You may know or already follow amateur photographer Leslie Heng on Instagram, where he is known as @blackmobil. Heng’s day job involves working for a trading and distribution company, but he finds some time to go exploring to take these images that show the patterns in the city’s HDB flats. Here, we talk to him about how he got interested in photography, where he goes to shoot and the most daring thing he’s ever done when exploring the island.
How did you become interested in photography?
It was Instagram that sparked my interest in photography. Initially, I used Instagram as a tool to document the places I have visited and the things I have done. One thing led to another; I now find myself traveling to places to take photos during my free time. I enjoy looking for buildings with interesting architecture and strong architectural elements like light, shadow, shapes, colors [and using] lines as a backdrop to create my pictures.
Who or where did you learn the craft from?
I’m not a professional photographer. I get a lot of my inspiration from the Instagram community and I try to build my own style from there. I don’t have any formal training in photography; everything has been experimental, and I’m still learning.
What kind of cameras do you use?
Until very recently, all my pictures were only taken with my mobile. I now toggle between my mobile phone and a digital compact camera which I bought a few years back. This camera has a funny story to it—I bought it on impulse and regretted the purchase the very next day. So I asked a friend to put it online for sale but we didn’t manage to sell it, and it was left in the store room for some time. Instead of letting it go to waste, I’ve decided to learn how to use the camera properly and so it’s what I am using now!
What fascinates you about Singapore’s architectural landscape?
I think it has got to be the colors and shapes, the mix of old and new, and the fact that there are always new buildings springing up. Ironically, I used to think that our HDB flats looked dull and ugly, but it has become one of my favorite places to shoot these days.
Where are your favourite places to shoot?
Singapore has so many amazing places to shoot. HDB locations are my favourite. I love Tiong Bahru, Dawson and Bukit Panjang. Actually, the list can go on. [All estates] have their own characteristics. The geometry and bold use of color in HDB architecture really fascinates me. The bright colours have a really positive impact on me and I believe they have a similar effect on the people who see my photos. That aside, I often find myself revisiting my shooting locations more than once to get what I want, or to see what more I can get. I sometimes take my friend with me, to be my “model” or I may visit the same places at different times of the day to see how the light changes the image.
What is the most challenging thing you had to do when shooting?
I shouldn’t be saying this, but I once sneaked into a building and climbed up 24 stories on foot to get the perfect angle. It’s always challenging trying to find new perspectives to shoot.
Are most of your photos in the square format or do you adapt them to Instagram?
No, they are never shot in the square format. I would mentally have an idea of what I wanted, but the actual cropping would always be done later. I’ve been posting pictures in portrait format recently, maybe because our phones are all built that way. To me, the square format is one of the most challenging ways to frame a picture.
How do you choose which photos to upload?
I’m quite a perfectionist, so I spend quite an amount of time planning which photos to upload. I usually pre-select photos I like, then try to match them to my feed. I pick photos with a variety of angles and architectural elements. I can spend hours trying to decide what to post next, but I’m slowly getting better at it now.
How has the feedback on social media been like for you?
The feedback has been positive so far, and it has certainly encouraged me and kept me going.
You can follow Leslie Heng on Instagram.