Monday, March 10, 2014

Feature Photographer: C.S. Lee

Bridge Underneath
When was the last time this blog site featured a night photographer's work? In fact three photographers' work were showcased 7 and a half years ago in August 2006, and the last one was in April 2010.

Once I mentioned that there are lesser ideal/interesting places and objects to do light-paintings in Singapore, and even more scarce to find like-minded night photographers. Six months ago in a blog posted on Sept 2013, I mentioned about a night photographer from Penang Malaysia and his name is Lee Chin Sheng. Tonight we're featuring his work right here on this blog site.

Stay on to read and understand more about Lee's work after the jump.

The Night Light

In late June 2013, I received an email from Lee who has had accidentally hit upon this blog site and since then we have been exchanging emails and more recently messaging via Hangouts app. We met up for the first time last December when I was traveling in Penang with friends. With kindness, Lee showed us around the city and we got to talk about anything under the sun and of course we shared our common interest - night photography.

The Evil Factory
Abandoned Factory
An IT guy by day and photographer by night. Lee is a self-taught photographer who focuses mainly on portrait and night photography. As a slow learner who likes to take his time in the image creation process, nothing stops Lee from making art through photography. I took the opportunity to invite Lee on this blog site and the following is an "interview-like style" Q&A which I hope readers would be able to understand more about Lee's work.

Martin Liew: Lee, thank you so much for taking your time in your busy schedule to do this interview. It's great to have you here on my night photography blog site. So how did you start or get into night photography?

CS Lee: When I bought my first DSLR camera which is Nikon D7000 in 2009, most of my friends already faded away from this hobby, and I never know how long this hobby will sustain as well, so I was photographing almost everything, from street, portrait to landscape. There was one time I brought my camera out at night, and I was in my brother’s car, I simply took the image of the fountain when the car was passing by and because of the fast moving car, the form of the fountain looks like an UFO. Since then I thought the night looks totally different than day time and maybe I should try shooting at night. I have zero knowledge about night photography and just got myself a kickstart, and I started to search for information about this photography genre.

Mafia Ride
ML: Like most night photographers or any serious amateurs, we have a day job and have to juggle between our career, family and hobby. I see you are really passionate about night photography. So how do you find time for your night photography? How often do you go out at night to make pictures?

Lee: My job is flexible compares to others since I’m working in IT industry. Additionally the advantage of doing night photography is you are doing it at night so it doesn’t crash with day time job. Only thing is to find energy to go out at night. I try to maintain shooting at least 3-5 nights a month, and going out at different time of the year is important as well because you will get different images out of the same scene.

ML: Do you have a project in mind when you go out at night? Or just driving and wandering around in the dark city looking for your next inspirations and subjects? Where do you find your inspirations and ideal subjects?

Lee: Normally I survey in day time, especially to find interesting remote locations; I have couple of places which I always visit, and there are times where I just hit the place and want to shoot at night as well. Here’s the interesting part about night photography, some locations look cool in day time but dull at night, and some locations just happen to be opposite. My hunger about night photography leads me to the work of Steven Harper, and his talented students. I considered many of their work are great inspirations to me.

I used to draw comic when I was a kid. My favorite comics are Akira and Gunnm, I really hope I can live in their world and photographing them, which means I kind of falling in love with abandoned buildings or modern ruins, industrial area and the weirdness of orangish street light as well as the light streaks. Those can be considered as my favorite subjects.
ML: Would you like to talk about your night photography project (if any)?

Lee: Yeah sure, I’m working on 3 projects right now, and each project could take up a year or two to complete because It takes time to build body of works. Basically these 3 projects are to cover 3 different locations, I expect to have like 20-30 excellent images of each location before considering myself completing the projects.

ML: Will you be planning to publish your projects in digital eBook format or in offset prints? Or maybe for your personal solo photography exhibition?

Lee: There are not many people taking night photography seriously in Malaysia and Singapore as you know, and what I want to do now is trying to give night photography more exposures to many people so they know that the night is way more beautiful than they think. Likewise I used to think that the night is just plain dark and nothing else to see. Right now I haven’t thought about having solo photography exhibition yet.

ML: Yes it's always good to see others inspired by your work and more people are doing it. OK, let’s talk about the night photos you submitted to The Nocturnes 2012. Please elaborate about your photography techniques or stories behind each photo.

The End of Strife
Lee: There are two images selected for The Nocturnes 2012. The first one shown above is titled The End of Strife. The main subject you see in the image is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. Basically you can see this huge pagoda from various angles if you are in Yangon. I have seen many close up night images of this pagoda and want to take it differently. The door gate you see in this image is not the entrance to the pagoda, in fact it is actually one of the military gates, I found the gates (there are many) and the pagoda have similar shapes during my visit to Yangon city. We all know that Myanmar is the country under military power for long time, and finally opened up to the world after 2010 election and that was the time I visited there. The Shwedagon Pagoda is long known to be the symbol of hope and love to Myanmar people, so that makes it interesting because now I have two symbolic subjects that are kind of conflicting. What I did was walking around the Yangon city to find the angle I want, of which the Shwedagon Pagoda looks to be contained inside the military gate. I finally found the shooting location which is at the road side, right opposite of this military gate, then I composed and aligned my frame properly. Since the Shwedagon Pagoda is very far from the military gate, I used long focal length to compress the scene so the military gate and the pagoda look close to each other. Most of the time what I get is a light streak from the cars passing by (from right to left), and that wasn't exactly what I wanted. So I continue to capture the scene for half an hour and finally a funny taxi made a U-turn in the middle of the road which is illegal but generating the interesting U-shape light streak as if it came out from the military gate, I might say a very good luck played in, but it only came with a patient heart. The making of this image was exactly what I had in mind; the light is flowing out from the Shwedagon Pagoda through the military gate, hence “The End Of Strife”. 
Storm Cloud Alignment
Lee: The story behind this second image is co-incidence. I was heading back home after my dinner and the bad weather seemed to be coming. As I stopped my car at the traffic light, I saw the storm cloud was aligning parallel with the diagonal line of the flyover. Quickly I took out my camera, composed it and  made 2 shots. Then I waited for the last shot to happen, which is the light from the lorry (out of the frame) was about to make a U-turn illuminating the arrow on the ground, and gotcha. So lucky me, the traffic light turned green and I drove off before other drivers start to horn at me.
ML: That was really a co-incidence. As the saying goes "At the right place, at the right time.". OK let's talk about security. Personally I had some experiences in some of my night photography outings i.e. approached by strangers and police was called in. I believe at some point in our night photography adventures, we are bound to such situations inevitably. So did you have any to share with our readers?
Lee: I have encountered police and security guards many times. The first tip is don’t run. Just stay calm when they approach you, and tell them what you are doing. You are not doing anything wrong so no fear. Being minimalist is important too; just take what you need to the field at night, that already minimizes your risk of losing your gears if worst thing happens. Apart from that, I have also encountered bunch of stray dogs before, and if the dogs are after you, just stay calm and never run. Running would be a big mistake and normally they won’t get real close to you if you never run.
ML: Thanks for sharing the tips. Talking about gears, care to share what's in your camera bag?
Lee: Nikon D7000, Panasonic LX7, Nikon SB700, Yongnuo 560 II, Fenix Flashlight PD32ue,  Hahnel Giga T Pro II shutter release, Rosco color gel set and EL-wire. Recently I have purchased the Protomachines light, so my Rosco color gel set stays home now. Both the strobe/flashlight has different usages in term of light painting. I thought of retiring the rosco color gel but hell no, because I can use it with my Fenix flashlight (waterproof) to do underwater light painting, and I’m still experimenting.
ML: Underwater light-painting? Sounds fun and interesting. Would love to see your future works on this. Before we go, do you have some tips and techniques on night photography to share with our readers?
Lee: Wake up and go shooting at night, the more you shoot the better you become, and getting familiar with your gear is very important because you don’t want to fumble with the camera settings in the dark. And being minimalist, just carry the gear you need and head outside, not only that will make sure you lost minimal gears if anything bad happens at night, you will have less distraction during night shooting.

Technical wise, smartphone becomes very powerful tool for night photographers these days. The software applications that you might considered installing – Night Sky, Lunar Calendar, Foreca for iphone users and there are many equivalent for android phone users such as Google Sky Map. These applications give you advantage of knowing when and where to shoot, and also pre-visualization of the beautiful night sky. Able to pre-visualize your background sky is important because you can use them as composition tool, for example the moving cloud direction, star trails line and so forth.
For more tips and my thoughts on each image I have created, visit my blog

ML: So Lee, where can we see more of your night photographs?

Lee: Visit my website

ML: Alright, Lee. Thank you very much for your time and it's a pleasure talking to you and about your work. We look forward to see more of your night photographs in the near future.
Lee: Thanks for having me on your blog site, Martin. It's a pleasure to share with your readers.

OK that was the interview with night photographer CS Lee. I do hope you readers are inspired by his work and passion for night photography, just as much as I love making it. So get out there in the dark and make some nocturnes.