Here’s something you’ve probably never seen before – an auto (self) interview! Actually not really – I’m just answering our standard ’10 questions for’ series that Robin originated a while back, and which I’ve been promising to answer for quite a few months now. 🙂
As you may know, I am the exclusive photographer (as well as webmaster) for Sachiko McLean’s site – my first job as a professional photographer. Anyway, I have some pretty unconventional and controversial ideas about photography, which you can read about in this interview. And to all the photographers whose work I’ve criticised in the past – here’s your chance to get some of your own back! 😉
I’ve chosen the image above as I feel it represents many of the things that define my approach to photography. The wierd lighting effect in this image hasn’t been added in Photoshop (as I never modify my photos) – it is in fact lens flare. Photographers normally try to avoid this, but my spontaneous approach allowed me to use it fortuitously. The photo below is simply a personal favourite, which epitomises my ‘model as part of nature’ ideal.
Asian-Sirens: What kind of photography do you like?
Dr. Lee: I have to say the kind of photography that’s had the most impact on me througout my life is the sort of thing you see in National Geographic. I feel they have a remarkable ability to capture the ‘essence’ of whatever they’re documenting. And it’s often quite spectacular, especially their nature photography. I guess this is one reason why I take a ‘documentary-like’ approach to my photography, and why my favourite subject is mother nature.
When it comes to glamour photography specifically, I admire the sort of photography you see in shashinshu (Japanese photo albums) – it’s a lot more naturalistic than most western (especially American) glamour photography.
Asian-Sirens: When did you decide to become a photographer?
Dr. Lee: I’d known Sachiko for quite some time before she launched her web site. I don’t remember clearly how the idea started, but she was always impressed by my photography, and we found we had very similar philosophies about how this sort of thing should be done. So basically, Sachiko’s site is what made me decide to become a photographer (not to mention a webmaster!). I certainly enjoy the flexibility as well as being my own boss – I enjoy it far more than any other work I’ve done in fact!
Asian-Sirens: Which photographers do you admire and why?
Dr. Lee: Actually, I’ve never been a devoted fan of any one particular photographer (although as I say above I love the kind of photography you see in National Geographic). I am entirely self-taught, and I’ve actually made a point of finding my own way to do things, without being overtly influenced by professional photographers. When I look at photography magazines explaining how to ‘improve’ my photography, I often find that in the ‘before and after’ Photoshop tutorials I strongly prefer the ‘before’ shot! The Photoshopped versions almost always look somehow ‘unreal’ to me – the originals look more realistic and natural. And I decided right from the beginning that naturalism and realism is what I wanted to capture.
So to this day, I never use Photoshop on my photos. And I use an absolute minimum of equipment to take them as well – just a camera and a flash. No extra lighting, nothing. I want to capture the light that was there in the actual scene. Many of my photos of Sachiko are pretty overexposed because I took them in very bright sunlight. A pro would normally try to compensate for this, but I don’t – the midday sun in Australia often ‘overexposes’ my eyes too, so that’s what I try to capture. I think it gives my photos more life, vibrancy and realism, even if they aren’t always technically perfect.
Asian-Sirens: What makes a good photo?
Dr. Lee: For me, what makes a good photo is how well it captures what you are trying to photograph – and how worthwhile what you’re trying to capture is! My philosophy is simple: find something worth photographing, and try to capture it as much as possible. It might seem self-evident that this is what photography should be about, but surprsingly it almost never is these days. People always use Photoshop to make their photos look ‘better’ than reality. And it seems as though almost every photographer these days wants to be taken seriously as an ‘artist’.
Ironically – although my photography has been widely acclaimed for its artistic quality – I do not consider the act of photographing something to be an art form. For me, a camera is like a tape recorder: it is simply an instrument for recording something. Nevertheless, if a tape recorder is used to capture a great performance, then it will produce a work of art. And so it is with photography. If you capture something great, then you may well produce a photo that could be considered to be a work of art. If what you try to capture isn’t worthwhile, then no amount of Photoshopping or expensive ‘fine art’ printing paper is going to turn it into an ‘artistic’ photo (or a good photo of any kind for that matter).
Of course, you could modify a photo so much in Photoshop that it becomes something else, which may well be considered to be a work of art. But to my mind this is no longer a photo – it is computer ‘art’. And don’t get me started on the current ‘fine art’ photography craze. Simply coverting a photo into monochrome does not make it art. And so-called ‘fine art photo prints’ do not make a photo art either – they just make it a badly-printed photo. Photos are photos, not paintings. It seems to be that many photographers these days want to be ‘respected’ as a ‘real artist’, but to my mind this simply isn’t what photography is about. If you want to be a painter, then for God’s sake use brushes and paint (or a paint program) – don’t use a camera!
Asian-Sirens: What makes a good model?
Dr. Lee: As I’ve only shot with Sachiko so far my answer to this question probably doesn’t have much meaning! Still, she does represent what I think makes a good model: she’s versatile, knows how to pose, is comfortable with her clothes off and isn’t too much of a prima donna. Plus of course she looks great! 😉
A special thing about Sachiko is that I don’t normally need to tell her how to pose – I just give her general instructions as to what I want from a shoot and let her go. On the other hand, as she is so spontaneous I have to work very quickly, so I don’t normally have time to adjust my camera settings between shots. So I’m not always able to get as good an exposure as I would like, but in terms of what Sachiko does, almost every shot’s a winner!
Asian-Sirens: Is there an Asian model you really would like to work with?
Dr. Lee: Actually, I’d really like to shoot some of my Asian lady friends, but unfortunately it’s probably never going to happen. Sadly, the most beautiful Asian girls are for the most part still quite traditional and conservative. The more ‘modern’ girls are often willing, but they usually have bleached hair and such which doesn’t interest me. If I went to Asia they’d be willing to model for simple financial reasons, but here in Australia they’re far too comfortable for that – they simply prefer to marry themsleves off. A real shame, as there’s a lot of gorgeous Asian girls here, and I know several of them. But I’m working on it. 😉
Asian-Sirens: Did you ever screw up an assignment? (please do elaborate if so! ;-))
Dr. Lee: Just the usual equipment malfunctions – I had an autofocus problem with my camera once which resulted in an entire lost shoot, and ended up taking up three months to get fixed (what a drama that was!).
Asian-Sirens: Did you ever get intimate with a model you worked with? (feel free to elaborate! ;-))
Dr. Lee: Once again, as I’ve only worked with Sachiko so far, my answer to this question probably doesn’t mean much! If and when I do work with other models in the future I will try to keep things strictly professional, but I think it would be unrealistic to categorically state that this could never happen. The fact that I am intending to shoot my friends will probably complicate matters even further. 😉
Asian-Sirens: What kind of camera and lighting equipment do you use?
Dr. Lee: As I said, I don’t use any external lighting equipment, apart from a flash (in my case a Canon 420EX). And my camera is a humble Canon PowerShot G2! At the time we started shooting for Sachiko’s site, digital SLRs were still unaffordable for the non-professional (and digital is obviously the only practical option when you’re shooting for the web). And the G2 was definitely the best compact digicam available at the time (I still think it’s one of the best compacts ever made). The higher resolution sensors on more recent compacts have introduced too much noise IMHO, requiring excessive noise reduction. The G2 was sharp right down to each individual pixel – like an SLR.
There are some ways in which a compact is actually better than an SLR. For one thing, the 4:3 ratio is much better for displaying on typical computer screens than the 3:2 ratio of SLRs. Also, I like their greater depth of field for a given aperture – unlike other glamour photographers, I don’t like to blur the background to draw attention to the model. I believe in shooting her as part of the entire scene I am capturing – for me this is more erotic, as it is more real. And it fits in with my philosophy of capturing what I see with my own eyes.
The G2’s live, flip and twist LCD has allowed me to compose shots that would simply have been impossible with an SLR too. On the other hand, I’m sure an SLR would allow me to take many other shots I couldn’t take with the G2. And the ability to adjust the exposure in the RAW files after the fact would be very handy indeed (as shooting with Sachiko is so spontaneous, I often don’t have time to adjust my camera for a perfect exposure). Plus of course the image quality of an SLR is simply better. So now that they’re so affordable, I will probably get one eventually.
Asian-Sirens: What are your future ambitions as a photographer?
Dr. Lee: I actually would like to get back to my first love, nature photography (epecially landscapes). For me it’s a lot easier than model photography, and I believe mother nature produces the greatest works of art. Mind you though, there’s certainly nothing wrong with shooting a sexy, naked Asian babe – and a body like Sachiko’s is something of a work of art too. 😉
These two photos represent the opposite ends of my photographic repertoire – from classy and arty to casual and fun!