That’s two dashes, then one, then three. That’s Aaron Lai aka @__mr_black___ for you, who fills his popular feed with candid shots of his family, events and the occasional camera and timepiece. Find out what makes him tick and click.
EOS World Influencer Aaron Lai
Aaron is big on expression. He uses photography to break away from his work and has gained many fans.
While many focus on popular Instagram topics like architecture, food and fashion, your feed of your family, timepieces and cameras have gathered quite a following! Why do you think this is so?
When I first started out on Instagram, I had no expectations. I just wanted an avenue to share images and express myself artistically. The feed serves as my personal expression space and my views of the world around me, so I did not want to limit myself to a particular photography genre. This also gives me more flexibility to shoot what I want, as opportunities are limited due to my full-time job and family responsibilities.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/1.2 | 1/500s | ISO 400
I learnt a little about hash-tagging, and quickly saw that Instagram would be a nice way to get in touch with others of common interest; not necessarily only photographers. I shared images of my family, and things that interested me during my humble beginnings, and as the months passed, my number of followers began growing slowly.
The profile of my followers ranges quite widely. I have attracted both professional photographers and enthusiasts, to the everyday person. I have also noticed timepiece and camera gear-focused IG sites following me.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2 | 1/640s | ISO 800
If I had to guess why I gained the privilege of counting them as my followers… perhaps they liked the content I was offering to them, and also the DSLR-quality images. I do want the images I curate online to be the best quality I can offer, in line with my perfectionistic tendencies.
Additionally, perhaps they appreciate my unique brand of humour. I try to liven things up by posting funny captions to go along with each image, so perhaps this combination keeps the followers sticking around.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/1.2 | 1/400s | ISO 800
Take us through a little of your process when taking, editing and selecting final photos for your feed.
Everything starts from inspiration.
I am inspired by things around me and I try to capture and translate the emotions I feel into the pictures I take. For this purpose, I purchased a small Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens and paired it with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III to make it my everyday camera. Sometimes to switch things up when I feel a little stagnant, I mount a different lens and force myself to take images from that perspective.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/4 | 1/400s | ISO 100
As I am constrained by time, I currently do not edit my images on my desktop – I use the iPad Pro. A cable quickly transfers the images from my camera to the tablet and my editing process begins. I choose from a collection of three to four editing apps to translate the raw photo to the final product. When I upgrade my 6-year-old desktop computer in the near future, I will challenge myself by exploring more deeply into modern photo editing softwares.
There are no hard and fast rules for my Instagram feed. Other than selecting those images that I feel are worth uploading, I will also pick in accordance to my mood at that moment.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/1.2 | 1/160s | ISO 6400
Given that you take a lot of pictures of your family, how and why do you pick the ones that make it online?
The primary purpose of my photography is to capture memories of my family so I will have something to refer to in my later years.
Sometimes my children do things that I feel are funny. Other times, I capture a specific emotion or action that they are doing and think it’s worth sharing. This, coupled with other technical aspects like composition, background, colour, etc., will determine the images that get uploaded.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2.8 | 1/400s | ISO 1600
How has your family reacted to your photography habits when it comes to taking their pictures?
They have been exceedingly patient with me. I do not have them pose as I prefer to capture their candid moments. I believe this makes the emotions that I capture genuine, which appeals to me.
There are times I will ask them to pose when I feel the environment is suitable, but by and large, I do my best to not infringe upon their personal space. This has helped to create an environment where they are comfortable with my camera.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/1.6 | 1/125s | ISO 500
We understand you include the EOS-1D X Mark II & EOS 5D Mark III within your choice of photography camera bodies. How did you arrive at picking these models for your use?
For Full Frame (FF) cameras, I started with the Canon EOS 6D, before getting the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. A certain part of me was curious about the Canon EOS-1D X. Why was it so expensive at $9000, especially when it “only” had 18.1 megapixels as compared to the cheaper but higher MP Canon EOS 5D Mark III?
So I read up online on the features and also watched Youtube video reviews of photographers who have used the Canon EOS-1D X, especially Scott Kelby who gushed effusively about it. I think as photographers, we naturally gravitate towards beauty. I am no different, and there was something about the beautiful form of the Canon EOS 1D X’s body, like the smooth curves and perfect proportions, that called out to me like a siren. Scott Kelby mentioned that the “Canon EOS 1D X felt like it was made by Apple”. The inference was that the usability, feature-set and functionality were all beautifully weaved into that Canon EOS 1D-body. This resonated with me.
So when the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II was announced, I dropped by Canon’s Customer Service Centre to play with it. I loved it at first touch and purchased it when it was released. I loved it so much that soon after, I purchased my second Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/1.2 | 1/8000s | ISO 1250
I have about 6 L lenses from Canon, and my favourites are my Canon EF200mm f/2L IS USM and Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM lenses. For my style and vision, I have found it to be very satisfying to have these two lenses mounted on each of my 1D X Mark IIs as I go for shoots.
With two apex bodies from Canon, I initially felt there was no longer any use for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, so I sold it off. Soon after, I felt that I wanted to “up” my Instagram feed and only post DSLR-quality images, so I explored around and dabbled in other non-full-frame camera systems. Sadly, all of them left me painfully unimpressed. The Canon EOS 1D X was also impractical for daily use so another option was needed.
Thankfully I reacquired the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and since then, it has served me faithfully and I have no intention of selling it again.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/1.2 | 1/2000s | ISO 1250
How have you found the experience of using them so far?
My experience with my Canon EOS 1DXes have been nothing short of magical and satisfying. I love its images, reassuring heft, and they continue to satisfy me greatly. I thoroughly enjoy using them both – the twins, I call them.
Recently, I went on a holiday with my family and brought the Canon EOS-1D X and Canon EOS 5D Mark III with me on that trip. It was my first overseas trip with my children, and I wanted to explore my photographic habits and preferences when travelling.
Interestingly, I found that I gravitated toward the lighter Canon EOS 5D Mark III. This further convinced me that different camera systems exist for different situations, so I am pleased that my Canon EOS 5D Mark III will continue to have a role in my gear bag.
Canon EOS-1D X | F/4 | 1/400s | ISO 100
How do they differ from each other and what do you use them for?
I have been invited to shoot for different organisations. For these “serious” shoots, I want to provide the best images to them. As such, I pull out both my Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. I know my L lenses will give me the best images.
For more general, day-to- day shooting, I mix and match my Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Canon EOS 5D Mark III, depending on the situation. When I go to nicer places, I definitely bring the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2 | 1/1000s | ISO 125
Most often, either the Canon EF50mm f/1.2L USM or the Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM will be mounted on it. Recently, I have begun wishing for a wider perspective so I will be getting the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L II USM lens very soon. I tend to prefer shooting with primes.
Given that they have bulkier bodies, why do you use full frame cameras for social media?
I am a perfectionist and always want the best. This extends to my social media feed, so naturally I only upload my best images. For me it’s all about the final picture, so if it involves being “burdened” by a heavier body in exchange for better images, then I am more than happy to make the trade.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2.8 | 1/200s | ISO 640
What sort of qualities do you find full frame cameras bring that standard DSLR ones can’t?
For one thing, the bigger sensors and pixels on an full-frame camera allow the capture of more light. This in turn directly impacts image quality. Full-frame cameras also provide clearer and brighter viewfinders, and with their 100% field-of-view, it helps framing and photo composition too.
How I see it, is that the camera is a means to an end, to capture what is important to the photographer. So my personal conviction is to facilitate this by investing in the best gear that would optimise my photography. Against this backdrop, full-frame cameras are my only choice.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2 | 1/640s | ISO 160
Is there a Canon camera you are thinking of upgrading to?
I do appreciate aviation photography and within this genre, reach is very important.
Currently, the reach of all my lenses max out at 200mm (280mm if I add my 1.4X convertor, which is always a last ditch resort). As such, I may consider the successor of the current Canon EOS 7D Mark II, because of the 1.6x crop factor of the APSC sensor in the 7D series.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/7.1 | 1/4000s | ISO 200
However, I am also mulling over the purchase of a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens (with 1.4x TC). This lens will encompass aviation photography, sports, and wildlife. To justify this huge expense as a non-professional photographer, I am also hoping that my children follow in the footsteps of their mother, who was a track athlete in her school-going years. A Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, paired with the Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, will be a magical combination.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/4 | 1/1000s | ISO 320
What are some topics you have always thought of exploring but haven’t. Why not?
Due to my introverted nature, I am inspired by those who are polar opposites to me… those who have embarked on lonesome treks, either by foot or vehicle, and explored the great wilderness with only basic supplies, their wits, and their cameras.
I think “more serious” portraiture holds similar appeal to me too. I have never shot “serious” portraits of people before, and I believe the Canon EF200mm f/2L IS USM, Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM, and a future Canon EF35mm f/1.4L II USM II, would make for magical portraits.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III | F/2 | 1/400s | ISO 6400
Due to the full-time nature of my job and fatherhood, my pursuit of such opportunities are naturally limited. But there will come a time when I will be free to pursue them, and when it comes, I know my trusty Canon camera and lenses will be right there beside me.
Aaron’s feed of his family and interesting world view can be enjoyed on his instagram account: @__mr_black___.
First published: Canon EOS World