Thursday, June 25, 2015

Boundary Café @ Kowloon Cricket Club

The moment I stepped off the taxi, immediately I felt a blast from the past.  The entrance to the Kowloon Cricket Club had colonial existence all over it.  It didn't look Victorian or anything ancient but it reminded me of the final British colonial days of Hong Kong.  Just to reinforce this feeling two Indian kids were fighting to get into my Cab which I was still in while the Indian mother was telling them to behave in Cantonese.

As I arrived into the main entrance reception,  I was glad to see that the Boundary Café was somewhat modern and that the people weren't old crusty expats asking for bangers and mash and shepherd's  pie.

Terry was the F&B manager and as he greated me he also gave me a quick intro to their establishment.  Terry immediately gave me a sense that he was well seasoned in his profession and that he had a lot of tricks up his sleeve for the F&B business.

Soon after Ah Sing who was the head chef came and we started to shoot our 5 plates.  

The team at the Cricket Club you can tell were an easy going team.  Most of the staff there were pretty old and you can tell that they have seen it all and done it all.  In a situation like that, you don't wanna take your time.  Usually with smaller restaurants/establishments, they love when you take your time or try something creative, but with larger establishments or event corporate/chain restaurants this is not the case.  Immediately  I knew I had the keep the photo shoot swift as they brought me to a simple table with an ordinary white table cloth with ironing creases on it.

As I asked one of the staff for a table setup he returned with a stainless steal knife and fork with a wrinkly paper napkin that you'd usually find in a cheap diner.  I knew immediately that my photos could not rely on a table setup an even if I requested for something more sophisticated, they wouldn't have been able to provide it anyways.  At the end,  I pulled it off.   I found the wooden surface beneath the boring white table cloth to be usable and once again relied on selective focus and artificial window light made with my Godox Speedlight and my Godox shoot thru umbrellai.

Sometimes shooting for clients,  you can't expect them to be super cooperative.  Some don't know what is required and some don't understand photography.  In the worse case, they just don't care and they just want you to get it done quickly so they can get on to the next thing.  In any case,  communication is important once again so that at least you have this information. Once you have this information you then have to quickly transform it to benefit your last minute preparation for your shoot.   

In this case, my client just didn't know a photo shoot can be that complicated and so he just provided me with what he thought was adequate.  He would have helped if I asked for more to assist my shoot, but you could tell that there would have been a lot more of scrambling around and in this case it would have been better to keep things simple.  

Once again this proves that a good photographer is not just about his/her photography skills but also his/ her technique to get the information he/she needs to get the money shot.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Mandy's Caribbean Bar & Restaurant

Mandy's is a small bar restaurant located on the quieter harbour side of Sai Kung.  The limited seating inside or out already gives you a feel that this place was meant for people to meet new friends and be social.

Mandy herself one of those restaurant owners that don't like to beat around the bush.  For me that is the type I people I like to work with.  If it works it works and if it doesn't, tell me that instant, not after I do the post work.  So with Mandy the moment we started talking I knew that it wasn't gonna be a problem.  

She had prepared four dishes for me.  Of course at the time of this blog entry I have had already forgotten the names. 

Mandy's is one of those bars that unlike others where they just fry you up something salty and fattening, they put out a little more effort into making their food stand out from others.  When you shoot several menus a week, food that stands out make a big difference to your photographs.

As we shot, there were a few exposures where Mandy wasn't too sure with the composition.  She then asked if I would allow her friend to give it a go and play with the plating.  For many photographers that is a big  "nono,". I don't give a shit as long as I get the shot I want and the client is happy.  At the end we are servicing the client not only with beautiful photos but like any business we gotta make sure the client is happy with us and not only our end product.  As photographer you gotta know how to strike a balance and also ensure you can get the job done right doing so.  Remember don't be shy to voice out and get someone's attention because at the end if you end up finding out a certain photograph is "uneditable" because you were to shy to ask for fresher greens on the plate, then the liability goes back to you rather than the cook or restaurant staff.  

Photographing foods is a team effort and not only the photographers. In my experience shooting at Mandy's was the perfect example.  Mandy got involved and she constantly offered suggestions and made sure I knew what she liked and not liked.  If you are lucky you will get a client like that but if you are not, then you need to ply their mouths opened and get them to talk and tell you what they think.

As for the technicals, keep the lighting simple.  I like to use what I call a 1 and 1 lighting setup.  Meaning only 1 strobe with 1 reflector.   Some people bring cardboards, mirrors and this and that as if they are filming in a studio.  That doesn't work. If you want to make sure certain detail is not clipped, take some extra exposures. 

Don't be too ambitious.  Especially for menus.  Most likely the photos will be small thumbnail like and being stubborn about certain detail at the end won't matter as much as you think.

At the end of our shoot I believe everyone had a great time. We had good conversation, great food, great beer (of course we were drinking Kronenbourg K1664), great photos... Photo Shoot you ask?  Felt more like happy hour and that's a sign of a great shoot.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Professional Photography... A Dying Art?

I was reading up on this entry in (Professional Photographer Shares Uncomfortable Truths About the Industry), and while it was a nice read I quite disagree with what the entry was referring to in terms of how professional photography will not last in the age of modern digital photography.  

In the article it mentions how the technology of today's photography makes getting the photography much easier.  True, things like dynamic range, noise tolerance, and speed has made it easier for photographers on one hand but I feel as a professional photographer myself that at the same time as the technology makes it easier, our clients standards have also increased quite significantly.  Just look at the quality of the photos in magazines now and compare it to those from the 70s and 80s.  So it's true that it's easier but your clients are also demanding for more and so really the demand in terms of the quality of skills in professional photography has not gone down or has the technology made the job easier.  The job is just different now.

Secondly, the article mentions about how many times it doesn't matter how good your photos really are.  In a way that is true, but then again though as professional photographers are learning and improving with the new technology,  so are our clients.  It's because the technology is getting easier, people know more about RAW, depth of field, color temperature, etc...  So if anything our clients should only be demanding for higher quality and not the vice versa.  If the article was talking about specifics in personal taste, well then that has nothing to do with the times or the technology that come with our field.  In just about any field,  personal tastes is a great factor to the artists (or craftsman) success.  Let's take the culinary arts as an example.  The greatest burger?  Is there really such a thing.  I can name ten great burgers I have tasted and I am sure in that list you will beg to differ quite a few I have selected.  To become a successful photographer you need to shape your craft so that people want your style of photography and not only just "liking" it.  It should be a style they think related to you whenever they see your picture (or even a picture that was not taken by you).  You can't be great or one of the greats being only technically great, this greatness in photography is positively correlated with your character,and the charisma your clients find in your work/services.

It also mentions that "it's more about the equipment than we'd like to admit."  Well it may be for someone that is just starting out but as you work longer like myself you will find that it is less and less about the gear and more about your eye and the artistic direction. Maybe for an event photographer this may relate more to, but then again I can bet you anything if you gave a true professional a 3-5 year old dslr and a pocket strobe that he'd get the same shots as he would with the latest Dslr.  So how significant is really the latest gear to the quality of our final product?

I hate to say this but I think for those that feel the same way,  you really need to think about whether you as a photographer is really changing with the times or just stuck in the late 90s and still thinking how film is better than digital.  Sure cast iron are good for some dishes but most people own Teflon pans now and you don't see people using cast iron as much because it ain't flexible and inconvenient.  

I think there is nothing to worry about for photographers as long as you are one of those photographers that are constantly upgrading themselves, and finding out how new techniques and equipment is changing our industry,  or constantly checking out what other people are doing.  But if you are just one of those that learned how to get a shot in focus with the correct exposure and decided that you are good enough then you should be worried.  If fact your career is already over.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Are you still buying expensive CF cards?

From previous experience, I always knew that using memory card adapters were not ideal.  Either that it was buggy or that it lacked speed.  

Not until recently when I purchased my first GoPro that I decided to give these adapters a try.  I wanted to buy high speed cards for my GoPro but I didn't want them to be only used for the GoPro exclusively since I was using the go pros for recreational use.  To my surprise these new adapters are capable of producing speeds up to the cards capability.  

So why use micro sd?

MUCH CHEAPER (like half the price of a CF card)

Less physical storage space needed

And if you own a GoPro and Pro DSLR, the adapter route is definitely worth trying.

*just make sure you buy a card that is capable of high write speed and not only read speed.  I almost got burned at a shop in SSP offering me a card capable of a 80mb read speed but only to find out moments before cashing out that it only had a 20mb write speed.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ironically you are your best lighting guy...

This is to all photographers that uses a lot of handheld lighting.  It's not easy training your assistants to the way you want with handheld lighting.  Firstly they must be really into this kind of stuff for them to really go into it and get better at lighting on a boom.  

Don't get me wrong, most of the guys I work with are good guys but even after years, I still find often that I have to go in myself and man handle the boom so that I get the light the way I visioned it.

It's true no one knows better than you do to how you want it lit, but unfortunately you'll never get to be your own lighting guy because you like to shoot handheld as well and if your assistant assists you with that then it becomes their photo and not yours.

Talk about tough...

Gi Yue

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Good Client Bad Client

It's been a while since my last post but as most of you photographers probably know, in the world of freelance/professional photography it's either enough time to write 3-4 blog posts a day or not enough time to even check your email on your iPhone for the week.

I wanted to share my experiences about clients once again.  Recently I was lucky to work with a great one.  However, you might ask what is a great client?  Isn't that subjective.  Well, true in a way but I think most photographers will agree with the following:

Characteristics of a Great Client

(1) Respectful
They respect you as an artist and not just someone with a snappy finger.  They give you time to think.  Photos are not just captured but created with your expertise.  They ask and no demand.  They take the time to hear you out. 
(2) Honor
This may sound very game of thrones but yes, clients must honor.  They must honor their agreement.  Honor the agreed schedule, honor the agreed payment terms and honor the terms of usage.

(3) Honesty
Whether it's about feedback, late payments, etc...  A good client should always be straight forward.  Sometimes straightforwardness sounds a bit direct and blunt but I would always take that than the "well-mannered beat around the bush and never hear from again."

Professional/Commercial Photography definitely requires communication and cooperation from both the client and the photographer.  For you clients out there, photographers are muses and they can't read minds.  Especially with the more experienced photographers, they have done a lot of work and gone through many ideas.  Vagueness is fine if you are expecting something  generic in return but if not, take the time to carefully explain things and make sure your photographer truly understand what you are looking for.

As well, if you hire a photographer and not just a snapper (not the fish), give him/her the creative freedom and space needed to do their job.  Don't go looking over their shoulder every shot and don't interrogate the poor guy every time you see something clipped.  Hey maybe the sun changed position last minute.  If that's the case, even Mario Testino would have gotten the shot clipped.

In the year of the goat (yes that is the present Chinese lunar year),  I have decided to take on less work from "bad" clients and take on more work from "good" clients.  The way I see it is that you won't get good work thus good photos from these clients/jobs anyways so why bother?  Most of the time these jobs pay shit anyways (what is considered a shitty job is when you minus the avg price of the equipment rental you are using for the work and you practically have nothing left that you can call a wage for your services.  Basically your client is renting your gear and getting the technician for free).

Don't be afraid to say no when your gut feeling tells you to decline the offer.  You will only get where you want from being able to do the best you can offer.  Work for clients that allow you to the best you can be and not substandard so you can meet their budget and quickly pass on your work to designers to get it over with.

Gi Yue

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Smiles... Free

We often deal with clients in our field and the job is sometimes much more difficult than it really is.  As a photographer my goal is to make great pictures, however this is very subjective.

I am dealing with a client recently (don't ask me who) that can be quite frustrating at times.  Firstly clients don't understand that this is a technical field.  Apart from the creative side, certain technical standard require a technical standard setup.  

Ex.  Client ask you to shoot a low light event and does not allow you to use flash.  Or ask you to produce ad quality images of a watch on location at a shop where time and space is not available for the photographer.

You will have to accept the fact that not all your customers will be fully satisfied at times.  Depending on what they ask for, it may not be your fault.  I have listed some points for you to ask yourself next time when you feel you have disappointed a client and is giving yourself a beating.

(1) Are they being reasonable?
Are they asking you last minute to give them a shot they found in a luxury print ad that took a day to shoot while asking you to complete it in an hour.  

I have had clients ask me to reproduce a print ad that was clearly the works of many exposures manipulated with digital illustrations in photoshop.  And even when I explain to them that you can never get a photo to look like that straight out of the camera, they didn't understand and replied "that's why we need your expertise."

(2) Does your client understand you and respect you as a photographer?

If it's clear that you are nothing but a human camera to the client the answer is very clear. Don't quit the job, just don't take his opinions too harsh on yourself if they are being mean. Think of it this way. If you yelled at your DSLR for takings crappy photos, what would it say???  Respect is mutual and same goes with understanding.  Just because they are paying doesn't mean they can make me their bitch.

(3) When is low too low?
I'll admit it, when times are slow I have taken jobs that are way below my rates.  So when do you draw the line?  

I have a simple system.  Based on a 22 day work month, I will multiply the day rate offered by 22.  If it's lower than the salary of the local television network camera operator, I won't do it (this is based also on the fact that the client does not require me to travel too far or bring more than my usual kit).  I love my work and one f the reasons why I love it is because it keeps me from working day after day at a local tv network which in my opinion is no different than working at a factory.  As long as the client can pay that rate or above, I'll do it.

(4) Short temporary departures may be a good thing.

It takes comparison for people to know one is better than the other.  As arrogant as this may sound,  your client is probably getting the best for the dollar and they just don't know it.  If they can get someone "better" (or more fitting to their needs), they will eventually go elsewhere with their business anyways.  You may be the only one willing to work those hours, work those rates, or tolerate those late night calls, whatever... They'll only find out when they work with someone else.  So, it may not be a bad thing after all.

(5) They aren't unhappy, they're your client.
Some clients will never be as enthusiastic   as yourself whenever you produce a great photograph.  Consider it like when you get an electric bill for half of what you paid for last month.  The thing is they are still paying for it.  Some clients just look at photographic services as expenses to their business and don't value the photographs as much as others.  I treat all my clients like my father.  He's never gonna be satisfied so just try my best and if that's not good enough then try harder but don't pop a blood vessel while you are at it.

Points to remember when dealing with clients to prevent an unhappy encounter.

(i) Always prepare, but don't over do it.  Preparation is a must but overdoing it will cause too much information to come all at once and complicate things.  Keep it simple. You know what you are doing just apply it to the situation you are in.

(ii) Don't always try to please. You have as much say of what works and what doesn't.  Don't be afraid to tell them what doesn't work.  There is a high chance whatever you gave in to will be noticed by someone else from the client's company and they may not be happy with the final editorial decision that you sided with at the end to keep your client happy.  If you are gonna get judged for your work it better be for something you truly believe in and not because what the marketing exec thought may look "kinda cool."

(iii) As much as you think you are an artist, don't act like one. Professional photography requires a lot more communication than one thinks. Speak to your client more and get feedback.  Don't ask them "does this look good?"  You will sound amateurish, ask more sophisticated questions which sounds like you are trying to cater to their brands uniquely.  Prepare beforehand as mention, read and look at past references with the brand and find out about things like brand styles, colors and themes.

A lot of people consider it much cooler to be a professional photographer and want  to depart from being an amateur as soon qas they can.  What they don't understand is that it's actually the other way around. Professional Photographers are mostly shooting what people want while amateurs cater to customers that believe in the photographer's editorial decisions and are often more liberal to allow the photographer to make the call, thus creating photographs the photographer truly believe in. You get to do that too in professional photography but only when you are famous and when your name is on the line like the brand that is paying you.

Professional photography is often the opposite of what people think. 99% of the time it is whether you as the photographer can follow company brand styles and give the client what they want. It's about making brand labels glow and things look artificially bigger than they really are.  It's about selling their product visually to viewers.  The photo can be mesmerizingly beautiful but if it doesn't sell chicken McNuggets, they are not gonna call back for another shoot.