Posts in Category: Lifestyle

Keeping my Cool under Pressure

I know the meaning of stress when I see brides crumple in frustration at an ill-fitting dress or when a groom shows up late for the ceremony. I feel it myself when the family is fighting during the wedding, the weather is too hot, or the venue is not photogenic. You can usually remedy a lot and years later, the camera did lie. Everything looks peaceful and elegant. Thankfully, I often work in places where I can tote along my outdoor misting fan to help me keep my cool.

I remember one July when the temperature hit 105 and the tempers hit the ceiling. They rose steadily as the wedding wore on. Everyone was sweating profusely. The bride and maid of honor kept wiping their dripping foreheads, mussing their makeup. It was just plain humid. How was I going to get around this? Shininess gleamed off the faces like morning dew that was starting to heat up into steam droplets. So much pressure. The wedding party, from the bride and groom to the mothers in law, were demanding that I get great photos. Nothing would do for posterity but perfection. The problem was: the circumstances were not conducive to anything even close.

We ordered fans from the hotel and a few on stands were available. They were fairly good quality fans, some like the floor fan reviews here. We placed them strategically but then the bride’s hairdo flew apart like a bird’s nest gone wild. The bridesmaids were getting fuzzy and wilted at the same time. I was in a panic.

Taking a few close shots from a portable mister fan, I mustered up some courage. I called a friend to rush over with pots of makeup and cakes of face powder. Hair spray was to be included: cases of it. The wedding party looked frightful by the time she arrived, box of tricks in tow. They were grateful for some much-needed reparation. They did look better about 30 minutes later. When their moods cooled down, so did their body temperature and ultimate appearance.

I lined them up in the requisite positions and aimed the camera. It was hard to get smiles but a few jokes sparked a few grins. The first effort was meager but I kept at it. Click, click. The camera did its work. I cropped, focused, removed red eyes, enhanced the color, and voila! The wedding party looked less frazzled, even pretty good.

The weary bride grabbed the camera while I was on break. A smirk soon broke into a real smile. “I look good,” she beamed almost not believing her eyes. I had done a little editing, working my best tricks. She thanked me and ran back to her waiting guests. Dancing that day wasn’t vigorous but there was joy in the air. I got other good snaps throughout the event and was pleased with the results. Not having expected much, it turned out to be a big photographic success.

Let that be a lesson. Weather permitting, or not, you can make do with what you have and call on extra help if needed. You have to keep your cool and go with the flow, such as it is.

God I Miss My Fireplace

I know this is going to sound strange, but I miss my fireplace. It’s not that kind of feeling where you know you’ll be happy when you can have something again, like good Chinese food or an hour with your favorite LP on vinyl. It’s that ache that you get in the depths of your soul that won’t be satisfied until you get home to be reunited with a loved one.

I think it’s because I miss the time in front of the fire, just thinking about my day. It’s a weird form of pseudo-meditation because I feel relaxed after sitting in front of my fireplace at home. It’s almost as rejuvenating as a visit to the spa, but it costs a lot less and you don’t have to listen to some smarmy attendant talk about how awesome her job is while giving me that judgmental look that says, “I bet you look horrible naked.”

I might love the road, but God – I miss my fireplace.

A Substitute Fireplace Just Doesn’t Work!

Why don’t you just book a room or borrow someone’s fireplace while you’re on the road?

Trust me – I’ve asked myself the same question dozens of times. I’ve attempted to sit in front of some of the very finest fires that likely cost thousands of dollars to install. I’ve even tried sitting by a wood-burning stove one cold evening when I was really missing home! Instead of getting that relaxing feeling where the world seems to melt away, I end up missing home more than ever.

I think it’s more about my home routine than anything else. When I’m out on the road, I’ve got certain things that have to be done. When I’m at home, none of those worries exist. I’m already in the right state of mind for thought melting goodness and maybe that’s what I’m missing more than the fireplace itself.

Even so, I would pay anything right now to be at home, to feel the warmth on my face, and to listen to the popping of the wood as it gently burns down into hot coals.

I Think I Miss My Creativity Too

The quality of my work seems to be better when I’m at home too and though I’ve often been told the fatigue of the road is responsible for this – it might be true. I feel more powerful in front of my fireplace because I feel like my creativity is at its best. I can solve problems with ease. I can come up with fantastic ideas!

I can’t do anything about it right now, but here’s my plan: I’m going to take a video of my fireplace the next time I’m at home and take that video with me on the road. An iPhone fireplace might not be the same thing, but at least it’ll be a taste of home that will be with me wherever I go… assuming I don’t accidentally delete it!

God I miss my fireplace, but I guess that’s a good thing if you think about it.

The Little Things you Learn to Appreciate after Life on the Road

dirtytimesI love traveling. I love traveling to remote places and exotic islands to do wedding shoots. But sometimes the places I work at can be quite remote. Sometimes I have to travel to a big city, transfer to a smaller plane to fly to a town, be picked up in a jeep and driven for hours along an unsealed road to a remote location where a wedding is going to take place. It can involve traveling all day, having non-working amenities and dealing with local bugs and flies.

I remember one wedding I had to shoot at a National Park in the Pilbara Region, Western Australia that made me really appreciate all the little things I had back home.

I was happy to do the shoot as I’d never experienced the outback and had heard so much about it. It was only a small wedding and very casual – about 40 friends and family, but they were all local. I’m obviously not local, so had to spend a lot of time traveling.

First I had to fly to Perth and wait around the airport for four hours. Perth domestic airport is not like Singapore airport where you can swim in the rooftop pool or watch a movie on the big screen theatre they have. There’s limited shopping and expensive airport food. Although I must admit, it was very clean. When we finally boarded our plane, it took us another 2 and a half hours to fly to Karratha. Karratha airport is basically a large shed and we had to walk down the stairs of the small plane and across a steaming tarmac to get to it.

Karratha is a mining town and very small. They had just put in the first traffic light when I went there and I hear they now have at least six of them! Although I was told that you wouldn’t dare have a wedding in December because of the heat and cyclones, the Bride and Groom couldn’t have it any other time because of work commitments.

It took us only minutes to drive to town to get supplies and then I was taken to my motel as it was getting dark and it would be another two hour drive to our location. Like most motels, it had the basic amenities. A basic shower with the standard hotel style low flow shower head that you always hate to see, a toilet, bed and an old, wall mounted TV. But sleeping away from home is never the same as being in your own bed. The water pressure from what the motel’s brochure said was a great shower head was disappointing – they’re never as strong as the one at home (although I must admit, Karratha had good water pressure) and the water is never the right colour!

Being in the remote outback of Australia meant red soil everywhere. On my skin, on my equipment and on my clothes. Because of all the gear I have to carry, I travel as light as possible. That means I don’t get the luxury of bringing my own pillow with me or changes of clothes for when I get hot and sticky or covered in red dirt, like now.

At that time of year, the heat was almost unbearable and we left in a convoy for the two hour trip to Millstream Chichester National Park. There was an isolated Homestead where the wedding was going to take place, but all the seating, food, shade cloths and trimmings had to be brought with us as the Homestead had nothing except a beautiful backdrop for photos and museum like pieces of history.

Times like these, I really appreciate the city and its sealed roads. The red dirt was a cloud ball of dust behind us as the second half of the trip was on an unsealed road. The locals were used to the travel and lack of signal for their phones and laptops. I wasn’t. They were used to not breathing in the flies and keeping up their fluid intake. I had to be constantly reminded.

Yet, despite the remoteness, the flies, snakes and spiders, the wedding was spectacular, the Bride radiant and the setting perfect.

The following week, as I sat back at home, surrounded by cool breezes and connected to the internet, I looked at the most beautiful photos I had taken that day. Shooting in remote areas and being on the road for days on end, certainly gives me an appreciation for all the little things in life I have back home.

The worst wedding shoot I ever attended

worstweddingPreviously at a BBQ, I was asked to give a recount of some weddings shoots I had worked at. I told them about the best and the worst wedding photo shoot I had ever attended. This is the story that had them wondering whether getting married was worth it!

It all began three days before the shoot. I was planning to have a lazy weekend, but instead got a phone call from a wedding planner in Bali. She was a frantic mess. Her photographer for the upcoming wedding on the weekend pulled out at the last minute. I had been highly recommended by someone and could I please come at last minute?

I had never been to Bali and didn’t really know much about it except for what I heard through newspaper stories. But, keen for an adventure, I assured her that I was available and would be there by Friday morning so that we could go over the running sheet for the Saturday wedding.

I couldn’t get a flight Thursday afternoon, so booked the earliest one possible on Friday morning. With the time difference, I would still be there by 9 am.

On Friday morning I awoke to a beautiful sunny day and as I drove to the airport I thought how lucky I was to have the job I did. Traveling to exotic locations and taking photos of beautiful people on their wedding day.

Boarding the plane, I put my camera bag under the seat and settled back for a smooth flight. After 10 minutes, we were asked to leave the plane. Suddenly I didn’t feel so lucky as I grabbed my bags and tried ringing the wedding planner to let her know I would be late. She didn’t answer.

I sat back at the airport for three hours with the other passengers before we were allowed to board again. I was not amused. The wedding planner was still not answering her phone and I was now over 3 hours late.

When we finally arrived in Bali, I was way behind schedule and still hadn’t been able to let the Wedding Planner know. I looked around for the driver who should have been there to pick me up and help me with all my gear. Nobody. Obviously they had gotten tired of waiting and left. I went to pick up my luggage from the carousel. Nothing. My luggage was not there. All my lighting gear and tripods and other bits and pieces were lost! Thank goodness I at least had my camera!

By the time I lodged a claim with the airport, it was past lunchtime. I would have to spend the afternoon trying to hire some photography gear from somewhere. I decided to get a taxi.

I gave the taxi driver the address of the Private Villa that Liz Conrad, the Wedding Planner had given me. Although he didn’t speak much English, he appeared to know where he was going. Sitting in the back, I was so engrossed in trying to contact Liz and Google the best places to hire photography gear that I didn’t look up until we stopped. At the Conrad Hotel! I couldn’t believe it. He had read Liz’s surname and taken me to the Hotel of the same name! Could the day get any worse?

I decided it would be quicker to pay the fare and try to speak to someone at the Hotel who could speak fluent English. But the taxi driver wouldn’t let me go until I had paid him a tip and bought one of his pirated DVD’s for a dollar. In the end, I threw the money at him, grabbed my gear and found a lovely English speaking gentleman at the front desk of reception.

He could see that I was only just holding it together and kindly helped me get a car and driver to reach my destination. He gave me phone numbers of the best places to hire some equipment and offered his services at the Hotel should I ever return to Bali.

When I eventually reached the Private Villa, Liz came racing out, phone in hand.

“Where have you been?” She screamed. She had red eyes from crying and her phone was ringing non-stop. And I thought I was having a bad day!

“The white leather wedding shoes are mouldy from the humidity, the place cards, chocolates and everything else with the date on it arrived yesterday with the American date on it (meaning the date read 5th November instead of the 11th of May), and the mother of the Bride is Godzilla!” She started to cry again.

I didn’t dare tell her of my own troubles and hoped that things would eventually work themselves out.

She got yet another phone call about a disaster that was in progress and raced off to deal with it.

I felt very tired and despondent. A kind Balinese woman who obviously worked in the Villa must have seen my face for she said, “Here. You go.” She gave me a card with the word massage on it. “She my friend.”

A massage might be just the thing, given that I couldn’t prepare without Liz and all of my gear. I followed the woman’s directions down the street and came to a small dirty building. I hesitated, but a small young lady saw me from inside and pulled me in. I gave her the card and she said, “Yes. You sit.”

She pushed me into a massage chair (not what I had in mind) and proceeded to take my shoes off and give me a pedicure. I was too tired to care. Although I must admit, when I saw the dirty water in the bucket and the fact that the nail brushes and scissors were not sterilized, I did wonder if I’d made a mistake. When the scissors nicked me and I accidentally knocked over the bucket of water, I knew I had made a mistake. I left in a hurry and tried to find Liz. The evening was spent waiting for gear to arrive and calming Liz down.

The next morning was as stormy looking as the Mother of the Bride and I prayed that all the hired equipment would work properly. After taking the obligatory photos of the Bride and Groom getting ready, I set up on the beachfront for the ceremony. The guests looked relaxed and happy and I took a few shots.

Then, as the music started and the flower girls and page boys walked down the red carpet, it started to pour down with rain. Whether it was from the rain or nerves, the page boy stood there, cried and wet himself. What a disaster! Everyone ran for cover and because of the magnitude of the storm, not one person was left dry.

It was bedlam inside the Villa. The Bride was crying, her makeup and hair ruined, the Mother of the Bride bellowing out instructions, the Groom trying to calm everyone and kids running throughout people’s legs screaming.

I quietly move to a corner and captured it all on film. Things finally calmed down and the wedding went ahead, but I heard months later that the marriage didn’t work out and they were going to divorce.

It was definitely the worst photo shoot I had ever attended and to make it worse, I ended up coming home with a bad case of nail fungus after my unfortunate experience at the so called massage place. Give me my best wedding shoot any day!

The best wedding shoot that I ever attended

chiang-caveWhile enjoying some time out from work recently, I decided to go to a BBQ with friends one Saturday. This was a big deal for me going out on a Saturday, because that’s usually my busiest day as a wedding photographer.
It just so happened that one couple at the BBQ was engaged and discussing wedding plans. He wanted to elope overseas to avoid all the hype and she wanted to have a big romantic wedding with all the trimmings. Naturally, as a wedding photographer, I have seen some good weddings, some bad weddings and some very interesting weddings.

The bride to be, Tara, was keen to hear about the best wedding I had ever had to shoot. She wanted to know all the romantic details and how everything came together so that it was the perfect day for the bride and groom. Her fiancée Brad, wanted to know about the worst wedding I’d ever been to and wanted all the details of things that didn’t go according to plan. Obviously in the hope of persuading Tara that a big, romantic wedding just didn’t exist.

My sympathies were with Tara that afternoon so decided to relay the story of the best wedding shoot that I ever attended instead of my disastrous event in Bali. It was a beautiful, private wedding in a tiny town called Chiang Dao in Northern Thailand.

As always, I travel to my photo shoots at least one day early. In this case, the Bride and Groom insisted everyone arrive two days early. One day for travel and one day for a bit of sightseeing. The couple had arranged for everyone to fly to Chiang Mai on the same flight and arranged mini buses to take us to a place called Chiang Dao Nest where the wedding was to take place. This was about 77kms north of Chiang Mai and was spectacular.
We were all treated to Thai massages upon arrival and our accommodation was a small bamboo and hardwood tin roof hut at the Nest. Although I was the wedding photographer, I was treated just like a guest and got to enjoy my massage.

The next day, while the guests were taken to the nearby Chiang Dao Caves for a guided tour, I met with the couple who took me on a tour of the resort along with the hosts, Stuart and his Thai wife, Wicha. As we walked around the bungalows, we found some very pretty areas with beautiful mountainous backdrops for wedding photos. I couldn’t believe how quiet and peaceful it was. The gardens were an amazing array of flowers, hanging orchids and large bamboo trees. It was simply stunning.

The wedding day itself was glorious. The stylist (who I had coincidentally worked with before) did the bridesmaids’ hair in braids and gave the Bride gorgeous curls. The makeup was natural and the Bride and Groom had decided on a Christian wedding in the garden of the resort by the pool. The 30 guests, who were all old friends by now, were all served canapés before the ceremony as they waited and were each given a glass of juice or champagne to toast the Bride and Groom as they became man and wife.

Defying tradition, the Bride and Groom actually had their wedding photos taken before the ceremony so that once they signed the register, they could accompany the guests into the restaurant together. This kept with the theme of intimacy.

It wasn’t difficult to take photos aligning with the intimacy theme. The restaurant was filled with led candles (obviously with the bamboo huts there was a fire risk) and silvery white flowing material draped over the chairs with matching table cloths. It was simple, intimate, elegant and romantic.

The food was amazing. You were given a choice of three different dishes for each course. I chose Roasted Sweet Pepper and Goat Cheese Crouton for my starters. My main meal was Marinated Chicken Fillet with Pinenut Crust, Roasted Vegetable Salad, served with Hand-Cut Chips and dessert was Creme Brullee. Everyone chose differently and they were all happy with their meal.

The music played all night and a Thai local band took every request and delivered faultlessly. You could talk to everyone without shouting and everyone had a personal photo with the Bride and Groom as a personal memento to send with thank you notes.

The couple had organised a breakfast the next day with everyone and afterwards left riding an elephant with a ‘Just Married’ sign on the back. The guests were later transported back to Chang Mai and many are still in touch today despite being from all over the country.

How Do I Fund My Travels as a Photographer?

makinmoneyI love to take photos. It’s my passion. It’s my dream. It’s my life. I also have something called wanderlust. I’m a creative person and a change of scenery gets my creative juices flowing. So being able to travel to satisfy my wanderlust and to be able to take photographs at the same time is so perfect, it sounds like a cliché. But it’s true when I say that I am living the dream! I am living the freelance lifestyle and loving it!

Many people are always wanting to know how I fund my travels as a photographer. It’s an enviable lifestyle – being an independent photographer who can pick and choose which assignments to take on, traveling the world doing something I love and selling enough photographs to earn a living. As a wedding photographer, my job allows me to go to many places around the world, staying in exotic locations – some I’d never even heard of, and doing things in a way that suits me.

My job as a wedding photographer means I go where the assignment is. It can be Bali, Thailand or Africa. But the contract pays for my flights, my accommodation and of course I get to attend beautiful weddings. Don’t get me wrong! I work hard for my money. But you know the feeling you have when you do what you love most and it really doesn’t seem like work at all? That’s me.

It also gives me the opportunity to explore the world at leisure. While Friday and Sunday are becoming more and more popular for getting married, most weddings still happen on Saturday. If it’s a morning or lunchtime wedding, I’m on the go from very early. But this leaves me free time to explore whichever city I’m in afterwards. It’s been great to finish a wedding in the early afternoon, walk down to the markets in Singapore and haggle with the locals. The time then becomes my own. If the wedding starts later and goes well into the night, I have the opportunity to add on a few extra days to my itinerary and keep traveling the country while I’m there. It also enables me to add a range of photos to my private collection.

I also supplement my income by selling my stock photos online. They are what I call ‘doing business while I sleep’. These are the photos that people buy online while I am sleeping. It makes for very easy repeat business. I only have to upload a great photo once and then I keep getting paid over and over for that one photo. I sell stock through microstock agencies like istock Photo, SmugMug, Alamy, Shutterstock and Fotolia. It certainly makes life easy if I decide to take a few weeks off traveling and spend time at home. There is still money coming in while I catch up on ‘home duties’.

Sometimes it’s not easy being away in remote areas or experiencing a taste of the not so nice local life – like getting nail fungus in Bali

But the beauty of my job is that I can take photos anywhere in the world. And having the freedom and flexibility to do what I want to do when I want to do it is pure creative bliss!

Traveling as a Photographer

travel-photographyI love traveling. I love doing it for work and I love doing it for leisure. Mostly I combine the two. So over the years, I’ve learnt the best ways to travel as a photographer to make my life simple and stress free.

I thought I’d share my top 5 travel tips with you.

Travel light – Camera gear and lighting equipment can be bulky and heavy and will take up most of your luggage. The extra cost of this can mount up. If you can get away with less clothing and more gear, then do it. Another trick is to pay a few dollars more to get the carrier that gives you an extra 5 – 10kg in luggage. It works out cheaper in the long run. Of course not all budding photographers can afford to do that when just starting out, so a cheaper alternative is to use your frequent flyer points. The more you travel, the more points you will earn and the quicker it will be to get that free flight!

Choose your packs and cases well – Use a solid backpack and pack your gear in a hard case. The best backpack for your needs will vary depending on how much tech gear you’re taking with you and how many clothes you like to pack which is why it’s hard to suggest a “one size fits all” recommendation. Here’s what I use: For the backpack, I have the Tamrac 5789 Evolution 9. It has loads of room and is a great carry on. For your gear, I’d probably suggest you try the Pelican range – I have used a few different sized ones throughout my career and you can buy and sell them second hand and avoid spending too much. They are built to last and can carry everything you need for your shoot.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – By that I mean don’t put all your gear in one bag. Luggage can get lost. Always keep your camera and your lenses with you on board with you when you fly. At least if your gear is delayed or lost, you still have something to work with until you are able to either hire some camera gear or retrieve your own gear. It’s also wise to have a separate portable hard drive to keep with you in a separate bag to save your work to. Remember the old saying, ‘back up, back up and back up again!’ Gear can be replaced, but photographs can not.

Get there early – Try to arrange to fly in for a shoot a day or two early. This way, you have time to source the best places for your shoot, check out the local weather and get to your hotel on time. It’s also a big stress reliever if your flight is delayed by a few hours. Even if you arrive at your destination 4 or 5 hours late, you are still there the night before and you can get a good sleep, ready for the next day. By having that extra time up your sleeve, it also helps you acclimatise if you are coming from a cooler temperature to somewhere like Asia which can be very humid in the summer months.

Have insurance – No photographer should be without good insurance. You’ve invested in thousands of dollars’ worth of gear, so a few hundred dollars a year to insure it is not too much in the bigger scheme of things. Despite the obvious reasons, such as theft or damage, the other reason insurance is so important is because of things like location permits. This is usually included in the contracts I take on, but for many freelancers who organise stylists, venues and studios themselves, they will generally be asked to show written proof of insurance. Don’t look at insurance as an added expense. Look at it as an investment.

Remember, not everything goes to plan all the time. The bride’s hair may not be done according to your schedule, the weather may turn bad, and the taxi may not turn up to take you to your shoot on time. Whatever happens, stay calm and keep on shooting!