If you ask any ballroom dancer who’s their favourite Singaporean ballroom photographer, more often than not, you’d expect to hear the name ‘Uncle Bernard’ popping up frequently.

Mr. Bernard Ow, also affectionately known as “Uncle Bernard”, is the homegrown talent behind these classic and refined photographs.

How it all started

Uncle Bernard’s pursuit for his passion in photography first began more than twenty years back, originating from film photography. However, it dawned upon him that the learning process was tedious and time consuming due to the long lead time required to develop the photographs to visualise the results, as compared to the ability to review your photograph shots instantly in modern day digital photography.

So we questioned, what exactly does it takes to achieve these brilliant photos? We managed to get Uncle Bernard to spill the beans over some Strawberry Oolong Tea and Black Coffee at The Populus, Outram Park.

His first child, also his photography subject, was the first key driver for his passion. Like any doting parent who didn’t want to miss the significant growing moments of the little one, he was prompted to make a hefty investment in a 3-megapixel Casio digital camera, widely recognised as one of the most advanced camera of that time. From then onwards, he assumed the role as the appointed photographer for family photography.

His passion in photography also amplified in tandem with the dance endeavours of his daughters. It was at their competitions that he realised, even the most advanced point-and-shoot digital camera was incapable of best immortalising the many lines and moments of the dancers in the ballroom.

The challenges of shooting in a ballroom

When he finally got his first entry-level Canon DSLR to manoeuvre the conditions of the ballroom, he described it as a steep learning curve as he was then adapting to the manual settings of the DSLR to match the unique and challenging environment conditions in the ballroom. Even so, the focusing speed, ISO and light sensors of the entry-level DSLR fell short at delivering the desired photos of his expectations.

“The unique and challenging conditions of the ballroom are (1) dim, low-lighting (2) constantly changing lights and (3) fast moving dancers” – Uncle Bernard

After countless upgrades and research, he settled for the Canon 5D Mark III as it was capable of delivering the desired end product. It was certainly a big investment as the Canon 5D Mark III was also the second highest-tier of Canon cameras used by professional photographers when shooting athletes.

Furthering his craft for these friendly faces

As time passed, his photography subjects extended beyond his daughters to feature fellow dancing friends and plentiful dancers were pleasantly surprised and appreciative of the photos he took of them. The appreciation, happiness and satisfaction he received from these dancers further fuelled his passion in dance photography, propelling him to take his craft into a different level and to develop his own unique style.

Uncle Bernard describes his style as one that expresses the synergy of capturing the moment, movement and action. He emphasised that it certainly is a more challenging and risky style as it may result in many blurred photographs. Naturally, it was not long after, budding dance photography enthusiasts began to approach him to seek his advice. He revealed that the secret to exceptional dance photographs are not solely dependent on equipment, but results from the combination of

equipment, skills and a bit of luck. 

While possessing knowledge about dance does help prepare the photographer, he highlighted that you can never predict what’s coming next. This is largely due to the erratic nature and actions of competitive ballroom dancers who are constantly working with their partners against competitors through the use of floor craft whilst trying to impress the audience and judges.

Regarding dance photography, Uncle Bernard reflects that it’s really very much like the art of dance. People only see the dance, they don’t know the intricacies behind the dance – the countless arduous practices, heated partner discussions and many more. Likewise, people don’t see what’s behind a single piece of photo.

To further enhance his skills, he attends photography workshops held by Canon and actively interacts with the professionals to keep updated with the best equipment and practices in the market. Amongst his many takeaways from the exchanges with industry professionals and specialists, including safari photographers who shoot in South-Africa, as well as otter photographers, he noted the importance of

understanding one’s subject to take better photos.

And this certainly is not limited to the dancers’ best angles and choreography.

The Intellectual Property Issue

We also touched on an important and pressing issue, which is copyright and its implications. It is a matter that requires further education and awareness amongst the ballroom community. For starters, it is important to understand that the copyrights of the photographs belong to the photographer, as much as paintings belong to the painter, until they are sold. However, the convenience of sharing digital photos via social media has resulted in individuals reposting these photos as their own in an unauthorised manner without the permissions from the photographer. Uncle Bernard shared that most of his photos could be shared by the dancers with appropriate acknowledgment and credit of his work to him with his permissions.

Alternatively, individuals may also choose to support him in his craft by purchasing the original copies of his photos. This ultimately promotes a more sustainable relationship and eco-system for dancers and dance photographers. He has also been referred and commissioned to shoot for other dance forms and is eager to explore further opportunities with commercial entities in this art form.

His recent photos at the Singapore Open Dance Championship 2018 was also picked up and featured by the Singapore Tatler on their Instagram account.

His favourite series

When asked about his favourite series of photos shot, he shared that it has to be the Singapore National Tertiary Dance Championship held at CHIJMES. He expressed that the very authentic architecture and unique character of the venue complimented the essence of ballroom dancing.

We also took the liberty to share our favourite few picks of his recent masterpieces.

We’re sure you share our sentiments in saying that these photos certainly do justice to the dancers, and that we also look forward to more of these soulful photos.

Till then, let’s make sure that we support the craft of our homegrown talent by sharing these photos responsibly with the right permissions, and or, buying their masterpieces.

All photos belong to Uncle Bernard, follow his Instagram and Facebook account for more inspiring dance photos! Dubbed BOWVisions, other than being the initials of Uncle Bernard, he hopes to convey his undeterred and Bold visions in his interpretations of these beautiful dancers on the floor.

Uncle Bernard is also available at @owbernard.  Written by @skyetzk and edited by @heyzellll.