Singapore: Just a snap.


Limitations almost always lead to creativity. I’ve blogged about this in the past. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. Whenever we limit our resources we force ourselves to be creative. I can recall in the early 90s my first computer was a Mac SE. I needed to do what today is called a presentation. In those days there was no presentation software or at least I could not afford it. But my Mac did have something called HyperCard. HyperCard was one of the very first hypermedia applications made and came free with my Mac. It was a very simple “stack” of virtual “cards”. I pushed it’s abilities to create a complex and engaging game that led players through all kinds of questions that I wanted them to address and explore. I used this later at a kiosk and let visitors play it. My budget and technology forced limitations on me and yet I did things that the software was not even designed to do.

The same principle applies to photography. When we limit our camera, the lens or even the subject matter we force ourselves to be creative and explore new options. We force ourselves to see things in new and different ways.

Last week I wrote a post called, A Black Box about how I was trying to encourage my daughter in photography using an iPhone and a simple application called Hipstamatic. I talked in that blog about how we put too much emphasis on gear when photography is done in large part through the eye of the shooter. A few days later I read Chase Jarvis’ blog about his new project called “Dasein: an Invitation To Hang” a project about the importance of the “snap shot” in photography. Then, only a day or two later David duChemin talked about the creative freedom a point & shoot can give in his post Point & Shoot, My A**.  Between David, Chase and I, it seems many of us are coming to the same conclusion one way or another. I would say it is a longing for a simpler time, except shooting film and processing it was never simple. This is not an issue of film versus digital. It goes beyond that to something more basic. It goes back to the image itself. The simple visual structure of what makes an interesting photograph. What is visually compelling? Where things like subject, angles and composition are everything. I think we get seduced by technology, I know I do. I love gadgets and I love “messing” with an image for hours in Lightroom. But at the core, isn’t it about the moment? Different moments than are time spent in Lightroom. Those second between when you see what you think might be a photograph and when the camera comes to the eye and you move to position yourself for the shot and then of course the… snap! There in that 15 to 20 seconds you have the bulk of the creative process. Limited options forcing you to do something to, dare I say, be creative. It is there where the photographer longs to live. In those moments we find joy.

Last week I took my family to Singapore for the Broadway (can you say Broadway when it is in Singapore?) show The Lion King. I wanted this to be  a family time so I left my 1Ds MK III and 5D MK II and all my lenses at home. I took nothing more than my iPhone and my favorite camera app Hipstamatic. I wanted to practice what I was preaching to Jessie and the world. Singapore is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is alive and vibrant. The city is made up of three main cultures, Chinese, Tamil and Malay with a heavy Colonial influence. So whether walking Arab Street, shopping on Orchard Street or eating at one of the many wonderful cafes I took my phone to share with you what I saw. I put together a slide show and I hope this might inspire some of you to use what you have and get creative.

You can find a html version suitable for iPads and iPhones HERE.

About Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer.

In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.

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19 thoughts on “Singapore: Just a snap.

  1. Wow, you took a lot of photos. Very inspiring. Almost like a visual stream of conscience.

  2. Great! Matt. The only thing I need now is an iPhone ;-). Jokes aside, at least for me, it feels really comfortable carrying a pocketable camera instead of my pro camera and big lens. It really makes more creative and at the same time less “intrusive” when I’m shooting among friends. In Iraq taking photos from a cell phone or a P&S camera is the way to go!

    • Heber – I agree, but we won’t be getting the quality with an iPhone we get with most DSLRs. Soon perhaps, but not now. However, the X100 is another story.

      • Yeah that’s for sure. That’s why I’m not dumping my DSLR any time soon. Although I must confess I’m looking to the X100 for personal work. Canon and Nikon should revive the rangefinders! 

  3. I have a love-hate relationship with Hipstamatic: it’s über-cool and I use it myself more than once but on the other hand, I always wonder how the images would be thought of without the heavy post-processing that Hipstamatic applies. Those filters come very close to the famous unsuck-filter (the proverbial Yeti of postprocessing) in that they tend to make any image look good, or at least arty. And if a picture looks arty, it already has the benefit of the doubt 🙂
    I think there’s much more postprocessing in these pictures than one might think or admit. The only thing is that the post-processing (color shifts, blurring, negative borders, color bleeding, cross processing, …) is done in the app itself and you have no control over it and so a) there’s this feeling of authenticity / originality and b) you’re not spending hours in Lightroom or Photoshop to recreate that effect. But take any DSLR image and run it through Alien Skin Exposure, OnOne PhotoTools or Nik Color Efex or Silver Efex and throw in a border from OnOne Photoframe and you have Hipstamatic, the High Definition version. It would just take someone to write a script to apply these plugins randomly and you have the same.And I also think that the postprocessing is what makes the images look good, not the iPhone. It’s maybe even more the postprocessing than the photographer. You just wouldn’t get the same feel with ‘unfiltered’ iPhone images. The same slideshow, with the same iPhone pictures, same framing but shot without Hipstamatic on (shot ‘color corrected’ & neutral, so to say) would make much less impact, I’m afraid. You’d suddenly start to see the limitations of that iPhone again: the infinite depth of field, the poor high-contrast handling, the noise… Now, all of these are cleverly masked under a thick sauce of effects.
    End of rant (don’t even know if it was a rant) 🙂 Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Hipsta-snapping to do 🙂

    • Piet, What’s your point? I don’t quite understand your argument. Of course it’s Hipstamatic is processed. I would go so far as to say is overly processed as you pointed out. I agree with that. The point is not photo processing. The point is that all I have to do is concentrate on the composition and the subject. It’s a little bit closer to a Polaroid in that regard. Of course a Polaroid processes your image, but you take the time to make the image.

      • I guess the mixed feelings I have about an App like Hipstamatic is that I feel like I’m cheating in a way… Mind you, I like postprocessing, I even teach the stuff :-).
        What I’m trying to say is that – while composition as you rightly point out is still the photographers’ job – I think there’s less skill to it. If you want to compare it to a restaurant: the heavy spices (the Hipstamatic Postprocessing) can mask lesser quality ingredients (composition, lighting, …). 

  4. Great slide show, I find the iPhone gives me freedom to take photos without the burden of the bulk of a Dslr, as far as the processing goes, how many people show photos straight from the camera, even Dslr photos from most people get heavily processed before being shown, doing “in camera” feels to me like freedom from spending time in front of the computer.

    • Greg, For the most part post-processing your work has to be done. I would never think of showing a RAW file in its raw form. This post was not about that. This is meant to be challenge to take some time and get back to some of the basics of creating an image. One of our participants on my last workshop to Tibet took a Polaroid with him and shot some amazingly simple and beautiful images. I am just encouraging people to get our and shoot with whatever they have be it an iPhone or a point & shoot. I don’t care if you use Hitstamatic, Camera+, Instagram, Best Camera or King Camera just have some fun and find your joy.

  5. Hi Matt..Great post. Incidentally I love your podcasts. I particularly enjoyed your interview recently with combat photog Stacy Pearsall. I listen to your stuff on my 4 mile walk every morning. Keep those great informative interviews coming! Dave

    • Thanks Dave. I enjoy doing them. I wish I was better at cranking them out more often. Getting photographers based in other countries, a good skype connection and finding them available all at the same time is a challenge, to say the least.

  6. It’s not quite the same wavelength, but my post today was about shooting with just the D90 & a 50mm lens (for live music).  Like you say, the limitation breed some creativity.  In fact, I’m finding that, more & more, I like to shoot with just one lens for day or situation.

    And, what I’ve become aware of for some time now is that my iPhone photos are different to what I shoot with the dSLR.  I’ve been preparing a gallery of iPhone images of Hong Kong & there is loads of stuff I haven’t shot with the dSLR.  In fact, I’m probably truer to my mission of being an urban contextual photographer with my iPhone than with my dSLR.

  7. Refreshing.
    I do feel though that the slideshow format helps a lot making the snapshots look more…. appealing (?)
    And next time you come to Singapore, I hope I will have the pleasure to meet you 😉

  8. Matt, 
    Thanks for this. It was very encouraging. My 20D just died, and since I can’t replace it just yet, I was feeling depressed that I would have to do my summer Georgetown photo walks with my P&S. I don’t feel so bad now. Thanks for giving me hope!

  9. Wonderful presentation Matt. I think I may have to shamelessly steal your idea and use only my phone – in my case Android – when I lead a Photowalk next weekend. 

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