In a country that is striking and unspoiled, lavished with uncelebrated treasures, the secret appeal was not the land itself that captivated Vichaya Pop’s interest, but the people who fringe the trails of Thailand. His camera has become a vehicle carrying his vision to his audience, instilling rawness and the overlooked beauty of the people gone unnoticed.
It was Vichaya’s first DSLR that ignited his path to becoming a professional photographer. Excitement and the varieties a subject brings forth is what drove his passion in portrait photography. “Wrinkles, grey hair, children getting messy in the mud, and facial expressions just make me tick. Shooting landscape may be fun for many photographers but the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west, however, people are always different. They do different things in different locations and this is why I love to photograph them.”.
He enjoys taking photos of people in their natural environment with clean or blurred backgrounds, using different camera settings and lighting to make his shots look different than seen with naked eyes. Able to time and compose his photos efficiently, we asked Vichaya Pop his methods and techniques in capturing the perfect portrait.
When choosing a subject, Vichaya likes to find vivid features like strong eyes, facial hair and expressive skin texture. Most important of all, he reveals, the subject must be in good complimentary background. With darker backgrounds being his favourite, he sometimes will find a background he likes and wait for a desirable subject to come into the frame. “The method is a little like fishing. Find a good location and wait for the bite.”
When shooting, Vichaya says background can also be the biggest problem for him with his type of portrait photography. He refuses to take a photo of a subject that has good lighting with a mediocre background. However, with a great background and mediocre lighting, a great shot can be produced with the right camera settings. If he is adamant about taking a photo, he sets his camera to get a dark high-contrast background.
99 percent of Vichaya shots are produced with natural lighting. He imagines what sort of photo he wants to execute then chooses the appropriate angle and time of day. With children, a nice warm early morning seems to work the best for him and with the elderly he prefers to shoot indoors with diffused or window light from the back and above his subject. This makes the subject stand out, delivering a 3D effect. Lighting is his trump card for creating atmosphere, and is the thing that can make or break a picture.
The best way to capture movements in photography Vichaya says, is to have a correct shutter speed and shooting angle. For example, if you click your shutter with a low speed when panning and the subject is perpendicular and right in front of you, this would make the subject appear the fastest. Another technique he uses very often is using a faster shutter speed, capturing what is called “a moment in between”. This method allows a photographer to capture someone crying and make the picture appear as if the person were laughing.
The simplest way Vichaya illustrates his method is by assessing the factors in a frame then adjusting his settings so that he is ready to shoot when someone sparks his interest. “Most of the time I have a AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II attached to my camera and the settings I go to are; picture control, white balance, contrast, saturation, exposure compensation, metering mode, etc. Suppose I am shooting an elder smoking, I start with a middle saturation and decrease the contrast a little as this would give the smoke a nice and soft feel. Setting the white balance to cooler colour also makes the smoke look better”.
When out shooting, Vichaya always brings his AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II with his Nikon D4S as this is the set he uses in 90% of his work. He also carries a NIKKOR 20mm f/2.8 manual lens just in case he has to shoot a wide shot. “I'm just very comfortable, I know it's depth of field and perspective very well, making it very reliable. I never carry any lighting equipment”
Vichaya shoots a lot of candid shots as this, he claims, bestows the most natural portrait. When necessary, he approaches and starts a conversation with his subjects, comforting them so they are at ease with the camera. Another good way is to have a friend talk to them. This gives a very nice and dramatic shot.
• Always adjust your camera settings to suit your shooting situation. Re-adjust as the situation changes.
• Try your best to get the lighting and your focal point to fall at the same point on your subject. This would make your subject stand out against the rest of the shot.
• Try to adjust your camera and your composition so that you get a perfect shot right in your camera. Pretend that you don't own a post processing program. This will not only save time but also produce a more natural result.
• Background is what separates a normal shot from an excellent shot, so choose carefully.
• Keep practicing and experimenting and most important, have fun.
Vichaya Pop is a master of luminscent lighting and striking portraits. Hailing from Bangkok, he captures a wide range of lifestyle imagery that are always rich in culture and allude to an untold story. Always experimental and a hungry traveller, he is currently exploring the further corners of Asia after experiencing being a tourist in his own country.