Computer geek Jamal Hamidi Abdul Rahman tells Izwan Ismail he will do just about anything to be able to record amazing cityscapes on camera
AS the lift reaches level 28 of one of the tallest buildings in Shah Alam, Jamal Hamidi Abdul Rahman gets out and walks down the corridor.
That’s the highest floor the lift can go, but Jamal’s mission is to get to the rooftop, which is another four floors up and can only be reached using a ladder.
He’s been aiming to get shots of the Federal Highway at the Shah Alam intersection exit, which looks like a hibiscus from the sky, especially when lit up at night.
As Jamal climbs up to the rooftop with all his equipment — including a dSLR camera, tripod and remote shutter control — via a vertical service ladder, the time on his watch shows 8pm. It’s dark, windy and dangerous, but Jamal is determined to take that shot.
As soon as he reaches the rooftop, he quickly sets up his equipment and focuses on the nicely-lit intersection, about two kilometres away. After 60 shots of the intersection and the surrounding cityscape, he is done.
This has been Jamal’s routine for the past five years since he fell in love with photography — scaling high-rise buildings and apartments to shoot cityscape pictures.
“Some high-rises, especially vacant flats or towers, are dangerous to climb, but often they are the best location for shooting the Kuala Lumpur city landscape,” he says.
For example, the abandoned Pekeliling flats near the Pahang roundabout is where he gets a perfect sunrise shot against the city skyline and the Public Bank tower which is positioned directly opposit the centre of the Petronas Twin Towers.
Other high-rise spots for shooting the city skyline include the low cost flats in Jalan Jelatek, the Kampung Baru flats and the Kuala Lumpur Tower.
What is unique about Jamal’s photography is the technique he uses to capture his subjects. It’s called HDR, short for high dynamic range, whereby a few shots of the same pictures are taken but with different exposures. These pictures are then merged in a software, resulting in a single photo that looks surreal, detailed and properly exposed.
“HDR gives you images of the same or close to what you see with your eyes,” he says.
Normally if one takes a picture using a single shot, it tends to have dark and bright areas, but that’s not the case with HDR. If you take a look at Jamal’s HDR photo collections at www.flickr.com/photos/vedd/ and diary.frozenlite.com/, you will see the uniqueness of the photos, something which is different from the regular photographs.
Although photography is not Jamal’s full-time job, his passion for this hobby and the stunning HDR images he has produced have been recognised internationally especially by Getty Images, a Seattle-based stock photo agency, which buys and resells photos taken by talented photographers worldwide.
And he’s earned quite a good income from selling the rights to his his photos to this agency.
To date, Jamal has sold 44 pictures to Getty Images, many of which are photos of Kuala Lumpur skyline at dusk, dawn and night taken from high-rise buildings. But his bestsellers are photos of mosques like the KLCC’s As Syakirin Mosque, the Iron Mosque and Putra Mosque in Putrajaya.
His HDR photographs are also featured in some UK-based photography magazine like Digital Photo Magazine.
“My next project is to travel all over the country to photograph the many mosques, in HDR,” he says.
What sparked Jamal’s interest in photography?
“It’s the work pressure in the IT world and the long hours of staring at computer screens day in and day out. I felt that sometimes I had no life at all and needed to see the outside world,” says the 38-year-old father of two, who has been working in the IT security line since completing his studies.
During the IT boom in the early 2000, he co-founded a couple of IT security solutions companies, MySec and TriTetra and has also worked with companies like British American Tobacco as an IT analyst.
“I like IT very much but after some time, I feel the need for something that can balance the workload,” he says.
Initially, he wanted to take up painting as he loved to draw, but having left the art scene for many years, he found it hard to start again.
“So I took up photography. I bought my first camera, the Canon bridge camera, in 2006. It looks like a dSLR but is actually a fixed lens camera,” he says.
In the first couple of years, Jamal tried out everything in photography. Soon after buying his dSLR, he took on weekend jobs as a wedding photographer.
“It was just to cover what I paid for my Canon 450D dSLR camera which I bought in 2007, but I’m not doing that anymore due to the commitment that the job required,” he says.
“But I’m glad that I explored (and am continuing to explore) this hobby as it is self-sustaining. You can make money out of it and use it to buy better lenses, body and other equipment,” he adds.
Photography has given Jamal the relief that he has always wanted. “Whenever I’m out shooting, it takes my mind away from the complexity of the IT world. Life suddenly becomes more balanced,” he says.
As the number of his photographs increased, he decided to post them on Flickr in 2006. That was when he came across a user who did HDR photography.
“Upon seeing the HDR pictures, I fell in love with them and straight away wanted to learn about this technique,” says Jamal.
Most of what he knew about HDR, he picked up from the Internet and photography outings with his friends. His dSLR camera allows him to do bracketing, which is a sequence of the same photos with different exposure values, when taking photographs.
“With this I can later merge the photographs with a software called Photomatix into a single copy called HDR,” explains Jamal.
“The HDR technique produces photos as what my eyes see — not overexposed or underexposed,” he says.
Besides the camera and tripod, Jamal also uses other equipment like remote shutter release, water balancer and natural grade filters to help him get the desired results.
Normally, Jamal will go for easily accessible buildings to shoot cityscape pictures.
“I shoot from these high places because a well-balanced city skyline is best shot from level 15 to 20 of a building,” he says.
His favourite time is about an hour before the golden hour that is sunset and also the blue hour that is minutes after sunset.
“At these times, the skies will be very colourful and beautiful. As the sun sets, the city will be lighted with lights from the buildings and streets,” he says.
With the help of applications like Google Map and Photographers Ephemeries (www.photoephemeris.com), he can easily find the exact location to shoot and plot the sunrise, sunset and the moonrise too.
“These tools ensure that I get the best location for shooting, without having to scout around for hours,” he adds.
As he sells his photos online, Jamal makes sure that he has enough stock.
“I will go shooting two to three times a month,” he says.
Besides cityscape, he also shoots beaches around the country.
With so many followers on his Flickr page and queries from people on his HDR photography techniques, Jamal has started a bi-monthly workshop on the subject.
Normally he tutors between six and seven people per class, at an office in Ara Damansara. Details on his workshop are in his Frozenlite website.
“The participants are taught the essentials of taking HDR pictures and these include theory and practical sessions in areas like Kemensah and Sg Tua in Selangor and the city centre,” says Jamal who is planning to do a coffee table book on mosques.
“Given the chance, I would also like to go to Iceland to capture its unique landscapes,” he says.
For those who would like to venture into HDR photography, Jamal advises them to first learn how to take good photographs and understand the basics of photography.
“It’s something that everyone can do if they put effort into it,” he says.