I’ve been recieving emails from fellow hobbyists asking me questions on how I do my stuff. I always try to answer each of them promptly, but I noticed that I often get the same questions and I answer the same answers. So I figured I should just write it all down here. So here goes…

Don’t people get mad at you for taking candid pictures of them?
When I started shooting candids about 2 years ago, this was my number one fear. I can still remember pointing my camera to an unwitting stranger, and my hands were shaking so hard I couldn’t compose the shot properly. And it was because of this fear that I have missed a lot of potential keepers. Eventually, I learned how to deal with this fear and employ some techniques to lessen the probability of getting that unwanted reaction from the subject; like not establishing eye contact before or after the shot, only raise the camera to your eyes when you’re about to take the shot, and blend in the crowd to make yourself less visible. The key thing was to be quick and not make the subject too uncomfortable.

Death Stare

After 2 years of shooting candids, and a handful of keepers, I’m fortunate enough to not have anyone get mad at me for taking their picture without permission. So far.

What lens do you use? What lens do you recommend for street shooting?
The lens I use most often is my Nikon 85mm f1.4 – this is actually Nikon’s classic portrait lens. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s well worth it for portraits and low light situations. However, it does require a bit of adjustment to be able to get the most out of this glass. I remember the first time I got this, I couldn’t get any shots that I was happy with, so it stayed in my cabinet for quite a while. After a few months, it was gathering dust so I took it for another spin.. this time, I discovered how to get some good shots with it, getting one keeper after another, and it almost never left my camera body. This is the lens I use for candid street portraits, bad weather shots, and portraits of strangers.

Sample shots taken with an 85mm

Another lens that I use is my Nikon 20mm f2.8. This is perfect for getting street scenes with it’s discrete compact size and wide angle perspective. This is the kind of perspective that most street photography purists prefer for it’s wide DOF and ability to capture almost everything that will unfold exactly in front of you.

Sample shots taken with a 20mm

Some have asked me what lens I recommend for street shooting. It really depends on what focal length you are comfortable with and what kind of photographs you want to create. Some people prefer using long lenses (telephotos) which allows them to be far from their subject, and has the capability to isolate a subject from it’s surroundings. Others prefer to go wide (wide angle) where they can go as close as you possibly can to a subject and still capture a whole scene. My recommendation is to shoot with whatever lens you have, and eventually you will realize if you want to go longer or wider.

How do you approach your subjects? and how do you make them feel at ease?
This refers to my ongoing set Potraits of Strangers where I take close-up head shots of people in Orchard Road with their permission. I try to be very casual about it. People in Orchard Road usually have an aversion to strangers asking them for something, so I go straight to the point by asking “Is it ok if I take your picture?” and go from there. Some say ‘yes’ immediately, others ask ‘what for?’ I just tell them the truth and explain exactly what I’m trying to do.

As for them feeling at ease, I guess one factor is my choice of subjects. I’m very picky on who to shoot – my usual preference are those faces who can stand out of the crowd and look very comfortable with themselves and how they look. So it’s a mixture of distinct looks and cool attitude. This can easily translate to a great impromptu street portrait. In addition to choosing the right face, I think smiling also helps :)

Do you apply any Post Processing on your photos? What is your PP workflow?
Yes, I do. For those who don’t know what ‘Post Processing’ is, it’s when a photographer enhances a digital photograph using software apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. We call it PP. Any serious photographer needs to learn this to get the most out of their shots. For a professional, it’s a must.

I use Lightroom to adjust the exposure and add vignettes when needed, and go straight to Photoshop where I adjust the highlights and shadows on select parts of a photograph using channel selections. This is a little something I learned from attending a Digital Retouch Workflow workshop with Guy Gowan.

I try to be careful not to over process my shots. My rule of thumb is that the outcome should still look natural and realistic. If somebody says “oh, that’s been photoshopped” that’s usually an indication of bad PP resulting to a bad photograph. Some people argue if PP is a form of cheating in photography. I disagree – PP can enhance a good photograph, but no amount of PP can make a bad photograph good. Trust me, I’ve tried this.

Do you do model shoots?
The only model shoot I’ve done so far was for a client who hired 2 models for me to shoot around Orchard Road. Unfortunately, this was cut short because the rain suddenly poured like crazy.

Model Jayne Tham

I have yet to attend one of those group photo shoots where they hire a model and a group of 10 photographers pay to shoot the model. Maybe I’ll try that someday. But right now, I’m really more inclined to do portrait shoots with a model/subject on my own. In case anyone’s interested, just drop me an email and we can talk about it.

Can I copy what you’re doing?
You don’t have to ask permission on this one because anyone’s really free to copy anyone. In fact, that’s how I started… by trying to imitate the shots of photographers I like. However, I strongly recommend that eventually, you find your own way of shooting by being creative and being receptive to other ideas as well. The worst thing that can happen to you is to be labeled as a clone to another photographer.

One of my projects is called ‘Portraits of Strangers‘. This is hardly original, coz a lot of hobbyists have done the ‘100 Strangers’ project made popular in Flickr. When I started the project, I decided to be consistent in all portraits so I established the following rules for myself: framing would be a close up head shot, location is in Orchard Road, and I have to avoid getting the typical ‘snapshot smile’ from the subject. This project is very personal to me, since I put a lot of time and effort to it, and it wasn’t easy to do. So one day, while I was working on this project, a fellow hobbyist saw me shooting a stranger. He approached me and asked questions on how I do it, and I gladly shared what I know. The very next day, I see him doing exactly the same thing in the exact same location. He’s basically creating the same series as I was. Personally, I was frustrated. But I couldn’t do anything about it.. he had the right to do what he wanted. Someone even labeled him a ‘Danny Santos clone’ in one of the local forums. Nobody wants that, not even me. That’s too bad coz the guy’s got passion. I just hope that someday, he will discover his own way of shooting.