outdoor

Confession Of A Serial Killer

Some time ago, a mother emailed to inquire my photography service. I could tell she was very keen to have a family portrait made but she was hesitant and was held back by what I believed was "new mother (or parent) syndrome". I was sure I suffered from that too a decade ago: the constant anxiety a new parent feels whenever a routine is upset, something new is being explored, or when the whole family, especially the little one, is nudged out of a comfort zone.

She told me her toddler was very shy in front of strangers; she was worried their pictures would not look like the ones I displayed on my website (warm, happy, candid, natural types). She wanted to come visit my studio with her daughter to remove her inhibitions and basically to "check" if her daughter was comfortable with me. She wanted it on a weekend. Politely, I declined.

First, I don't charge a lot in this family portrait business ($250 basic fee), and I bank on a high turnover to make it work. I don't mind a short meeting during weekday office hours, but to have it on a weekend is a no-no for me because of (1) weddings and (2) my own family time. If I set a precedent, then the amount of time spent on subsequent meetings with interested parents would be overwhelming and unproductive.

Second (and arguably a more critical reason), the natural and candid moments and the happy and excited expressions I capture on kids' faces stem from the fact that they are meeting me and seeing the studio for the first time. The props, the colours, the cosiness they feel upon setting foot in there immediately set them at ease. It is with this first-time novelty that some of the more expressive pictures may be made.

Thirdly, I might not have much luck with ladies, and neither am I adept at small talk or intellectual discussion beyond the confines of club and international football, but I must confess I am slowly gaining a reputation as an aunty-killer (good with mature mothers and grandmothers) and am definitely a child-killer. Kids from the age 12 and below seem to find me disarmingly friendly, due to the fact that I am more than happy to "stoop down" to their level to communicate with them. To smell the flowers, you need to squat down after all, right? Of course, having parents who can interact well with their own kids (other than the standard 'look at uncle; look at the camera;  smile, laugh, don't move) helps tremendously in picture-making.

So back to the new mother and her child. Well, the little one smiled at me within 5 minutes of introduction and started dancing in front of the camera after 7 minutes. And dare I say it? I think I "killed the whole family" at that shoot. In the end, they ended up buying the whole batch of images.

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We Need To Talk About Mabel

There are curious friends and clients who asked me how I managed to make my subjects, both old and young, to laugh so heartily at the camera at a photo-shoot. I have not thought about it because I did not set out to become a family photographer, but it came as a natural progression after having shot weddings for more than 10 years and seeing my wedding clients bring up their own kids.

After some thought, I believe it is all in the mind. As long as the photographer has a love of a subject and the love for the subjects, my camera disappears in the eyes of the children. What they are looking at is another child having fun, albeit an oversized one. Just like a young romanticized upstart who has beautiful notion of what romantic love and weddings should look like in pictures, old birds and parents like me learn how to tolerate the noise and mess created by kids and subsequently appreciate their innocence in front of the camera.

I talk to them, cajole them, "scare" them, joke with them, do silly things together with them, make a fool of myself in front of them.....all the while snapping their reactions and transformations before this stranger they meet for the first time. There are no secret recipes or formulae. It is a state of mind. It takes one to know another. KC is like a child. Be like KC.

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Mabel was very suspicious of me when we first met on a warm Saturday morning. She eyed me from top to bottom, trying to suss out what this fat uncle is up to.

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She, being an obedient girl, still managed to give me a patronising smile on the behest of her parents. You can tell the smile was very fake.

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To break the ice, I would indulge the kids (with parents' blessings) in whatever they feel like doing. In this case, Mabel has this penchant for tasting the leaves of plants. It could be an extension of her masak-masak kitchen play at home, or a strong sense of curiosity. I asked her if she liked the taste, and at the same time shared with her the fact that some plants might be poisonous. At an instant, I "earned" her respect because I was so "knowledgeable".

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Mabel's parents are very good with their kids. I can tell they have a really good rapport with the kids (you can be surprised some parents do not really how to interact and play with their own kids). That helped in making Mabel more relaxed.

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By letting her tease me in a game of "now you see it, now you don't", Mabel had totally forgotten this was a photo shoot. To her, it was another fun time, with an additional playmate.

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Mission accomplished. I hope she had as good memories as I had of this fun-filled outdoor photo session. Never do I need to instruct her "to smile" for the camera. Keeping it real, all the way.

Fatherhood #1

A while ago, in conjunction with Father's Day, I had a special promotion package that caters to fathers. In our Asian society, fathers are traditionally the breadwinners and due to work, they do not spend enough time with their children. I just wanted to create an occasion for fathers and child(ren) to spend some quality time together for this photo shoot. I must say I enjoyed it very much myself.

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The Big Hatter

Young, successive and productive: that's pretty much what came across my mind when I got to know Yinglan for his family shoot. A man who wears many hats (venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, writer and businessman), his impressive CV makes for long reading, but what impresses me most is his dedication to his family. He might be a jetsetter, has all the right connections in the high places, and a speaker on the global stage, but that day, at a neighbourhood park in Ang Mo Kio, he's just a loving a husband and a doting father.

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They Love SG

The similarity between these three families(not along racial lines) is that they all fell in love with this tropical island we call home. Before departing Singapore and heading back to their respective original homes, they have requested me to capture an important slice of their life in Singapore.

In my profession, I have to use my eyes, visualization and imagination all the time. Instead of looking at balance sheets, stock market indices, inside patients' mouths or chests,  or mountains of documents, I have to look at the light, observe the surroundings, how the two interplay and walk a lot to discover new spots for photography. Inadvertently, the opportunity to get to see Singapore much more often than people who work indoors and at their desks led me to appreciate our country's beauty and nuances. Because I am a family photographer, I would tend to focus more on the beautiful and positive side of things, which in itself is not a bad thing, if not unbalanced. I'll leave the unbiased documentary of Singapore life to the real photojournalists. :)

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Twenty-one Under Sixty

I am getting the hang of this: shooting a large group of people who is family, break it up into smaller nucleus groups, and mix it in with lots of candid pictures, and all under 60 minutes. It's important to keep family sessions short because of little ones' short attention span as well as not keeping the subjects under the hot sun for too long. Short and sweet has always been my mantra because "wayang" (putting on a show/charade) to justify a high fee is totally unnecessary and not my style.

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A Walk In The Park

There are parents who insist their children are prim and proper in front of the camera, and there are parents who adopt a more laissez faire attitude when it comes to "posing". Vivienne and Albert are the latter who basically let their kids express themselves freely. The family photographer has to work around the antics of the kids and try to anticipate their every move. This is what outdoor family photoshoot should be, in my opinion. We want to document the precious moments when the kids act themselves, and not doing things for the pleasure of others, even their parents.

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This Is A Big One

Yet another big family shoot, this time set against the majestic backdrop of Singapore's central business district and marina bay skyline. Because of the number of subjects involved, I proposed to the client a two-photographer session that last an hour. I am never a fan of a family shoot that exceeds one hour because kids' attention span in front of the camera is limited. It is up to the photographer to capture the spontaneity and expressions when the going is good. The moment when parents and photographer have to keep coaxing some smiles out of the kids, then the family photo session becomes meaningless. 

For this session, I enlisted the help of my friend Gabriel Mendes who took care of some of the individual smaller families while my time was spent solely on the big group shots as well as all pictures involving the family matriarch. Thankfully, the shoot went really well, was over in just under an hour, and before the rising temperature overwhelm both young and old.

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The Tongue-twister Couple

I have always remembered them as the "tongue-twister" couple back when I shot their wedding, because I would always have to refer to them as Gerald and Sheryl. Another thing I remember fondly was I never failed to capture interesting expressions on their faces because they were always smiling and laughing throughout their wedding day. Obviously, this trait of theirs have passed down to their two girls, with dramatic effect. :)

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Where it all began.

Where it all began.

A Dog's Life

If you ever want to lead a dog's life, make sure it's the life of Happy, the much-doted pet dog of Felicia. She also happens to be the fiancee of my friend Winson Ho, a talented wedding videographer whose work you can see HERE.

I am still a family photographer. I still shoot family portraits, and in this case, it's a Happy family.
 

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