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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Top Questions to Ask A Graduating Student

Seriously, so many people have been asking me the same questions over and over again, I swear it would be easier if I just recorded my answers, put them on Youtube and advertise them on the local newspapers or something.

1. Are you going to work straight away?

No, not until at least September 2011. I have a few personal projects I need to work on to enhance my portfolio over the coming summer.

I may be getting a lighter job, though. Something that doesn't justify my hard-earned degree nor be so tiring I wouldn't call the coming summer a holiday.

2. Are you going to travel?

I love photography and I wouldn't say no to a chance to travel. However, I'm not making plans at the moment. I probably can't afford to do much travelling anyway.

I may spend a few odd weekends at tourist hotspots in Peninsula Malaysia though, like Penang and Malacca.

3. Where will you want to work? Have you got an offer letter yet?

No offer letter. Didn't even bother trying to look for a job yet. Right now my main priority is to graduate. Where I want to work and what I want to work as can come after that. Full stop.

4. Do you think you chose the right course to study?

Well, engineering turned out quite OK. There are other fields I'm more interested in, but I don't mind getting an engineering job. I don't think I'll do things differently if I were given a second chance.

5. Are you going to miss school?

Well, uh, yeah I guess.

I enjoyed attending classes with friends, how I get money to spend every week without having to earn any, having cheap lunches at the nearby village and especially jogging by the school lake. I'm glad I've gotten rid of my final year project once and for all, though. And if you don't stop asking me these silly questions, I think I'll be glad I don't have to see you after May.

OK what else do you want to know? How long will it take for me to get a beer belly? I think I'm getting one right now. When will you get a wedding invitation from me? Well, never, not because I'm not getting married, but I don't think I'll want you to attend it. When will I become the next Mark Zuckerberg/Bill Gates/Larry Page? I already have -- in my dreams.

Wishing all graduating students the best of luck in their future endeavours.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thank You Badminton Club

Some people know me as the photographer of the University of Nottingham (UNMC) Badminton Club. I've been known to shoot with my camera while others do the same with their racquets, most notably over the few prominent events organised by the club over the past weeks.


Those who know me as "badminton club's photographer" may be surprised to hear that I joined the badminton club because I love badminton. The truth is, few people on campus have ever seen me holding a racquet before, while they're so familiar with the Nikon strap over my shoulders.


But yeah, it's true. I joined badminton club because I enjoy badminton.

But approximately half a year ago, when I received an email from the club's secretary about several vacant positions in the committee, I knew the UNMC Badminton Club could bring a different kind of opportunity to me.

Champion Serving

I looked at the vacant position labelled "photographer" and my mind started to wander.

I was really interested in that position. It would provide me with various opportunities to shoot and giving precious experience hard to come by. I'd been toying around with photography for the past two years. I'd learnt a lot, and looking back to my photos captured over my nine months in UK told me how much I'd improved.


However, there were various missing tiles in my portfolio. Most of my photos were mainly of landscapes and architecture (see here for proof). I had virtually zero experience in any fast-moving genres (which guarantee to provide skills for candid photography) save for some time chasing fat bees with my Coolpix, and worse still, I had virtually no human portraits that I'm happy of. The problem is, how do I know if I'm allowed to take pictures of the random people I meet on the street? Ask them? That's hardly candid. Take the risk anyway? Yeah, I've tried that and I vividly remember that lady shooing me away. How was I supposed to fill the shoes of the club's photographer when I lack important experience like those?


I hadn't seen any photos by previous photographers of the club, and I didn't know what they were expecting. I was also starting my final year in university and probably couldn't devote too much time to anything other than my Final Year Project. My photo-editing skills were limited, and made even more so by my refusal to install a pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop (thank you, GIMP). The real deal-breaker, however, was that I was still using my dad's then-6-year-old compact camera which struggled in indoor avenues, let alone in the sports arena.


For the next few days, the same question plagued my mind -- Do I nominate myself for the position?

The EGM (Emergency General Meeting) soon arrived, and they started to take nominations for the vacant positions. The photographer, being a relatively weak voice in the committee, was the last position to open for nominations.


I remember the scene extremely well, down to the cold seat I was sitting on, how I knew almost nobody in the lecture hall, the light-hearted nature of the meeting (obviously everybody else knew almost everybody else there), the (then-)president hosting the nominations, and the blank PowerPoint slide to put the names in. My heart was pounding furiously. Despite days of sleepless nights, I hadn't made up my mind yet. I had never volunteered myself for anything, unless you count answering questions in class or going for First-Aid duties as a St. John First Aider.


Someone else got nominated, and Ka Eng the president put his name on the PowerPoint slide. It's now or never.

I decided to let the public to decide for me.


I raised my hand and said, with much stuttering, "If it's OK, I'd like to nominate myself because I'm interested in this position."

There was a two-second pause, during which the light-heartedness of the meeting disappeared like a candle flame doused with ice cold water. Nobody said anything, and I could feel every single eye turning towards me in unison. I swallowed in nervousness.


Then, an applause broke out, echoing across the hall.

Not the sarcastic, sneering type of clapping you do when you find your best mate kissing a fat-assed girl. It's the type of applause you give someone when he managed to diffuse a bomb two seconds before it exploded.

"Your name?"

"Uh, Wenqi. W-E-N-Q-I." And I sank down on my seat, heart still thumping, blood pressure still through the roof. Now I only have to wait for them to vote for me, I thought. Oh wait, there's still the speech. Maybe I can show them my Flickr account...


But the nomination closed with two nominees. And since the other nominee was already a committee member, the photographer position defaulted to me.


I started panicking shortly after that. What if I made the wrong call? What the... I don't have the experience! I don't even have an SLR!


But things worked out well over the next few months. Mum bought a Nikon D90 just days after the EGM, and I told her I may want to use it at "certain events in school". (She never found out about my being in the committee until few months later.) I went to the badminton court a day before my first duty to test out certain camera settings I need (mainly how high an ISO I needed and what sort of shutter speed to freeze the players and shuttlecocks) so I wasn't totally unprepared during my first day. I even got myself a cheap prime lens which is 3 stops faster than the kit lens.

Got you!


Being the photographer wasn't too bad. All I had to do was to turn up during events and take some pictures. I wasn't really needed to make much preparations (except charging my camera battery), which is good because I needed all the time I could spare for my Final Year Project. My presence over meetings was even optional (though I attended every meeting I knew of).


I spent quite an amount of hours on duty, and I learnt a lot from them. Everything down to focusing, employing burst mode effectively, predicting good windows of opportunity in quick-action scenes, framing with a prime lens. I still have much to learn, but these experiences brought me closer to my goal. I easily averaged around 1000 clicks per night, which also showed me how power-efficient an SLR is -- the D90 easily lasted for 2000 shots before hitting 20% battery life. This large image count guaranteed at least dozens of satisfying photos per day.


And best of all, I made friends. The people never complained about having a huge lens barrel pointing their way. Most of them just ignored me. Some of them even posed for the camera. Wearing the label of the event photographer gave me power, the license to shoot, and I was more than happy to make full use of it. It takes time to hand-pick good photos out of the lot and edit them one by one, but once they're up on Facebook, the satisfaction I got from all the comments and likes was worth it. We joked and teased each other by posting even more comments on the photos, some of which were instantly made profile pictures.


I received over 500 emails from Facebook over a weekend, after uploading pictures of the UNMC Badminton Tournament.



The year is coming to an end, and I'll pass on my position as the club photographer as the 2011/2012 committee forms next week. Things have gone extremely well after I volunteered for Badminton Club, and I thank every member for all the laughter, experience and memories I'll cherish for the rest of my life.


I joined the Badminton Club because I love badminton. But combining it with something else I like made the experience unparallelled.