If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
Create a connection between viewer and subject; using imagination, understanding and feeling that provoke one’s emotion.
Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
There are many photographers that have inspired me and most of them are mainly from the Flickr community, where I have found many individuals that have inspired me deeply on my journey through black and white, minimalist long exposure photography. I am not able to list all of them but I closely follow, appreciate and study the stories behind their images. That said– there are three prominent photographers that I especially admire:
He was the first photographer to open my vision and spark my interest in black and white long exposure photography. Every image of his leaves a strong mark on my mind and soul; I feel connected to his work, and when I view his images, I can imagine myself at the place where the shot was taken. My curiosity about how he processes these images kick starts my desire to learn more and more about how these photographs have been generated. [Check out the slices of silence spotlight on Keith –> here.]
His exquisite style and well thought out compositions are like those of a painter, one that perfectly crafts his every work to perfection. He creates images that ‘speak’ and are ‘soulful.’ Additionally, the tonal range of his work is incredible– and he always delivers the best presentation to suit the subject at the time of capture.
The simplicity and minimalistic compositions of his landscape images speak volumes. I can indulge in his images the whole day– never getting bored of viewing them over and over again, the images giving me a sense of peace. His images have very smooth gradients of grey to white that let the viewer pay attention to the subject without straying away. [Check out the slices of silence interview with David –> here.]
What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
I find Chinese Landscape Painting and Calligraphy fascinating. The process is very similar to photography. These artists might only need to bring brushes and inks while we photographers lug around much more gear, but we both travel to exotic places and spend hours at that place working on our images. The artwork is incredible and remarkable—especially the work done in the mountains, gorges, and the great wall. So realistic and alive! Chinese paintings always emphasize the natural of nature.
What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
Photography is not just about equipment; I have always believed that expensive gear does not contribute to making the ‘extra’ of a scene; it just captures the details and pixels that you specifically need for making larger quality prints. Thus, everything you can do to remove this from your process helps. Having said that, thought and feeling behind the viewfinder is the most important ‘tool’ to making the best image.
How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
Fine art is work defined by the photographer’s thought and vision; it is the truth behind art.
If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
Find your own niche in portraying your vision and feeling. Never stop exploring your imagination; always see beyond the photography rules; they are meant to be broken. Having patience and never giving up is the key to success.
What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
The Internet is a necessity for those of us who want to share our photography. Still, there are pros and cons regarding online sharing. The pros are sharing information and increasing one’s knowledge and the main con is when is your work is ‘stolen’ by people who claim all of your hard work is theirs– especially when the stolen image wins a prize.
I have shared my work via Flickr, 500px and recently Facebook. Facebook is great because it lets you promote your work to a wider community. 500px offer the chance to view pretty high quality images, but lately I don’t find it as interesting as I used to—especially since viewers just drop in and leave a simple or very insincere comment while asking you to visit their work in return (which I don’t really like).
What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most?
I am often asked why the images I produce have such a “clean” horizon. Some of the images I have worked on were done in Singapore, where the coastal line is always ‘busy’ with ship carriers. Never once have I complained about such questions, but I have had to explain that I choose to keep the subject that I’ve worked on in the simplest from– which means that I have had to ‘erase’ or ‘clone’ out the undesirable elements to deliver my message. As time has passed, I have found it un-realistic to do the extra work; thus I have chosen to find other places that offer me a clean and sharp horizon to work with. And this requires me to travel out of Singapore to the Malaysia coastline, which offers me great opportunity to work on long exposures. I have also travelled to other places around Asia.
If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
1. Michael Kenna – Huangshan
As much as I love Chinese paintings, Kenna’s work expresses through the camera the perfect vision and passion of Huangshan.
2. Michael Kenna – Hokkaido
a. I have always been fond of work done during winter and Kenna’s has crafted great series of work during his stays in Hokkaido; his images from Kussharo Lake are truly mesmerizing.
CDs: I listen to a wide variety of genres of music, but often I listen to rock:
1. Filter – The Almagamut
2. Filter – Short Bus
3. Twenty one Pilot – Regional at Best
4. Nirvana – Nevermind
5. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dreams
6. Linkin Park – Meteora
7. Metallica – Master of Puppter
8. Metalica – Black Album
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
Currently, I spend most of my time spent preparing for an ultra-trail marathon which requires hours of tedious training and recovering. But, for the future, I have a project in mind that is still in the planning stages; I am still thinking about where and how to execute the project, which I have titled “Chaotic Atmosphere” as it involves a significant ‘human element.’
This project is totally different from the work that I have produced throughout the years; it will have some of the same silence, calm and peaceful feelings and personal emotions.
Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
Japan and Ireland; I guess both these countries are pretty popular destinations for many photographers around the globe as the natural beauty of these two countries offers so much calm and peace.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
I greatly appreciate you giving me this opportunity to be a featured artist, Nathan– and I’m truly honoured and pleased to be included amongst these photographers that I admire. In addition, I would like to thank my family for their support along my journey with photography—as well as my fellow photography friends, who are mainly from the Flickr community, for all the support and guidance all these years.
Spotlight on Three Images
“Crossroad” (c) Thomas Leong
I took this image from the Macau Tower in Macau. I find the expressway design is unique which reflects the daily needs of decision making. Many of us deal with it and for that instant we do not know whether the decisions we make are right or wrong; one has to ask one’s inner conscience about the decisions we make and be responsible for them. This shot is actually planned– and the idea came from one of my favourite photographers, Mr Josef Hoflehner.
During the time of shooting, it was cloudy, raining, strong wind and nearing dusk. Thus, visitors are not allowed to go out on the external platform. Being inside, the interior lighting would be reflected on the glass surface, so I had to move my camera very close to the glass surface and eventually but the lens surface against it. I checked the exposure and hit the shutter with an attached Hoya ND4 – 2 f/stop ND filter mounted on the lens to obtain sufficient longer exposure to ‘calm’ the sea while keeping the 2 ships on top of the frame from not moving too much and adding further interest to the image.
Equipment: Canon EOS 40D | EFS 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM | ISO 200 | f/8.0 | 15mm | 10 seconds
Processing: Image captured in RAW format and converted to B&W using CS5 and Silver Efex Pro.
“Fallen Queen” (c) Thomas Leong
This image was taken in Pasir Ris Beach, Singapore, during a high tide on a nice, warm morning after a rainy night– when a nice layer of mist had formed over the horizon, an additional layer of opportunity that helped to bring out the subject even more. The fallen mangrove tree was the same tree that I visited a year ago; one year to be exact. It was standing strong back then, but now it is gone forever. Life is short, we have to cherish and strive for the best in our daily lives without regrets.
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM | ISO 50 | f/22.0 | 24 mm | 10 seconds
Processing: Image captured in RAW format and converted to B&W using CS5 and Silver Efex Pro. Again the control point played a vital role in bringing out the subject. 2 control points were used, one over the horizon and the other at the subject; it is to make the subject more prominent in the captured scene.
“Frozen in Time” (c) Thomas Leong
This image was taken at Johor Bahru, Malaysia. I had seen this abandoned boat many times and the light and weather had not permitted or given me the mood I wanted to portray during my visits. Lucky for me, on one wet evening and due to the change of temperature from high to low, a a nice thick mist formed that pretty much hid the background subject. The backlight is strong with bluish sky, and to make the subject stand out, I needed to increase the exposure with by slightly over-exposing the background using Spot-on metering. I used a Hoya NDx400 – 9 f/stops ND filter which yielded a nice bluish tint that made the black and white conversion much easier.
Why was the abandoned ship was left there to deteriorate? Any place for it to rework or reuse? By doing so, it will harm the environment. This reflects how selfish and non-responsible a human being can be; doing good for himself while harming the future generation. To be honest, I had a sad feeling about this ship when I imagined how majestic or brilliant this ship had once been when it was out there in the sea helping the family with their daily needs.
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | EFS 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM | ISO 100 | f/22.0 | 50mm | 150 seconds
Processing: Image captured in RAW format and converted to B&W using CS5 and Silver Efex Pro; using the control point @ SEP to increase the detailing of the ship.