Interview with a photographer friend: Ryan Lam


Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum (Black White multi exposure architecture; got featured in the Fujifilm Magazine Issue 04 in 2014)

It’s a pleasure for me and my blog to have the opportunity to introduce you this amazing photographer (I do think so). Instead of me, let’s introduce him by himself…

Ryan LamMy name is Siu Wai Lam or for people who isn’t familiar with the pronunciation of my Cantonese name I use my English name: Ryan Lam. I was born in Hong Kong. My family and I moved to Germany when I was 5 years old. Since then I am living in this country. I am working in an IT company for years now after studies in Business informatics. One of my hobbies is of course photography. Another hobbies are watching movies, TV shows, travelling and Martial Arts. Movies, TV shows and travelling were and are still big influences for my photography.

Macau Street In The Night

Macau Street In The Night

Tell us about your beginnings in photography…

I came in contact with photography when my parents documented my siblings and my childhood with their Yashica FX-3 film SLR. I liked the photos and the magic that camera did. Manual focussing the lens, the flash and the big loud noise CLUNK when the mirror slaps and the release shutter button was pushed was wonderful. As a kid I used that camera but without a film roll in it. When I was in the 10th grade in school I used a compact film camera. I spent a lot of my pocket money for buying film rolls also for developing them and get the photos. It was always a hit and miss. Some photos came out good but most of them were literally rather snapshots. I still have both film cameras.

Queensway, Hong Kong

Queensway, Hong Kong

I got my first digital camera when I finished school. I spent during the summer for one month in Hong Kong. There I received my first digital camera from my uncle as a gift. That’s when photography started all over again and taking photos without limitation of budget like with film cameras. After coming back to Germany I didn’t take a lot of photos. Some day I started again and bought a few digital compact cameras and eventually my first DSLR. With the DSLR cameras photography got more serious. I read magazines, books, websites and watched tutorials to learn more about cameras and their features, technique to capture a photo (long exposure, bracketing etc.), post-processing methods and much later composition to make a photo more pleasing & interesting for the onlookers. To the latter one composition: I was lucky that I started pretty early having interests in movies and TV shows also in landscape photos in my childhood. Those shaped my eye for composition. As a kid I was always analyzing the scenes in the movies and TV shows while I was watching them. The question was why I like the scenes, what make it so special and pleasing for my eyes? My head was permanently working on two things: Follow the story and simultaneously analyze the composition. The same thing happens when I find an interesting photo in the Internet and I sat there and analyze the composition.

Cologne Cathedral - Nightfall (long exposure architecture; got featured on Fujifilm facebook page)

Cologne Cathedral – Nightfall (long exposure architecture; got featured on Fujifilm facebook page)

Some day I bought books to read more on that matter to have a better understanding for that. All these years I had many influences for my own photography: The movies and TV shows I watch, other artists & photographers (the old masters, the current ones, idols and fellow artists/photographers) on photo sharing platforms like deviantArt when I started digital photography (nowadays flickr, facebook & instagram. I haven’t using deviantArts for years now) and my travels to other countries. All those inspire me and I always get a boost of motivation to be creative, capture moments, the mood and places.
My own motto is: “Life is too short and too serious. Be happy, keep smiling, laugh a lot, appreciate & enjoy every blissful moment of your life and take photos to capture those foresaid joyful moments. Memory keepers for you and others to reminisce.”
Another motto is: “Life is a movie. The photo you make is a still, a scene in your life.”
For those reasons above I started with the genres landscape photography, architectural photography and travel photography in general. Now I do a lot more than those for example I always wanted to do portrait photography.

St. Michael Mount - England

St. Michael Mount – England

What is your favorite photo?

The Poor Man
All time favourite of all people I know. Also personally my favourite.
This was shot on the Millennium Bridge in London.

The Poor Man

The Poor Man

In London I was walking around to take photos. When I arrived at the Millennium Bridge I saw this poor man who was sitting there and he was begging for some coins. It was cold, windy and rainy. The man covered himself in a blanket to brave the weather. A old British lady went up to him and said in a lovely voice with her British accent ‘That looks cosy.’ and gave him some coins. Normally I don’t take photos of beggars or homeless people but when I went behind him the scene that represents itself struck me. The colours you see are clearly not real world colours, but I had that vision of this scene in my mind: The homeless man wrapped himself in the blanket reminds me of a buddhist monk sitting in front of a temple or a mountain meditating. The temple or mountain is the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The bridge with its clear lines leads to the temple/mountain. The sun was setting and there was that orange line of the setting sun in the sky. So I tint the rain clouds with the great details in blue colour to get a colour contrast. No one really ‘saw’ this scene. I was the only person who noticed this ‘big picture’ and I was thinking I had to photograph it. When I started taking a photo of it suddenly another woman saw me doing that and she also noticed the scene, took out her compact camera from her handbag and took a snapshot of it.

I know you are an enthusiastic of travel photography, how many cities have you ever been to photograph?

it is hard to give you an exact number. What I do is I travel to one city which I use as a ‘base’ and visit other cities nearby. The other way is I literally make a tour hopping from one city to another. On the way between those cities I visit other small villages or towns that might be interesting or I came across by coincidence.
The travel photography started only a few years ago.I have been in England, Switzerland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Macau, my hometown Hong Kong, China and Italy.
China and Italy were my recent travels. In China I was with two German friends on a big trip. We were for 18 days in 15 or so major destinations and covered many diverse regions, climate zones and landscapes.

Pudong - Shanghai (long exposure panorama architecture)

Pudong – Shanghai (long exposure panorama architecture)

For my two friends it was their first trip overseas and also the first time being in China. It was my third visit in China. The journey was fun and the travel photography on a high level for us. I’ve done a lot travel photography before that China trip but it wasn’t as spectacular. You know travel photography consists of many different genre of photography such as architectural photography, landscape photography, street photography, documentary photography, portrait photography and low light / available ambient light photography. It was challenging but fun because I used to do those genres a lot. You can add wedding photography and sport photography to the whole list. China is something special. It’s different from Western countries: The life that’s happening there, people, society, perception, behaviour, culture, customs, history. You find so many opportunities to take a photo each day from 06:00 a.m. to 01:00 a.m.

Flower Girl

Flower Girl

In Italy I was in Venice during the Carnevale di Venezia. 3 years ago I was with another German friend backpacking in Italy. However our destinations were Rome, Florence, Pisa and Lucca. There was no time for Venice. I always wanted to see and experience Carnevale di Venezia. So two years ago I made plans with another friend who frequently visits Venice but never during the carnival. Last year we booked the flights, the apartment, the Vaporetto tickets and made it all happen this year. It was amazing! I am still working on post-processing the RAW files of those both journeys. I haven’t show the photos except a few as teasers/appetizers.

St. Peter's Basilica - Rome

St. Peter’s Basilica – Rome

Any place that interest you to go for the first time?

  • Iceland is on top of my list. I would like to rent a car and make a road trip around the island. I am impressed by its rough volcanic landscape that it offers.
  • On the second place are the Canadian Rockies, the lakes Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Alberta and the National Parks.
  • On the third place: Washington state with the North coast full of those big driftwood, Palouse the US-american version of the Tuscany, the National Parks.
  • On the fourth place: The National Parks in the USA like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and the Redwood National Park.
  • Last but not least: Japan! The culture is interesting. I like the futuristic modern cities like Tokyo and Kyoto but I also like their historical/ancient buildings and of course the harmony of nature and man-made creations. I am also keen on the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Google it and you will get the desire to visit it and see it with your own eyes.
Po Lin Monastery Big Buddha, Hong Kong

Po Lin Monastery Big Buddha, Hong Kong

How many gear do you carry to those travels? It should be a lot , shouldn’t it? Is it always the same or varies?

In the past with the DSLR I had a 5D Classic, 35mm f/1.4 L USM, 17-40mm f/4 L USM, 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, 50mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM, Tamron 90mm f/2.8 and a tripod. I took all lenses except the 90mm with me. The last time with the DSLR gear I only had the 5D and the 24-105mm L with me for the backpacking trip. That when I decided leaving the DSLR camp because travelling with that combo was quite tiring in the heat of Italy. In general taking all the lenses above with a DSLR on a journey is heavy and it isn’t compact. That’s the reason I went for the mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras and I had a Leica and Fujifilm cameras. Now I settled on Sony cameras. The gear I have now is: Sony A6000, Sony RX100M3, Sony 24mm f/1.8 ZA, Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS, 50mm f/1.8 OSS, 10-18mm f/4 OSS, 16-70mm f/4 OSS, 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS. In addition Lee Filters Seven 5 System for landscape and long exposure photography.
When I am on travel the 16-70mm is mostly stuck on the camera. The other lenses are rarely used but I always take them with me – just in case. In China I realized that the prime lenses are great for low light but limiting. Constantly changing the lenses is annoying. Only when I set the goal strictly doing street photography I stick to one prime lens and leave the other lenses at the hotel.

Queen Elizabeth II Great Court

Queen Elizabeth II Great Court

So, you have decided to move from DSLR to mirrorless cameras to gain mobility and comfort. What about quality? Are you happy ? Do you miss something?

First I have to mention I went from a DSLR with a full frame sensor to mirrorless cameras with an APS-C sensor. Just to keep in mind of the advantage in compact size and lightweight because the lenses of a full frame sensor mirrorless camera are the same size like the ones of full frame DSLRs. You can’t change the law of physics. It’s a good compromise. The Image quality isn’t that bad as people think. Those cameras reached the image quality, almost the same AF speed and high ISO capabilities of a DSLR. An advantage is the EVF. You practically can see in the dark when it’s impossible with an OVF. Moreover you can see the actual exposure how it will be with the final photo. That means you can change all the settings and see those changes in real time.
There is only one thing I really miss: better batteries. The mirrorless cameras have a big hunger for energy. In the past with a DSLR two batteries get you through one day. Now I have to use at least four.

Tower Bridge - (long exposure & HDR architecture; got featured on Fujifilm facebook page)

Tower Bridge – (long exposure & HDR architecture; got featured on Fujifilm facebook page)

I’m a big fan of Photoshop. What about you? Do you spend so much time retouching pictures?

I love Adobe Lightroom. You can do so much with it. In the beginning I spent a lot of time in Photoshop and doing a lot of stuff on the photos but I realize it’s too much work and I am wasting time. Rather wasting time I like to use that for taking photos instead.
Since Lightroom version 2 it is my essential tool for post-processing the RAW files. It’s easy to you use, you literally have a workflow when you work from top to the bottom in the ‘Develop Module’ of Lightroom and moving the sliders is pretty fast when you post-process the RAW files. With presets you create for yourself or those preset systems you can purchase from anyone (many pro photographers offer their own unique presets) and any company (like VSCO, SLR Lounge just to name those big ones) it’s even faster. You can apply those presets on multiple photos at once and there you have your final photos or you use those presets as a base and do individually on each photos some minor changes to your own liking.

Thank you very much Ryan for the interview. I think we know now much of you and here is where the people can find more of your work in Internet:

Blog: www.ryanlam-photography.com
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/r4p70r/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ryan-Lam-Photography/140516555964722
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ryan.lam.888

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