I’ve shot photojournalistic portraits for nearly a decade now—mostly on film because I love the soft yet gritty qualities of grain, and I’m often asked this question “How do I shoot better portraits?”

And my answer has always been this: Start by photographing the people you love. The first day you pick up your camera, observe how these people react. Some will gravitate towards your lens in sheer excitement, happily posing away, while others shy away from the attention, wanting nothing to do with your new hobby. Eitherway, they already know that they’ll be your muse in some way or another.

While shooting portraits of complete strangers in the guise of street photography is a whole other realm, I’m a big advocate of photographing people around you as a start. Especially if you’re new to it all.

The people you love are hopefully the ones you spend most of your time with, if not live with. That’s why you probably know their mannerisms and quirks, allowing you to capture them at moments that truly reveal who they are as a person.

Observe the times where they seem to be most at ease and comfortable, whether it’s when they’re completely absorbed in a book or when they’re deep in thoughts. Or perhaps, it’s when they’re overwhelmed by painful emotions theyre struggling to hide or bursting at the seams with happiness,

Endeavour to know every contour of their mien, every movement of their limb, and the way the light falls on them. Follow the way their faces change as they speak, the manner in which their hair falls, and the softness of their expressions.

My favourite portraits are of my late grandpa, whom I’ve lived with since I was a child. For some reason, it never really occured to me to take photos of him, except on ocassions like birthdays and Lunar New Year. And then he fell ill, leaving me suddenly aware of his mortality—things you never cared about as a child.

That’s when I started taking photos of him, on a day-to-day basis with an unobstructive point-and-shoot film camera. At the ripe old age of 93, he was getting progressively frailer but maintained a staunch sense of independence.

When heading out, his outfit of choice was a collared shirt, layered over a white singlet and a pair of black pants. At home, he loved lounging in his standard drawstring pyjamas pants.
Something I never knew then: my late grandpa’s swollen ankles were a result of excess fluid build-up, a precursor of his eventual lung infection.
He had some funny habits that I loved teasing him about, like the insistence of showering with a towel and tub of water (the old-school method, he said), instead of using the shower head.
His strong sense of independence meant that he’d insist on dressing himself up, even in his last days.
He liked to attribute his ripe old age to a daily diet of rice, vegetables, and little meat. Not forgetting, a full glass of warm water each morning.
I’d sit across him, telling him about my day.
His bed was surrounded by framed photos of his loved ones.

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