Graduation week through the viewfinder: A photographer’s perspective


As a G2 student, I never really paid much attention to the events that take place during the graduation week. My only impression regarding this week of events was the evening ceremonies that would feature a large projector and many glow sticks. Fellow students cry in joy as their time in SCIE shrink even more. As a photographer who views the emotion of a subject as a paramount aspect to a good photo, I made the decision to photograph graduation week both as a pursuit for a higher level in photography and as a method of preserving the precious memories of my seniors in a long-lasting digital format.

Grabbing my trustworthy Sony Alpha 1, a spare battery, and an identification vest Refreshed & Ready for Work (24th of April)

Our first mission of the week was to photograph the K-Pop dance. I am not a stranger to the subject of photographing dancers. I have already learnt the ropes from last year’s SCIE Got Talent. This subject is not very hard but there is indeed a slight catch to it. Which is selecting the best moment to photograph. We arrived at the outdoor basketball court at 16:30, waiting for the show to begin. However, we immediately encountered a problem. The dancers have their backs toward natural light. Under the circumstance that it was not possible for the venue to be changed on the spot, we decided to compensate by overexposing the background.

Thanks to Sony’s high dynamic range we were able to shoot without much trouble

We completed the task without much trouble. Thank God it was the afternoon of spring. I dare not imagine what could have happened if the sun has set earlier and we were left without sufficient light.

Thanks to Maxwell’s Fujifilm Instax we were featured in the photos as well

The 26th of April was the evening celebrations that had been traditional for many years. However, our team lacked the experience of shooting such an event. From these years of photography, it can be easily proven that good photos are always the result of past failure. There could be no success without forward intel or past experience. We overestimated our capabilities to compensate in such an environment and the lighting conditions of the teaching building. We originally thought that the mass amount of glow sticks could light up the entire corridor. We were wrong… Terribly wrong.

Our team was separated at the beginning and became embedded in the mass number of fellow students converging on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors.

A terrible idea, it was near impossible to operate a 70-200mm lens amongst the crowds

We were stuck in an awkward position as the 70-200 proved too long for close range shots yet too short for shooting from block A to block B. Noel was using a Black Magic Design BMPCC cinema camera with a Canon EF 16-35mm lens and a Canon 1DX fitted with EF 85mm f1.2. The focal lengths we had at hand proved to be problematic in terms of operation. It was difficult to find a suitable angle and we were stressing our cameras out by using ISO values above 6400.

An utter disaster

It was not hard to guess why one of the senior organizers had burst into tears right after the event finished last year. This is insanely hard to cope with.

A lethal dose of noise

On the 27th we were able to rest and regroup. There were no new tasks for us to perform. However, the mission will be hard on the 28th. We will be photographing the famous water battle that happens annually. In addition, I was also tasked with photographing the leaver’s Volleyball Game that happens after the battle. The only difficulty was the fear of getting splashed. Shooting against the light direction is no big problem this time as water droplets glowing under sunlight is a bonus effect that adds more astonishing details to the photos.

I stood on the edge of the court with my work camera. Attempting to shoot without entering the perimeters of the battle. Then what came to my mind was famous photographer Robert Capa’s words: “If your photos are not good enough, you are not close enough.” So, I made the decision to hop over the boundaries and enter the premises. I don’t regret my choice. Mainly because the effect of the photos was splendid, and no one actually blasted me with water.

The effect of f2.8 and shutter speed as high as 1/800 produces an astonishing effect

I am very fond of the pictures taken in the water battle. Most of these pictures have a clear reflection of the subjects’ emotions. After being invited by my seniors to join the battle as well, I gave up my identity as a correspondent and picked up a water blaster to pitch in. This was a very interesting fight; it also reminds me to bring a GoPro next graduation week.

Thanks to Claire from Admissions Office, my moments in combat were on camera

After being thoroughly wet I picked up my camera and went downstairs to photograph the Leaver’s game. Immediately switching my identity to a sports photographer. If CAIE ever had a mark scheme for sport photography, AO1 would definitely have been precise point of focus and suitable shutter speed. To achieve the highest level, the photo must reflect the dynamics of the game and the emotions of the players.

I deeply respect every member of the SCIE sport teams. Every one of them are incredible athletes with amazing wills to cooperate. Their unit cohesion, passion for sport, and the dynamics of their game can even be compared to large official games that can be seen on television. Their games are definitely worth watching and even more worthy to photograph. For some, this may be the last game of their career in SCIE. I grief for their departure but also feel happy for their bright futures.

The tradition of tossing Oxbridge students into the pond has been around for a long time. Even at the new campus, this must continue, even with the absence of an actual pond. For this week, it marks the eventual end to the Graduation week celebrations. For this event I selected my beloved Leica M10-P “Safari” with a Zeiss Distagon 35mm f1.4 lens. This combination was chosen for two reasons: One, the water battle on the 28th. Two, the concept of decisive moments and it’s association to Leica and this specific focal length. I am not a huge fan of focal lengths greater than 50mm when it comes to documenting these special moments. The compression between the foreground and background gives a distant, cold feeling to your photos. That is not the effect I want for such an occasion.

Whenever I use Leica under the condition of sharp light contrast, I want to use black and white. However, it’s not suitable for this event

I am huge fan of black and white photography. This is simply because that black and white acts as a filter that would eliminate a lot of distracting factors of a photo. It makes me more focused on presenting the story, utilizing the light sources, and framing the moment. This can also be considered a tribute to the great correspondents and photojournalists who brought the stories to the eyes of people. However, black and white is generally more complicated than colored photographs. In addition to the stereotypic views most have regarding black and white, I chose color as a final decision.

The final mission of the week is the Leaver’s Football Game at nighttime. This was one of my most anticipated tasks. Because of the pandemic, the ISL and SISAC football games were entirely cancelled. This was a huge blow to the members of the football team. Everyone is quite satisfied with the chance to compensate for the losses. Because of the location chosen for this game was outside the school, the field provided was a standard football field instead of a downscaled one. In combination with the fact that it was a night game, it would be a challenge for both man and machine. Metering would be rendered close to useless, personal experience would outweigh the readings. It also meant more challenging as I am still using the 70-200mm.

A standard football field is a definite challenge for lenses under the focal length of 400mm. It would be harder for a 200mm to photograph at such a stage. However, this combination of camera body and lens stilled carried on until the end, completing each task successfully.

Sitting on the spiky plastic grass with a bottle of apple juice I did a mental recap of the week. Was I tired? Yes, definitely. However, all of the work done was completely worth the effort. In a single week I have captured more photos on my cameras than some of my friends did in a year. The time spent on categorizing, classifying, sorting, and sending pictures to corresponding people has witnessed a significant increase compared to the past. Looking back on the year I spent with my seniors and counting the time left for us, I felt melancholy. Some of my best friends will graduate. Afar will they travel, and the time that we finally get to meet again is unknown. And then coming to the sudden realization that my time left in SCIE is slowly shrinking as well. In just less than two years, I would be standing with my classmates, yelling, and screaming in the corridors as pictures of us are projected onto the big screen, tears of joy would fall. It will be me standing on the large staircase facing a camera, it will be me getting tossed into the pool. In the end, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my seniors, thank you all for your cooperation during photography, also to the team captains of the sports teams, thank you all for letting me photograph this wonderful sport imagery. And finally, my biggest thanks to the SCIE Admissions Office for their continuous support and praise.