I have been a photographer since my teens, with the Minolta X-300. It was a simple, basic SLR, but spurred my interest in creating visual imprints of the world around me then. I also toyed with 8mm film at one time with my dad.
Eventually, I started working, and an elderly gentleman, who was a professional photographer serving the audit/fax firm I was working for, introduced me to medium-format photography. He sold me a used Mamiyaflex C220 twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera using 120/220 medium-format film. It was a stunning camera that produced spectacular images on slide and negative film. I took some professional images where I worked, and these images went into commercial and marketing communications for the firm then. When I went round the firm shooting the images, some colleagues asked, “Where are the studio lights?” And I told them I didn’t need them.
I got busy with my career, and photography took a back-seat.
Digital Hybrid Photography
But eventually, digital photography beckoned. One of the cameras I got was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1, something that looked like the rangefinder cameras of old. The camera sensor was only 5-megapixels, but the hefty lens and body gave such great confidence. The camera didn’t last long and I left it alone.
After many trials and errors of testing various digital cameras, the revelation came in the form of the Olympus OMD EM-5, a micro four-third (MFT) camera that has interchangeable lens, with images that are stunning and comparable to cameras with larger sensors, and with optical image stabilization that works even for an aging man like me. Another great addition to my arsenal is the Panasonic Lumix GH3, a great HD video-capable interchangeable lens MFT camera with video and color quality that pops at you, and I have used it professionally for video interviews, live-streaming, and product review videos. I have a backup Sony NEX VG-20 camcorder with interchangeable lens, as well as the Fujifilm X100S and X-E2 interchangeable lens cameras, both APS-C sensor cameras with great image and color quality. I acquired a Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) too, which uses the same MFT lenses I have on my Olympus OMD and Panasonic Lumix GH3.
So today, I am what they call a “hybrid” photographer, someone who does still photography as well as videography, using modern cameras capable of delivering both stills and video. It is a trend of the times, especially with video coming to the forefront.
I am no “gear snob.” I love ambient light, and I have the confidence to capture good images, whether portraiture, journalism, products, events, or more.
For filmmaking and videography, I have a full range of video rigs (stabilization, shoulder rigs, tripods, etc), shotgun microphones, audio mixers, H.264 livestreaming encoders, and non-linear editing software on my Macs. I don’t do large-scale productions. If you are keen on livestreaming, video hosting, event coverage, personality interviews, documentary and journalistic-style videos, I am your guy.
What is my style?
Reality photography – I am not a Photoshop or image editing enthusiast. I confidently believe there is beauty in nature and people without smudging all the details or color-casting the reality away. I am not a fan of “post-production” to fix things. I believe in getting the lighting condition, the white balance, the exposure, the angles, and where I stand, all right FIRST. There is little need to fix much after I make that shot.
Sniper-style – Think of my style of photography like a sniper, who makes the shot the first time, rather than those who attempt to shoot a thousand images to get a few usable ones. This philosophy stems from my background as a medium-format and large-format photographer (we get only a few shots out of a roll of film).
Available light – I have always been shooting images with whatever light available. They have a natural quality I love. When I shot images for corporate communication materials when I worked at Pricewaterhouse, using a medium format film camera, some of the colleagues were surprised that there wre no “studio lights”. Yet, the images were great and nicely illuminated. The reason is simple. Natural light, given the right conditions, with the right understanding of available light and the use of any camera, would lend great encompassing illumination to any image. These days, I do use LED lighting or bounced flash when I have to, but not that often.
Shallow depth of field (DOF) – I have always shot images like a filmmaker even when young, when I dabbled with 8mm film. An image that every subject or object is in focus, whether in the foreground or the background, will compete with each other for our eyes’ attention simultaneously. If you observe cinematographic footage, you will notice very often, the foreground images will be in focus, while the background is blurred. And if the cinematographer intends to bring attention to the person speaking, then the rest of the people will be blurred and the speaking person will be brought into focus. The way to achieve this is with a lens using a wide open aperture. I use this technique very often to bring attention to objects and persons, and this is great for portraiture as well.
Prime lens – I am a believer of prime lenses rather than zoom lenses. The best and most expensive zoom lenses do have wider apertures, but they also tend to be heavier, larger, and look much more intrusive to your subjects. With a simple prime lens, I can achieve shallow depth of field (DOF) while having a much lighter camera that feels less intrusive to my subjects. It does require me to be nimble and agile, and move on my feet a lot, rather than simply standing still. But… that’s for me to worry about.
High key – Since my teens, I preferred the “high key” image. The word “key” in photography or cinematography refers to the tonal range of an image. A “low key” image has more dark tones, while a “high key” image has lighter tones throughout. A “high key” image is great for portraiture imho and I have used it for some nice looking portraits for commercial work and events.
If you need a friendly guy who is passionate about photography and filmmaking (for documentaries, products and events), and someone with a creative eye and mind, call me.
Here’s a short advertising film for Flight Experience Singapore. I was the videographer (using Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II with 12mm lens, Edelkrone ENG grip, RODE Pocket Video Mic, and a lapel mic).
Here’s a short film (pro-bono) where I was creative director, writer, and did the post-production (FCPX).
Just some samples of photography through the years (©Seamus Phan. All rights reserved)