The Best Place for Family Photos in Singapore

In the small island-state of Singapore, land is scarce and our scenery is highly urban. We don’t have mountain ranges (not even a single mountain), nor do we have a clear blue horizon when we look out into the sea. What we do have are plenty of high-rise buildings of mostly modern architecture. 

That’s great when you are conveying trends, culture, and “hippiness.” 

But when photographing families, I’m looking for symbolisms of purity, nature, and life. There aren’t sprawling national parks in Singapore, unlike many other countries. The closest one we have is the Botanical Gardens, recently awarded as a UNESCO heritage site. Even before this international acclaim, I was already a big fan of the Botanical Gardens despite it being somewhat far away to where I live. 

The biggest reason I like the Botanic Gardens is their large open fields, a rarity in other parks around the country. If you take a look at the much newer Gardens by the Bay, there is so much concrete and intervention that you don’t even feel like you’re walking in a park. At Botanic Gardens it feels and looks different from metropolitan Singapore. In family photos, that means you don’t see a building sticking out over the canopy. 

The Botanic Gardens also has lots of unique features not found in other places. There’s the Band Stand, a white gazebo surrounded by trees with yellow flowers. At the Orchid Garden (paid entry) you’ll be mesmerised with the amazing colours on show. Then towards the north end, you can walk right up to the Eco Lake to snap some beautiful family portraits. If you’re lucky, some ducks will even walk up to you for a sweet photobomb!

I’ve done multiple outdoor family photos, and many chose Botanic Gardens outright as their favourite place, even before I offered any location suggestions. And for those whom I did suggest, many would pick Botanic Gardens without hesitation. It goes to show how well loved this national park is. I used to think it was a very elitist place, where tourists, expats, and the affluent who lived nearby would go to, but I realise the Gardens hold many community events at Palm Valley, while activity and exercise groups often meet in the park on the weekends. 

Even after all the photoshoots at Botanic Gardens, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of spots or unique looks. It truly is a remarkable place and there always is a new hidden corner to discover. If you love going there just as much and would like some beautiful family portraits to look back at 10 years from now, please feel free to contact me.  


Why Switching from Canon DSLR to Sony Mirrorless was Tough

Ever since I turned professional (and even before), Canon was the brand I relied on for my work. Back in 2008, they were the most reputable brand, with Nikon close behind. Every friend I knew, as hobbyists, was shooting with a Canon. Compact cameras were still popular and the smart phone camera was laughed at. 

It’s been 10 years and so much has changed. Fujifilm rose from near bankruptcy, Micro four-thirds sensors came to being and, in my opinion the most important, the development of mirrorless cameras. The DSLR was making way for the mirrorless age. Canon, the king of DSLRs was confident of its market share despite a lack of innovation. 

Then Sony came in with the A7 (Alpha 7) full-frame mirrorless camera. It was jaw dropping news but I didn’t jump on the bandwagon yet because they had a lot of deficiencies for professionals, for example the lack of native lenses and poor ergonomics. To a pro these problems could spell disaster on a client job.

But when the A7RIII was released tail end of 2017, the timing seem right. I was getting frustrated with Canon’s own problems - lack of a good 4K video feature in its full-frame DSLRs for one, and focus jumping too often (though I admit could be user error). The A7RIII is a great all-in-one camera. With it I could do sports assignments (with 10 frames per second), shoot high quality 4k video for corporate clients, and also have 42mp that will still be relevant for the next 5 years. 

It’s been a couple of months of using the A7RIII for personal work and snapshots, and am slowly transitioning to using it instead of my Canon 5D3 for client work. To be honest, there are still some things that irk me. I guess perfection doesn’t exist? Here are the 4 main reasons why the transition has experienced some friction:

1. Sony Menus are Still Clunky

Even with the implementation of MyMenu, which allows you to compile all your favourite sub-menus into one place, the default menu settings still feel like a mess. The basic camera settings are fitted into two categories and each one has multiple pages with no headings. Over time navigating the menus should get easier, but now it still feels like a clunky tool compared to Canon’s menus. 

2. Sony’s Battery Drain is Still a Concern

The new Mark III cameras, like the A7RIII utilises the upgraded NP-FZ100 batteries, claimed to have double the capacity of previous models. But the more I used it, it didn’t feel it could last an entire day of shooting (for a wedding or event for example), despite having read reviews that it could. With my Canon 5D3 and its rather old battery, I was always confident of it lasting about 8 hours for an event shoot. Thankfully I bought the battery grip for the A7RIII which now gives me more peace of mind on long shoots. 

3. Sony Isn’t as Great in Weather-Sealing

Again, Sony has made tremendous progress in their camera builds, but in the professional’s mindset, Sony still lacks behind Canon and Nikon. Some tests were conducted by Imaging Resources and their results showed the A7RIII lacking in weather sealing, notably the base plate and battery compartment. Light rain should no problem, but I’m afraid to use it unprotected in a thunderstorm. With the Canon 5D3 shot in heavy rain many times and never did it die on me. 

4. Sony Lenses are So Expensive

I used to think Canon’s L lenses were really pricey, until I realised Nikon and Sony’s premium range lenses are even more so. I’ve built up a nice collection of Canon lenses over the years, and if I were to sell all of it and buy Sony’s equivalent, I would take quite a big hit financially. It’s the biggest reason why I haven’t actually made the jump to Sony 100%. 

Sony has made the A9 so price competitive against Canon 1DX and Nikon D5, and so is the A7rIII compared to its peers. I’m really hoping they can do the same with their lenses. If not, there is still hope as Sigma announced a full range of prime lenses with the FE mount. Their lenses are more affordable and offer good image quality. Their focusing accuracy can be iffy but maybe I can live with that? 

P.S. Good Points that made the Switch Worthwhile:

1. The best hybrid tech in this class

Like I mentioned above, if you were looking for a top-end still and video camera in one body, you could not get it in Canon. They are notorious for stripping their product line into many segments so that you would buy different cameras to do different things. The A7RIII serves all my current needs.

2. Skin tones are good, very close to Canon’s

Their “Ambient: White” setting seems to get closest to Canon’s AWB . Human skin tones are also very good now on the A7RIII, with only minor tweaking required in post production. This used to be such a major flaw in Sony cameras, and kudos to them for stepping up. 

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While the transition has been somewhat rocky, I’d say converting to Sony will ultimately be the right move, unless Canon in 2018 comes up with a magical, mirrorless, camera unicorn that blows the competition away. But seeing they had the chance to do that in the past 3 years and didn’t, I’m putting down the Canon camera for now. 


Pick the Right Team - not the Individual - for Best Results

How did you get here? 

You may have been doing a Google search for freelance photographer or portrait specialist, mainly because you or your company is looking for some great images. Don’t worry, you’ve definitely come to the right place!

But honestly, more than picking an individual to get the job done, you should also look at the team supporting him or her. Unless you’ve already sourced for five separate specialists in their respective fields, having a good team given to you saves a lot of time and hassle. 

Here’s why you should be picking the best team instead of just an individual:

1. A Team Trusts One Another

To get the job done. When people trust each other, there is a certain expectation (and motivation) to perform. When I see my make-up artist putting in the effort and meticulous detail into her art, it makes me want to live up to that high standard. It’s a mix of professional and personal pride. I don’t want to look like an amateur in comparison, and I don’t want to offend my friend by putting in lazy work. 

2. A Team is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

You know, there are days where deep down, I know I’m not in the game. I’m just not connecting with the model, or I can’t figure out this lighting problem (even when I should be able to). It’s an “off day,” but can I really afford that? Absolutely not, because delivering good work is a must. 

Whether it’s a good or bad day, the results can still surprise you when you are involved in a great team. At time I’ve been amazed by what my fellow creatives come up with. It could be a pose I could never think of, or the use of certain colours to change the mood. My point is that alone I am limited, but with a good team around you, the possibilities grow exponentially. 

3. A Team Builds Consistent Results

When one player in a football team plays badly, does that lead to a definite loss of the match? Not necessarily, as teams win matches, not so much individuals. If Lionel Messi is playing badly, his teammates help him and Barcelona grinds out a win. The flip side is also true - Lionel Messi steps up when another of his teammates is not playing well. This is how Barcelona consistently wins.

A creative team may have slightly different dynamics, but the outcome is similar. We know how each person on the team operates, and create a better result from that knowledge. For example, I know my make-up artist goes for natural looks, and a soft touch without deep blacks. Such make-up is complemented by a very soft lighting, which is exactly what I use every time to produce consistent results.

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So the next time you’re picking a freelancer for your next commercial project, ask if that photographer, or make-up artist etc. has a team ready to roll. If you trust the team, they will produce good work.

Consistently and quickly.