.

    Portfolios exist to present a body of work. Therefore, same principle applies as in point 2. - you should have a look at the model’s portfolio too before deciding to approach him or her. You should be looking at the general themes that the model has a portfolio of. If it is similar to the concept you have in mind, then this would be a meeting between two already like-minded professionals.

  4. PICK YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
    Where Vocabulary is concerned, there is a fine line between decency and indecency. This is where most communication problems begin.

    If you have a concept that requires significant skin show from the model, try putting it in a way that does not make him or her feel objectified. Use keywords that projects your ideas well but does not make the project as a whole sound too sexually charged. Consider the following comparison:


    a) ”Hi XYZ, I would like to hire you for a photoshoot. You will be naked and the poses will be sexual in nature.”

    VERSUS

    b) ”Hi XYZ, my name is ABC and I am a photographer based in Singapore. Here is my portfolio: www.fghj.com. I am interested in working with you. Please do let me know if you are comfortable with working on a nude concept.”

    In the first example, no concrete intention of sounding perverted is displayed, however, you cannot control the way someone else might receive your text message. Therefore, as seen in the second example, it is best to elaborate more, use the right words, and check with the model on their comfort level first. Both examples say the same thing, it is just that one seemingly sounds better than the other.

  5. DO NOT PUSH FOR A FAVORABLE ANSWER
    How you deal with rejections is the name of the game. Over the past half a decade of being a professional photographer, I have faced plenty of rejections from clients and talents, and, likewise, have rejected many offers as well. It is in handling rejections that you show, not just your professionalism, but also who you are as a person.

    When a model rejects your offer, move on and approach someone else. There is no use of trying to conversationally slither your way into trying to get someone to work with you, especially, when he or she has communicated that your concept is not their cup of tea. Being pushy could lead to serious consequences.

    A close model-friend had shared with me an unfortunate experience she had with a particular photographer. He had, first, approached her for a nude shoot. She found this weird because nothing in her portfolio showed that she would be alright with a nude theme, and further more, she risked losing her job if she appeared nude. Despite already communicating all this, the photographer still kept approaching her for very sexual-themed photoshoots. The approach, choice of words, and conduct of the photographer led her to believe that she was being harassed and this led to her lodging a police report.

    Harassment is very subjective and the Law dictates that the accused would have to prove that his or her conduct was reasonable. How do you prove that when someone had already rejected your offer to work on a theme that he or she is uncomfortable with but you still decide to constantly ask anyway?

    Summary

    What inspired me to write this article was a recent (unpleasant) inquiry made to me by another photographer who was interested to work with a model that I share a close relationship with. Calling the inquiry unpleasant is an understatement because as the conversation progressed, I realized that this was less about work and sounded more like an indecent proposal.

    Over the years, we have seen the fall of many well-respected artists, actors, filmmakers and photographers due to sketchy behavior and it all started with just a single social media post from the victim. Sure, we cannot satisfy the whole world and, generally speaking, everyone has a story about everyone, but why unnecessarily put yourself in the line of fire right from the beginning when it can all be avoided?

    Lastly, as with any photographer, models are also trying to make their mark in a highly competitive industry that, just like any other industry, has sexual predators lurking about. The last thing you want is to be identified as one as well. So, stay safe and be wise with your approach.

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The Art of Mobile Photography and Real World Review of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Over the past two decades, one of the most interesting developments in the world of photography lies in the evolution of mobile phones. Let us take a moment to think this through. Firstly, mirrorless cameras have lost its innovative intrigue. Secondly, very rarely do we find new technology that is truly ground-breaking built into DSLR cameras. The air around the conventional tools of photography has gone stale as we seem to be stuck in an era of improvements and upgrades rather than ground-breaking ingenuity.

And then, almost out of nowhere, came the worldwide phenomenon of camera mobile phones.


A Brief History of Camera Mobile Phones

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Photo Credit: Pixabay

According to Digital Trends, the first camera mobile phone was, arguably, the J-SH04 created by Sharp in late of year 2000. Priced at 400 USD, the phone boasted a 0.11-megapixels camera. ASTONISHING.

The market of camera mobile phones would soon be taken by storm by the Nokia N-series. Among the more memorable models was the N93 which was the incredible successor of the already wildly successful N90 and N92. One of its appeals, apart from the technology it was packed to the brim with for its time, was how much it resembled a typical digital camcorder.

We all know what happens next; brand after brand, camera mobile phones took enormous technological strides, and almost 20 years later, taking the manta of Smart Phones, there is still no stopping the evolution.


The Present

The image capturing and video capabilities of smart phones today rivals some of the more advanced consumer-grade DSLR and Mirrorless cameras. This has led to the rise of mobile phone photography. What had started out as a tool to easily take lifestyle pictures has now become an art form and, to some extent, a cost-effective business essential. We even have several prestigious international mobile photography competitions and organisations!

In an interview with the FSTOPPERS, Lara Aucamp, an Instagram Photographer, aptly captures the core of what mobile photography is about:

Photography is a form of self-expression. I'm not a professional, and I don't even own a real camera. I really only got into photography after I got my iPhone. I find the format of mobile photography liberating and empowering - I have my iPhone with me wherever I go, and can easily edit and share photos on the go. The convenience of it is perfect for my busy lifestyle.


The Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Photo Credit: Huawei Website

Photo Credit: Huawei Website

Photo Credit: Huawei Website

Photo Credit: Huawei Website

In October 2018, Huawei broke the Internet announcing its latest (and greatest) creation, the Mate 20 Pro. Partnering with Leica once again, the phone has a triple-lens system: a 40-MP main (f/1.8), an 8-MP telephoto (f/2.4) and, a 20-MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) lens. It is powered by Huawei’s Kirin 980 which, according to the Huawei website, is the “ultimate engine to power next-generation productivity and entertainment applications” delivering “75% more powerful” CPU and “46% greater graphics processing.”

Despite popular believe that Huawei Technologies only makes “cheap phones”, it comes with no surprises that the Chinese company has created what seems to be the best smart phone in the current market given that they are, as of the second-quarter of 2018, the second-largest smart phone developers in the world by overtaking Apple. According to The Guardian, this is the first time in seven years that any company has managed to split the top two developers, Samsung and Apple. Business and tech watchdogs are going so far as to say that 2018 is the year of Huawei Technologies.

A one-line description by Digital Trends says it all:

We’d say it’s 2019 and beyond. Such is the technical prowess of this astonishing phone.


Camera Performance

I had initially suggested that I try filming with the phone to test its inbuilt cinema-style filters but because my time with the phone was limited, I, regretfully, was unable to push its core systems to the very end of its limits. However, I did take the phone out for a spin and had tested its camera’s capabilities under some very challenging conditions with whatever I found interesting in my house.

40-MP Main (Edited)

40-MP Main (Edited)

The 40-MP main lens is a details monster. Given that we are talking about a phone sensor, it was expected that there would be some grain showing up in any image shot under low-light conditions. The grains did not distract me away from the crisp sharpness of the silhouette of the dark buildings I was trying to put into contrast with the backdrop of the evening skies. This gave me an overall sharp subject and just the right amount of silky-blur to the rest of elements in the frame.

While taking this shot, the phone’s AI had been activated and guided me on which was the best lens to use and what were the best settings I needed to make the best of my shot. It blew me away that the AI was working nearly independently, almost like as though it had a brain of its own. Neither did it require voice commands nor did I need to tap on anything else for the AI to be activated, this was something right off the movies.

Purists may call blasphemy on this because part of the enjoyable experience of taking pictures is the photographer figuring out what settings would suit his or her scene best. However, I am keeping mainly enthusiasts in mind because they make up the largest contributors of mobile photography in general. If I were taking pictures on the go just for Instagram, I would want a device that is exactly or closely similar in capabilities as the Mate 20 Pro.


8-MP Telephoto (Edited)

8-MP Telephoto (Edited)

For the next image, the idea was to get as much bokeh (or background blur) to surround my subject as possible. Of course, it would have been ideal to have shot this with the 40-MP f/1.8 lens again because of the wide aperture but, since the objective here was to test each lens in different conditions or with different subjects, I decided to give the 8-MP telephoto f/2.4 lens a try.

8-MP may not sound appetizing to many amateurs and enthusiasts out there, however, it is important to note that it is the processor of the phone and quality of the lens that would ultimately maximize on the quality of the picture. This is also why we do not see Canon or Nikon updating their professional-level flagship cameras with high pixel counts.

The Mate 20 Pro is powered by octa-core (2x2.6GHz + 2x1.92GHz + 4x1.8GHz) processor and it comes with 6GB of RAM. In layman’s terms, it is powerful enough to compensate a low pixel count camera inbuilt in to the phone. Also, the signature balance between the dreamy-luxury-feel and overall clarity of a Leica system was evident in the pictures I took with the phone.


20-MP Ultra-wide (Edited)

20-MP Ultra-wide (Edited)

I saved the third lens of the Mate 20 Pro for a shot that would be challenging for any phone’s camera no matter what their processor or lens: Wide-Angle Macro. Wide-angle macro photography seeks to add close-up impact by telling an overall story of not just the subject alone but by also featuring the surrounding of the subject. It is most popular among wildlife photography but from time-to-time we see the technique appearing in fine art portraiture work as well.

Do keep in mind that in testing the Mate 20 Pro camera’s capabilities I am not trying to create aesthetically pleasing works of art. My main focus is to have the camera fail on me. In this case, as seen in the picture, the lens held its ground. The picture turned out beautifully with just the right balance of background blur to keep my subject as the main focus without compromising on the story-telling as a whole.


Verdict

Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro is a mobile photographer’s dream come through. Everything from Leica’s beautiful lenses, the AI, down to the OLED screen makes the phone a perfect device for mobile photographers who are stepping up their game. I did find the pictures to be naturally on the warmer side but this was easily worked around in Photoshop Mobile where I could color-correct my pictures to exactly how I wanted them to be colored. My time with the Huawei Mate 20 Pro also made me realize the impact mobile photography has made over the years and why this would compel Huawei to create what I believe is the greatest smart phone yet. I find myself being attracted to mobile photography more because, while as great as the Mate 20 Pro may be, it just seems that we have only touched the surface of an ocean of possibilities with mobile photography and, as an artist, that intrigues me a lot.