Alpha Universe Story Detail

Pursuing a reel life with Sony

By Mandy Tay

Many Tay

I was one of the lucky ones who knew what I wanted to do with my life since the age of 15, having taught myself photography 3 years before. Since then, I have been working with images, both still and moving. While the industry has been traditionally male-dominated, I have never felt limited by my gender.

Being a female videographer also opened more doors. It’s definitely a lot easier for a woman to approach female dancers or get a random stranger to smile at the camera. The challenge though, is mainly the physical demands of the gear, which is why the high standards of Sony’s Alpha Mirorrless cameras are perfect for me.

The winning combo of Sony’s camera and lens displays a beautiful bokeh. Subject is in focus, while background is blurred artistically.

Alpha 7S | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/60sec | F1.8 | ISO 800

An unexpected journey

I was 12 when I first started taking photos with a point and shoot automatic camera. By the time I was 15, it was evident to me that moving images would become my life; and it was serendipitous how my path was paved out.

In 2005, I won a prize of a five-day holiday in Hong Kong. Never did I expect to fall in love with the city so much that I extended my stay to four years.

The street’s vibrancy is captured in vivid details by Sony’s Alpha 7S.

Alpha 7S | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/160sec | F1.8 | ISO 800

Just when I was about to leave Hong Kong, Dubai wooed me with the promise of an exciting new life in the Middle East and so, I extended three more years overseas, before finally returning home to Singapore.

As a creative producer, my first language is in visuals, whether still or moving. My portfolio encompasses various genres and clients such as Ikea, Spotify, Deutsche Bank, Ministry of Trade and Industry (Singapore) and more. Besides being an internationally exhibited fine art photographer, I am a trailer producer by trade. Trailers are like one-minute films, where you are the sole producer, director, copywriter and sometimes, even the graphic and sound designer.

Photography vs. Videography

I never had the same responses to a photograph in contrast to the ones I received to my videos. That is the kind of effect you can have in moving visuals - incredibly powerful. Wield the craft well, and it will become a projection of your mind.

While you only get one frame to tell a story in photography, you get 24 more in video per second. Because there’s more time now, you start getting careless. Don’t let that happen. Be on the ball as it’s not just about seconds and minutes. You still have to make every frame count.

Sony’s Alpha 7 III captures the performer impressively under lowlight.

Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/125sec | F1.8 | ISO 2500

For me, photography started out with shooting with an analog camera, almost 12 years before I switched to digital. I remember the first time I shot with a digital camera. It was in Barcelona and I slipped into a trigger-happy frenzy. I had to calm down and tell myself to pretend that I was still shooting on film. To this day, I never shoot more than three shots for each subject. Just like I would with film.

My tips and tricks for videography

Videos are getting more popular and it can be a difficult transition. What I find is that many of us are overwhelmed by the amount of footage we end up with. Stay focused. Here are some other tips if you’re making a move to pursue video creation seriously.

1. One thing I cannot emphasise more is to keep your edit lean. If you have three similar close-ups of the same face and they’re all good, pick one. You have to be ruthless. Be extremely severe with your cuts but generous with your heart. I learned this from my years producing trailers for various TV stations. Even though I worked in different companies in Singapore (Mediacorp and MTV etc), Hong Kong (Fox) and Dubai (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation), the goal was all the same. Distill that one idea from two hours into one minute. To achieve that, you have to be brutal with your material.

2. Capture what matters to you most. Don’t shoot what you think people will like. Authenticity cannot be engineered and people will respond to what is true and heartfelt. So whatever marches to the beat of your heart, play to that drum and if you love your tune, most likely other people will too.

Sony’ Alpha 7 III displays its high AF performance, seen in the shot of the model in mid-air.

Alpha 7 III | FE 35mm F2.8 ZA | 35mm | 1/200sec | F2.8 | ISO 800

3. Putting a good edit together is almost 50% down to the right audio. You have to listen to an extensive amount of music because it will give you a wider spectrum of possibilities. You might synch your shots of Oman to Arabic music, for example. Sometimes this works but what about a completely different genre that lets your viewers experience your story from a fresh perspective?

4. Maybe you’ve found the best angle for a subject already, and it’s difficult to tear yourself from that perfect shot but always try to find another one. It will give the subject a bit more depth.

5. If you can’t put your concept down into one sentence, it’s probably not a good one. It doesn’t have to be life-changing, but having a clear goal clarifies your edit and makes your visual statement pop. It also keeps your footage consistent, sans the irrelevant shots once you have an idea of what you want to achieve at the end.

How I pick my gear

Travelling for months with a backpack means every gram count. My friends know that I look at the weight of any equipment before I check out the price. Sony’s Alpha cameras pack the biggest punch in the mirrorless camera category, while offering the highest standards in image quality.

Sony’s Alpha 7 III and Sonnar T* FE 55mm F/1.8 ZA lens are the only gear I pack when I travel. For editing, I recommend Adobe Premiere that plays back most formats in the same project file flawlessly.

Colours are dramatically vivid and are faithful to how they look in real life in this shot, taken by the Alpha 7 III.

Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/100sec | F1.8 | ISO 1250

Selecting the right gear goes a long way in your work. Find the right setup and you are halfway to shooting better photos and videos. It’s never the most expensive camera that you get or the biggest lens that everyone raves about. In the end, the best camera is the one that you love shooting with. So, pick one that you love having around you. In my case, I picked Sony.

Thriving as a female visual artist

I think being a woman helps with making my subjects feel comfortable, especially the female ones.

Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/30sec | F1.8 | ISO 3200

Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/30sec | F1.8 | ISO 3200

An example points to a recent collaboration with dancers. A friend asked: “Did they pay you?” No, I replied. “Did you pay them?” the friend persisted. I gave the same reply, No, we are just doing the thing that we love, together, at the same time.

When it comes to approaching strangers, it’s a lot easier for a female photographer to break the ice.

One also asked: “How do you get them to smile at your camera?”

I smiled first. That’s how easy it was.

The challenges of being a female videographer though, is mainly the physical demands of the gear. And because I shoot with minimal equipment, Sony is perfect for me.

Sony’s Alpha 7 III is perfect for long travels, thanks to its five-axis stabilisation and impressive performance under lowlight. It’s also powerful enough to excel in both photos and video shoots.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Singapore.

Mandy’s gear

ILCE-7S

Alpha 7S 

ILCE-7S

ILCE-7M3

Alpha 7 III

ILCE-7M3

SEL55F18Z

Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA

SEL55F18Z

SEL35F28Z

Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 ZA

SEL35F28Z