Of lights and tea

I just came out of a gruelling 6 hours shoot of The House of Puer Tea. It was a tricky affair and my technical skill (or what’s there of it) was really pushed to the max. The lighting was very complex due to the design of the Tea House as well as my own obsession with fulfilling the ‘vision’. There was a wall which had a huge picture on it (I think about 5 metres wide and 2 meters 2 tall. The sunlight would stream in and completely blow of the picture. Contrast was terrible and I tried so many ways to compensate for it. I finally did it from 1 angle and then I had to do it from another angle, this time with a glass top table thrown in. I don’t think I did a very good job of the secong angle.

I found that the more I make attempts to be creative with the artificial lighting, the more miserable I fail. The shots where I took the camera off the tripod and just started blasting away were very good whilst the others where I took time to think about the shot came out flat. Sigh……….

I console myself by saying that This is the first time for me but I don’t feel that that is a good enough reason. Must do this again, and this time better, to redeem myself.

I’ll post pictures up later……….

Portraits – Technical versus essence

I wanted to take some studio shots and I had the opportunity to do it today. I was just looking through the shots and I realise that they exactly follow the prescribed ‘rules’ of studio lighting that I learn both from books and from other photographers. You don’t get the nice soft shadows and some details are lost. But the truth of the matter is, that I am not concerned about those things these days. Before, I used to want to make things technically perfect. Lighting ratio between key and fill, background is evenly lit, shadows as soft as possible. But what I do care about is what I call the essence of the person. Whether the eyes are ‘bare’ and ‘truthful’. I recently bought a book by Michael Grecco called ‘Lighting and The Dramatic Portrait‘ and he writes,

‘I try to do whatever I can, on a regular basis, to break these classic rules of portrait lighting. Whether I use a stronger key-to-fill-light ratio, place the fill light on the key side of the face so that there is a well-defined shadow on one side, place my back light on the hot side of the face, or even put my backlight on the ground. I always try to make my lighting depart from the norm’.

Very wise words and at this stage of my photography, I do tend to want to rebel and break the rules. Is this one of those phases again?

Portrait – Group

Portrait - GroupI like taking group photos. It gives a chance tpo be really creative with arrangement and lighting. In this one, the arrangements was not a problem but the lighting surely was. People don’t get that I need to change the whole lighting set up to make sure its well lit. Well, I threw caution to the wind and just used the beauty dish I was currently using. A lof of the photos were dark in places where it’s not supposed to be dark But this one came out just nice for me.Canon EOS 1D Mark IIIEF 35mm f/1.4 Lf/11 1/125th ISO 400

Why did I choose Canon? Because of the 3 sisters…….

I’ve always been fascinated by discussions and debates around camera gear. People are always ready to defend their gear against the invaders, pretenders and wanna-bes (at least that’s what they called all other equipment manufacturers). I have always shied away from these debates but for posterity’s sake let me put my reasoning.

To be honest I have always loved Nikon cameras. There’s just something about the feel of a Nikon body that just rocks. It feels solid. It feels like it was meant to go to war. When you hold it, you know you are holding something that is meant to be part of you and when I started photography, I nearly went to the way of the Nikon.

For me, the optics of photography is paramount. Focal length, aperture, whether zooms zoom or primes, distortion contrast, saturation, sharpness all pay a critical role in making the image. In a way, I looked at the lenses first before I look at the body. There are 2 primary reasons why I went for Canon EOS, the EF 35mm f/1.4 L and the EF 85mm f/1.2 L. I am a self-confessed aperture freak and these 2 beauties represents 2 of what I call the 3 sisters (the other lens being the EF 135mm f/2.0 L). Nikon just doesn’t make anything close (at least to my knowledge). I shoot wide open when I use them (which is an exercise in precision in itself) but the pictures are just breath taking. I used to own the EF 135mm f/2.0 L but I sold it to finance my 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS but I really regret it now.

EF 85mm f/1.2 L

EF 35mm f/1.4 L

But have no fear, 2 will be 3 soon and 3 will be 4 with the announcement of the development of the EF 200mm f/2.0 L IS

Visit my gallery of pictures taken with the EF 35mm f/1.4 L here….

Visit my gallery of pictures taken with the EF 85mm f/1.2 L here….

Visit my gallery of pictures taken with the EF 135mm f/2.0 L here…..

Hip Hip Hooray! My Slideshow works…

I’ve been up most of the night figuring out how I can turn my pictures from flickr into a slideshow. I tried to use slide.com’s as suggested by the wordpress guys but I kept getting someone else’s pictures. Who else uses ‘righteye’? I finally figured out that my flickr handle is ‘right eye’ with a space and the other righteye is someone in Toronto, Canada. Duh!!!!!!!

Anyway, I’m a happy camper and now I am going to change some of my pages……

The speech of HRH Sultan Azlan Shah

I was moved to write about this speech given by HRH Sultan Azlan Shah on 29 October 2007 at the Opening Ceremony of the 14th Malaysian Law Conference. Many have written about it and if you do a search on google, you can find the views of all the commentators about how wonderful it is and I would echo the sentiment.

I hope that perhaps one day many years from today we can look to this speech and say, ‘well, that started it all and look how good things are today’.

I was having dinner with some friends today and we were lamenting the good old days of freedom and justice and one thing my friend said about India’s judiciary struck a chord deep within me. He said that the depth of India’s judicial system and thinking has achieved the level of sophistication which is deeply admired aroud the world because everyone there is a fierce protector and promoter of the constitution.

As I heard my friend tell me these stories, I was reminded of a speech made by HRH Raja Nazrin Shah at the Malaysian Bar Council
on April 4 2007. Again, I would echo the sentiments sentiments of people who applauded the speech

As I read the text of these 2 speeched, one question kept coming up in my mind- ‘What do we do now?’.

If I believe the future to be bleak, what am I doing to prevent it from being bleak?

If I believe the future to be bright, what am I doing to make sure it is bright?

On Mastery

In my quest to get a grip on photography I often refer to a small passage by Stewart Emery. Its a simple passage and yet has so much profound meaning to it that I can say that my photographic skills evolved to what it is now by virtue of applying these simple steps.

Here’s the passage,

Mastery by Stewart Emery

Mastery in our careers (and in our lives!) requires that we constantly produce results beyond and out of the ordinary. Mastery is a product of consistently going beyond our limits. For most people, it starts with technical excellence in a chosen field and a commitment to that excellence. If you’re willing to commit yourself to excellence, to surround yourself with things that represent this excellence, your life will change. It’s remarkable how much mediocrity we live with, surrounding ourselves with daily reminders that average is somehow acceptable.

In fact, our world suffers from terminal normality. Take a moment to assess all the things around you that promote your being “average.”
These are the things that prevent you from going beyond the limits that you’ve arbitrarily set for yourself. The first step to mastery is the removal of everything in your environment that represents mediocrity, and one way to attain that objective is to surround yourself with people who ask more of you than you would ordinarily give of yourself. Didn’t your parents and some of your best teachers and coaches do exactly that?
Another step on the path to mastery is the removal of resentment toward the masters. Develop compassion for yourself so that you
can be in the presence of a master and grow from the experience. Rather than comparing yourself to (and resenting) people who have
mastery, remain open and receptive. Let the experience be like the planting of a seed within you that, with nourishment, will grow into
your own individual mastery.

You see, we’re all ordinary. But rather than condemning himself for his “ordinariness,” a master will embrace that ordinariness as a
foundation for building the extraordinary. Rather than relying on his ordinariness as an excuse for inactivity, he’ll use it instead as a
vehicle for correcting himself. It’s necessary to be able to correct yourself without invalidating or condemning yourself to
use the results of the correction process to improve upon other aspects of
your life. Correction is essential to power and mastery’.

Distilling the passage to its very essence we get these rules and keys: There are 4 steps to achieving mastery:

1. Removal of mediocrity and surrounding yourself with people who will demand more from you than you ask from yourself

2. Removal of resentment toward masters

3. Develop compassion for self

4. Be open and receptive

The key to applying these 4 steps is to first be committed to technical excellence and also to correct without invalidation yourself.

These steps will nourish you much like water nourishes seeds which will one day grow into your mastery tree.

You know you have achieved mastery when your produce results which are beyond limits and beyond the ordinary, much like a miracle.

The foundation of mastery is your own ordinariness.

Anyway, I have decided to cover these points one by one in the coming days and share with anyone who cares to read my journey towards mastery…… 

Tough and Competent

Hi everyone,

I was doing some research today and came across a passage which really hit me deep inside and gave me such a clearer understanding of the essence of responsibility and what it takes to make a difference.

I wanted to share this with all of you.

Gene Kranz was a Flight Director of the NASA Space Program. In 1967, the space rocket Apollo 1 caught fire before it took off. It resulted in the death of 3 American Astronauts. Following that disaster Kranz called for a meeting of his branch and flight control team and made the following address:

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough and Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

It is this kind of attitude and belief that resulted in the succesful landing and safe return of Neil Armstrong in 1969 and the ‘successful failure’ of Apollo 13 in 1970 (Kranz was Flight Director during the critical phases of both missions – In Ron Howard’s movie Appolo 13 Kranz was played by Ed Harris).

Anyway, it affected me deeply and I hope you guys get something out of reading it.


I have just moved everything from the previous blog to this one. The reason for moving is that I think calling it betterpictures would limit the blog somewhat. I also want to to start The Right Eye’s brand and presence on the net. Lessons and guides are starting soon and I am writing the first chapter.

It’s an interesting experience so far as I have to constantly ask myself how to deliver the lesson and guides in a simple way that can be readily understood. Also I want to make sure that there are immediate improvements when people read it. The theory is to have people do an assignment (which should be something that can be done in less than 5 minutes) and then get a debrief as to the point of the lesson, the theory and the take-aways…..

Do let me know if my writing style needs to be improved. Feedback is always appreciated…..

Welcome to The Right Eye’s World….


Hello and welcome to Anybody’s guide to better portraits with any camera (well most cameras anyway).

I remember when I started photography just over a year ago, I scoured the internet for resources and materials to help me improve my photography. Over a year later I have managed to take my portrait work to a level where people are willing to pay me for my work.

A friend of mine told me recently that one of the ways to ensure that you have mastered something is to see whether you can teach the skills to another person so here I am willing and able to share my learnings and experience for others who care to learn.

Who is this for?

Well, if you answer yes to the following questions then this may not be for you:

– you understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO
– you know what 18% grey means
– you own more than 2 lenses
– any lens you own costs more than your camera body
– you know what dynamic range is
– you know the difference between a full frame and a crop frame
– you know why an 85mm f/1.2 L costs about 3 times more than an 85mm f/1.8
– you know how to achieve a narrow or a wide depth of field at will
– you now when and why you need to change the white balance setting of a camera
– you immediately get rid or burn and pay someone to take away your kit lens
– you drool at Canon’s L lenses
– or you drool at the equivalent Nikon lenses

This is for you if you answer yes to the following question

– you’ve bought a digital slr and always shoot at P and you don’t know what AV, TV and the dreaded M means
– you don’t buy an external flash because the camera has a built in flash and you don’t know the different results it gives
– you are satisfied with the kit lens of your camera and don’t see any reason why you have to buy another one
– you shoot in jpeg all the time because only pros use RAW
– you didn’t know that your camera can shoot in RAW
– your current pics look like it was taken with a digital compact and don’t understand why
– you think digital compacts can’t take great pictures
– don’t want to spend a lot of money on equipment

Portraits Of Family

Get the idea? Some of you may ask what’s different about Anybody’s guide to better portraits with any camera (well most cameras anyway). Well, when I searched through the internet I found a lot of sites which I consider caters to advance beginners. I want to cater to the absolute beginners. Those who do not necessarily want to know all the mechanics of taking the portraits but just want to take better ones. Sort of like the ones who will say ‘look. Just tell me what to do and what setting to use and I’ll do it’. You could say the first baby steps to greater and better photos.

Although I will try very hard to also cater for digital compacts for those of you out there that don’t have a digital slr and/or don’t want to buy one you, most of the stuff here will be easier dealt with a digital slr. So beg, borrow or steal…… but please remember to take the camera’s instruction manuals and keep it within reach. One of the things I won’t do is tell you how to operate the camera.

Portraits - Ezah (My favourite)

I am a Canon user so I will be most familiar with Canon terminology although again I will make it generic for people with cameras from other manufacturer.

My camera equipment is all exotic and can rank as some of the best currently on the planet (see the About Me page somewhere on this website) but for this purpose I will revert back to my old 300D digital camera and one of the cheapest lenses ever, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and I will also try to find a used kit lens EF 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6. This set up will cost roughly about RM2000 or about USD500 used ( I think).

Though I have a rough idea of what to do (and the order I’m going to do it, I’m going to keep the lessons pretty loose. Maybe do something like 1 or 2 lessons a week for 10 weeks. I am not going to follow conventional ways of ‘teaching photography’ as I believe in starting slow but with a bang. You should be taking better portraits by the itme you go through the first week. Most of the time we are used to going through the theory which is then followed by an assignment. I’m going to show some pictures (often a before and after) and give you some time to replicate the picture. You will find it hard which is the intention. That’s when the best learning take place. After some time I will begin the lesson (or tips) and show you how exactly the pictures were produced (before and after). That’s the general plan.

Second thing I am going to is take some portraits with my 300D and 50mm f/1.8 and/or the kit lens lens just to inspire you about the potential of the equipment that you already have.

In the meantime, feel free to see my pictures here on this website or at my flickr site…

Being Kids