From the streets to the peaks

My name is Pak-Hong. I grew up in Singapore and live in Canada now. My first experience in photography was in the ’80s when I joined the school’s Photographic Society. Every newbie came with an SLR camera… except me. Well, I brought my family’s camera, a Yashica rangefinder, and it did not take me long to realize that my gear was the odd one out.

The lens could not zoom and could not even be detached. I thought it could not focus too! It was embarrassing. I felt like a misfit and left the club a few months later. I wish somebody had explained to me that rangefinders just work in a very different way from SLRs, and they are not inferior.

Anyway, I shot a single roll of film during that brief period. I remember that anticipation and excitement of how it would turn out, as well as the sensation of joy when picking up at the photo development lab.

Fast forward to 2010, and I bought my first camera, the Canon PowerShot G11. It had more flexibility than a point-and-shoot without the bulk of a DSLR and was ideal for my vacation trips.

I have been to nearly 40 countries, but I am not sure if I can be considered a travel photographer because most of my images do not really inspire people to visit places or stir their wanderlust. And I seldom shoot iconic landmarks that are cluttered with tourists. In Venice, for example, I preferred to capture the quiet side, which most people do not see.

By the way, it was a moment during my Spain trip that reignited my passion for photography. Toledo is a picturesque Spanish city that is wonderful to explore on foot. The winding, cobblestone streets of the old town have an irresistible European charm.

Even the back lanes offer great opportunities for street photography. I was alone in a quiet alley when I heard a bicycle bell ringing around the corner and got the camera up just in time… freezing the moment under perfect light. Sometimes it is not just our eyes that lead us to a shot. Our ears too!

At that instant, it dawned on me that I can make art with a camera! As my skills grew, I outgrew my gear. I needed a camera with interchangeable lens. However, the thought of lugging around a heavy and bulky DSLR plus big lenses always dampened my desire to upgrade.

I became aware of mirrorless cameras and the Micro Four Thirds system. I picked up the Olympus PEN E-PL5, and it was a revelation to me. The perfect blend of size and quality!

My travels include a lot of camping and hikes in nature; therefore, landscape photography is one of my main genres. I subsequently upgraded to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II because of its weather-sealing capability, which is essential for my outdoor pursuits.

A fully articulating screen is crucial for me as well. This camera is a delight to use and to look at. I have a soft spot for its retro design! 6 years on, I still enjoy using it in my hand. If I could change one thing about the camera, then I would revamp its confusing menu system.

When it comes to photography, impressing myself is all that matters. I am a lone wolf, and due to my reserved nature, I hardly show my images to anyone else. I struggle with social media too. At times, however, I do wonder whether my works are appealing enough for a viewer to pause and take a closer look. One that takes longer than a double-tap on the smartphone screen.

Speaking of taking a closer look, nothing can beat a real photograph. There is something satisfying about seeing my favorite images on paper. In fact, choosing which images to print is the final step of my culling process. One day, while going through my old prints, I struck on the idea of selling them online.

So, I started a shop on Etsy to offer some of my monochrome photos as fine art prints, and a professional lab would dropship for me. I made a few sales. To be honest, I am still incredibly surprised that someone is interested in my art and willing to pay for it! The photos from my hiking trip to the Everest Base Camp seem to get more attention than others.

By the way, I have no worries about the megapixel resolution of the Micro Four Thirds system as it is more than sufficient for the print sizes which I am offering (up to 16″x20″).

During my travels, I shoot whatever I find to be visually interesting. I seldom plan my shots or scout locations, except for astrophotography which caught my interest recently. I am fortunate that many parts of Canada are dark enough to shoot the Milky Way or to make a time-lapse of stars progressing throughout the night.

The Live Composite mode is excellent for star trails and fun to use. There is nothing better than sitting in the dark waiting for the magic to happen before your eyes. I am still experimenting with this genre, and here are some of my humble attempts in the Sahara Desert, Wadi Rum Desert, and the Canadian wilderness.

To end this article, I just want to mention that Japan is the country which I particularly enjoy for travel and photography. It has a good mix of nature, tradition, and high-tech modernity. I have been there a few times and would like to return one day.

My gear is quite simple.

    • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II body

    • M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 – This is my preferred lens.

    • M.Zuiko ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO – This pairs well with the camera because of its in-lens image stabilization and weatherproof construction. It is versatile, and if I could only bring one lens, then this is the one.

    • Rokinon 12mm F2.0 – I use this fast wide-angle lens for astrophotography. It is manual focus only, but we do not use autofocus for the stars anyway.

"My name is Pak-Hong Yip. I grew up in Singapore and live in Canada now. Trained as an engineer, I always have an artistic side in me... not just a creative expression but also a keen eye for appreciating the finer things around us. I do it through the lens. My photos are primarily in black & white. From the streets to the peaks, that is where you can find me."

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