Being a great photographer does not only consist of being creative and knowledgeable. Above all, are the attitudes that contribute to the success of a great picture. In this blog, I will touch on the attitude and mindset to create my desired masterpiece. With this right attitude, you too can become a better photographer.
1 – Passion
Passion is arguably the most important factor to excel in anything. With passion, there will be drive and determination to get something done. There are many friends whom I know came into photography, but one by one they faded into obscurity. You know you have the passion if you would consistently carried out something without having anyone to bark at you. I started my photography journey 15 years ago, and still the fire is burning brightly as ever because of my love and passion for photography. Passion consistently drives you to do something, to worry about something, to care about something, to improve on something. You literally breathe and live your passion. As the law of attraction attracts whatever that you are seeking for, your drive and obsession to achieve the photos you wish to create will make you work hard towards your goals.
2 – Have lots and lots of patience
Photography is all about freezing that perfect moment. But Mr Perfect Moment does not always come as you wish. You have to have lots of patience and wait for him to arrive. Whether it is waiting for that animal to turn up, the natural laughter of a wedding, or the best light to appear, you must wait patiently. Many times that perfect moment does not arrive. So you have to persevere and be patient for that desired perfect shot. It could be hours, days, weeks, or months, but if you have patience, it pays off well.
After 2 failed attempts, I was determined to get this beautiful and rare Mangrove Pitta no matter how long it takes. It took me 8.5 hours of waiting on my third attempt to finally get a shot of it.
I had to wait about 3 hours to get a this shot of the Blue-eared Kingfisher standing on the perch. The kingfisher would return to the perch every once in awhile but it was only after about 3 hours later that it perch with its face turned to give me my desired shot.
3 – Turn the ordinary to extraordinary
A good photographer will have the ability to transform anything that normal people would ignore, into an interesting picture. Using the knowledge of composition, light and understanding of the subject, anything that your eyes could see can be a potential element of a great and artistic photograph.
I was taking a stroll in Bidadari with my camera when I looked up and saw an interesting pattern of trees. I composed the picture where the trees seemingly converged to the middle as the white and dark creates much contrast and outlines of the trees.
HDB flats are very normal looking objects that people generally do not take notice except for couples looking for a new house. Using the evening light and reflection to compose this picture, this photo won the merit winner in the Nparks City in the Garden photo competition in 2012.
Trees might be very boring subjects to a normal person. I had a friend who saw this picture and commented ‘what is so interesting? they are just trees!’ However, what I saw interesting was this opening within a dense forest, which looked like an entrance to an enchanted jungle filled with animals. I could imagine a leopard resting on the tree branch, elephants and deers grazing in the opening, monkeys hanging on the branches and lots of birds around the trees. However, this image is devoid of animals and is in black and white to portray the grim future of a lifeless forest if wildlife crimes continue to poach wild animals for illegal purpose. This photo was part of the winning photos which won me the merit award for Singapore Young Photographer Award 2012.
I was walking under a bridge when I saw this interesting view of the opening. I included the people element to make the picture more interesting by adding a point of interest in what could be a dull image.
Who would actually bother to look at an old man drinking coffee? Me! I was just sitting down at the hawker center when I saw this old man wearing an old fashioned cap having his coffee. The soft lighting was great and I waited for him to drink his coffee before snapping the photo.
I was sitting around waiting for a bird to appear but was left hanging. Feeling bored, I took interest in the reeds and its perfectly still water reflection. I found a spot where I felt could create a nice composition and took the picture.
The rocks of punggol beach are pretty interesting. I used a slow shutter speed to blur the water movement, creating a misty and foggy effect of the water.
4 – Wake up early
The famous chinese saying that the early birds would get the worms holds true in photography. The prettiest light of the day are during dawn and dusk. So if you are going to capture the sunrise or animals in the morning, you need to get up before the sun rises and head down to the location. I understand that it could be hard to wake up really early and I had my fair share of failing to wake up and would later regret tremendously. But each time when I dragged my body out of bed and eventually managed to get a great shot, that feeling of satisfaction is 100 times better than sleeping in and realizing that you wasted another precious morning.
We woke up way before the sun rises and made our way to a lookout and waited for sunrise. As the sun rises, it creates an warm orange glow onto the volcanoes that only can be seen for a short period of time in the early morning.
I had to wake up before sunrise and make my 42km journey from the west to the east to take a bumpboat out to the sea to photograph these Black-naped Terns.
Early mornings and late evenings are the best time to take photos as the light is at its most dramatic. This period is know as the magic hour, where beautiful light will enhance the mood, feel and overall beauty of the picture.
Morning at MBS with a nice morning glow and dramatic cloud pattern.
A nice warm morning backlight that adds a dramatic effect to the mysterious look of the picture.
A beautiful warm morning light burst into the bumpboat interior with the boatman basking in the glory of being one of the last few surviving men of a vanishing trade. This photo won the top winner of The New Paper photo contests week 38 in 2013 under the theme: Trading Stories
5 – Understand your subject
To get the best out of your photo, you need to understand your subject well. Knowing your subjects well will allow you to have a better chance to anticipate its action and capture that perfect shot.
My goal was to capture the perfect shot of the Copper-smith Barbet flying into the tree hole it made. I observed its flight path and realized that it will fly from below and made a turn into the hole. And so I set up my camera and placed it to give enough space below the branch so as to allow the bird to be in the frame. After many failed attempts on the perfect pose, I managed to get one that has the barbet’s wing spread open and looking into the tree hole
Many people who went to Sungei Buloh would not have seen a crocodile unless you know where to find it or look hard enough. I knew by experience that the crocodile could be resting around the mudflats and used my binocular to scan around. I managed to locate it resting on the mudflats and moved in to get a full body shot if it.
Shooting a fast moving object like the F1 cars at night would be a pretty challenging task, especially when you need to freeze the motion. I maximize my chances by finding a spot where the cars slow down at a tight bend, so that I could freeze the car in motion.
6 – Don’t stop at one
Many people I saw would just take one picture, and then they stop. Instead, take more pictures and move around to find better angles and composition. Try going low to the ground, or climb up higher to shoot down. Walk further or closer, or change the lens for a different perception. Take more photos and try out different perception and you will discover new and interesting photo opportunities.
An eye level shot such as those below provide viewers a more intimate image of the subject and see the world from their perspective, making the subject feel alive.
low angle shots such as those below provides viewers a sense of authority, power and greatness.
close up shots such as those below provide viewers with more intimacy of the subject’s feelings, expressions and facial details.
wide shots such as those below provides viewers with a sense of wonder, vastness, grandness
7 – Stop playing your phone and start looking at the real world
If you are ever going to get a nice picture, looking you need to stop playing with your phone. The fact that you are completely unaware of your surroundings is due to the narrow vision you have when looking at something up close. In this modern day, I realized many people had lost touch of the real world. They don’t know if the sky is blue or overcast. They don’t know that a dramatic sunset had just occurred. They don’t even know that my bicycle is ringing at them because they were so engrossed by their phone.
8 – Picture nerd vs Camera nerd
There are 2 kinds of persons in photography. One invest his time in clicking away, analyse his photograph, and acquiring the right equipment he needed to achieve his shots, while the other would invest his time comparing the specification of different camera models, doing test shoots to compare negligible details of the equipment, getting his hands on the latest hardware. Who do you think would produce a better photograph?
The professionals would showcase how beautiful their photos are, while the amateurs would showcase how good their cameras would be. What good will it be to own the best photographic equipment if you do not know how to make the best out it? Its like having a Ferrari but you do not know how to drive it.
What is the best camera then? The best camera is the one that you are having in your hand now! Whether its the professional grade DSLR, compact point and shoot or even just a phone, you are able to produce quality images if you have good fundamental skills in photography. That’s the reason why great photographs taken decades ago still sell well even though they are taken with a much inferior camera then at present.
So is it still important to invest time in understanding the photographic equipment then? Yes of course. When I am out photographing wildlife, I equip myself with a long telephoto lens and a tripod. When I am out photographing landscapes, I equip myself with a wide angle lens, filters and tripod. When I am out photographing weddings, I equip myself with 2 cameras with different lenses and a flash on standby. But once I decided which equipment is the best for me, I got hold of them, and proceed to create more pictures.
9 – Get uncomfortable
Great photographs are not made by merely clicking on the shutter button. Behind each beautiful photograph, are the sweat and pain the photographer had to go through to achieve his prized shot. Climbing air thin mountains, standing out in the cold night, moving through mosquito infested forest, tolerating the intense summer heat of the Indian jungle, getting drenched in the rain, trekking on muddy terrain, waking up early, carrying more than 10kg of equipment, are some of the uncomfortable moments I had been through in order to get the photos I desire.
This goes back to the point where passion and drive will make the photographer overcome these odds and remain focus on getting their shots, no matter how uncomfortable or tedious the process may be.
I waited under the hot scorching sun and burning sand to capture the tern feeding its chick
I climbed up and down the rocky edge barefooted and getting wet before I came across this beautiful scene.
I trekked about 2.4km and climb up a 5-6 storey high tower with a heavy backpack to photograph birds at the canopy level.
I climbed Mount Kinabalu that was cold and thin in air to capture the gorgeous scenery of the mountain.
I had to endure endless mosquito bites during my trip to Kinabatagan River in Borneo to photograph the amazing wildlife.
10 – Learn from the expert
There are countless occasions where I shared my photos and my friends and family will be saying ‘that’s a great shot!’, ‘beautiful!’, ‘you are a great photographer!’. These praises easily make you feel motivated and proud. But as you start to bask too much into these praises, you will stop growing as a photographer. While it feels great to have people supporting you and by all means we should be thankful for that, those praises do not come from a photography expert. If we were to constantly grow and become better, we should learn from someone who is better than us, which means you will probably get more criticism than being praised, and constantly recreate ourselves rather than bask on the previous achievements.
11 – Keep dreaming and put your dream into action
You were daydreaming in class about the things you want to achieve in life, when your teacher snap at you and said ‘stop dreaming and pay attention!’. People often like to remark that we dream and think too much and get back into reality. But dreams are the seedlings to reality! I have a bucket list of things that I wanted to achieve in my lifetime, and I am constantly dreaming about them. Many great achievements was at the very first time, a dream. And when dreams are put into action, it becomes a reality.
Photographing a wild tiger has always been my ultimate dream ever since childhood and was glad I managed to fulfill it. Will definitely plan for more trips to photograph my favorite animal of all time.
One of my bucket list was to visit Borneo and the wildlife there. I went on a short 3D2N trip over a long weekend holiday to Kinabatagan River in Sabah and it was a great experience living in the rainforest and encountering the wildlife there.
I have always been fascinated by the outer space and would like to capture the milky way. On my trip to Mount Bromo we set out at night on a clear sky to photograph the awesome milky way and it was an awesome experience.
Jeju island is on my bucket list as the place to go when I visit Korea. It is a beautiful place that has many awesome natural scenery such is this rocky staircase formation at Yongmeori Coast.
12 – B+
Being positive is arguably the most important aspect for success in anything we do in life, the same goes for photography. Do not get discourage and depressed if if you made a mistake or got off to a bad start. The reason we fall is so that we can learn to pick ourselves up. Normally the trigger point for those who succeed, was when they faced a setback, which then brings out that other side of themselves that drives them to succeed.
On my first freelance wedding photography assignment, I was criticized by my client for not being up to expectation. Feeling depressed and forlorn that I ruined someone’s big day and the reputation of my videographer who was the person in charge of the job, I decided to quit and vowed never to take up another wedding photography. It wasn’t until my videographer, who needed a wedding photographer for another wedding, decided to put trust in me to do a better job. I was hesitant at first but decided to give it another try. Because of the setbacks before, I was positive and determined to do a good job this time. I invested in new lenses and study the art of wedding photography. Eventually, the client was satisfied with my work and that gave me a huge boost into my journey as a freelance wedding photographer, and as time goes by, my skills and confidence grew. So far, I had photographed a range of weddings from chinese, indian, and peranakan.
Indian couple having their wedding dance
When it comes to testing patience and toying with your emotions, wildlife photography is the best at it. The unpredictability of animals can be a real pain in the ass and there were many occasions I was left hanging without having the desired shot, or would returned home empty. A positive mindset and strong passion for wildlife is what constantly made me went back to photograph wildlife even though chances of failures are high. A thought that constantly kept me positive is that you never know what to expect from nature. Even if I did not managed to get anything good on that day, I will tell myself, “that’s the fun part of wildlife photography, its not easy and not everyone can do it, I’ll just have to keep trying again”.
Be positive and don’t give up and you are on your way to become a better photographer!
I had wanted to capture an intimate shot of an otter pup with its parents or older siblings but it did not come easy. I had to return many times before I finally got the shot that I wanted
Dennis started his passion in photography in 2001 during his teenage years, specializing in wildlife, wedding and travel photography. He has since gained some achievements in competing in competitions, most notably merit award in the Singapore Young Photographer Award 2012 and top winner in The New Paper photo contests week 38 in 2013.
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