Or can it? I myself have entertained that thought, and thoughts like these, after seeing street photographs taken in other countries.
“Singapore nothing to shoot, leh! So boring!”
“Wah, look at that street photo from New York! So much culture there! So many colours! People dressed in fancy clothes!”
The truth is, you only need to open your eyes to see the possibilities and beauty that Singapore herself can offer. True, most of us Singaporeans are simply dressed, nothing too “exciting” or “funky”, so that we feel comfortable and won’t sweat (my English teacher would scream “PERSPIRE! Only pigs sweat!”) bricks in the hot and humid weather.
So what then? How does one take halfway-decent or even nice street photos in Singapore?
I’ll leave street portraits out for this, ‘cus in my opinion, a street photograph is one that cannot be repeated, even if you called all the same people back and try to reconstruct the scene. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself. Try it, and that dishonesty will eat you from inside out.
Here are my tips for doing street photography in Singapore, and aimed for the busy Singaporean (a.k.a. you) or the busy person in Singapore.
Why for the busy person? In Singapore, almost everyone here is in a rush, and we live in a fast-paced society. Even if we have a bit of spare time, maybe we even convince ourselves that such time shouldn’t be wasted. So, we probably subconsciously tell ourselves that we have no time to sit and wait for someone to walk into the frame for the perfect shot to happen, even if the background or backdrop is super compelling.
Okay, enough talk, and on with the tips on what a busy person can look out for!
- Forget Chinatown. There are billions of images of old people playing chess. Yes, they are nice subjects to shoot, but everyone has done that. Even I have done that, but it hardly made for an interesting photo. Interesting to me, maybe, but not to others.
- The “Perspective” photo above was taken after a fruitless walk in Chinatown. Where was it taken? At Chinatown train station, while I was waiting for my train home.
- It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you know how to recognise the opportunities your supposedly poor location can give you. Which brings me to my next point.
Signs, Magic mirrors, Reflections and Text
a.k.a. SMART. Ok, I admit I made that up as I typed this blog post, ‘cus I was trying to act smart. But here’s what I have to say about them.
- Singapore. Full of buildings.
- What do buildings have?
- That’s right. Windows.
- What do windows have?
- That’s right. REFLECTIONS.
- Singapore. Full of buildings. Full of signs.
- Funny signs, helpful signs, boliao (loosely translated to mean “useless” or “Duh.”, though most signs I’ve seen are useful) signs.
- What do signs have?
- That’s right. TEXT. And WORDS.
- Take notice. Look out for anything and anyone else who could walk into the perfect frame within the next few seconds.
- How do you make use of them? How did I make use of them?
- Like so:
Oh, shoot. What do I shoot? How do I shoot?
- I think this calls for having your own style, or discovering what your style is.
- Take me for example. I think I’m funny (I hope I am!) and that kinda shows through the street photographs I take.
- If you’re trying to be funny (not a bad thing) and want to take a quirky, funny shot, you must first have…
- A sense of humour.
- My friends would probably tell you that my jokes are crappy, but they still laugh at it. How did I build my sense of humour?
- My answer to this, for me, was that I enjoyed and watched a lot of Stephen Chow movies since I was very young. And much later, discovered Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s super epic Army of Darkness.
- Humour aside, one other thing that I think worked for me was….
- Reading comics. I didn’t exactly study comics, I just read and read and read… And read.
- How does reading comics help? Each and every frame on every page, is a masterpiece in composition.
- Notice how the artist has placed their subjects, how they make their art burst out of the page.
- Notice how the art – their art – jumps at you. Screams at you.
- Now, apply it to your composition and your photos.
- I’ve written ten ideas on how to improve your street photography, covering composition, what camera modes you can use, how to use your focusing system etc. You can read it here.
Equipment and Other Tips
- I’ve also written something on this here, but to save you time and having to click on it, I’ll just state that…
- There is no one single best equipment, despite what brands and marketing folks will try to tell you.
- That said, for my style of shooting, I really enjoy using my Canon 7D and 5D Mk III with the 70-300mm lens.
- Why? For my usage, I like (demand?) snappy fast autofocus, and I like the reach that the long end of the lens gives me.
- But that’s just for my shooting style. You may find yourself comfortable with using your compact camera, or your DSLR with whatever lens that you like using.
- Bottom line, use whatever gives you results. But don’t forget to experiment with other kinds of equipment, too.
- Oh, and don’t forget, I’ve also used my iPhone 6 for taking some of my street photos.
- Another bottom line, as said by Chase Jarvis: The best camera is the one that’s with you.
- Oh yes, another photo tip. Singapore is a place full of lines. Use that to your advantage.
- What and how?
- Buildings have lines.
- Roads have lines.
- Walls have lines.
- Here’re two shots with lines that I made use of to further isolate my subject:
- Final tip: Read more books on photography! More books, less gear! 🙂
- Final final tip, if you happen to be a beginner and want even more tips, here are ten ideas on how to improve your photography.