Monday, Nov. 24, 2008


Much of Singapore still bears the influence of the British, who first laid claim to the island in 1819 and ruled it until 1959, when it was made a self-governing state of the British Empire. Shanghai still features many rows of shophouses like these, which, if it weren't for the bright colors, might be found in any midsize English city. By themselves, says photographer Munshi Ahmed, the buildings wouldn't have much life, but if you wait for traffic to pass, it infuses the frame with energy.

Botanic Garden

Singapore has a long history of preserving nature — its first botanic garden was established in 1822 by the country's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles. Shooting in the modern Singapore Botanic Gardens, which occupy 157 acres, Ahmed used a 12 mm wide-angle lens for this shot of one of the garden's trees. For scale, there's a jogger at the upper right of the frame.

Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Said to house a relic of the living Buddha, this shrine lies at the heart of Chinatown. The interior is rather dim, but flash photography is greatly frowned upon. What's more, Ahmed notes, a flash would completely ruin the atmosphere of the frame and tripods would be very obtrusive. He has compensated with a wide aperture (f2.8), slow shutter speed (1/25th of a second) and a steady hand. And remember, this is a place of worship, so dress appropriately.

Detail, Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Ahmed notes that close-ups and attention to exotic details are critical tools in any photographer's kit. "They force you to look at things more closely," he says, and looking closely, then closer still, is what makes good photographers great. Note: no flash photography inside temples.

Sri Mariamman Temple

"Always be on the lookout for interesting faces," Ahmed says. "I was drawn to this little girl's bright eyes, all three of them." (The mark that some Hindu people wear on their forehead is known as a "third eye.") Of course, when photographing a child, it is always a good idea to get a parent's permission first.

Eating House, Chinatown

Chinatown offers a wealth of good photo opportunities for a photographer on foot. In this imaginative frame, the idealized world of the Coca-Cola–sipping young people is clearly delineated (by coconuts, no less) from the hard-working restaurant employees behind them.


As part of the rejuvenation of this historic district, the city built a steel and glass canopy over Pagoda Street in Chinatown, so people can eat and shop in any weather. Ahmed took this shot at about 7 p.m., when the dusk light is still settling on the city. He set the aperture at F11, to keep the shoppers and the city skyline in focus, and used a slow 2-second shutter speed with a tripod.

Little India

Given the plethora of cultures represented in Singapore, says Ahmed, you can almost always find a street lit up for some kind of festival. If it's not Ramadan or Chinese New year or Christmas and the Western New Year, then it's Diwali, which takes place in the fall of the Hindu calendar. To compress the lights strung down Orchard Road, Ahmed used a telephoto lens, set at 180 mm, and kept everything in focus with a small aperture (f16).

Central Business District

The best time to shoot any city's skyline, says Ahmed, is during the few minutes after sunset and before the sky goes black. To keep the verticality of the buildings, avoid wide-angle lenses and keep the camera level to the horizon. Often this means positioning yourself at a distant vantage point. Ahmed is standing on the Elgin Bridge, which stretches across the Singapore River in the Downtown district.