Light in lockdown: Malaysian photog wins UN prize

Norarsikin Maakim’s photograph among top 13 in international contest

DEALING with the pandemic has left many of us with a lot of downtime.

But photographer Norarsikin Maakim did not sit still, wondering when her next project will be. Mid-last year, she sent a submission to ‘Humans locked down, Nature Unlocked’, a global photo contest on flora and fauna in the time of Covid-19. It is held in support of the restoration of ecosystems.

The ‘Humans locked down, Nature Unlocked’ contest was launched by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Unece) to celebrate World Environment Day last year. The contest encouraged photographers around the globe to showcase some of the most telling aspects of the lockdown experience through nature.

Light in lockdown: Malaysian photog wins UN prize
Photo taken by Norarsikin that made the judges’ cut. It will be presented in an online gallery on the Unece website, as well as in an exhibition that will take place at the Palais des Nations. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

Much to the KL-based photographer’s surprise, her photo would eventually be named as one of the 13 best photographs submitted. It was chosen by the jury composed of members of the Bureau of the Committee on Forest and the Forest Industry and the Bureau of the Committee on Environmental Policy.

Norarsikin Maakim had photography training since 14 years old and credited her late father for introducing and fostering her interest in photography. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim
Norarsikin Maakim had photography training since 14 years old and credited her late father for introducing and fostering her interest in photography. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

“When the pandemic hit, everything slowed down during the lockdown. I did not have clients since we could not go out so all that’s left to do is browsing the internet. That was when I saw the competition,” said Norarsikin during a phone interview with The Vibes.

“The term and conditions were pretty straightforward. But the theme caught my interest greatly because it was quite different. However, I still could not go out for the assignment until the first movement control order (MCO 1.0) ended.”

Because the contest had a three-month deadline, she managed to bring her camera and headed out to Pantai Kelanang in Banting, Selangor.

“There were a lot of monkeys at that time looking for food, but they weren’t a menace and were very kind and curious with the people around.

“Amidst all that human and nature engagement, I saw a monkey on the side checking out and trying on a facemask, seeing how it would fit. At that point, I knew I had to capture the moment,” she added.

‘Air’. A photo of kids playing in the paddy field, submitted for the Creative Digital Mara 2016 Photography Contest. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim
‘Air’. A photo of kids playing in the paddy field, submitted for the Creative Digital Mara 2016 Photography Contest. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

Read on to learn more about the photographer and her craft. 

1. Have you worked at a professional studio before?

I have never worked at any professional studio before, but I have had my formal training at Wimbledon Art Studio in London as well as GiatMara Kepong in Kuala Lumpur. I also trained at Dianty Photo Academy and Akademi Fotografi Professional Kuala Lumpur (AFPKL).

2. What is a typical photoshoot day for you?

My photoshoots are usually pre-planned, whether it would be for clients or competitions, and not so much impromptu. 

I will start by doing some research to see if I could develop new photographic procedures and materials to accompany it. In doing so, I determine my project goals, potential locations, and equipment needs by studying the assignment brief and consulting with my clients whenever possible. Then, I go out to shoot.

Once I am done, I would review the sets of photographs that I have captured and shortlist the best work for the presentation. Of course, the standard electronic transmission during the post-photography process includes the transfer of photographs into my computer for further editing and archiving.

If I am working with clients, I would wait for their feedback on choosing the materials for the final touch-up.

‘Barang Jualanku’. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim
‘Barang Jualanku’. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

3. Any tips you would like to share while on shoots?

When working with the lighting where you would like to adjust it accordingly to your liking, you can create artificial light not just by using flashes. You can work with reflectors as well.

Also, use specialised software to manipulate and enhance – digital or scanned – images to create desired effects. I would also advise being comfortable in playing with the aperture setting to give your photographs a bokeh effect as well as working on other techniques.

4. What are some of the must-have equipment for you no matter where you are going to be working?

Without giving away the brand, I would usually use a DSLR Camera with a 20mm prime lens. I love this spec because it has never failed in giving a good image quality. Prime lenses are also more compact, and easy to bring anywhere. Not only that, it (prime lenses) is sharper compared to zoom lenses. 

5. Do any professional photographers influenced your work greatly? Do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?

It is quite hard for me to single out just one, as I feel they have shaped me a lot in my work. Here are just some of those that have influenced me:

Sawlihim Bakar, a well-known landscape photographer who provided me with great guidance specifically on the technical aspects of shooting photographs and advice on how to win photography contests. He has won a total of 25 photography competitions himself. 

Abas Hassan showed me how it is important to have charisma in photography. He taught me a lot in applying photography principles in my work and how to capture that X-factor. He also acts as the photographic industry expert in Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran (JPK) and is the founder of Akademi Fotografi Professioal (AFPKL).

Founder of Dianty Photo Academy and Dianty Photo at Medan Mara, Rosdiana Radzi has great references. I always apply her techniques when shooting portraits as well as valuing the art of communication in running a photography business.

Zaman Suleiman has helped me a lot in placing the importance and the how-to(s) of capturing human interest subjects. He is the senior photographer at Radio Television Malaysia (RTM).

Amri Ginang is a great commercial and portrait photographer. His photographs have been published internationally throughout his 35-years of practice. I love learning the principles from the art photography he produces.

‘Semut’, submitted for the Creative Digital Mara 2016 Photography Contest. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim
‘Semut’, submitted for the Creative Digital Mara 2016 Photography Contest. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

6. What details do you believe make the best photographs?

In no particular order, it would be composition, contrast, perspective that is unique, capturing moments that evoke emotions through simple storytelling, and of course, lighting – being mindful of the colours and the golden hours are key. It helps when you can put in a little bit of effort in gaining these attentions to the details of your work. 

7. What about adapting to changing conditions and schedules. What would you do if the weather turned bad during an outdoor photoshoot? 

Indeed, as a professional photographer, we must prioritise the environment first, before applying all the details mentioned earlier. In doing so, ensuring the safety (security of your surrounding while out on an outdoor shoot) in the process is highly advised.

To answer your question specifically, I make the best out of the bad weather and keep going. But will remember to always protect my camera/gears. I would either shoot from inside my car or building but definitely will not limit myself to such conditions.

A little piece of advice is to study the human behaviours that you see, there are a lot of emotions and spontaneous moments when you watch people in the rain. 

‘3 Generasi’. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim
‘3 Generasi’. – Pic courtesy of Norarsikin Maakim

Patience would often grant you the best results. Wait for the magic moment when a storm is about to erupt as the sky changes its colour.

Look down on the road and the street and try to capture the reflections that you see during this time. Consider capturing stories more interestingly.

If all else fails, simply change your schedule to another day or decide on a different place and time. 

8. What was the best piece of advice you were given when you first started? 

To be a knowledgeable photographer, you will need to acquire all the technical aspects of working a camera. To achieve this, never stop working to perfect your craft, even if it is until the end of your life. In the process, never forget and always respect mentors who have helped in grooming your skills. This would include my husband who is a photographer and my mentor.

9. Three words to describe your photography style? 

Natural, eye-catching, unique.

10. Are there images you wish you could have taken but you could not? 

Thunderstorms, underwater and newborn babies in operation theatres.

By : Amalina Kamal – THE VIBES

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