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On working with subjects

I started the Born In Malaysia project in 2010 with a certain look and feel in my photography and 3 years down the road, it has not changed much. I wanted my images to have a timeless feel to it. I acheved this effect by reducing the vibrancy of the images along with some tweaking of the split-colour settings in Lightroom.

At a long house in Sarawak. 2012

With Burau anak Bubak, the Tuai Rumah of Nanga Mengkak Iban longhouse in Batang Ai, Sarawak. 2013

Getting what we saw on the screen of our Mac similar to the printed proof took a number of attempts

As a commercial photographer, I did not want to bring the same sort of discipline into this project as I wanted it to be about the subjects. For this reason, I rarely used strobe lighting as I did not want to fuss around with light stands. My focus was on the subject, to get the best expression and bring out the true personality. If I had to sacrifice some highlight detail or shadow detail, I was willing to take that risk. Besides, I was not working with models. My subjects were likely to complain that I was taking too long if I spent more than 10 minutes photographing them! However, they were willing to spend hours talking to me about their lives. Photographing this project was such a refreshing change from the usual manufactured shots I have been doing for years.

At a long house in Sarawak. 2012

With Amitak anak Lungan at Kampung Mujat Bidayuh longhouse in Serian, Sarawak. 2013

There were occasions when artificial lighting was absolutely necessary. When I photographed Joseph Gonzales, the director of dance at ASWARA in Kuala Lumpur, I had to use strobe lighting in order to freeze the dancers who were in the background. For the most part, I used a simple battery operated strobe light (the same one we use to photograph Aunt Jemima’s 80th birthday) to ligthen up deep shadow areas or to create more dramatic lighting on the subject.

My shooting style if any was to converse with my subject with my camera resting on my side or lap, bring the camera up occasionally to shoot a few frames. However, my experience allowed me to constantly survey the location and pick out good areas of natural light and background. All this while, I also had to take notes of the conversation with my subject.

In my opinion, the camera is just a tool so I photograph with whatever I can get my hands on. I am definitely not a pixel peeper and a 70-200mm f/4 is less than half the weight and double the pleasure of a 200mm f/2.0. I currently work with the Canon system, specifically the Canon 5DS R, Canon 7D Mark II and a number of fast prime and zoom lenses. These lenses include the Canon 24mm F1.4, 35mm F1.4, 85mm F1.2, 16-35mm F4.0L IS and 70-200mm F2.8L IS. There are times when I will opt for a lighter system depending on the location.

~ Kenny

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