EOS WORLD INFLUENCER: ATHENA TAN

Architecture, portraits, wildlife and landscape – nothing escapes Athena’s lens when she goes travelling. Through her feed, one sees not just the wide scope of the world as she wanders, but also the breadth of images her full-frame cameras have captured.

Athena attended a photo trip, and now she’s hungry to see the rest of the world.

Your travel photography has been an even mix of large-scale landscape shots as well as intimate portraits. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach your photography when travelling?

I like to explore different genres of photography as I get bored pretty easily. I have a bucket list of places I would like to visit and festivals that I would like to experience so I plan my trips so that I get a balance of landscape and street photography.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/5.6 | 1/1000s | ISO 100

Out of the two aspects, which one do you prefer and why?

Personally I prefer street photography because every photo is unique even when shooting together with friends. It is about capturing what one sees and feels and this trip documentation is how I started photography. It is amazing that when I look through my old photos, I can still remember how I feel during those moments.

Landscape photography is bound to a lot of uncertainty, especially the weather. Working adults like me are constrained by limited leave days per year, so for each location I might only have one chance to shoot, be it good or bad conditions.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/5.6 | 1/3000s | ISO 100

Could you tell us a little about which country and trip has inspired you the most and why?

 I would say it is Semporna, Malaysia. It is a place that opened up a whole new world of photography to me.

A few years ago, I read an article about Semporna and was mesmerized by its beauty. The Maldives look-alike with pictures of blue skies, clear waters and happy children made me sign up for the photo trip without second thoughts. This is the first time I joined a photography tour and to somewhere off the beaten track.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.8 | 1/350s | ISO 100

During the trip I started to realize how shallow my knowledge in photography was. I wasn’t able to capture the beauty of the place so I began to ask my fellow photographer friends why my photo looked so different from theirs. That was when I learnt about terms like “crop full-frame camera”, “wide angle lens, “polariser filter”, and how to achieve effects like “sun burst” or achieve bigger range and more vibrant colours.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/16 | 1/750s | ISO 400

What do you find hardest to capture when travelling? And what are some of the challenges?

The hardest element to capture is the essence of the place I travel to – a set of photographs that tell a story. I am a slow shooter so I need more time to feel and observe the place before I can get the shots I want.

Time and weather are always the biggest challenges when I travel. There are so many things to shoot within a short period of time that I have to learn to be less greedy and be selective on what I shoot.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/3.5 | 1/180s | ISO 125

Which camera did you start with and which camera are you using now?

I started with the Canon EOS 350D and currently I am using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IVCanon EOS 5DSR and Canon EOS 70D.

How have you felt, working with the Canon EOS 5DSR?

The Canon EOS 5DSR is a great camera for details. With its high megapixel, I am able to retain details even after cropping. I normally use it for landscape photography and macro photography.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/16 | 1/125s | ISO 400

How did you come to pick the three cameras (Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EOS 5DSR and Canon EOS 70D) for your travel photography? What sets them apart from each other?

I chose these three cameras because they complement each other. When travelling, weight is always an issue. As all 3 cameras share the same of batteries and charger, I can save some weight using the same set.

When I travel, I normally bring two camera bodies, depending on the type of trips I am going. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has a better dynamic range, faster FPS, handles low lights better and has a touch screen. It works well for street photography or action shots.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/4.5 | 1/20s | ISO 1600

The Canon EOS 5DSR has a higher megapixel which allows me to capture more details even after cropping. It works well for landscapes and shots that require fine detail.

The Canon EOS 70D has the additional focal length from its crop sensor. For a photo enthusiast, it’s a cheaper setup than getting a long telephoto lens when I am opting for some wildlife photography.

Canon EOS 70D | F/8 | 1/100s | ISO 800

Why did you start out with a full-frame camera for your travelling photography? Were there any aims in mind that you were seeking to achieve, even when it’s a bulkier camera?

Like most photographers, I outgrow the gear I was using after a period of time. I started to yearn for better image quality, sharpness and creamier bokehs.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.8 | 1/125s | ISO 200

What did you enjoy most about the full-frame experience?

I prefer using full-frame cameras because of their bigger sensor size. It gives better dynamic range, handles low light situation better, and produces better image quality.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/16 | 20s | ISO 100

Given that the camera bodies of full-frames tend to be heavier and bulkier, would you still advise using it for travel, or even for an IG feed?

For now, I will still stick to full-frame camera bodies until I can find a lighter camera setup that is equivalent to what I am using now. For the image quality I don’t mind lugging heavier and bulkier gears.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/4 | 30s | ISO 3200

Would you recommend the Canon EOS 5DSR for beginners?

I wouldn’t recommend the Canon EOS 5DSR or full-frame camera to beginners. It would be good for beginners to find out what their photography needs are before committing to full-frame cameras.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.8 | 25s | ISO 1600

When taking travel photos, are there any guidelines that you observe?

There aren’t any hard and fast rules. Based on my observations, there are some things I try to abide by.

Respect your subject. Always get permission from the people you are going to photograph, even if the person doesn’t speak your language. There is always the universal body language. A simple smile and pointing at your camera can do the job. If the person does not wish to be photographed, then just respect their decision and privacy.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | F/5.6 | 1/750s | ISO 200

Is there anything you will never photograph during your travels?

I personally try not to photograph homeless people, beggars, or when a mother is breastfeeding, even if I envision it to be a good shot. I also do not wish to post photos of people when they are at their lowest point in life.

I try not to give money to the subjects I shoot, especially kids, because personally I do not wish to cultivate begging into a habit. I still remember two incidents during my trip to Semporna.

The first happened when I was roaming in a local village. I saw a little boy (about 2-3 years old) holding a big metal plate eating at the door of an attap house, with rice grains all over his face. I thought he looked cute. I took a picture of him and he said to me, “Give me money.” I was really shocked that at his age that one of the few English words he knew was for asking money.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/11 | 1/125s | ISO 100

Another incident was when a young mother was breastfeeding her kids. When she saw our group of photographers coming towards her, she lifted up her clothes, revealing her breast and started asking us for money.

I felt very sad that with a small amount of money, we could have bought a lady’s dignity. So to date, this is something I refuse to shoot.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/2.8 | 1/250s | ISO 200

What sort of tips will you give for people who would like to explore travel photography and achieve a comprehensive feed like yours? Is this only achievable using full-frame cameras?

When travelling to a new place, my suggestion is to not start shooting immediately. Spend some time walking around and observe what is happening. Observe where the lights are and if there is any interesting composition. While shooting, look out for the light source to experiment shooting with different compositions, angles and framing.

To me it is not always about the camera gear. It is the person behind the camera, their thoughts and observations of a place that produces meaningful photos. Full-frame cameras are just an enhancement to the photos.

Journey the world with Athena through her Instagram feed at @artemiiz.

First published: Canon EOS World

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