HeartPatrick: This Malaysian Photographer Is Reimagining Travel Photography While Staying Home


Cheng Sim •  May 26, 2020

Staying home has definitely brought out our creative side. Whether we're learning to make a cinnamon roll for the first time, finding joy through Quran journaling or doing other creative things at home, it's a great opportunity to broaden our skill set while keeping ourselves occupied during this trying time. For anyone who is passionate about photography, staying indoors may not be the most ideal situation to practice your skills, but with the right equipment and plenty of imagination, you certainly can!

Like most creators who are persevering through the Movement Control Order (MCO), Malaysian photographer Patrick is channeling his creativity through his amazing miniature photography series! Read on as we chatted with Patrick about his miniature photography series, the inspiration behind it, and how you can recreate it at home.

Can you tell us more about yourself?

I’m Patrick, a professional photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’ve been in this line of work for about 12 years. Started on a part-time basis while holding a full-time job in IT consulting, and then 3 years ago, I left that job to be a full-time photographer.

The travel landscape has changed dramatically in the past few months. As an avid traveller, how do you keep your travel spirit alive during MCO in Malaysia?

It’s indeed a very surreal and challenging time for the humankind, especially the outgoing ones who are now obliged to stay home. For me, I continue to keep my interest in the outdoors going by revisiting a huge stockpile of images that I have shot during my past trips but never had time to process previously. And then, I started finding time to recreate some of these landscapes and sceneries at home by using everyday objects and materials that I can get my hands on.

We loved your miniature photography series. What's the inspiration behind it?

The miniature photography series allows me to temporarily escape our everyday stay-home life. My main source of inspiration is from this Japanese miniature artist by the name of Tanaka Tatsuya. He has shown us that we can reinterpret everyday objects into magnificent scenes and stories at home, by using some creativity and imagination.

Can you share the thought process that goes into taking a single photo?

I usually start by identifying the main everyday object that I want to play with. This can be from food such as vegetables and fruits to containers and plastic wrappings. Then, I think of a storyline that I want to present and introduce other supporting props and subjects into the setup. The set is never complete without some miniature figurines that I have bought online.

I have started slowly getting some even before the Movement Control Order (MCO), though I never got around to finally using them previously. So it’s very useful that I now have a small collection of them that I can put to good use.

What's your favourite photo so far? 

My favourite photo so far is the scene of a family of three walking towards the torii gate in front of the forest, which is really made up of a small Chinese cabbage that has been cut half to show the beautiful layers of its folds inside.  I thought the folds resembled the intricate foliage of our forest. I laid the base with couscous, which reminded me of the tiny off-white pebbles that we see often in Japanese landscape gardens.

I love this scene because it reminds me of the wonderful time that I have spent exploring Japan and its string of mesmerising temples. Being able to recreate this at home in a way helped to nurse my longing for adventure.

What's the most challenging part of this series?

Each photo in the series is 70% conceptualisation and 30% execution. The most challenging part for me is to successfully find a potential prop that I can reinterpret into the outdoors. During the actual shoot, the main challenges are setting up the miniature figurines and smaller props as it takes a lot of patience and time to properly position and style them to look convincing in the camera.

Lighting is also another aspect that plays an important role in recreating the mood that I’m looking for. Sometimes I require the set to be lit up by the afternoon sun that hits my living room area at a specific time only, which means I’m pressured to get my shot before the light shifts away.

Do you use any photo editing software or apps?

Yes, I use Adobe Photoshop to process my photos. This is mainly to improve sharpness and details and tweak the mood and tone of the photo to be aligned with the story that I want to tell through the photo.

Which camera and smartphone do you use to take these photos?

I use either my Canon EOS 5D4, the Fujifilm XT20, or my trusty iPhone 11 Pro, depending on the scene that I am shooting. They each have their pros and cons.

What are the basic things we need to attempt miniature photography at home?

I think every successful scene will need at least one figurine, as the ‘hero’ of the photo. It will be difficult to tell a story even with an intricately set-up stage if the actors and actresses are missing from the stage. These figurines can be from the more common small toys that we get from markets to departmental stores, to the more dedicated hobbyist type that is made by brands such as Preiser.

Once we have the figurines, it is really up to the imagination and creativity of the photographer in placing them with different objects and materials to create a story. The other thing that will be required is a camera that can focus on objects at a very close distance from the lens. Some phones can already do that, while digital cameras will need a certain lens to pull this off.

What's the secret behind taking a great miniature photo?

An imaginative mind, and lots of patience to see your idea through from conceptualisation till completion.

What's the one thing you learned from this photography series so far?

My main commercial portfolio is in architecture and interior photography. So shooting miniatures has opened up a whole new portfolio for me. The last few weeks of producing them have been a steep learning curve for me, as it requires some rather different skill sets.

If I can only name one thing that I have learnt so far, it will be that patience and perseverance will bring us far. It doesn’t matter how tough the set-up is, or how unconvincing a scene may look initially, as long as we press on, we will be able to improve on it by adjusting or adding other props to make the final shot a hit.

We love seeing glimpses of your mother helping you with certain shots. How does she feel about your photography series?

My mum has been a great support for me. To pull off some of my shoots, we sometimes have to handle moving props like raining flour as snow, or shift the lighting around to find the best effect, all the while with the camera actively shooting. This is when she helps to either handle the camera or the props for me.

Can you share 3 tips for first-timers who want to try miniature photography at home?

First, look for some figurines. This can be the toys that your children own or collectables from your trips.

Secondly, think of a story for this figurine. Don’t be afraid to consider things around the house that you commonly don’t give second looks to. Imagine that you’re the size of the figurine and you’re standing in front of the object - what would you be doing with them?

Thirdly, once you have the figurine and the object, experiment with different arrangements and styling, and add in other props to make the scene work.

Also, experiment with adding lights to the scene, it can be as simple as the torchlight in our phones or placing the set-up next to the window to catch the sunlight.

Lastly, what's the first place you would visit once it's safe to travel again?

It will be somewhere oriental, most probably Japan. I can’t get enough of this country.

Who knew that imagination can take you so far? If you've been thinking about improving your photography skills, we hope Patrick's story will inspire you to explore and broaden your skillset while staying home during the pandemic. For anyone who prefers setting up a home garden or journaling instead, here are other creative things to do at home when you've run out of ideas.