Photography Technique

What top photographers keep in mind when shooting

Born in Mauritius, originally of Chinese descent, and French by nationality, Daniel aims to perfect the technique of Digital Blending.

Photographer Daniel Cheong says he enjoyed taking pictures ever since her was a child. A former resident of the UAE, ‘Dubai,’ he says, ‘is an ideal city to shoot cityscapes.’ He specialises in capturing stunning landscapes, cityscapes, and architectural images and has won numerous awards for his work and is widely recognized as one of the leading photographers in his field.

Daniel will be showcasing his latest collection of photographs at the Xposure International Photography Festival from February 9 – 15, where he creates digital composites featuring futuristic and “cyberpunk” aesthetics which he hopes will inspire directors of photography and enthral creative professionals. He will also be giving talks and workshops on his approach to photography and his creative process as well as having a book signing for his work ‘Dubai Ambition and Inspiration’.

Excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to take up photography?

I have enjoyed taking photos ever since I was a child. When I bought my first DSLR in 2006, my simple hobby became a passion and I started taking it more seriously. I have always been interested in architecture, so cityscapes were my favourite subject to shoot. I moved to Dubai in 2008 – an ideal city to shoot architecture and cityscapes. After losing my job as a software engineer in 2015 I decided to pursue photography full time, and ended up doing a lot of commercial work. In 2018, I decided to become a “nomadic photographer” and started to travel the world. I recently relocated to China.

How has your career in software engineering influenced your work as a photographer?

Software Engineering has influenced my work a lot. Since I am passionate about technology, the post processing of my photos is a major part of my photography workflow. I am always interested in using the latest software for post processing, and recently I have started creating a lot of futuristic image composites using my own cityscape images.

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Early morning in a traditional Indonesian kitchen
Image Credit: Daniel Cheong

What makes shooting in Dubai unique?

The variety and beauty of its eclectic architecture, the amazing skyscrapers, and the beauty of this futuristic city in the fog, which happens a few times per year. Also something quite important is to always feel safe carrying expensive equipment at any time of the day and night, which is not the case in many big cities I have shot.

What are the challenges when shooting landscapes?

First, finding the best location is crucial. As for shooting landscapes, you always have to plan carefully in advance to get the best location and light. The weather is another major challenge. Sometimes you have to return to the same location a few times before you get the perfect shot.

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Part of Dubai enveloped by fog
Image Credit: Daniel Cheong

One picture you consider your best.

A shot of Dubai in the fog, shot at the ‘morning blue hour’. It has a science fiction feel, like a city from another planet. It was one of my first shots in the fog and was published on many platforms worldwide.

5 tips for aspiring photographers.

Shoot what you like, and not what you think your audience will like; don’t try to shoot too many genres, focus on a genre you prefer the most and put all your energy/skills into developing and improving it; find your own style which can then be easily recognized when someone sees your photo; get inspired by other photographers without trying to copy them; and, always keep learning.

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Cyberpunk composite with street/buildings from Hong Kong shot at different locations
Image Credit: Daniel Cheong

What themes are you excited to explore?

I was invited to Xposure 2023 to present my ‘cyberpunk’ image composites, which are inspired by sci-fi movies. So for the past 2 years I have been creating those futuristic imaginary cityscapes using images I took in many cities, including Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.

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Children working on carpet and silk looms in India
Image Credit: Jodi Cobb

Jodi Cobb

An explorer who has worked in more than 65 countries, Jodi was the first woman to be named White House Photographer of the Year. One of her photographs is on the Voyager Spacecraft, out in the universe forever

Jodi Cobb was one of the first photographers to enter China when it reopened to the outside world after decades of isolation, traveling 7000 miles from Beijing to the borders of Burma and Vietnam.

She was also the first photographer given permission to photograph the women of Saudi Arabia, and the first to be welcomed into the secret and exclusive society of Japan’s iconic geisha for a ground-breaking book on their beautiful but often difficult lives, showing for the first time the reality behind their perfect white makeup.

Jodi will be showcasing her latest collection of photographs at the Xposure International Photography Festival where she’ll be exhibiting the documented vanishing culture of the fabled female consorts. She will be having a book signing session for her book, Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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Geisha Backstage, Tokyo. A geisha waits in the wings during a dance performance in Tokyo
Image Credit: Jodi Cobb

Excerpts from an interview:

What inspired you to choose photography as a career?

My father was an executive for an American oil company, and we travelled extensively for his career. By the time I was 12, I’d been around the world twice and visited 15 countries, including living in Iran for five years, and I loved every minute of it. I wanted a career that would keep me out in that world where I felt most at home. Journalism became my passport, and then photography became my language.

I then saw the role that photography played in affecting world events, like ending the war in Vietnam, and somewhere along the line decided I wanted to change the world. That turned out to be a little harder than I thought it would be.

How did being the first female field photographer at The National Geographic help you grow in your career?

I felt I had to constantly prove that I could do all the things the men could do, and that expanded my interests and skills – pushing me far beyond my comfort zones – and often made me painfully aware of the things I didn’t want to do. It took a while to find my own voice and specialize in the things I loved to explore and was uniquely qualified for– the lives of women and the issues they faced in their own cultures– not just landscapes, wildlife and adventure.

What are some challenges you faced as a photographer?

Everyday is a challenge on assignment. There are the usual dangers and discomforts (I’ve been shot at, lost at sea…), but the biggest problem is that being told “no” is usually the default starting point in trying to photograph the things that interest me the most. Recalcitrant government officials, restrictions on photography, a bias against women, gaining access to remote cultures… all require a huge amount of research, planning and persuasion to convince others to let you into their lives.

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A geisha is made up for her dance performance in Tokyo
Image Credit: Jodi Cobb

What are the essential skills aspiring photographers must work upon to get the perfect picture?

Knowing what the story is that you want to tell. Whether portraits, landscapes, cultural explorations or conflict and crisis– it’s still a journalistic process. What is the narrative? What is your point of view? How can you do it differently from other photographers? What can you bring to the story?

Your favourite photograph?

The year-long project on human trafficking around the world (21st Century Slaves). It was dangerous, heartbreaking, and impossible to photograph. It challenged everything I thought I knew. However, it was an under-reported story when I did it, and I felt I was helping – maybe in a small way, but 40 million people saw the work and it got the biggest response in National Geographic’s history until then. So many people responded in so many ways, and I felt I had made a difference somehow –something that I got into photography to try to do.

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Venice Carnival. Participants at the annual carnival live out their fantasies in the Café Florian in Piazza San Marco.
Image Credit: Jodi Cobb

5 tips for aspiring photographers.

Besides learning the obvious technical skills, learn how to run a business, and how to promote it. There are no staff jobs for photographers anymore. You will be on your own and you should be able to manage it well– or find the people who will. Create a team.

Study the history of photography as well as the work of your contemporaries. Not to imitate other photographers, but to be inspired and know what came before.

Find – or create – your own vision, your own voice. What you love, what you hate, what you want to change and what you want to celebrate. The things that will sustain you through your whole career.

Find a mentor and a community. Find the people who will take a personal interest in your work. Workshops and photography festivals like Xposure are a great way to meet those people.

Be nice. People like to work with people who make life easier for them somehow, not more difficult.

Jodi Cobb will be featuring her exhibition ‘An Intimate Vision’, a book signing for Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art at Xposure International Photography Festival February 9-15

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