Singapore is a study in contrasts. Part ultra-modern and crowded, part old and sprawling. A young city by any reckoning, it nevertheless boasts pockets of local flavor, both real and artificial.
One such place is the Chinese Garden, located in Jurong East. With its pagodas, temples, bridges and expanses of water and greenery, it’s a delight to visit and photograph, exuding character even in the most photographically hostile of conditions.
I recently came upon a stash of old photographs from 2007. I visited a lot of places that year, taking a lot of photos (mostly snapshots because of lack of planning), but thankfully I had the good sense to shoot in RAW, so processing them was painless and flexible.
Much has been said about Dubai’s skyline, but one thing is certain: things comes alive after dark. The desert haze and glaring sunlight mask much of the cityscape’s character, and with them gone the clustered buildings, architectural flights of fancy, and iconic structures start dominating one’s eyes and imagination. Of course, the stifling heat of a desert summer also abates after sunset, making nighttime photography a much more inviting proposition.
I love Hipstamatic. It takes ordinary scenes and imbues them with color, character and subtlety sorely absent from other, lesser camera applications. One can almost believe the hype wholesale—that the app is developed by artists. And, in suspension of disbelief, the suspicion that visual artists and photographers aren’t likely to be masters of XCode and Objective C at the level required to create such an application is almost completely dismissed.
Despite its merits as a photographic tool, Hipstamatic isn’t without its shortcomings. It doesn’t save the original, unprocessed shots, and you can’t apply effects to existing photos. You can forgive the app for this, since it’s meant to be a camera emulator, not a post-processing app or a camera substitute. But a third disadvantage is this: although you have total control over which effects are applied, you have zero control over how they are applied. Except for the obvious randomization, Hipstamatic shots are as cookie-cutter as they come. 10 people standing at the same spot taking photos of the same scene using the same film and lens combination will take virtually identical photos.
Luckily, there is hope of escape from this creative walled garden. If you’re tech-savvy iPhone user with a jailbroken phone who’s not afraid to tinker with its file system and (more importantly) has decent Photoshop skills, you can modify the existing lenses and films to create your own unique variations.
I’ve always been intrigued by the otherworldly character of near-infrared black & white landscapes—black skies and water, stark clouds and white vegetation. However, since I mostly do general photography, I couldn’t justify the expense of a camera conversion (which was more expensive than the market price of my backup Nikon D80), nor the long exposures and compromised focus accuracy associated with using a nearly opaque IR filter.
So I did the next best thing: create a RAW processing preset. Since the color data in a RAW file is still intact (unlike, say, in a JPG image), the latitude for image manipulation possible is much greater and allows for wild tonal deviations from the original shot.
These days, when you hear the phrase “mobile photography”—especially in its iPhone-centric incarnation, “iPhoneography”—the first things that come to mind are retro filters and faux vintage processing. The results are generally tasteful, but are not infrequently reminiscent of a collaboration between a photographer with a mold-infested camera and a darkroom artist who’s inhaled too many chemical fumes. Needless to say, the tendency to over-process shots for the sake of artificial nostalgia can certainly go out of hand.
My mobile photography arsenal reached a tipping point where I had three pages of photography and processing apps. Realizing the absurdity of this situation, I decided to keep things simple and more about shooting photos than processing them. It certainly helped that at this point my Instagram gallery was starting to look garish as a result of inconsistent and sometimes poorly thought out processing choices. So I decided to shoot my mobile photos exclusively in high-contrast black & white.
A while back, photographer Chase Jarvis made quite a killing in the app market with Best Camera, a pioneering iPhone photography app that capitalized on a very simple premise: “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” The simple truth behind those words can’t be overemphasized. Indeed, of what use is an expensive DSLR or medium format rig if its whole reason for being—taking pictures—isn’t realized because you don’t have it at hand when a photo opportunity strikes?