Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Photography - A Journey

DSC03611 (by changyang1230)I have never been artistic. I have no idea how to colour properly, I do not appreciate art galleries, and I barely pass my arts exam in school every time. In fact I dreaded arts exams in secondary schools, because they tend to lower my average result by a significant amount. Not helping is seeing numbers like 60 on my result slip while others revel in scores like 80 or 95.

So, if you asked me six years ago whether I would pick up photography as a hobby, I would reply you with a loud guffaw, and "siao ah you?". Photography is an art, and art is never my cup of tea.

Alor Star Trip 070 (by changyang1230)
Kuala Kedah, taken with Xuan Ni's Sony DSC-P73.

As you can see, I am in love with photography today. Just how did that happen?

The story began when I got my first digital camera at the dawn of its popularity in Malaysia, back in 2003. Before the purchase, I did a thorough research on various cameras as it's a rather costly item. The amount of praises on Canon A70 greatly impressed me, so I ended up with one at the cost of about RM1500. (Today, similar but better cameras e.g. Powershot A560 cost about RM500) The main attraction of that camera was that while designed as a compact camera, it comes with various manual controls which paves the way for learning photography.

The articles I read during the research and the pictures I saw totally mesmerised me. I was intoxicated with such thoughts as "wow this is what I might be able to achieve!". It was so uplifting - the thoughts that I can also create art - it became the defining moment of my love for photography.

DSC08263 (by changyang1230)
Near Cape Jervis, South Australia. Taken with Xuan Ni's Sony DSC-P73.

My Canon Powershot A70 served me well for two years in Shah Alam and one year in Melbourne, before giving way finally to wear and tear (and falls). Throughout the three years of its honourable life, it took thousands of shots for me. Although not all pictures are good, the experience imparted me lots of knowledge about the technical and artistic aspects of photography. I learned to use manual controls like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance etc; and with the great guidance from the legendary Cheok Quen, I was acquainted to the basic operations of Photoshop. My interest in photography grew over time - I often end up in photography section whenever I visit a bookstore, and I engross myself in everything from Digital Photography for Dummies to Photoshop Bible.

I make no claim of myself being a good photographer; but I am confident to say that after years of practice and theories, I am starting to take above-average pictures. In year 2006 I was attracted by the newly established "Fotoholics" which was a new photography club in Melbourne University. Eager to improve my photography skills and know more people, I joined the club. The experience turned out to be eye-opening. I witnessed how ordinary people like you and I are able to produce stunning pictures we see in magazines. Equally memorable is the amount of money some people can spend on the equipments. :P

IMG_8282 (by changyang1230)
Gibson's steps overlooking the Twelve Apostles, one of the greatest attractions along Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Over the last year, I became increasingly involved in Fotoholics activity. I helped organising a "photography workshop" where I actually gave one of the lectures about the basics of photography i.e. shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I am also currently responsible for the Fotoholics website. Besides, I participated in various outings and activities in the club.

After almost two years of going without my own camera, I decided to get a decent digital SLR. For the uninitiated, a digital SLR is a category of camera which you would usually refer to as the "pro" or "big" camera. I know that it costs quite a bit, so I started saving up for it through tutoring in Melbourne. After almost one year of sporadic tutoring sessions, I finally earned enough to pay for a decent "starter's package", and that's how I ended up with my EOS 400D.

A digital SLR doesn't automatically transform a bad photographer to a seasoned photojournalist. The photographer matters more than the camera - the most expensive DSLR in an inexperienced hand will produce a picture worst than a cheap compact in a good photographer. However, this is not to undermine the capability of DSLRs (why would I have bought it if it doesn't matter at all). A DSLR enables control over every single aspect of photography. When you master the control of a DSLR, you pretty much tell the camera to produce the picture as you have in mind; instead of clicking the shutter and wishing that the camera somehow gets the brightness, sharpness, colour etc right.

One of the aspects I liked about DSLR is bokeh, the "out of focus blur" effect. Consider these two pictures of Kangaroo in Tasmania (click to view larger version):
DSC09927a (by changyang1230) Sleeping Kangaroo (by fotograz)

The first picture is by myself using compact, second picture by a fellow Fotoholics with SLR.

The first thing you notice is probably the colour, but that isn't really related to the camera as colours can be easily manipulated with Photoshop. But look at the larger version, and notice the background - the compact version has a sharp, distracting background; the SLR version has a blurred, smooth, aesthetically pleasing background. That kind of bokeh is not achievable with a compact - and when I took the picture, I was like, "if only I have an SLR". There are also other aspects like the sharpness which would have been more controllable and hence better if I took it with SLR.

Enough with grandmother stories. So yeah, now with my new camera, I look forward to more exciting journey in photography in the future. If you are interested, do take a peek at my photos at my Flickr album. Comments and criticism are much appreciated.


SilverIsle said...

Like this post! A great one. =)

I'm gonna experiment more and more with my current 350D. And hopefully when time comes and money allows, I'm able to upgrade to a better one and beautify it with wonderful lens. Work! Work! Work! =P

changyang1230 said...

Yeah let's sama sama belajar. :) Look forward to more of your pics in flickr or other places.