Part Asian/part Western, and having lived almost my entire life in Asia, photography, particularly photography in Asia, has been a major interest in both my personal and professional life.
Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a huge pool of talented photographers in Asia that generally goes unnoticed outside their local country. I’ve also found that there is a great interest in Asia by photographers based outside the region.
The purpose of this site, and my Twitter (@KanaKukui) is simple: 1) to share some insights about photography in Asia – introducing talented photographers shooting in Asia, and subjects and locations to shoot in the region. And 2) to provide a little inspiration to everyone interested in photography – from the hobbyist to the emerging professional.
Previously a photojournalist with The Straits Times, Ernest Goh is a Singaporean photographer and visual artist whose work focuses on animals and their relationship with humans.
Ernest’s animal portraits have been published in The Fish Book (2011), Cocks (2013, republished as Chickens in the US in 2015), and The Gift Book (2014) a collection of 15 gift-wrapping paper designs created with various elements from nature – including insects, butterfly chrysalises and flowers.
His most recent work was presented in the solo exhibition ‘Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9’ (Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore, 2015).
According to the artist, Ernest’s fascination with the natural world began as a boy at his grandmother’s rural kampung (‘village’) in Singapore, as he waded in streams looking for fish and jumped into bushes searching for spiders.
Your back, thighs and knees will hate this photography tip!
Why is it that the majority of people you see taking photos are doing so standing up? It seems that if we have a camera in our hands and then see something we want to shoot, we raise the camera to our eye, compose, and press the shutter release. Even when we use tripods we tend to extend the legs to eye level and then start shooting.
I recently read a great line that said, “Most of our lives are spent well above ground level and by the time… we’re adults… we rarely spend much time down low”. Have we forgotten what the world looked like when we were rolling around on the ground as kids?
Honestly, I think when we’re faced with the opportunity to take a photo, it just never occurs to most of us to get down low. Or, if it does, maybe we don’t want to get our knees dirty, or subconsciously avoid getting down as we realize that it’s not as easy as it used to be. (Neither is getting back up)!
Yet by automatically shooting at standing height, we’re condemning our photos to being taken at the same boring perspective that everyone sees everyday. Shooting from a low angle allow us to show a different perspective of the world.
You’ve probably come across articles that suggest getting down low when taking photos of pets and/or children. The objective, we’re told, is to be at least eye-level with them, if not lower.
On the other hand, it’s generally agreed that adults tend to look their best when shot at a camera angle that is either at their eye level, or just slightly above. Shooting from slightly above their eye level makes people’s faces look thinner and is generally more flattering.
But, have you ever considered that shooting from a low angle can also bring a fresh perspective to both your portraits and landscape shots?
The next time you photograph an adult who is sitting down, take a photo of them from a standing position. Then, squat down and get down to their eye level, and take a shot. Compare the two photos. Chances are the photo taken from a lower angle will be more interesting and dynamic.
In landscape photography, by getting really low (dropping to one knee, or even lying on the ground) you can incorporate, and put more emphasis on, interesting foreground elements. This allows you to include objects into the image that can make it more engaging. – a rock, or a path leading to the mountains in the distance. By getting down low, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how this change in perspective will make your photos different than those taken by the majority of the casual snapshot shooters out there.
Remember, it’s easy to capture engaging new perspectives in your photos without buying any new gear, or mastering specialized techniques. All you have to do is make the effort to crouch or lie down, and be willing to get a bit dirty. The point is, learning to use a low camera angle is a really simple way to create unique and powerful compositions that will make your shots more interesting.
A retired film director and actor, Hong Kong street photographer Fan Ho’s mastery of natural light creates a mood and drama in his photos that resemble film sets from a past era.
Taken during the 1950’s and 60’s, Ho’s images captured the transition of this iconic Asian city while it was in the midst of transitioning from old to new.
Immigrating to Hong Kong from Shanghai with his family at a young age, Ho began documenting Hong Kong with a Rolleiflex camera his father purchased for his. Largely self-taught. Ho began by developing his images in the family bathtub, eventually building a large collection of urban street photos.
According to Ho, he always looked for the lighting and composition to fall into place when shooting his street photos.
In addition to his successful career as a film director, first for Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers and later as an independent director, Ho’s photography has won him almost 300 international awards.
Fan Ho died of pneumonia on 19 June, 2016 at the age of 84.
Tokyo offers a mix of traditional and ultra-modern. This gives the visiting photographer some great choices. Even visitors with time constraints have a variety of locations to choose from.
Shibuya Crossing is not to be missed. The world’s busiest pedestrian crossing (with an estimated one million people crossing the street here everyday), this ‘scramble’ crosswalk offers a unique photographic experience. Trying to figure out how to best capture the waves of humanity going through the crosswalks is every photographer’s challenge.
Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Japan’s Emperor Meiji. The shrine complex is located with 170 acres of forested land in downtown Shibuya. This is a spectacular setting to capture some photos depicting traditional Japan.
As a hub for entertainment, business, and shopping, Shinjuku ward in the evening is the perfect location to capture great photos of modern Tokyo with its multitude of neon lights.
Sensō-ji Temple, Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temple, is a wonderful place for photographing traditional Japanese architecture. The famous temple gates, Kaminarimon and Hozomon, the five-storey pagoda, and the temple itself will make it easy to fill your camera’s memory card.
Odaiba is an entertainment and shopping mecca located on a man-made island. There are wonderful views of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge, making the area particularly ideal for taking pictures of the night skyline of Tokyo. The area is also famous for it’s massive Gundam statue.
Many first-time travellers to Asia, particularly those on business, have asked about easily accessible photo opportunities in the cities they visit. This post is part of an ongoing series, each on a different Asian city, introducing a few photo locations for visitors with limited time.
A former student of Studio Images (the only place that provides education in photography and image in Cambodia) and a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts, Cambodian photographer Neak Sophal explores the issue of identity in contemporary Cambodian society.
Neak’s exploratory work includes several including ‘Behind’ a collection of photos taken on the streets in which the subject practice self-censorship by showing their backs to the camera instead of revealing their faces and identity, and a series entitled Cham Norng (‘Thread’) where she used string to emphasize the ties of the present to the past.
The photographer next moved her focus to the city, where she asked everyday people to pose for her in the street, hiding their faces behind an object that characterizes them. In most cases, the object tended to be related to their work.
The subjects of Neak’s photos – whether a construction worker, a merchant, or a monk for example – ultimately lose their personal identity behind the object the selected to pose behind.
The purpose of Neak’s documentary series is to demonstrate how individuals disappear behind their function in society. The photos in the collection have a strange, yet lasting, impression.
Pack your camera gear and travel to Mongolia to experience the Naadam Festival. Naadam is a major holiday in Mongolia and the perfect time to experience the culture and people of this amazing country.
Naadam is held annually in July in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, and draws thousands of spectators..
A photographer’s dream, Naadam’s opening ceremony features marches and music from soldiers, monks and athletes before the commencement of the main sporting events.
Naadam’s origins reach back to Mongolia’s traditional military activities, which is why Mongolian wresting, horse racing and archery are the highlights of the 2-day festivities.
While not one of the easiest festivals to reach, Naadam’s colourful athletes and spectators offer spectacular photo opportunities, and is definitely worth the extra effort to attend. With planning, and a bit of luck, you’ll be able to capture some memorable photos at this unique festival.
Japanese artist, Tatsuya Tanaka, believes everyone has sometimes imagined that leaves floating on water looked like little boats, or that broccoli or parsley resembled a tiny forest. A desire to express such imaginings through photos inspired him to put together his ‘Miniature Calendar’ project – where he posts a new photo every day.
The photographs in Tanaka’s project primarily depict surreal worlds by using miniature human figures surrounded by everyday object such as plastic straws, food, circuit boards and more.
Despite the tiny proportions of the worlds he creates, they’re definitely big on imagination. The fact that Tanaka has been continuing this project for 5 years is a testament to his ongoing imagination and creativity.
Tanaka is a great example of how a photographer can create outstanding photography that is fun, and that engages its audience on all levels.
Photography came to India around 1840, just as photography was replacing painting as the new mode of recording the world.
In the early years, almost all the photos taken in India were linked to the British colonial regime – either by subject, or by photographer. The photographers mainly were English civil servants in the colonial government, or employees of the British East India Company (colloquially known as ‘John Company’). Some were employed specifically to take photographs, while others were amateurs.
Photography was also considered by the East India Company to be the most accurate and economical means of recording architectural and archaeological monuments for official records. The company actively encouraged the employees to photograph, and record archaeological sites.
Although they were a tiny minority of the population, it was the English in India who also first formed the major market for photography in India. Many individual bought photographs as a visual record of their experiences in India, which at the end of their tour of duty they would take back to their home country to show their family and friends.
No definitive record of when the first photograph was taken in India exists, but it’s generally agreed that the first commercial photograph taken in India dates from 1844.
The first photographic societies of India were found in 1854 in Bombay and 1857 in Bengal and Madras.
Indians were also quick to learn how to take photos. The first to learn were probably those employed by European photographers as assistants. These Indian photographers began by taking photos for India’s upper classes. There was a growing demand among wealthy Indians for photos, and local studios were soon set up to meet this demand.
The first Indian photographer whose name is recorded is Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan of Lucknow. However, it’s not exactly clear when he started taking photos. Estimates range between 1845 and 1850. The earliest existing photo taken by Khan is dated 1855
By 1855, a course in photography had been established at the Madras School of Industrial Art to teach photography to Indian students.
The quick growth of photography amongst Indians can be seen by inclusion of 30 photographs by Dr Narain Dajee (a professional photographer, and a council member of the Bombay Photographic Society) in the 1857 exhibition by the Photographic Society of Bengal. Dajee’s photos differed from his British counterparts in that they included images of fakirs, snake charmers, musicians, soldiers and other Indians.
As Indian photographers began establishing successful studios, most of them made the majority of their money through commissions from affluent Indian families. However, a few Indian photographers also began selling their work to both the aristocratic families of India as well as to the British civil servants serving the British Raj. Lala Deen Dayal (also known as Raja Deen Dayal) was one of the most successful*.
*Stay tuned… a post on Lala Deen Dayal will be coming soon!
Korean photographer JeeYoung Lee was born in 1983, and earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Seoul’s Hongik University. Since 2007, Lee has been shooting whimsical images that represent either her experiences, dreams and memories, or represent traditional Korean folk tales and legends.
Seeing Lee’s work for the first time, most viewers will presume her colorful, fantasy world images are the product of a large amount of digital manipulation. Yet each of her photos is created through the meticulous construction of elaborate sets by the artist herself, rather than use of Photoshop. In the middle of each image you can always find the artist herself, as Lee’s work is a type of unconventional self-portraiture.
In “Resurrection” Lee appears inside a lotus portraying rebirth. The image references Shim Cheongin, a Korean fable about a girl who throws herself into the sea and comes back to life inside a blooming lotus. Lee created this dreamlike image by painting paper lotus and flooding the room with fog and carbonic ice.
What boggles the mind is that Lee creates all the scenes in her images by hand – in a tiny studio that measures a mere 3.6 x 4.1 x 2.4 meters. Starting with an idea born in her imagination, Lee will labor for weeks, sometimes months, constructing a surreal set for the sake of taking a single photograph. For each of her photographs the artist fills every square inch of space with hand-made props, set pieces, and backdrops
When the set is complete, Lee inserts herself in the scene and then takes multiple test shots. After carefully examining the test shots and making any adjustments she deems necessary, Lee takes the final shot with a 4×5 large format film camera. Lee then disassembles the set once the final photograph is produced.
To create “Treasure Hunt”, Lee devoted three months to crafting the wire grassland, which carpets her studio to evoke a child-like wonderland. She spent nearly eight hours a day weaving bits of craft wire to a mesh screen to complete the grass flooring.
Lee’s avoidance of the use of Photoshop is based on her belief that the building and breaking-down of the set is an integral part of her artwork. She only uses Photoshop when she has suspended objects from the ceiling of her studio, in which case she uses the program to erase the fishing lines used for suspension.
“My Chemical Romance” with its maze of pipes and yellow & black danger tape, Lee depicts the anxiety and disappointments felt by herself or those around her, and how they can lead to conflict and clashes of personality.
Lee is unique in that in addition to the role of photographer, she also assumes the roles of set designer, sculptor, installation artist, and performer. The results are magical, as can be seen in this small selection of a few of her work.
“Panic Room” shows the artist hiding herself inside a cupboard to protect and shelter herself from the confusion outside – symbolized by the dizzying atmosphere Lee created by bending the perspective in her studio. (For
Recipient of multiple artistic awards, JeeYoung Lee is recognized as one of the most promising up-and-coming artists in Korea. Her work has also received extensive coverage outside her home country by global news outlets such as Huffington Post, NBC news, CNN international, France 3 National news, China Daily, etc. as well as on various art/photo websites.
Ever taken a photo of someone only to discover the result is a photo of a black outline of your subject against a bright background? Congratulations! You’ve just taken a silhouette photo!
After making this mistake several times, most of us quickly learn not to shoot directly into the sun. As a matter of fact, we’re told to keep the sun behind us. But purposely taking silhouettes can be fun and result in some dramatic images. So, rather than ‘fix’ our mistake, why not learn how to use it to our advantage?
Silhouettes are commonly caused when your camera adjusts exposure to the bright background, rather than on your subject.
Due to their simplicity, silhouettes are a wonderful way to convey drama and mystery in a photo. Best of all, they’re really quite simple to create. Basically, you’ll want to place your subject in front of a strong source of light. Doing so will cause your subject to be underexposed to the point of being very dark, if not black, against the lighter-colored background.
You can create a silhouette of almost anything, but to be successful, it’s important to choose something with a distinct, recognizable shape. Put some thought into choosing your subject beforehand, and try to imagine what the resulting shot will look like.
Location is also an important consideration when photographing silhouettes. When choosing a location to shoot, try to ensure that you have a lot of open space. The goal is to avoid extraneous elements that could clutter your shot, and distract from your subject.
Perhaps most important of all, you need to make sure that you have more light behind your subject than in front of it. The easiest way to start is by placing your subject directly in front of a strong light source – the sun, a lit window, or even a lamp. However, your subject doesn’t necessarily have to be directly in front of a light source. What’s important is ensuring they’re positioned so that they truly stand out from the background.
Finally, to produce the best silhouette shots, make sure your subject is in focus. This will ensure that the edges of the silhouette are crisp and distinct.