Saturday 13 August 2016

A lesson in Monochrome Photography - Leica Camera X Huawei Workshop feat. Morpheuse a.k.a. Aqmal Hadi Shapee

Group photo of the participants with Aqmal Hadi Shapee, as well Shannel Woo, the Retail Manager of Leica Store Malaysia

On the Sunday morning of 31 July 2016, Huawei Malaysia, in collaboration with Leica Store Malaysia, held the first of its 3 photography workshops, specially for users of the Huawei P9 and Huawei P9 Plus.

The theme of the day? Monochrome photography. And, our teacher of the day is, photographer Aqmal Hadi Shapee, or, as he is better known as, Morpheuse. (You may follow him on Facebook as well as Instagram.) With more than 10 years of professional Black & White photography experience behind him, he offered workshop participants some valuable tips, on how to improve their monochrome photography, especially with the dedicated monochrome mode available on the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus.

For the uninitiated, the Huawei P9, along with its bigger brother, the Huawei P9 Plus, both come equipped with two rear cameras. While one camera captures images in full RGB colour, the other captures in monochrome. Using a Leica co-engineered merging algorithm, Huawei managed to combine the colours taken by the RGB sensor, with the detail of the monochrome sensor. The end result? Images with richer details, depth and colours. The monochrome output from the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus is not a mere filter, it is the result of images captured from its dedicated monochrome sensor, creating deeper, more contrasty black and white images, without further editing.

Without further ado, here are Aqmal's five tips, on how to get better monochrome photographs with the Huawei P9 and P9 Plus!

#1 Visualize in Black and White

In Aqmal's words, when viewing the image we are trying to capture in black and white directly when composing, it helps us see the gradation in tones and shades immediately. He also mentioned that, if you can help it, don't take a shot in colour, before converting it to monochrome, it would not result in a good black & white photograph, as our eyes interpret details differently when visualising in colour. Thankfully, there's a dedicated monochrome mode on the Huawei P9/P9 Plus that can be taken advantage of, to visualize in Black and White.

So, what does one look for to create better black & white photographs? 3 simple things. Lines, Shadows, and Shapes. Lines makes your images more dynamic, it also serves as a guide to the lead your eyes to the main subject of the photo. Shadows adds drama and tension, while shapes creates familiarity.

Skyward (Image: GRexer Lee)
This is one of the photos I took using the Huawei P9 during the workshop. By placing the ladder on the foreground, I utilised the "lines" concept to draw the attention to the sky.
Jammed straits (Image: Aqmal Hadi Shapee)
This is one of the pictures by Aqmal himself, utilising the "shadows" concept to create drama, where the sun shone through the clouds, hitting the ships with its rays.
(Image: Hadzrul)
In the image above, Hadzrul, one of participants of the workshop, used the "shapes" concept to apply familiarity and repetition to the photograph.

#2 Contrast is your friend

Contrast makes a picture more interesting. So, what exactly is contrast? It is the scale of difference between black and white in the photos. How do you create a visually stunning image based on this concept? Try using a black background combined with light foreground or vice versa. To create this effect, you'll need to have a basic understanding of light, and how to make use of it for photography. The simplest form is to shine a light onto your subject, thus creating a darker background. Did you know that your Huawei P9/P9 Plus has a constant light function on it's flash called "Steady On" thru the flash menu? Try it out, make use of it.

(Image: GRexer Lee)
On this photo that I also took during the workshop, I utilised a darker foreground with a lighter background, creating a contrast, coincidentally, my main subject, one of the members of the family walking down the stairs I was photographing, was staring up curiously, creating a bit of a drama.

(Image: Aqmal Hadi Shapee)
This photo was taken by Aqmal himself, and clearly explains the concept of creating contrast. The difference in black and white makes this photo stand out as a monochrome photograph.

#3 Texture

Textures, anything that isn't smooth as a baby's bottom, makes for an interesting three dimensional view. Adding in some play in lighting increases the sense of dimensional. Direct lighting will make your image look flat, while side lighting will bring out textures even better.

(Image: GRexer Lee)
Using "texture" as the concept for the photograph above, the rough textures on the fire hydrant was highlighted when shot in black and white, something we could have missed if this was a colour photograph. (Admittedly, this was a somewhat poorly composed image, but it serves to highlight "textures")

(Image: GRexer Lee)
In this photo above, side lighting (the sun is shining in from the top right corner) is used to bring out the textures on the sides of the Twin Towers, giving it a more dimensional feeling. (Again, it might not have been a very good photo compositional wise, but, it serves to show how side-lighting helps in bringing out "textures")

#4 Get close

According to Aqmal, the Huawei P9/P9 Plus has amazing close focusing capabilities, and one can even go closer, by adding on one of the third party clip-on lenses, or even, make your own pseudo macro lens, out of a laser pointer and a hairpin!

(3 in 1 Clip-on Mobile Phone Lens. Image: AliExpress)
Aqmal is quick to quip that, "There are hidden worlds around us thru macro photography. Close up, and macro photography makes a usually plain subject, into something interesting."
(Image: GRexer Lee)
One of the many photos I took during the photography workshop includes the above, while it might not be a macro shot, I did try to get as close as possible that I can without the macro lens. It does give a different perspective! 
(Image: Aqmal Hadi Shapee)
This is one of Aqmal's own photos, using macro lens to capture the insides of a flower. It provides a different perspective, giving us, perhaps, the view from a bee's world.

#5 Apps

"Apps Is Not A Dirty Word", said Aqmal. Don't be afraid to do a little touch up on your photos, adjust the contrast, tweak the highlights and shadows, and many more. Learn how to use image editing software! There's plenty of free software that we could use, which includes, according to Aqmal's recommendation: Snapseed, Instagram, or Lenka. Lenka is actually a pretty cool camera app that shoots in Black & White too! (All links are for the Android version, for iOS, here are the links for SnapseedInstagram and Lenka.) I personally use Snapseed and Instagram a lot, and, to a certain extent, VSCO (iOS here). You'll be surprised that there's actually a very decent advanced editor on Instagram!

For comparison's sake, here's one of the photos I took during the workshop session, on the top, is the original photo without any tweaks, and, on the bottom, is after some adjustments done in Instagram. Which one do you like better?
(Image: GRexer Lee)
(Image: GRexer Lee)
So, that's about it, all the 5 tips for better monochrome photography. Lastly, Aqmal added that digital photography using smartphones like the Huawei P9 or Huawei P9 Plus, is basically free, as we do not need to pay for each shot (unlike if we shoot in film), and we can always just delete shots that we aren't satisfied with. "Experiment, have fun, try out different styles!" Those were his advice to anyone wanting to improve on their photography using smartphones.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself during the photography workshop, and learnt quite a few things that would hopefully bring my monochrome photography to greater heights. I appreciate Huawei Malaysia's efforts in making available, such workshops to Huawei P9 or P9 Plus users, on how to fully utilise the capabilities of their smartphones.

(All photos featured shot by me were taken using the Huawei P9.)

A big Thank You to:
- Aqmal Hadi Shapee (Facebook | Instagram)
- Huawei Mobile Malaysia (Facebook | Instagram)
- Leica Store Malaysia (Facebook | Instagram)

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