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Artistic vision: Tips from top photographers on getting that perfect shot

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Sharing the tricks of the trade with Sam Agars, three top local photographers explain just what it takes to capture that perfect shot.

For many, taking a good photo can be a pretty illusive pursuit. Despite the advancement of technology making it ever easier to capture the right snap, some of us still struggle to get it right. But the reality is that the difference between an ordinary photo and an excellent one is not much. With most phones having quality cameras on them nowadays, everyone, with the right advice, should be able to get a shot they are happy with.

DB is a hotspot for photography and there are some extremely gifted photographers in our midst. Baljit Gidwani, Tim Draper and Colin Sim are three such talents and here, each of them discusses the merits of a photo that is personally meaningful to them, while providing tips on how it was achieved. Though you may not get to their level, their advice could help you transform what would have been a run-of-the-mill snap into a thing of beauty.

From the heart 

Most readers will be familiar with Baljit’s photography if not through his DB-based photography studio Evoque Portraits then through the pages of Around DB. Here he has chosen to discuss a photo (above) taken by his son Ajit in 2009. According to Baljit, his son, then aged 18, used only a pocket Panasonic camera set on auto to capture this striking portrait of a young girl in Delhi.

“Ajit did not know anything at all about the technology or settings, nor ‘photography,’” Baljit says. “He shot this purely as he saw it – from the heart. It just shows, when you ‘feel’ it, you can shoot it.”

artistic cover final 2Baljit Gidwani

While having a natural affinity with the camera isn’t a skill that can be taught, and being able to fully engage with your subject doesn’t happen at every shoot, the insider tips that Baljit shares with his students will help put wannabe photographers on the right track.

“When taking photos of kids or people substantially shorter than you, get down to their level so your camera is at the same height as their face. Don’t shoot ‘down’ at them,” he says. “Some of the best shots are of kids interacting with other kids and not looking straight into the camera lens. Keep on shooting for that relaxed candid shot – often the first few framesare tense. And ask the kids to say something – this loosens the muscles around the mouth and makes the smile more relaxed.”

More generally, Baljit – a 31-year DB resident – recommends that, when shooting portraits, you should zoom in to the maximum extent of your lens and move away from your subject (if necessary). “This will help to reduce the amount of background in the photo and also blur the background around your subject, making your subject stand out more,” he says.

“If your camera has it, find and learn how to use the Exposure Compensation function,” Baljit adds. “It will save all those photos with bright back lighting where your subject is too dark.”

Kathmandu magic

Tim Draper Photography Khatmandu

Tim Draper, a three-month Tung Chung resident, who runs photography classes in DB through his business Tim Draper Photography, has chosen to discuss a photo he took in 2013 (above) – a cityscape overlooking Durbar Square in Kathmandu.

“The reason I personally like this image is that for me it captures not just a moment, but a little part of the atmosphere and the magic of Kathmandu,” Tim says. “The blurred lights of traffic and the hustle-bustle movement of people going about their early evening business is all here in the picture. Each time I look at this image I notice some new detail that I hadn’t seen before.”

Tim says the photo was taken at dusk, with a balanced evening light complemented by illuminated streets, shops and house windows. “I used a tripod and a long exposure to blur the lights of passing traffic, the image is perfectly sharp and clear of noise (which often occurs in low-light photography),” he says. “I like the fact that the eye of the viewer is drawn over the image, wandering through the picture, following various leading lines and pathways.”

To capture an image like this, Tim recommends nothing short of good old fashioned hard work. “In the age of continuous snapping, spending a little time and thought on your subject and its composition goes a long way,” he says.

artistic cover final 3Tim Draper

“The more you consider what you want in your photograph and how you want the finished image to look, the better your photography will become,” Tim advises. “Think about your frame and the lines and objects within it. Try to see things through your camera in a different way, consider reflections, repeating patterns, symmetry, balance and alignments within your image.

“Read up on composition, understand basic photographic ideas, such as the ‘rule of thirds’but don’t be contained by suchthings, be ready to disregard all you have been told to do if you feel  so inclined.”

Family moment 

artistic cover final 7

Colin Sim, a former pupil of Tim’s, who now runs the Discovery Bay Photography Club, has put forward a photo taken in Pui O in 2015 (above), that tells the story of a father and daughter interacting at the beach.

“I chose this image as it showcases good composition and technical ability,” he says. “It uses the rule of thirds for the placement of the main subjects, has a raised and level horizon plus a leading line coming in from the bottom left corner drawing you in.

“Using shutter priority at 1/ 4000 second, I was able to freeze the water droplets while capturing the feeling of movement,” five-year DB resident Colin adds. “The light source from behind created a pleasing silhouette by under exposing both subjects. It required many shots, using the fastest possible shutter speed, to capture this final image leading to a very tired dad and happy daughter and it was lots of fun.”

“I probably took 150 images on burst-mode and asked my friend to keep running back and forth until I was happy I had a decent image,” Colin says with a grin.

Speaking more generally, Colin feels it is crucial to get to know your camera and to take your camera everywhere if you want to land that perfect shot.

artistic cover final 6Colin Sim

“A better camera will not make you take better photos,” he says. “Only if you take the time to understand your camera and what the functions are will you be able to maximise its full potential. Throw away that big manual and search for online tutorials to help you. Step away from auto-mode and tell the camera what you want it to do.”

Discovery Bay International School is running an environmentally themed photography competition to encourage its primary school students to get behind the lens. You can look forward to viewing the winning photos in the May issue of Around DB and on www.arounddb.com.

Follow Around DB on Instagram to win prizes! Every month, we ask readers to share a photo taken in DB or Lantau on the @around_db Instagram page and hashtag it #arounddb. This is your chance to get your photo published in the magazine, and win prizes from Uncle Russ or The Pier Bar.

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