Learning From the Masters at the APF Photography Workshop

Singapore Chinatown Temple

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.

APF Photography Workshop Review

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:

Vineet Vohra in Singapore

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.

Vineet Vohra quote

Layers in Street Photography

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.

Aik Beng Chia flash photography

Photo By Aik Beng Chia

Aik Beng Chia flash photography

Photo By Aik Beng Chia

Singapore APF Workshop Photographer

“Flashing” one of my fellow students.

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.

Singapore Street Photo Kids

For this photo, they recommend moving just a bit to the left so we can see what is in the girl’s hand. I also needed some action in the black space in the top center of the photo, like a family crossing the street holding hands, of course that bit was out of my control.

Vineet Vohra APF Workshop

Here is Vineet illustrating that a silhouetted face in the foreground could have improved this photo. Photo by Carolyn Lim.

Rohit VohraSlideshows and Presentations

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.

X-Factor

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.

Conclusion

Singapore Chinatown Temple

One of my shots during our Chinatown photo walk.

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:

APF Workshops with Vineet and Rohit

Aik Beng Chia contact page


Have you attended a photography workshop before?

I’d like to hear your comments below. 

 

11 Comments on “Learning From the Masters at the APF Photography Workshop

  1. I found this all pretty fascinating, as I am pretty fascinated by photography and what makes a photo good or amazing. I had to chuckle at the first photo of Vineet taking a photo of a guy doing yoga. The subject actually seems to be “pulling back” a bit from the camera. I am surprised that he goes so close in and loved the quote about being close enough to smell the person. Hopefully his camera is not too huge to intimidate his subjects?

    I love the photo of the children playing in New Delhi India.. It is interesting because at first I thought.. how can that be good? to have an arm sticking into the photo, but no body? But then after looking at it for longer and covering the arm with a piece of paper it showed me how essential that component actually is in creating an interesting composition for this photo.

    What a wonderful opportunity and more so the fact that you made the time and effort to take advantage of it. Thanks, I will be following both of these photographers on instagram now and interested to see what comes up.

    I enjoyed the vimeo of the coffeeshop and the accompanying music. Super cool.
    Peta

    • Those random body parts in their photos are what make it. Those more complex photos keep you looking longer. Sometimes when I see their work or someone similar, I’ll see the subject, migrate to the other parts, notice something extra, then start over. There is a depth to those photos that is difficult to pull off.

      I don’t think the yoga guy was pulling back so much as he was stretching. One morning we were walking with Vineet and he was telling us something, then he broke off mid-sentence and shot these 3 girls who were coming around the corner from about 2 feet away. They were all very photogenic and the light hit them perfectly. One of the girls had no clue he shot their photo, but the other two turned and looked behind them. Vineet kept looking through the viewfinder and they just assumed he was taking a photo of the building. I think our cover was blown when the other students started taking their photos! 🙂

      They are doing a workshop in Bangkok in May and will be doing them in Singapore and India in the future. If it works out you should go!

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I have been to a number of workshops and always come away with something. The critique, for me, is one of the best parts. It certainly helps me look at my photos differently.

  3. This looks like it was amazing. I used to do quite a bit of zone focus shots, but never with waiting for a moving subject, and then kind of forgot about it, or got lazy, or both. When the weather’s better I’ll go out and do some more. I love ABC’s cinemataphs – they’re quite brilliant. I don’t agree that a silhouette head in front of that photo improves it, but that’s a personal aesthetic. I’ve been an artist all my life, and regard photography as a continuation of all I learned about design and composition of paintings. I love a simple subject and a clean background (like all my “Up Against the Wall” shots). The example you included of your own work is wonderful – I love the light in it. And I’d love to learn to be more confident in getting closer to people. Sometimes I am but often not. I’m probably too dependent on my secret zoom lens 🙂
    Alison

    • Getting close to people is a cultural thing. In Chiapas, I think people would be very upset if you got close to them or took their photo in general, right? In Asia, it is not a problem. On rare occasions people will wave me off, but 99% of the time they smile, strike a pose, laugh, or at worst seem indifferent.

      I like both simple subjects and more complex photos. For me, I want to learn to take more complex shots with more layers in order to challenge myself.

      I think with the photography do, you’d really like zone focus. Do you use back-button focus? Give that a try. Now that I’m used to zone focus combined with back-button focus, I will never and could never go back!

      • Yes, many of the indigenous people in Chiapas don’t like having their photo taken. I found that a bit in Guatemala too.
        I can see how the more complex shots with layers would be challenging, and I really liked some of the examples in your post.
        What’s back-button focus?

  4. This was so interesting! I haven’t even graduated to the point where I’m comfortable taking my manual mode out of the house, but I’m getting there!
    The cinemataph was SO cool. I kept thinking ‘how did they do that?’!!!
    The piece of advice that I think anyone at any level could immediately appreciate was from Rohit Vohra … take a step closer.

    I’m such a big fan of your photos already, Jeff. It’ll be interesting to see how it will be possible for you to elevate your game 🙂

    • Take a step closer – yes, best advice. I am still trying to get there! When I look at my photos I’ve taken since the workshop, I see that I need to take one step close still!

  5. What a great opportunity, Jeff! It sounds like you really got a lot out of this experience, and it makes me want to find a photography workshop that will work for me. I am sure that there are plenty on offer in Alaska to choose from! 🙂

    • There are more and more workshops each year in AK. I think it will be a big growing industry in the future. Travelers want to take their own photos, not buy postcards or prints. It is an exiting time for photographic artists.

Join the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: