I recently attended an APF Photography Workshop in Singapore conducted by three of my favorite photographers, Vineet Vohra and Rohit Vohra from India, and Aik Beng Chia from Singapore. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself in photography, and that includes purchasing camera gear or any other instruction I’ve had. I have already seen an improvement in my photos and I am confident I will get a lot better in the very near future. Let me tell you about it.
The workshop consisted of shooting in the streets, educational and inspirational slideshows, and critique/discussion of our photos.
Shooting in the Streets with the Masters
The Vohra brothers have been two of my favorite photographers for a while, and I discovered Aik Beng Chia, or ABC, very recently. To get hands on instruction from them and to watch how they work with a camera, is like having a golf lesson from Tiger Woods. I am not exaggerating. Rohit and Vineet were recently named the #1 and #2 most influential street photographers in the world.
One thing that is evident in their photos is they get extremely close to their subjects. I’m talking like two-feet-away-close. I have gotten that close to my subjects before, but usually in crowded areas where the person has no choice but to get so close to me. They have no problem approaching strangers and shooting from point-blank range. Here is photo of Vineet at work:
Getting to see how they approached strangers was very eye-opening. All three teachers approached subjects with confidence and respect. The subjects reacted in a variety of ways – some were totally indifferent, some were confused, some laughed. Many people turned around and looked behind them to see what the photographer was shooting – they didn’t think they could be the subject. For the record, the guy doing yoga above was more confused than anything, and Vineet patted him on the shoulder and thanked him afterwards. No harm done.
One reason I love Vineet and Rohit’s work is they have many complex street photos with elements in the foreground, middle and background. I have shot mostly landscapes during my life and I use layers all the time – I’ll put flowers in the foreground, a lake in the middle, and mountains and clouds in the background. I simply move around until I find the view I want.
They approach street photography much the same way. They showed us how to find a stationary yet interesting subject, look for a clean background, wait for people to enter the scene, and when everything lines up perfectly, step in and get the kill shot. This method takes a lot of patience and anticipation – flowers and mountains don’t move, but people move a lot!
Using this approach, it is imperative that you know your camera. You must zone focus, shoot with a wide depth-of-field, and have a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. You must set this up in manual mode before snapping the photo. The instant that all the subjects are in the right spot and you’ve moved in for the shot, you only get one or two clicks before everything changes.
Here is an example of layers from Vineet’s Instagram:
And one from Rohit’s Instagram:
Finding our inner Bruce Gilden
We practiced using flash at Merlion Park where tourists gather on a platform and pose for photos in front of the iconic Singapore skyline. It was possible to get some interesting shots of people who were already posing. Using flash is something I had never tried and never been interested in, but it was fun to learn. I have been experimenting with it since the workshop. It is not easy, but I am enjoying the challenge.
My flash photos at Merlion Park were not very good. Here are two examples from ABC below that I think are really cool.
Photography Critique Sessions
Probably the most valuable part of the workshop was the critique sessions. We all turned in a total of eight photos from our walks with the teachers. The photos were put on a projector and the instructors gave us unfiltered, candid feedback. It was great to get critique on my own photos, but almost just as good to see what they said about the others since we were shooting in the same light and place. It has made it much easier to self-critique my photos since the workshop, and before I snap the shutter I am seeing things much more clearly now.
The class started with a slideshow presentation on Friday night called the A to Z of street photography. Each letter of the alphabet had a corresponding term – A for Aesthetics, B for Background, C for Content & Connections, D for Dynamics, and so on. The Vohra’s showed their photos for examples of each term. It was very insightful to see them discuss their photos.
I think the most important term in the A-Z slideshow for me was Background. Most photographers at my level can identify and capture the subject, but incorporating a clean or interesting background is more difficult. I now find myself looking for the background first then seeing what I can find in front of it, or if I see a great subject, I look to see which angle has the best background.
ABC has worked on a variety set of photo projects of the years, which you can see here. He showed us how to make slideshow presentations and showed off some of his cinemataphs. You have to see this one below. So cool.
In the A-Z presentation, X was for X-factor, and the X-factor of the workshop was getting to meet the other photographers in the group. There were thirteen students, plus the three instructors, and this was the perfect size. You need a critical mass of people in a room to really get a conversation going. Too few, and people just won’t speak up. We had some excellent discussions.
In addition, everyone in the group was very nice, fun and out-going. All the students were obviously serious about photography in order to dedicate a weekend to this class, and some, like me, had traveled from overseas to attend. I’m Facebook friends with some of them now and I look forward to seeing their photography evolution online, and hopefully meeting again for more shooting.
Instead of buying a new camera or lens, you should seriously consider a workshop to improve your photography. I did a workshop with Alex Coghe in Mexico City where I learned to zone focus and use manual controls. That helped me improve greatly. This class has given me more confidence in approaching strangers, taught me to pre-compose the shot in my mind, and have more patience.
ABC and The Vohra brothers do workshops in other parts of Asia and the world, usually teaming up with a local photographer. I plan to attend another workshop with them as soon as the timing works out. If you are interested in joining one of their workshops, here are some links:
Have you attended a photography workshop before?
I’d like to hear your comments below.