[EVENT] My Neighbourhood Gems – A Photography Journey

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

There’s always something new to learn from each photographer and that’s why I enjoy listening to photography pros as they share their experiences and thought processes. Last Saturday, I went for MY NEIGHBOURHOOD GEMS! – A Photography Journey conducted by the People’s Association (PA) Lifestyle Masters Series by the PMET Division and had the opportunity to learn from two professionals – John Arifin and Joseph Goh.


534767_400276339996086_1697638911_nServing the purpose of connecting people with a passion for photography, the event was an integrated community bonding effort with expert sharing, networking and also a photo competition. Held at Buona Vista CC, participants were given a three-hour window to go around the neighbourhood and capture what they think best portray the estate – in essence, searching for gems in the neighbourhood. Every day we walk through our neighbourhood but in the midst of our busy lives, we often overlook the hidden gems it holds.



Born in Indonesia, John Arifin has been living in Singapore the last 30 years and he is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator who travels across Asia. John contributes photographs to various regional magazines such as Asian Geographic, Asian Photography, Nature Watch, Asian Escape, Birds Australia – Wingspan, and Spa Asia. Highly passionate about his work, he regularly conducts photography courses and workshops in Singapore and has over 20 years of experience in coaching and guiding photographers to reach their potential.

DSC_8412A common question that John often gets asked is: “Oh, you’re a photographer? Where’s your studio?” That’s the typical mindset that many people have of photographers. But for John, who specialises in nature and wildlife photography (think birds, mountains, rainforests and TIGERS!), his studio is anywhere under the sun, anywhere in the outdoors. He really enjoys sharing through his photos and is keen in places, people, cultures, as well as using photo tourism to promote places or causes to people.


What is his main goal in all the photos he takes? To stop people from flipping the magazine – that means taking stunning photos that will make them stop at that page (or stop scrolling down in the case of a website) and look at your photo longer.


Some valuable tips from John’s session:


1. Be patient and wait for the right moment

Sometimes it takes a long time to get the shot you want, but other times it just happens in front of you just like that. Photography can be both predictable and unpredictable at the same time, so it is important to know what you want and get what you want. Therefore, you need patience and well, a bit of luck too.


2. Photography is a journey, not a destination.

Visiting a place once is never enough to know it well. You will miss out details the first time. Even for our own neighbourhoods where some of us have lived for decades, there are still things about it which you don’t realise. Photography gives us the opportunity to visit places and bring awareness of it to others, eg. Photo tourism.


3. The joys of photography:

  • The journey
  • Places
  • People
  • Widens our horizons
  • Friendship
  • Sharing the love (Bringing people of the same love together and connecting them)

525926_400276193329434_312558588767862_1318192_1100562350_n4. Photography creates unity in the midst of diversity.

It has this special way of connecting people together. It doesn’t matter what background you have – we can have different jobs, different cultures and be of different age groups, but when it comes to photography we all speak a common language. For example, “What camera do you use? What lens do you have?”


5. Photography is not about winning photo competitions or awards, not about having the best cameras, not about getting certifications, but about capturing moments and sharing with others.

543279_400276803329373_312558588767862_1318210_537809256_n6. The world is our studio with the camera in your hands.

There is so much to learn and share – Make the most out of your mistakes, master your camera.



An instructor for Canon Singapore, Joseph Goh is an international award-winning photographer who fell in love with photography the moment he laid his hands on his first camera. Within a year, his images have won him awards in international photography competitions and were featured in various publications and photography exhibitions. With great passion for photography, he continuously seeks for excellence in his skills by attending various wedding workshops held by master photographers from various parts of the world.

577255_400276256662761_312558588767862_1318194_1198043205_nFor Joseph, it is about creativity through lens and he always tries to look at things different from others and look for unique angles. He only picked up photography 3.5 years back and got his first DSLR in 2008, but it’s never too late and he set goals for himself to achieve what he wants. For example, he worked hard last year to attain his qualification as Associate Master Photographer and also received accolades from The Master Photographers Association (UK) and International Photography Awards (US).


Some valuable tips from Joseph:


1. Explore perspectives – The Worm, The Man and The Bird

The Worm: Shooting from low ground and creating more depth and more dimension in photos

The Man: Most common angle of shooting straight-on, but it does not mean boring as composition comes into play (framing, rules of thirds, leading lines etc.)

The Bird: Basically bird’s eye view where more details and activities can be seen


2. Using of lights and shadows

Light creates shadows and shadows in return enhance appearance of the subject. Make use of lights and shadows to create contrast, transform subjects into silhouettes and add interesting details to your pictures. Shadows help to make flat images have a more 3D look.


3. Remembering lines and patterns

These are important elements in composition as it gives perspective to the photo. Lines can direct the viewer’s eyes and attention to the main point of the picture and also create illusion of depth in your photo.


4. Implementing motions and actions

Motion blur in pictures give a sense of speed and emphasises action of subject. Select longer shutter speed or do panning. Remember to compensate for longer shutter speed when there is too much light – use smaller aperture to decrease light, decrease ISO and use ND filter (built-in or external).


5. To capture moments, anticipate or plot.

Have an art direction in mind and anticipate moment. You can also trigger your subject’s emotions and communicate with them to make them feel comfortable with you. Another method is also to plot moments. For example, if you have an interesting concept, get help from people and use props to portray what you are trying to express.


6. Create a sense of depth in your photos

Some ways to make your 2D picture look 3D include having a foreground interest, changing conception of composition and use leading lines or change to a bigger aperture. If there is backlight, feed some flash.



It was fresh after a heavy downpour and the atmosphere of Buona Vista that day was a little dreary but as Joseph put it, there is no good or bad time for photography. Wet weather conditions mean having many puddles of water, making it a good time to find reflections for your photos. Prior to the event, Joseph went around Buona Vista with the Canon G1X and did a collection of photos (view them here).


Judging criteria:

  • Skills (exposure/sharpness)
  • Creativity (composition/motion blur/lighting)
  • Relevance to theme

Both John and Joseph were the judges, along with Justin Ng, another local professional photographer. Participants were given three hours to go out and shoot…

527421_400276619996058_312558588767862_1318205_1354919853_n578853_400276493329404_1558935729_nDSC_8599… then return before the cut-off time to submit one photo straight from their SD card.

574640_400277023329351_312558588767862_1318215_45173739_nOf the 200-strong audience, 85 entries were submitted and these are the top 3 winners:


1st – Benson Lin 

IT manager in a bank, shooting since 2008

“This was actually the very first shot I took. I went downstairs and it was still drizzling when I saw this family so I stopped them to get the shot. I’m here to support my friends and not so much to win, so I’m very surprised. Joseph had a lot of ideas and it’s true that it is not so much of the technicalities but the creative side that differentiates shots.”

Benson_LinBenson wins for himself a Canon Powershot G1X (worth S$999) and  S$888 cash.


Judges’ comments:

Justin – “There were a lot of reflection shots, which is good because it meant everyone listened to the speakers and took their advice. But we were also looking for a moment, a moment to represent this neighbourhood. It is very obvious that the ‘gem’ in this photo is the little girl in the pram, as her parents brave the rain to protect her and shield her from the rain. Also, despite the damp spirit of the weather, the parents still maintain a cheerful upbeat and you can also see that the kid is happy. Although you cannot see the face, you can see it in the action and how the kid is trying to lift the cover.”



2nd – Faizal Nordin

OBS instructor, attained DSLR last year to capture shots of family on weekends

“I’ve never taken photos using reflections before and I wanted to try it after listening to the speakers who suggested making use of the wet weather opportunity to shoot using reflections. I came for this event because of the talk as I wanted to learn more from the pros. The competition was more of just a chance to take photos and getting a prize was completely unexpected.”

Faizal_Bin_NordinFaizal wins a Canon Powershot SX230 HS (worth S$449) and S$588 cash.

563356_400278453329208_312558588767862_1318235_1208327263_nJudges’ comments:

John – “There were a couple of entries that had the cemeteries contrasting the HDB blocks, but this one stood out and made me stop to look at it again. Cemeteries are typically spooky but he didn’t have any of that in his photo. Also, the use of reverse reflection was very clever.”



3rd – Lim Kiat Guan, Art

Photography trainer for Canon EOS programme

“The theme of the contest is ‘My Neighbourhood Gems’ so I took the literal meaning of ‘gem’ and used my iPad I casing that has this diamond pattern. I’ve always had a strong passion and interest in the arts (hence my name) and so I had this artistic concept in mind. I knew I wanted to use this iPad casing but how and where I had to find out during the contest.”

Lim_Kiat_Guan_ArtArt takes home a Canon Powershot SX230 HS (worth S$449) and S$388 cash.

403484_400278393329214_312558588767862_1318234_335916390_n522834_400277359995984_312558588767862_1318226_1348322952_nJudges’ comments:

Joseph – “This photo tells a story; on the right are the HDB blocks and on the left is Holland Village. Having explored the place and taken my own shots of the estate, I was wondering how he got this shot and I like the multiple pattern – very artistic!”


You can see the rest of the entries here.


There was also a special category, the Mazda Personality Photo Contest, where participants had to make their way down to the Mazda showroom at Alexandra Road during the same 3-hour window.

538490_400276679996052_312558588767862_1318207_168183834_nThe winning photo was by Lim Wiratmono, who won a Canon Powershot SX230 HS (worth S$449) for this shot:


There were also 5 consolation prizes who went to Flona Hakim, Lee Kia Jiam, Wong Hock Weng, Yang Caifeng, Teo Ngee Chye, Lakhi Baug; each taking home S$200 worth of Cathay Photo vouchers. See all the winning photos here.

562254_399779236712463_312558588767862_1317543_74460466_nMG (NS) Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, and Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, came down in the evening after the competition closed. As a Buona Vista resident himself, he was very impressed by the submissions and how the photos capture the estate well, especially when most of the participants are not from this neighbourhood. It does help if you know the place well, but it is also interesting to see how non-residents perceive this estate.

DSC_9447Minister Chan said, “This is a simple event with deep meaning. Beyond taking part in the photo contest, there is also the chance to meet new people, different people from different communities, which is the PA’s mission to connect people. Many are natural photographers, some are professionals with established portfolios, but it doesn’t matter because we are all here to share, all here with a common desire to inspire knowledge and use this platform for both learning and also sharing of frustrations. The photo submissions are wonderful and showed how much potential this event has in bringing the community together. Welcome to Buona Vista!”


Closing words from Joseph, who is addressing such a huge crowd for the first time (he usually conducts classes of about 20): “The response for this event was very good and I like the spirit. Photography is not about the gears you are holding, but about the creativity. Most of the time when we look at photos, we can’t tell what camera was used. I encourage people to take part in more competitions to get the experience and the exposure, at the same time developing your skills and also getting the chance to learn from others on a greater level.”


I didn’t take part in the contest as I was there to cover the event, but I went out for a while and you can see some humble shots of mine here. Still, I had a good time catching up with old friends, making new friends and learning something new about photography all the time. Photography is an ongoing learning process…


Thank you PMET Network for putting together this great event along with sponsors Canon, Cathay Photo, Mazda, Serenity. I hope this series moves into other neighbourhoods! 




For more photos of the event, view here.

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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