Hi there, Ben Chong here! This post will all about photography, travel, and oxford commas. If you aren’t interested in any of those, click away now.

As an avid photographer, I’m always looking for a good shot whenever I take my camera out with me. Back in Singapore, I enjoy shooting events, most of which are as part of SUTD’s Photogcircle, such as Open House, Fusion concert, and the recent Freshmore Orientation. In my own time I also shoot external events like the Chingay Parade and Star Wars Day.

For me, event photography is all about being at the right place at the right time. The candid shots of people in the moment is what makes it worthwhile, and what I enjoy most about event photography. Unfortunately, that means taking way too many photos than I can be proud to admit, in hopes of getting one where the subject isn’t blinking or making a weird face (unless that’s the intent).

Coming to Hangzhou as part of ALP was a new experience for me, mainly because it’s the first country I’ve travelled to since starting photography more than a year and a half ago. It’s also allowed me to practice shooting what Singapore doesn’t have a lot of; landscapes. Photography is a great excuse to go see new places, whether it be views on mountaintops or alleys in foreign cities (it also keeps me from becoming a potato). Photography is all about practice; the more I shoot, the better I understand what makes a good image (hopefully). While this doesn’t mean I go around snapping everything (although I used to), it does mean I go through the photos I’ve shot to find the ones I like, and to understand why they appeal to me.

If you’re a new photographer or interested in getting into photography, here are three short tips to help you get started, along with some examples in the form of shots I’ve taken since arriving in China. Click on the image to enjoy it in full resolution!

1. Seeing the light

Good photos are always a result of good lighting, whether natural or artificial. There’s a reason why photographers like shooting when the sun is low, called the golden hour, which is period after sunrise or before sunset. This is when the light is redder and softer, compared to normal daylight which casts harsh shadows and is easy overexpose shots.

Sadly, Hangzhou rarely has any golden hours (let alone sunsets), because the constantly overcast sky makes for poor lighting and an overexposed background. The only time when there is nice light is when the sun is out, and the Hangzhou sun is face-meltingly hot. Nonetheless, these two images show how different lighting makes for a different mood.

The warm glow from the sun and lush greenery makes the towering Liuhe Pagoda a sight to behold. The leaves on the edge of the image also help frame the centred and symmetrical pagoda.
Soft light from overcast skies and an obedient subject makes for excellent portraits. Bonus points if it’s a dog (in this case a beautiful Doberman Collie).

2. Balanced composition

This is a very subjective topic, and at times seems a bit vague. What does “balanced” mean? Frankly, I’m still figuring this out as well. It has little to do with technical knowledge but much more of how the image feels, whether it’s pleasing or there’s something off about it. A balanced composition usually involves placing subjects in an image that work together to make the overall image better, such as mountains hugging a valley, or straight up symmetry. It is of course much more complicated than simply making sure objects counterbalance each other. Some of the most interesting photos even disrupt the balance, making for a more dynamic shot. This is again, very subjective, and it’s a personal preference and style.

The mountain of the left is balanced nicely against the many hills on the right that fade into the distance. The both create leading lines that draw the eye to the centre of the valley.
The imitation Parisian architecture and replica Eiffel tower make Tianducheng a surreal place to be in. Planned and built almost like a theme park, it’s symmetry allows for some interesting shots.

3. Shoot monochrome when all else fails

While landscape photography allows for more time to plan shots, sometimes things can get in your way. Weather conditions is always a big factor when it comes to landscape photography, and it’s quite obvious why. While I strive to take good photos, I’m also a bit lazy, so I try to make do with what’s in front of me. Sometimes that makes for a nice shot.

Especially in Hangzhou where haze, fog, and constant cloud cover make for no washed out colours and faded backdrops, sometimes it’s nice to take black & white photos instead. While it seems a bit more artistic and harking back to early film days, it’s also good practice to understand tonal contrast, textures, and shapes play a part in making an image. Without colour, it helps to emphasize key elements in a photo, which works well for landscape or portrait photography.

Hangzhou haze and fog makes for faded backgrounds, which lends itself well for black and white photography. The stark contrast of the boats that dot Xihu Lake are now seen more clearly, since the water, hills and sky all appear washed out.
Using monochrome in this image draws emphasis on the dark fur of the puppy, and having a light-coloured background helps the subject pop out.

Ultimately, if you want to shoot better photos, go out at practice shooting what you like. Grab a bunch of friends, plan a trip somewhere, and go have fun! That’s all from me for now, see you again in a month!

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