Searching for Beauty in the Ordinary

Time only moves forward. We gain or lose something every day. It's a fact of life.

I looked at my phone's clock which indicated 5:10am. Though I was slated to wake up at 5.30am, there were times when I woke up before the alarm went off because I was excited about what lay ahead.

All my gear were packed the night before. I slipped on my cycling gear and headed out. With the streetlights and my bike's headlight providing the only source of visibility, I was on my way to Telok Paku Road, near Changi Village.

Cycling also provided me a way to explore Singapore. I didn't fancy the idea of driving as I love to exercise and keep myself fit and sane. By cycling you will be forced to look around and see things that are beside or ahead of you- that's usually the mindset of a creative person. Plus, you get rewarded with a good workout and a good sunrise shot afterwards all free of charge of course. Singapore is very small and it makes a whole lot of sense to travel the entire island by bicycle. Never mind the sweat for the journey is the reward. That was how I knew of Telok Paku.

I arrived 645am and sunrise was scheduled at 715am. I unpacked all my gear and used the app 'The Photographer's Ephemeris', to confirm the direction of sunrise and happily it was spot on. As the sun rose, I spotted a plane that flew by in one of my panorama frames and managed to shoot it as it flew into frame.


Alpha 7 III | FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 24 mm | 1/160 sec | F/11 | ISO 100 4x2 Multi-row Panorama


It was a success. Aligning the sun where it meets the troughs of the trees was what I envisioned.

I received queries from a few viewers on why I shoot most of my photos in multi-row panoramas. I don't see my photos as strictly a panorama, I see them as a single photograph. I shot multiple rows to include more subjects of interest into the frame. In this case, the trees by the water add perspective to the puny looking sun and adds context. You could get away with a wide-angle lens but that also includes unnecessary elements such as excessive foreground or sky due to the technical nature of a typical 3:2 aspect ratio. You could crop the top or bottom, but you will lose resolution. I always shoot my photos for print as an end goal for maximum quality and not solely for the focus of Instagram. Hence shooting in multi-row also enables you to remove what you don't want to see such as the aforementioned, with the added benefit of increasing the overall resolution of the image. The aspect ratio should accommodate the compositional nature of the subject.

No one defines what a photograph should look like or be like. Once you free your mind about how you should photograph subjects in a certain way or how the end result should look like, you're free to experiment.

Photographing Singapore is never easy. A while back I was at Tuas to explore some lone trees and look for fields of lalang there. Unfortunately, the environment had changed so much that composing to photograph them was a bit painful.


Alpha 7 III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 16 mm | 1/40 sec | F/11 | ISO 100 2 Image Vertical Panorama


When looking for a good composition, my mantra is always less is more. This lone tree idea, while it isn't new, helps convey the vastness of the place in relation to the tree's location in Tuas. Thankfully the sky was kind that day and displayed a beautiful Belt of Venus that further accentuated the shape of the tree. Before photographing, it's imperative that you take note of the surroundings that this subject encompasses. The grass was rather tall, and I wanted to hide the distant Malaysian city that was in the background. Rather than taking the shot of the tree head on, I lowered the camera as low as possible to create a different perspective. The grass also helped create foreground interest and having the aperture wide open at f4 blurred the grass a bit so that the tree is the subject of focus.


Alpha 7 III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 16 mm | 15 sec | F/4 | ISO 100


With the discovery of Clementi Forest, it became the talk of the town in preserving vulnerable forests from further development and maintaining biodiversity. It's one of the reasons why I photograph as much as I can each time.


Alpha 7 III | FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 35 mm | 1/80 | F/11 | ISO 100 3 Image Panorama


The Clementi forest is one of the few places that is worth exploring again in future. I was expecting a morning fog to appear but then realised that it only appears whenever there is a change in season. In my experience this phenomenon usually occurs around April and October. Nonetheless it was a good place to explore and like all my images, there must be some kind of visual harmony. The sun, once again borrowing the concept from Telok Paku, appears close to the troughs of the trees and I used the leading lines of the moss-filled river that points towards the sun to enhance the composition.


Alpha 7 III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 16 mm | 21 sec | F/9 | ISO 100 2 Image Vertical Panorama


I see images as stories and as a storyteller your role is to explain visually the soul of the place.

Sembawang is one of my favourite places to shoot. I go there all the time and get very different results. This shot is of a stream that leads to the sea caused by a very big storm drain. I chanced upon it when the tide was very low and used the stream to create leading lines towards the sun, alas the sunrise wasn't perfect as it was a bit cloudy. Distant clouds appeared like smoke from a chimney, creating texture and subject interest to the main protagonist of the story- which was the stream.

Pasir Ris is a very nice town in Singapore. One thing I love about Pasir Ris is its beach. Best visited during the months of May and June where the sun will rise in the North East, there are fa ew locations within the beach worth exploring. Right at the far corners of the beach are a bunch of stilts that you don't see on Singapore shores and only accessible during low tide. It is a 2 Image Vertical Panorama and shot in high key to create a sense of vastness and otherworldliness. It was deliberately shot at f/16 with a 6 stop filter to create smoothed water effects.


Alpha 7 III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 16 mm | 5 sec | F/16 | ISO 100 2 Image Vertical Panorama


Lim Chu Kang; perhaps the most rural part of Singapore with rows of farmlands, is another place worth exploring. There exists a row of trees flanked left and right of a narrow road. I figured the morning 8am sun would be high enough to highlight the edges of the trees. Such scenes are rarely seen in Singapore and I also took the opportunity to model myself into the picture for the sake of a human element baked into the shot. It gives a sense of scale too.


Alpha 7 III | FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 60 mm | 1/40 sec | F/11 | ISO 100


Finally, allow me to introduce a place in Mandai which I discovered while cycling. This was taken with the Sony A7II when I was doing a time-lapse of this place in 2016. Fast forward to today and I am not entirely sure if this place still exists- what with all the developments happening in Mandai. Hence you should explore while you can before they disappear forever. There is some lens flare at the extreme left and a slight vignetting at the corners caused by the filters which were attached to the lens. I left it as it is as one would stand there and take a picture "with a lens that isn't quite clean", coupled with that "analogue" look which is part of the film's driving concept- as though akin to telling a story from memory.


Alpha 7 II | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Vario-Tessar T* | 16 mm | 1/13 sec | F/16 | ISO 50


In conclusion, do not be afraid to explore to your heart's content and use the available tools in your arsenal. For me, the only two Sony lenses used in 90% of my photos are the 16-35mm f4 and the 24-70mm f4. I concentrate on the storytelling element of the images- the interplay between light and shadows, how I can create an awareness of such places, and to encourage experimentation and exploration. I believe the heart of photography is to experiment to your heart's content and learn to find your own perspectives and express that visually.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Digital Workshop



Stefan's Gear

Alpha 7 III


FE 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS


FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS




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