1. In a new environment, don't rush to take pictures.
Don't be a trigger-happy, unthinking robot. Susan Sontag said that we shoot in order to gain a sense of control in an unfamiliar setting, as a way of “ certifying experience... converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” Take a few days to immerse yourself in the new culture, mentally note down potential shots, and then begin shooting. It's not about shooting every single thing you see. You need to be discerning. Think about why you're taking the picture.
2. As Tzang said, photographs should tell a story.
They shouldn't just be pretty pictures. Instead they should carry depth and meaning, and most importantly, make people feel something. Also, remember that less is more.
3. Be assertive
(note: not aggressive) If you want to photograph something, just do it. Stop worrying about what others may think.
4.Your photographs reflect who you are
As Susan Sontag wrote:
“ The photographer was thought to be an acute but non-interfering observer- a scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what's there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world”
And I have found this so telling of the people I've come across. Evelyn's shots of charming cafes and pretty fields bathed in soft light and gorgeous smiles hint at her dreamy and girly personality. Likewise for my senior Ivan Tan, whose photographs are unbearably beautiful, yet there are undercurrents of melancholia across his work. And there's my coursemate who shoots only in film, and regards himself as an "old soul". I don't know why, but I find this so fascinating. Through photography, the essence of people is manifested in tangible form.
5. Step out of your comfort zone and ask strangers for their portraits
People bring your pictures to life. In Bali, I finally mustered my courage to approach strangers, and it was so rewarding to see their flattered and happy expressions as they posed obligingly for the camera. I tried doing that in Singapore, which is so much harder because Singaporeans are naturally reserved and guarded. Also, you should never treat people like specimens, it's just demeaning. This observation by Susan Sontag still haunts me:
“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph something is a sublimated murder- a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”
6. Don't forget to put down your camera
While photography gives an “appearance of participation” (Sontag), it can never be substituted for the real thing. Don't be so obsessed with finding the perfect shot that you forget to live and take in everything around you.
7. And finally, as Tzang once told my class: Be sublime.