January 11th 2013 by Andrew S Gibson
This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.
Thomas Leong is a photographer from Singapore. I always like looking at the work of Asian long exposure photographers because their subject matter is so different from the scenery I am used to in New Zealand or England. Thomas’s photos are no exception. Read on and enjoy.
How would you describe your photographic vision?
I try to create simple and uncluttered images as I do not want viewers to be distracted by other elements besides the main subject.
What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?
I would like to create something that connects the subject to the viewer. To relate the story of the subject and show how time has shaped the subject’s appearance. To show how nature has taken its toll on the subject in ways the human eye does not see in everyday life.
When did you start taking photos?
I started taking photos when I was young but nothing serious. I had a basic point and shoot camera, but still learnt a lot of the basic settings. I started taking it seriously four years ago when I had sufficient money to buy my first digital SLR.
Name three photographers you like and why.
There are many photographers out there, especially in the Flickr community, who give me a lot of inspiration on the photographic approach I am taking. I am not able to list down all of them but I follow their work very closely and have studied what they have produced over the years.
But there are three prominent photographers that I really admire:
Michael Kenna for his exquisite composition. He creates images that ‘speak’ and provoke the viewers’ emotion. The tonal range of his work is incredible and he always delivers the best presentation to suit the subject at the time of capture.
Michael Levin always find the best symmetry for the subject he works on. His images have a very smooth transition of gradient of grey to white which lets the viewer pay attention to the subject.
David Fokos for the simplicity and minimalism of his landscape images. I never get bored or lost looking at his work.
Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?
Long exposure photography, for me, is about the evolution of time versus the ticking clock. It also helps me to understand how nature really works where human eyes are unable to see it. From the captured image, you can feel how the object has been subjected to the work of nature, sculpturing it over time.
There are a lot seascapes in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the sea for you as a subject?
Sea, or seaside to be precise, is my first choice of destination as there I can find peace and freedom. I can be at ease.
As for photography, I choose the sea as it easily isolates the main subject I’m working on. Our human eyes are not able to record the stillness of the sea water unless using long exposure techniques, which create a dreamy feel for the viewer.
Can you recommend some good locations in Singapore or Malaysia for long exposure photography? What is your favourite place to take photos?
These are my recommendations:
Singapore: East Coast Park, Pulau Ubin, Changi Beach. But they can be disappointing as the horizons are never ‘clean’ as there are many vessels moored 5-8km away from the shore waiting to embark to one of the busiest ports in Asia.
Malaysia: East Coast of Malaysia. The beaches are beautiful.
I have too many favourite places to to name but the east and west coasts of Malaysia are my favourite destinations.
What is your approach to long exposure photography? Do you plan the shoot first, and try to take an image that matches your vision? Or do you go out without a fixed idea, and respond to what you find?
Most of the time I will make a trip or google the place that I would visit to find the subjects that I would love to work on that particular day; i.e., trees, a rock study or subjects abandoned by humans.
If the place I want to visit is near sea I will always check the tide table as high or low tide give different perspectives or feelings to the captured image.
Describe your approach to composition. Is there any benefit to keeping the composition simple?
There are no rules in my photography. I will try to get things done as simply as can be. I like to have a strong lead-in line. Since my images are all about simplicity, I will at times use the movement in the sky as the lead-in to the main subject. That really depends on the subject. If there is no movement, I’ll ensure that balance gradients are applied to the top and bottom to keep the viewer focused on the subject in the middle of the frame.
You crop some of your photos to the square format. Why do you do this and how does it affect the composition? How important is aspect ratio for you?
I prefer the square crop to other formats as my work leans towards the simplicity/minimalistic approach. Leaving too much negative space will leave the viewer lost in the frame and takes the attention away from the ‘feel’ and understanding how the subject ‘feels’ over time.
There is a sense of space in your images. And time, solitude, loneliness. Are these conscious themes you are trying to express in your work?
Yes, in life, we are living in a hectic and busy world. The pace of life has picked up so much compared to 10-15 years back and is becoming more competitive.
Whenever I am out taking photos, I will normally go alone. I use the time that the shutter is open, capturing a sense of time, to pause and reflect.
Here are some more of Thomas’s photos:
If you’d like to learn more about long exposure photography, my ebook Slow takes you through the creative possibilities of using slow shutter speeds, from blurring motion with a shutter speed of 1/30 second all the way to long exposure techniques using shutter speeds of five minutes or longer.
All photos in this interview are protected by copyright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.