An interview with Daniel Cheong – Insights into digital blending, his favorite cities for roof tops and much more.
It was a pleasure interacting with one of the masters of digital blending. We bring you Daniel Cheong in an exclusive interview for The Photographers Blog.
Gaurav : Hi Daniel, your work is very much admired all over the world and you have achieved a great deal since 2006. We want to know your story. How did you get into photography ? Did you buy the camera yourself or did somebody gifted you, how were your early years into photography ?
Daniel : Since I was a kid I always had an interest in photography. I had my first camera as a gift when I was 10 years old (44 years ago), a Kodak Instamatic 100. Then a few years later I started to use my father’s SLR (a Pentax if I remember), even attempted to develop my own B&W films when I was in secondary school. I moved to digital in 1998 with an Olympus VGA camera. The resolution was pretty low but it was so cool at that time. Then I went through different generations of point and shoot digital camera, 2MPix, 3Mpix, 8 MPix. In 2006, DSLR cameras became affordable and I went for the Sony A100, and at that time discovered the world of HDR photography and photo sharing (flickr). Flickr has been a key element in my photographic journey.
Gaurav : Landscapes are your subject, what is it about the blue hour that attracts you ?
Daniel : I was in Singapore in 2006 when I bought my first DSLR, hence living in a city and loving architecture and buildings, I started to shoot cityscapes. The blue hour attracts me because you can get that very particular blue hue in the sky, beautifully contrasting with the glittering buildings. But I also like to shoot conventional landscapes (nature).
Gaurav : Digital blending is a very skillful job, can you explain the basic and elementary part of digital blending in short ?
Daniel : Digital Blending is one of the technique to achieve High Dynamic Range. Sometimes with just a single exposure, it is very difficult to capture the whole dynamic range of a scene (full details in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows, no over exposed or under exposed areas) because of the camera sensor limitation. Digital Blending consists of combining multiples exposures in Photoshop using a simple method called Layer Masking. So basically I will take a series of exposures staring from a very underexposed one (where you can get all the details in the highlights) to a very over exposed one (where you will get all the details in the shadows). Combining the different exposures will eventually produce an image with a perfect exposures, with full range of details all over.
Gaurav : You spend a lot of time on rooftops. What is your favorite city to climb on the rooftops and why ?
Daniel : I really started shooting from rooftops in Dubai, because I find any cityscapes more attractive from high vantage points. And specially Dubai has so many skyscrapers over 60 floors, it’s almost like you are shooting from a helicopter. I also had the opportunity to access many rooftops in Dubai, over 50 different buildings, and there are so much more to shoot from. But access can be quite tricky and requires connections to get permissions. Dubai is also an amazing city to shoot fog. My Dubai fog shots really gave me international exposure though websites such as CNN, Petapixel, etc…My other favorites cities to shoot cityscapes (not necessarily from rooftops) are Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai.
Gaurav : What essential things do you check in your camera gear bag before you start your shoot ?
Daniel : I make sure I have the following lenses: Nikkor 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 16mm Fisheye, 24mm PC-E (Tilt Shift). I also try to carry the heavy 70-200mm f/2.8, because sometimes I found myself regretting not having this lens. And then the usual extra batteries, shutter remote, extra memory cards.
Gaurav : Your post-processing is immaculate, and our readers would like to know how much post processing matters in producing a great picture ?
Daniel : Believe it or not, I try to do minimal post processing as I want to keep the overall feel as natural as possible, but enough to achieve this ‘surreal’ look. But you need to get the exposures right first. Light and composition are the critical elements to produce a great picture. And many times I try to create an image that cannot be achieved with one single exposure. That could be a Vertical Panorama, or combining exposures which were shot at different ISO (mixing long and short exposures). Many times I try visualize the final image in my head, and then take all the different exposures to make it happen.
Gaurav : What advice do you have for aspiring landscape photographers ? What is that one thing you recommend / advise to aspiring landscape photographers who look up to you for motivation ?
Daniel : Be inspired by others (there are great photo sharing websites like 500px, flickr) which are great source of inspiration, but try to find your own style. And shoot what you like and for you first, not for a specific audience, or just because a specific genre is popular. And social medias are very important, sharing is caring. Don’t be obsessed with EXIF data of other photographers, just go out and shoot, try, experiment, be creative.