10 Questions For Photographer Dr. Lee

Sachiko McLean

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.

Sachiko McLean

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. 😉

Sachiko McLean

Sachiko McLean

These two photos represent the opposite ends of my photographic repertoire – from classy and arty to casual and fun!

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0 thoughts on “10 Questions For Photographer Dr. Lee”

  1. very nice…gives us another prospective…you should consider other models since you probably have access to them being from overthere:)

  2. Thanks lawboy. There really are lots of gorgeous Asian girls around in the part of Australia I live in (southeast Queensland). Hopefully I’ll be able to get more of them in front of the camera some day. 😉

  3. if they can be of any quality like Sachiko, then you got it made…great shots..i especially like the one where you posted a few weeks ago..she laying on the beach on her stomach…a woman’s form is a gift from God…dont you think? :))

  4. Very intersting comments Dr. lee and I thank you for your insight. I would like shooting with a compact camera on occasion, but I havn’t found one that will keep up with the rapid shoot capability of the Digital SLR. My models don’t like waiting for the camera to be ready between shots … Also the ability to get a good shot from an incorrectly exposed RAW file is simply amazing.

  5. Thanks mikepa! You are absolutely right about the speed issue – SLRs are still king here. Hence, the way glamour photographers usually shoot (continuously reeling off shots while the model poses) is not really suited to compacts.

    Because I like to shoot in remote locations, I try to carry the absolute minimum of equipment. Hence, I have to try and make every individual shot a winner, so I don’t reel off lots of photos. As such, a compact is usually fast enough for my shooting style. But as you say, the ability to adjust the exposure in the RAW file is wonderful!

  6. I find most of these pictures rather uninspiring. perhaps if there was more attention paid to proper lighting, use of bokeh, and less lens flare (not an artistic tool but an artifact) they might have executed better. I must say that athough the color is true and the images sharp, I would qualify these as snapshots with a model more than professional glamour photography. Perhaps landscapes are more your forte, Doc. Although I dont’t know of many plastic mountains out there.

  7. Obvioulsy you prefer the unrealistic, touched-up glamour photography you see everywhere on the net and in magazines these days, and that is your perogative. However, I do not, and nor do Sachiko’s fans. Also, the artistic quality of the photography on our site has been widely acclaimed in all the reviews etc., so it isn’t just her fans who appreciate it either.

    Besides, with so much Playboy-style glamour photography around, what’s the point of me doing yet more of this stuff? The lack of variety and creativity in American glamour photography these days is really getting monotonous, so I want to do something different – and most importantly, I want to do something real.

  8. Its not a matter of personal taste, Doc. Photography is not a tape recorder. It is an art-form. There is a talent to capturing more than just what light is bouncing off a surface. Great photography captures the moment. There is a feeling, personality and celebration. Sachiko might not look so garish or washed out if shot by a more experience photographer.

    I don’t prefer the images to be touched up, just better photography. Don’t let the accolades of fans of overly-enhanced models convince you that it is the quality of your photographs they like. I think its rather ignorant to qualify your limitations as a personal style or technique. Perhaps if you open your mind to a different perspective on photography, your work will improve. I wish you luck with it.

  9. Well redlaw, IMHO photography IS a tape recorder – or at least it should be. As I say in my article, if you want to be an artist, use a paint brush, not a camera.

    And as you yourself say, great photography captures the moment – how can it do that if you use artificial lighting and touch-ups? And I agree photography should have sense of feeling, personality and celebration – this is exactly what artificial modern glamour photography lacks!

    Furthermore, if you read the reviews of Sachiko’s site, you will see it isn’t just her fans who acclaim the artictic quality of the photography on our site – indeed, it is the most consistently acclaimed aspect of our site!

  10. Lee,

    Your opinion is hardly humble but than again, neither is mine.

    You assert that photography is a tape recorder. You are making an flawed comparison on many levels. An audio recording is to a photograph as a tape recorder is to a camera. Even with that clarification, the comparison is lacking. A well executed photograph is measured and thoughtful, well planned and composed, framed and captured to produce in the mind of the viewer a gastalt, not a sequence. Perhaps a movie camera is more akin to a tape recorder.

    If your style of photography is meant to attract a segment of the population that is titlated by amateur snapshots then I underestimated your deliberate skill. I have come across sites that specialize in pictures of wives and ex-girlfriends that resemble your style. But I will concede that some of your images of Sachiko are better than a lot of those.

    When you allow a photograph to reflect what your camera sees, such as lens flares and glare and the obvious shadows of your own flash, it hardly conveys what is real or beautiful in the subject.

    You are correct that glamour photography, gravure photos (like the japanese photo books you like to collect) and the tasteful Met-Art variety all have their appeal. Photography is just the common variable. In all styles the photographer, the camera is not a wrench or a dictaphone, it IS their paintbrush.

    There is a great book you should consider investing in. Lighting the Nude: Top Photography Professionals Share Their Secrets. You can get it from your favorite bookseller. The techniques that are show, even using available light, are much more flattering than the flood flash you appear to be using. Try a diffuser or bouncing the flash at least. The way you are using the flash makes your subject look waxy, old and reveals flaws.

    Again, just my non-humble opinion. Keep on shooting.

    -R

    BTW – I had read and looked through Sachiko’s site and I reserved my comments about your skill as a photographer until after I took in a wider sampling of your work. Sorry to have bruised your ego.

  11. Perhaps it would have been most accurate to say a camera (rather than photography in general) is a tape recorder, but the point remains the same: IMHO, photography is a technical skill, not an art form in itself, just as being a recording engineer is a technical skill. The art is in what you capture – just as a recording engineer will capture a piece of music (which is the art form, not the recording itself), so a photographer will hopefully capture a moment in time. If that moment in time is beautiful and/or interesting (and well captured), then it may indeed be a work of art as a result.

    In an ideal world, one would always have perfect lighting and no untoward shadows, but the real world isn’t like that. If you set things up this way, then you aren’t capturing a moment in time – you are creating one (the sorts of natural light techniques in the book you mention above still require a lot of artificial preparation to achieve). And for me, that is boring and simply not worth my while. I remain hopeful that technology will one day be able to allow me to shoot the way I want without the unwanted artefacts, but until then that is the deliberate compromise I make.

    There is quite a bit of planning involved in determining the gestalt, as you say, of the imagery I want to achive in a given shoot, but each individual shot is a combination of planning and spontaneity. I deliberately ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ in a shoot, to capture whatever great scene may be presented to me. This is in part determined by Sachiko’s modelling style, as she is very spontaneous and improvisational.

    As I say in my article, shooting this way gives me no time to mess with camera settings or (especially) artificial lighting, but once again that is the deliberate compromise I make. And I have checked out many of the sorts of books you mention, but looking at the ‘after’ shots only left me more determined to do things my own way. To me, this sort of photography simply lacks life.

    P.S. Regarding bruised egos, one has to wonder where your obsessive objections to my pointing out that Sachiko doesn’t need makeup or touch-ups come from. I mean, why should you care so much? There’s only one reason I can think of…

  12. Oh yes, I forgot to metion: the photos you mention with the obvious flash shadow were actually casual snapshots that weren’t originally intended for our web site – at that time, I didn’t even have an external flash! This is explained in the blurb that goes with the photos (if you bothered to read it) – this is why they are free and called ‘candid shots’! However, many of Sachiko’s fans like their ‘casual snap shot’ quality – it gives them more of a sense of her as a real, living, breathing person, and I think that’s perfectly valid and worthwhile.

  13. OK, Lee. I dont want to engage in this debate with you. I already stated my opinion. I just find you to be pompous and self congratulatory when you qualify yourself as a photographer worthy of an interview. That is laughable to me. Enjoy your dellusional world. Critiquing the quality of the photos in addition to the appearance of the models within them, I believe is fair game for this site. In the case of your photos, to modify your analogy, they have the fidelity of an answering machine.

    You can calm down now. maybe in a few days you can rethink the issue and work on improving your technical skill.

  14. Well redlaw, I am not the one resorting to personal insults – in accordance with the rules of this forum as stated at the bottom of this page, it is you who should calm down.

    I have been interviewed here (using Robin’s questions, not mine – the ‘self-interview’ thing was meant to be humorous!) as the photographer of an Asian model on a successful Asian model site. A site whose photography has, as I said, been highly acclaimed for its artistic and technical quality in all the reviews of our site (even though, as I freely admit, I make a lot of technical compromises to get the results I want).

    Once again, one has to wonder about the motivations for your comments in relation to me in this thread and elsewhere. I also see you fancy yourself as a photographer. How acclaimed has your photography been?

  15. Initially, I was motivated to comment because I don’t like your photography, Lee.

    My artwork, which includes phtography, has had its share of acclaim and criticism. I have learned to appreciate them both equally.

  16. I’m not just talking about your comments in this thread – looking at all of your comments in relation to me, it is clear you have some kind of personal agenda. Also, constructive criticism is welcome, but clearly you are more interested in delivering personal insults – and as I said, this is illegal under our posting guidelines. If you said the same thing to anybody else, I would have deleted your comments. Please be aware that repeated breaches of our posting guidelines will not be tolerated.

    BTW, if I am as motivated by ego as you seem to think I am, wouldn’t I want to call myself an artist – especially as other people already do so? I think it is fairly obvious that it is people like you who want to think they are artists just because they can use a camera who are motivated by ego. I suspect my comments that photographers aren’t true artists bruised your ego, hence your resorting to personal insults.

  17. I dont believe I used any personal insults at all. And I dont know what other threads you are referring to. I apologize if you were offended personally.

    I think your lomography is wonderful.

  18. Just to clarify, here is a quote from you above:

    I just find you to be pompous and self congratulatory when you qualify yourself as a photographer worthy of an interview. That is laughable to me. Enjoy your dellusional world.

    That is a personal insult, and not constructive criticism by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, your suggestions re flash photography and books on photography are constructive, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. If you stick to these sorts of comments without getting personal, then your criticism will be well taken by myself and others.

    And your last comment is obviously a veiled insult (as many of your other coments toward me have been), so now that I have made it clear what sorts of comments are acceptable here and what aren’t, please refrain from posting personal insults again – or I will be forced to suspend you.

  19. i think for non photoshoped photos, these are great…i have seen before and after photoshoped from adam, and there are big differences. they are nice to look at but, you can be in for a big surprise if you meet the model in real life and her waist to boobs ratio is not the same as her pix…sachiko has a very good waist to boobs ratio…enhanced or not…:)

    red…take a easy buddy…we can critique with out getting too personal..

  20. If you read through all of redlaw’s comments in relation to me, there is clearly a lot more to it than that. But I accept his apology, and I am confident he won’t breach our posting guidelines again.

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