Crossing BorderLINES in Photography

Do you want to take better photos no matter where you are? Are your photos looking well composed but lack a certain umph to push it from the borderline of beauty to the pedestal of admiration? Well, you’re in luck. This post contains tips that might just help you develop your photographic eye and boomz-ify your pictures regardless of your surroundings!

Last Saturday (26 Feb 2011), I had the privilege of going on a photo outing conducted by one of Singapore’s multiple award-winning photographer and veteran instructor with SAFRA Photo Club, Mr Low Soon Leong. I met him during SAFRAPC’s Chinese New Year gathering and he casually mentioned that if we would like to go shooting with him, he could give us a free lesson. See the second last word in the previous sentence? Need I say more of why this outing happened?

Mr Low used to give photographic instructions at SAFRAPC till his job posting overseas and was slated to come back to teach at the club again when his work contract ended. But his contract has been renewed for another year, so he won’t be back in Singapore until next year. Feeling bad that he agreed to teach a new batch of students this year but retracted, he offered to go on an outing with us who were interested. A chance to learn from a master at no cost, we’d be out of our minds not to squeeze him dry.

Crossing to the other side towards better photos. Our outing took place at 8:30 am and spanned the scenic Marina Bay area to the Esplanade to Raffles Place. Although I've shot these places before, I discovered new ways to look at them for the first time.

While I was invariably enlightened by the tips he gave and the examples he showed, what really stuck with me was his infectiously jovial, devil-may-care personality. The outing with him was a laugh-a-minute, and even though he’s 50, he has the lung capacity and energy of a 5 year-old. He’s a delightful kind of wacky; a crazy genius to say the least.

At this outing, we focused on sharpening our photographic composition based on lines. More often than not, whenever we see a subject, be it a building or object, we immediately take a face-on shot or apply the Rule of Thirds in composing the photo. They could turn out to be pleasing shots. But to really add a dimension of creativity, stop and assess the scene before you and look for lines that can create a more dynamic image.

The sail of the Esplanade outdoor theatrette with a capital 'S'. The components that worked in favour of this photo are the S-curve that leads the visual trail from the sun to the foreground & the heightened definition of the pointed pillar by the piece of cloud in the background.

The shots here were all taken during the outing. I had tons of bla photos before getting these few that Mr Low said can make it. I’m sharing the shots here to illustrate the pointers I’ve learnt and hopefully spur ideas in you when framing your photos in future.

Physical Vs. Psychological Lines

To the naked eye, physical lines and curves are very obvious. However, Mr Low pointed out to us that there’s another kind of lines, psychological ones. It is human intuition to follow the gaze of others so when looking at a photo with people in them, we will naturally follow the line/s of their gaze. And that could form powerful invisible lines that holds your photo together. I don’t have a photo to show as an example. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to shoot a scene that illustrates this principle and put it up next time.

Lines are powerful agents that control our visual emphasis subconsciously & can add an interesting texture to a scenery.

Break the Rule of Thirds

Now, don’t Mr Low wrong. The Rule of Thirds is very useful but his point is to not let it be a dogma. The main objective in any photo is to achieve a pleasing visual balance. Therefore, always keep in mind the relationship of your subject with its surrounding elements and frame the shot according to the story you want to tell by including or excluding relative details. Rule of Thirds are what the classically-trained generation of photographers like. Time to break free and experiement!

It's the weekend & the CBD is closed for business. That's the story I wanted to tell with this photo. Visually, the yellow contrasted with the overall blue & made the barrier stand out as my subject while the diamond-shaped patterns lent a uniformity that anchored the disarray of buildings in the scene.

The above two pointers were the major take-away message for me during that session with Mr Low. Of course there are many other photographic principles, skills and techniques that go into shooting a masterpiece and the notes presented here are just part of the gamut of decisions a photographer has to make to go beyond a good shot, but a stunning one.

Below are some more photos and the pointers that were given to me. I would like to thank Mr Low Soon Leong for his generosity in time and guidance during the session which he conducted purely on his personal capacity. Before we could come up with an idea to thank him properly for his effort, he had coyly evaded our offers to buy him meals.

Something old & new. The classical architecture of our colonial heritage that is now the Asian Civilisation Museum contrasted with one of our strapping financial skyscrapers. Let the stories guide your composition.

Let the lines complete their motion & form the shapes they are meant to. Don't 'chop' them off half-way unless it is for artistic effect. Again, when being 'artistic', balance is the key.

I wouldn't have thought of taking a photo of the financial skyscrapers of Singapore using the corner of another building as a frame. Looks like the archway of a cathedral... the cathedral of $$$.

The challenge posted to us in capturing the Cavenagh Bridge was to look for triangular shapes. This is the first time I'm seeing this bridge I've passed many times at this angle with the framing of Raffles City in the background.

Took this photo with my LG Optimus One phone after our lunch at a hawker centre. Even mundane, everyday scenes can make for a great abstract photo. That's the fun and the challenge. To start looking at our surroudings and see lines and shapes to compose an interesting shot out of a boring setting. It takes practice. When we can acquire this skill, we can take good photos anywhere!

Before I end this post, there’s one thing I found really incredible about Mr Low Soon Leong, and this, you all should know. He is missing his first finger on his right hand. That’s right. The finger we use to click our cameras with, he doesn’t have it. He lost the finger in his younger days to an accident.

The whole time I’m learning from him, I can’t stop my eyes from looking at his missing finger. And I kept thinking to myself, “Wah, this guy got no clicking finger and he can still take so many breathtaking shots that won many accolades. We have all 10 fingers. What’s our excuse for taking bad pictures?”


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Victor
    Mar 05, 2011 @ 14:08:13

    told you all before try doing A to Z in the pictures you shoot. Here, you have got the X, Y and Z.


    • Darren Ng
      Mar 06, 2011 @ 00:57:10

      xie xie sifu for pointing out the letters which i didn’t interpret as such! yeah, u’ve primed us to compose photos with alphabets in mind and i didn’t know the potential range of elements that could make the letters until u pointed out in this set of pics.


  2. sengkangbabies
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 20:00:30

    love the cathedral archway as Frame for CBD ! thanks for sharing.


    • Darren Ng
      Apr 06, 2011 @ 16:44:30

      hey… thanks for dropping by my blog 🙂 the ‘cathedral archway’ is actually just a corner of the asian civilisation museum that’s been distorted by the use of a fisheye lens to photograph it. fake cathedral. heh heh…


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