#605. The powers of darkness

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jun 09

This is a new very interesting guest post by our now regular contributor Adrian. I think you’ll find the very personal perspective and strong images as profoundly compelling as I do. Thanks for sharing this, Adrian.


Until April 2017 I had not picked up a camera since June 2016, at the end of a period of travelling during a career break. During the previous 12 months I had accumulated about 1.5Tb of files, and was left with the herculean task of selection, post processing and house keeping of whatever hadn’t been dealt with along the way. It all came to an abrupt end as a result of family illness and the need to be primary carer, the post processing dried to an occasional trickle, and holding a camera never even entered my consciousness.

The pain of a particularly stressful period of life, the constant worry about a loved one, and the need to continue to earn took a heavy toll on my enthusiasm for photography. My photography is generally split between very “stock”-like travel imagery, street portraits, and physique sports. The latter is often a catalyst to travel based on competition calendars and the chance to meet friends in the sport, and so it was that on April 2017 I embarked on another contest-driven travel itinerary to south-east Asia.

Outside of competition halls and pre-arranged portrait shoots I rarely picked up my camera. For the first couple of weeks I put this down to jet lag, or being in not particularly interesting places, but by the time that I reached Singapore a couple of weeks into the trip, it was obviously that my “photographic mojo” had left me. I had planned to photograph some more stock in the city, perhaps finding some new locations for good views of the bayside skyline or the gardens by the bay, but I had no enthusiasm. As Paul Perton commented in his earlier article about Singapore, the very humid climate often saps all energy, and even moderate activity turns one into a sweaty sodden mess, which makes the everyday often feel like a huge effort. The weather often wasn’t conducive either. Often it rained and the sky was a white out of cloud, not great for stock photography where the ideal is a clear blue sky or a beautiful sunset. Although there was a certain freedom at not being enslaved to my camera, my lack of motivation started to unnerve me, and making me wonder what would trigger its return.

I had awoken to another morning of rain and a grey white sky, so I abandoned any plans for outdoor photography and decided to walk to Orchard Road, Singapore’s commercial heart. My route took me past the School of the Arts Singapore, a rather angular modern building of concrete and wooden cladding that is open at street level for pedestrians to pass through. Climbing a short staircase from the street brings you to a large open auditorium with a concrete dias as a stage, and more levels above that visitors are free to roam. For some reason I became transfixed by the combination of curves and angles of the interior, and the way the light from outside played across its surfaces, creating shade and tone on its blank walls.


My pre-occupation with symmetry creates a diagonal composition with an exposure intended to just reveal texture in the surfaces.

I was transfixed by the curves of the ceiling and lighting.

Daylight entering the building creates side lighting that highlights textural detail in concrete surfaces.


I find that photography can sometimes bring on a “Zen”-like state where I am engrossed in the act and other preoccupations and concerns ebb away. The effect can be very calming as it is an opportunity to be completely selfish and self-absorbed. I recognised that there were photographs to be taken there, and spent about an hour looking through the viewfinder with my camera set to black and white, letting the angles, curves and tone guide my compositions. It became an exercise in how to make interest from quite spartan views, which encouraged experimentation and new ways to try to compose and expose a scene.


A deliberate dramatic under-exposure revealed a very graphic composition.

This photo used very high ISO but in black and white it poses no issue.

Inspired for the social media trend of “legs or sausages”

Removing colour helps to reveal a graphic composition broken by nature.

Orchard road on a grey afternoon suits high contrast black and white.

It was obvious that this subject needed colour to show it best.

A high contrast high saturation treatment reveals colour in an apparently monochrome image.


By the time I continued on my walk I felt somewhat revitalised by all these curves and lines I had been seeing, and for the next few days I intermittently picked at random architectural details. I’m often drawn to symmetrical compositions, so things with geometric details also tend to draw my attention.


Leaving the colour helps to reveal the translucent quality of the glass façade of a shopping mall.

Removing colour can help to highlight shape and form.

A gentle treatment to reveal subtle colour and tone

Another gentle treatment to reveal the subtlety of light and colour.


During the rest of my time in Singapore the weather continued to be changeable, so I continued to photograph abstract architecture. When the skies are grey, photographing in black and white helps to give a more stark, graphic look to some compositions, and hides a grey sky as a clean white background to show off the subject. Underexposing a little, maybe by 1ev, can reveal texture in cloudy skies, whilst lifting mid-tones and shadows in camera or post production using dynamic range expansion or high dynamic range techniques can recover dark foreground details.


Sculpture to promote an exhibition about sharks, under-exposed to reveal cloud detail and recovered using Sony’s “DRO” (Dynamic Range Optimisation) feature

Singapore’s art deco, gothic “Parkview” building.

Detail of sculpture on the Parkview building.

Recently renovated art deco bar in the foyer of the Parkview building.

Hanging sculpture in Parkview Square.


Most cities in Asia are unencumbered by the same planning laws found in western Europe, and as a result their buildings are often daring and adventurous, since “landmark” buildings command higher prices for apartments and office space. Just behind the “Parkview” building, a particularly striking art deco skyscraper clad in a combination of bronze and brown marble, Singapore has a new pair of condominiums whose surface looks like honeycomb. Both curved towers are asymmetric and fascinated me with projections from their upper flanks that made them look like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The shock and awe of their appearance up close also triggered another period of Zen-like photographic fascination and experimentation. An ultra wide-angle lens is a useful tool, not just because it is possible to “cram it all in” (the frame), but also to create drama or confusion with the unique viewpoint and perspective that such lenses create. A black and white treatment doesn’t always work with a scene that is already quite monochrome, and I found some photographs originally taken in black and white were more flattered by a colour treatment. In some cases both colour versions and black and white versions with a colour filter treatment work, but give a very different effect and atmosphere to the same picture, and neither is “better”, merely different.


An ultra wide angle lens and looking up creates a dramatic point of view.

Another photo of the same sequence, processed to reveal the subtle colour and tone of the glass and steel.

A wide angle of view and reflections in a stainless steel sculpture create an impossible composition.

An alternative photo of the same subject, processed in colour to reveal a warmer look.


I continued to photograph occasional abstract architectural images, as when I concentrate on particular subjects or types of photograph, I find it becomes easier to find and “see” suitable subjects and compositions. As my visit to Singapore came to an end, I had still only photographed the bayside area once, but I had been encouraged to visit Singapore’s “Fountain of Wealth”, said to be the largest fountain in the world, and photographed the roof line of a new office, hotel and restaurant complex opposite the Raffle’s hotel.


The strong clean sunlight near the equator brings out colours and architectural details

Roofline of an unknown shopping mall near a competition venue, processed to reveal the rich colours of each section of the roof.

An abstract of the roof of the Esplanade concert hall in the late afternoon light.

A clichéd scene of Singapore’s bayside skyline, post processed “to taste” to reveal the colours captured by the camera in ways the eye rarely sees.

Spiral staircase to access the Fountain of Wealth, situated in the middle of a traffic island.

Fountain of Wealth. A sensor with wide dynamic range allows night-time exposures with extreme contrast to be captured, with a dodge and burn or HDR treatment to reveal both highlight and shadow detail. Long exposures on a tripod tend to exaggerate colours in a way that the eye can never see.

Sony cameras feature a “sweep panorama” feature, where the camera takes many exposures as you sweep the camera, stitching the result in camera into a panoramic jpeg. With careful but deliberate misuse, it is possible to create “digital” effects without software.


I don’t regard myself as an architectural photographer, and make no claims about the artistic merit of my photographs. However, I did discover a certain satisfaction from spending time exploring some of these unfamiliar subjects, and it helped me to realise that the “process” of photography is often as enjoyable as looking at the result, because it becomes more than merely a means to an end. It didn’t cure my photographic dry spell, but it did give me confidence that my interest is still there when it is stimulated appropriately. I would encourage anyone to try to find a way to see new things in new ways when they are struggling with inspiration, as it may prove to be an opportunity to grow artistically.

I close this item with a photograph of a building to commemorate the Singapore volunteers corp., who lost their lives in campaigns in Malasya and in POW camps:

“They fought not in enmity against men but against powers of darkness enslaving souls of men.”


A moody black and white treatment for this old building, now surrounded by a new hotel and office complex, brought out the drama of the point of view and the start contrast between the two architectural styles.


The photographs in this article were taken with a Sony E mount cameras and lenses, and post processed to taste using Ichikawa Software’s “SilkyPix Pro v8” or Sony’s own “Image Data Converter”.


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  • Percy Seaton-Smythe says:

    Going deeper, seeking out order and beauty…well done

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Fascinating photos, Adrian – what a blow to photography, having you sidelined for so long!

    I love Singapore, but then before I moved to Perth (Western Australia) I spent a few years living in the tropics, so I don’t have a problem with the Singapore’s climate – I’m quite acclimatised to it. Of course you have to dress for the climate – but we all do that anyway, no matter where we are. For those who are domiciled in colder climes, it takes several months to get used to the humidity (and the heat too, I guess).

    I am fascinated by the bar in the foyer of the Parkview building – how do they manage to get to the bottles on the top shelf? – go up the stairs to the landing at the foot of that towering display cabinet, and stand on each others’ shoulders, like a team of acrobats?

    You mention in your caption to the “clichéd” bayside shot of Singapore “the colours captured by the camera in ways the eye rarely sees”. The eye sees them, of course – but unlike the camera, the eye adjusts to them. You CAN still see them, if you concentrate on doing so – the camera on the other hand WILL see them, regardless, and in any case our mechanisms for controlling our inbuilt “adjustment” aren’t 100%. This is a minefield, but it is the area where we are encouraged to “study light”. In doing that, we see all sorts of opportunities which were hitherto masked by our auto-adjustment human eyesight – generally discovering when we see the result that the colours were even more vivid, garish, strange or whatever than we realised at the time.

    But of course as your photos clearly demonstrate, you’ve been studying light for years, so that’s not going to be “news” to you! You actually weave similar comments into the captions to various photos in this selection – where you underline the reasons for switching to B&W, or the need for colour in a particular shot, or the “clichéd” shot itself.

    Thanks for sharing them – and my sympathies and best wishes in relation to the matters you mention in your opening paragraphs.

    • Adrian says:

      Pete, I have travelled extensively in South East Asia, but find the humidity in Singapore much higher which makes everything such hard work. I’ve been in Thailand in April during Thai new year when it had been 44 degrees Celsius, which was unbearably hot, but not as humid. I find the climate of Penang, Malaysia, is similar to Singapore due to it’s grinding humidity. It’s probably not helped by me doing everything at the pace of a London commuter!

      The “Atlas” bar at the Parkview building is now a gin bar, so the ceiling height cabinet is filled with bottles of gin. It is actually a wine chiller, and I was told that before renovation last year when a customer asked for a bottle a waitress used a wire system to “fly” and get the bottle! Customers can access the balcony above the bar by request, and it gave an excellent view of the while foyer in all its splendour. As a coffee costs the same as at a nasty plastic American chain it is we’ll worth a visit just for the opulence. The building was completed about 20 years ago.

      I read some time ago that digital sensors react to colour differently to film or the human eye during long exposures. Sony cameras also offer 2 other features which can greatly affect the way night scenes are rendered. Dynamic Range Optimisation, a feature to manage dynamic range by applying localised luminance adjustments (effectively a type of tone making) to dodge shadows and burn in highlights. It can greatly exaggerate light and colour – I photographed thr fountain of wealth that way, but showed a raw file developed to taste here as I thought the Sony DRO version was too unreal and exaggerated for Dear Susan’s delicate readership! The other in camera technique is to use Sony’s “smooth reflections” app, which simulates ultra long exposures by taking a large number of exposures and meeting them into a singe raw. As well as smoothing water etc it has a noticeable effect on how things like reflections are rendered, making the colours more dramatic. DRO can be combined with the “smooth reflections” app.

      My comment about the bayside view being “cliched” was partly because that particular viewpoint is very common, and that I have shown similar photos previously at Dear Susan. The photograph certainly isn’t what the eye will see directly, as in camera settings or post processing will bring out light and colour that the eye doesn’t directly see. I understand your point that our eyes automatically adjust things sober don’t perceive them. I know that at certain times of day with certain settings or post processing certain results can be achieved, although it does vary by location I assume.because longitude affects the position of the sun and therefore the light (in the same way that light in UK, Japan and USA all look different).

      Thank you for your kind comments about my pictures. I tend not to consciously realise that I “understand” light in many situations, although I have rules or approaches that I know “work” or give certain effects in certain situations – which of course is an understanding, it’s just I don’t think of it that way!

      Thanks also for your wishes.

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