Oh, Swee, It’s Amazing What You Can Do With A Hasselblad
Luxurious Magazine photographer Swee Oh triumphed in the internationally prestigious Hasselblad Masters Awards. In between shoots, she describes her life behind the lens.
My photography journey began, quite simply, as a way for me to document my projects for my work as an architect.
At the time I had no idea about the formal aspects of photography – composition, lighting, exposure or post-processing – but in 2011 I met a friend who was a more serious photographer and he helped me understand why I felt many of my pictures were flat or unappealing.
From the moment I was introduced to his amazing photos via Flickr, and was shown the basics of post-processing, I was hooked. Passion is a sometimes over-used word, but in this context it’s absolutely true to say that I had discovered my passion. I have no formal training in photo-graphy but I’ve spent almost every weekend, and virtually all of my free time since that moment in 2011, shooting and working on my art.
The San Francisco Bay Area benefits from a fantastic community of photographers who have helped and supported me on my journey. Many photographers I’ve met during my many photo walks have become teachers, mentors and friends. I do a lot of research, I watch tutorials, and I actively participate in photography-based online communities.
I’ve learned most from studying the work of photographers I admire and I’ve come to understand what works for me and what doesn’t, and learned to create images in my own style to express my vision in ways I can be proud of. I’ve always been sensitive to and moved by the arts, particularly where the visual and emotional balance generates a yin/yang harmony within me. It’s emotionally stirring. It excites me.
Many years before I began to find my way in photography, I was inspired by the work of Hiroshi Sujimoto. I remember being impressed and moved by the mood and the mystery evoked by his seascape collection.
Not long after I started shooting seriously, I encountered the work of Michael Kenna, Cole Thompson and Nathan Wirth. I was struck by the beauty of their composition, by the clarity of their vision and by the depth of tonal range in their work. My emotional reaction to what I saw was profound and it compelled me to push my work to the next level.
Later, when I was introduced to the work of Joel Tjintjelaar and Julia Anna Gospodarou, I felt my eyes were opened to a stunning photographic style in their exceptional black and white architectural photography. I saw in it the combination of photography, art and architecture that enveloped the major interests of my life and work. Since then, I’ve wanted to create fine-art photographs that communicate more about a space or a structure than just the basic information available at first glance.
I want to reveal the intent of their designer using my vision, my emotions and my architectural experience, in my own language.
My background in architecture influences how I interpret a building through photography. When I’m designing I think of space, lines, volumes, positive/negative space, and the experience when one moves around and through the building. All of these intuitions help me to understand a building better, and enable me to reveal and highlight its essence in the images I produce.
I enjoy the challenge of combining both the artistic and the technical in my photography, to achieve a story that will attract the attention of a viewer – photographing details or textures, studying different angles that capture my attention, making use of light, contrast, and shadows to create depth. Of course, framing and composition are crucial in constructing the narrative of the image.
There was definitely a moment of disbelief when I first received the news from Mark Witney of Hasselblad that I’d won the Hasselblad Masters Award in the Architecture Category. To me, as to many, the Hasselblad Award is considered the world’s premier photography competition.
Once my astonishment subsided I felt tremendously humbled and incredibly honoured to be awarded the title of Hasselblad Master.
My fellow winners and I were asked to shoot a project embracing the theme “Inspire” for the Masters 2016 commemorative book, so I decided to try out a H5D-50c combined with a Hassel-blad HCD 28mm lens and focused on architecture shoots mostly in downtown Los Angeles, California.
I’d been primarily working with a high-end Sony mirrorless camera, so shooting with a medium format camera for the first time was completely new to me. There was definitely a learning curve, as I had only one week to learn the camera’s features ahead of the four-day project shoot in LA.
However, it was a tremendously rewarding experience.
The H5D 50C is a big, solid camera, compared to my Sony. It houses a large 43.8 x 32.9mm 50 MP sensor, complete with a CMOS chip that allows for the use of higher ISOs, especially in low-light conditions, without any loss of image quality. It also has an impressive high dynamic range (up to 14 stops) for preserving detail on shadow and highlight areas of images.
I took all the photographs in the LA architecture series hand-held without a tripod. The image quality is superb and the colours are incredibly rich, thanks to a 16-bit sensor that shows many more subtle tones. I was amazed by the fine detail, which is perfect for architecture photography.
One of the nicest features of the camera is the True Focus technology and Absolute Position Lock (APL). You can lock in on your subject and then recompose the shot without losing your original focus point.
The H5D-50C combined with the Hasselblad H system lenses produces images that are every bit as sharp corner to corner as at the centre of the image. As a competition winner, I will be presented with a high-end medium format camera from Hasselblad which is literally a dream come true for me.
I feel that the increase in quality, detail and dynamic range will enhance my work and add a magical new dimension to my photography.
You can see more photography by Swee Oh at her official website: www.sweecoh.com