Q & A with Richard Ng
In celebration of our current exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017, we decided to seek out the hidden photographic talents of our Museum whānau and share their passion for the medium with a few select images from their personal collections.
In our first interview we spoke to Richard Ng, Collection Photographer in the Collection Imaging team, and an ex-photography volunteer.
How did you get into photography?
Originally I was a graduate computer systems engineer, but I always felt creative. At some points making a PowerPoint was the most creative part of my job! Being an engineer did allow me to travel and it was during my time as a product engineer in Japan that I was able to explore my photography interests by taking a camera with me when I travelled for work.
At first I shot street photography and landscapes. Japan is gorgeous wherever you look and there was so much to capture. My photography became my other creative release (as well as PowerPoints!) and from then on I ensured I had a camera with me whenever I travelled.
I learned early on that it was important to publish the images and to not let them languish on a hard drive; publishing it helps define your process and build your skills. Show your photography to people, take feedback, and you’ll learn.
This all took place about 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until four years ago that I dropped engineering and went full time into photography and weddings in particular. I find it so interesting that for one day 100 or so people dress up and essentially model for you, as well as the emotional aspects of weddings. From the morning to the reception, it’s just a day of energy. The next day I have a wedding hangover!
My own photography
To give some background to this image outside the photography I take for the museum I actually shoot weddings and events, and so for this image it was probably about a year and a half ago, the sun was setting and I was doing the engagement shoot on the beach on the west coast. The light is quite different when the sun is setting. I'm clicking away beach side taking photos of this couple when in the corner of my eye I spot something breaking in the waves.
I can’t quite work it out, monster fish maybe?! Then this tiny penguin just popped out and wandered towards us giving us the look of “what are you doing on my beach”! Because I was shooting portraiture on the beach I had all the right gear so I just changed to a zoom lens so I could capture some shots without disturbing it too much and within a minute the penguin had disappeared back into the sea. I felt so lucky and what a perfect reminder to always have a camera on you no matter what and to always be shooting.
I would call myself an opportunistic photographer and this image is a perfect example of that.
This image is taken in Okinawa just over two and half years ago - if you have ever visited you will know how beautiful that part of Japan is, there are endless pristine gardens and vivid scenery.
The fish captured here are koi and are vibrantly coloured but I chose to shoot in black and white. Outside of my work at the museum I use a Fuji camera which has the option to frame the image in black and white - this allows me to focus on the simple elements of the image and not get distracted by colour, instead focusing on the contrast lines and composition. The Fuji actually captures the colour in the image file and so I can always use a colour version of the image as well if I wanted to.
Images like this remind me to trust your instincts, like knowing the capability of the gear you’re working with so you can make snap decisions to get the best shot. Being a wedding photographer I constantly have to make these decisions and knowing I can shoot either black and white or colour and still have both options at the end of the day.
This was taken just a couple of months ago for a couple that flew in from Hong Kong for an engagement shoot down in Lake Tekapo in Wanaka. Usually when I’m photographing a wedding there is very little time to be patient but on this occasion we had a day off and so I decided to wait to get the perfect shot. I could see the clouds coming in and waited for the perfect break in the weather to take the shot.
It’s actually several photographs stitched together, I take four photographs and then stitch them together in post production using photoshop. I think it gives the finished images a much more dynamic feel. I don’t know how to to explain it but if I had taken the same shot with a wider lens and cropped it, it wouldn’t feel the same. I love the fact that by using this technique I could actually print this finished image to the size of a building if I wanted to as you are essentially quadrupling the quality of the image.
I developed this technique out of regularly shooting weddings, when on a job you don’t have the luxury of constantly changing lenses, so what I discovered is that I can use my 56mm lens with a Fuji and take a series of shots, then stitch them together later.
So you are really comfortable with the post production process?
Absolutely. At the museum we tend not to do a lot of post processing as it’s key to maintain the integrity of the original digital files. But for weddings not only do you have to be skilled in post production you have to be fast - I could take several thousand photographs at a wedding and so I have to be able to cull, edit and process really quickly and return the images to the client.
I also think post processing is essential in creating an image, there can be tendency with photographers to take a shot then leave it on a hard drive, whereas I feel taking the photograph is just one step, you need to post process and even go as far as printing in some cases.
Knowing what’s capable in post production can have an effect on how you approach taking the initial shot. For instance with my Fuji I know I could pull up the shadows so in some instances I can underexpose the original. Over time you just get to know what’s capable in camera and in post processing, you build up a toolkit of knowledge that can help you make decisions on the fly when you’re under pressure or don’t have a lot of time.
This image was taken five or six years ago in the South Island, I love exploring the rugged landscape of the west coast and especially the glaciers. I wanted to explore the glacier up close and so spent a few days just tramping in and out of the various routes something which you are no longer able to do.
The scale of the landscape is just overwhelming and reminds me of an abstract painting but if you look into the bottom left corner there is a climber, barely visible against the glacier. This shot really puts things into perspective for me, and how significant we really are on the planet and to remember to keep humble.
I took this shot using a 200mm lens and with crop sensors maybe even 300mm and wasn’t even stood on the ice at the time - that’s how far away it is.
This for me is a really good example of why I think it’s important to keep up with the capabilities of new equipment. It’s not about buying new gear for the sake of it but understanding the possibilities that are available to you, I couldn’t achieve this image on an iphone for instance but with my Fuji I know I can zoom, crop, take several images and stitch together or whatever.
You can’t go wrong photographing the South Island - look anywhere and click, it’s all beautiful. This shot was taken in Wanaka for a client, I didn’t have very long as this was a last minute trip before flying back to Auckland so I had to make the scene work.
I could see a lot of tourists taking the same image over and over again but at low tide it’s not a particularly appealing shot from head height as the bay is quite muddy - unfortunately we didn’t have time to move to another location so we had to see what we could do here.
I decided to get low to the ground and use the reflection from a large puddle to my advantage - in the original image there is a couple in the centre of the frame, but as this is a stitched panographic film I just replaced the centre image without the couple and have this landscape instead.
Where do you see your career going?
I would like to explore more portraiture. My current role at the Museum allows me to utilise the studio to capture the objects and I’d like to take those skills I’m learning and apply them to people. I think it would be less stressful than a wedding shoot yet more complex than object photography.
What is your favourite wildlife photographer of the year image and why?
The exhibition is awesome! I've seen it once and I think I’m going to check it out a few more times for a top up of inspiration. My favourite image has to be "Clouded in Mystery" by Alexandre Deschaumes.
I was staring at it and thought how epic it is, it’s very gloomy, multi-layered and even emotional, with ranges that disappear way into the background. It really appealed to me, a colleague mentioned that my work was very similar, and up until that point I hadn’t really considered myself to having a specific style, but the similarities were there and it just reaffirmed my point that you have to get your work out there, discuss photography and take feedback.
Post by: Auckland Museum
Auckland War Memorial Museum tells the story of New Zealand, its people, and their place in the Pacific.