Saturday, June 30, 2007

Shit Happens

Maryann has left a comment on my blog telling of her woes of being burglared. She lost her kit, a videocamera that did not belong to her and cash. She was not insured. That is very hard.

I think a lot of us think about the cost of doing a shoot, but do not consider the cost of doing business. I have had comments from one or two people that my rates are high, but I know that if I do not charge a certain amount, I may get that particular job done, but I will be out of business in the long run. So I will charge what it cost to run a business. If photographers do not run a business, they will not remain photographers for long. Most of my clients will bargain with me for a small discount but understand that I have to earn a living too.

Let me just say that from the start, I have had insurance on my studio and have an alarm system in place. This has added to the cost of running my business but it has given me a peace of mind. I also insure my assistants against injury because their work is physical.

That being said, shit does happen. Even without a major event like a robbery, in the last two months lightning took out my alarm system, the mirror of my 5D dropped out and it was just out of warranty, the head of my printer died and I had to replace it, and the car I drive around in all day for shoots had to have the entire air-conditioning redone. And after seven years in the studio, I am getting it repainted. All the repair and maintenance takes money. It feels like I am bleeding money right now.

But I am also doing some of my best photography ever. This is my personal work, my dance photography and fashion test shoots. And with the photography happening, I will continue with photography even if my whole studio burns down and I have to start from scratch again. That is all I want to do. That is how much I love being a photographer. It is important that you shoot for yourself somehow. If it is just a job to you, if it gets to difficult, you will move on and find an easier way to make money. If you started with photography for the love of it, you have to find ways to keep falling in love with it.

So, you have to be realistic in your charges. I encourage people not to go for quantity. Go for quality work, even if it is boring work. Go for work that takes a speciality and make sure you are the specialist. If you have a knack for shooting products but prefer to shoot cats, be a specialist product photographer and shoot cats for the love of it. For those of you who have not seen John Clang's exhibition at the Substation, go see it. It is very challenging, it very conceptual and so much more flat than his commercial work. But he is so good at his commercial work he can very well put whatever he wants on display. I shoot people well, I charge a premium for it so that I have the time and money to shoot dancers. I am not such a businessman that I am rolling in money, but I am enough of a businessman to make sure that my office and staff pays for itself. And whether it is paid work or personal work, I take pride in my work. If I accept money for a job, and it is a job I do not normally like to do, I will still go all out to do the best job I can. I never hold back and think that I am getting paid less for this job and I should put in less of an effort. I do pro bono work for arts groups and charitable organisations and I will only do the work if I can do excellent work.

What am I saying? Do your calculations and find out how much it is to run your business. Charge enough money to run your business, not just pay for individual shoots. The deal between you and your client is that they will pay you for professional work, and you will have to work and slave to ensure you surpass your client's expectations. Keep a balance and find time to shoot for yourself; to fall in love with photography again.

All in all, it is pretty much common sense. I hope this helps Maryann. Best of luck in your career.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The 450th Post

This is the 450th post on Pond Musings. I have 105 posts on Pond Images. And I have chalked up over 3000 profile views.

Over on Flickr I have over 22,000 views on my image stream. My most popular image has over 600 views.

On the 25 June, Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts ran a 4 page spread announcing the move of campus to 1 McNally Street. The photographs were taken by me.

Su Ling, a freelance designer blogged about my wedding work on

Man. It is all one foot at a time, just plodding forward. THANK YOU all who take an interest in my photographic work. :)

Look At it This Way

I used to commission a lot of photography.

Consequently, people were keen to show me their work.

99 per cent of the portfolios I saw were of a very high standard.

But 98 per cent of them contained pictures I had seen before.

Obviously not the same subject or composition, but I had the general impression that I was not seeing anything new.

They didn't have a point of view. If the did, it was that the viewer of their pictures (me) should like their work.

Very occasionally, I saw work of someone who did have a point of view, whose work was like no one else's.

These were often difficult people, almost uneymployable because you couldn't tell them what to do.

Sometimes it went wrong.

Sometimes it didn't.

When it didn't go wrong, it more than made up for the times it did.

From Whatever you think think the opposite by Paul Arden.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007





Ernest Goh is having an exhibition at Basheer's Gallery until the 30 June. I should have blogged about this earlier. The exhibition is titled Beam. Ernest is doing some interesting abstract photography with strips of 120mm film. His work is then encased in a light housing designed by Daniel Pillai. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 25, 2007

So cool

This is a video on the Bitter Girls site. Sooooooo Coooooool!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Doing it my way

I started taking photographs as a tourist, but it was dance that lead to my career as a photographer. After all these years, I am a people photographer. I work as a photographer because I love shooting people's faces and their bodies. I like shooting quiet portraits and dancers in motion. I like doing sexy fashion shots and sculptured nudes. I like creating textured images, with light creating moods for me.

To be honest, I am just able to balance a career shooting corporate work and shooting my own work. I already have clients and will continue to nurture these clients. Yet, it is tight and it would be nice to earn some more money so that I do not have to worry so much about paying salaries and outgoings.

The rebuff from the advertising agencies was actually expected, although I am still trying. I am trying now to get more corporate work, shooting portraits for corporations, annual reports and the like. I also recently shot some pregnancy photographs for two women and completely enjoyed it. I am going to pursue shooting more personal portraits and family portraits.

I also hope to have associate photographers in The Pond eventually, but I am very particular about who would become an associate. I rent out my studio to professional photographers. And I teach at Objectifs. I am also looking at parking some of my images at a stock agency.

I am not going to have a career in photography from the most obvious paths, but I will string together a group of things that I enjoy doing to make sure that I continue to have a balance of work for income and personal work.

I did have another interesting encounter with a Dutch photographer recently. It was at a bar and I could not catch his name. But he has seen my work and thinks that my work has character. He specialises in shooting musicians internationally. And he encouraged me to become and international dance photographer. Interesting idea. My mentor has seen my new portfolio and has also encouraged me to have a stronger personal style to make it internationally.

So the tension between getting work as a generalist in Singapore and a unique international talent is there. I always think that Singapore is an unexceptional country because we are a country without exceptions.

Anyway, if being a photographer was so easy, so many people would be a photographer. I know that a lot of people are joining photography now because the digital revolution has made the entry relatively simple. But with so much competition, making it to any decent level is awfully hard. But I see a light to the end of my tunnel, and I am determined to doing it my way.

Monday, June 18, 2007

If There're Seasons

If there're seasons... is a mandarin musical that The Theatre Practise is putting up in August. I did some of the publicity photography. So here is a plug for it!!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Picturing Relations: Simryn Gill & Tino Djumini

Picturing Relations is a concurrent exhibition by two different photographers. Simryn Gill photographs people's living rooms without the people in West Malaysia. Tino Djumini takes portraits of families in their houses. Both photographers are in their own way exploring the meaning of identity and ownership. The two series of images were conceptualised and executed independently, but the curator who decided to put the collections together is great. The images, both documentary in nature, invites the viewer to explore the lives of others and makes the viewer reflect on their own lives. This not eye-candy, but thought provoking work. Highly recommended viewing.

NUS Museum, 11 May to 15 July 2007

Milos Sadik

Milos Sadik seems to be working in Singapore. He is not only shooting nudes, but he is shooting erotica. I must say, what a delightful thought. I hope that I meet him one day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Always starting again

I have just spent quite a bit of money on a portfolio brochure which I sent out to advertising and public relations agencies. As a follow up, I have been having presentations with some of the big advertising agencies. And in some ways, it has been a rude awakening, but not an unexpected one.

I think that the first agency that I went to was the most down heartening. I was told that although my images were good, it was not good enough for a top international agency. The comments that I received were,
1. There is no concept in my work. I interpret that to mean that none of the work I presented was part of a campaign, and there was no indication that I could take an art directors idea and turn it into visual reality.
2. The images were too raw and the image touch up was not good enough.
3. Portraiture was only a basic skill of the commercial photographer. The commercial photographer can technically handle a wide range of work, that is fashion, product, architecture and digital imaging.

I must admit, I felt like I was kicked in the guts and balls for several days. But at the same time, a lot of people who received the portfolio who were not in the top ad agencies were giving me positive feedback. I have these opposing drives in me. There is a part that is attracted to the sparkle of being a successful commercial photographer, shooting things like campaigns for international brands. But the other part of me is an art photographer. Where I prefer my images raw, with less commercial polish. And portraits is not a basic skill to me, it is the cornerstone of my photographic work. To really become a commercial photographer, I will have to master product photography and heavy digital manipulation. Things that I really have very little interest in.

The first lady I met in the top ad agency said that photographers overseas can speacialise, like in fashion or portraiture. Those in Singapore have to be more versatile. Top photographers are like Geoff Ang, Sebastian from Shooting Gallery and Kenneth Wong. My hero Ken Seet, is not that popular amongst the top agencies. And Russell Wong is a celebrity photographer who rose in 80s when there was not so much competition.

In my heart I have always known that I am more of an art photographer and am probably commercially unviable, but it still hurt to have it so emphatically confirmed. I was basically told not to waste my time and other people's time visiting the top agencies. But something in me told me to not give up. I mean I have come this far and I have such a small chance of doing work with a top agency, but it is better than having no chance.

I swallowed my pride and went to a few more top agencies. I immediately explained that I was not expecting to get the Levi's campaign, but I am humbly starting out. Other people asked me if I was willing to do pro bono work or shoot stock for their large clients. I said 'YES!' Anything to get my foot in. So, it was not a complete waste of time to eat humble pie and meet people. In fact the last lady I met at a top agency said that they get tons of portfolios all the time, and she will remember me because I made the effort to go down and see her face to face. And when I said that I just wanted to get in at ground level, she says that is how most people start.

Hell, I still do not know if 'commercial' photography is the route that I want to take in Singapore. But I sure learnt a lot by printing out my brochure and going from door to door to meet people in the big ass top ad agencies.

With seven years of experience and confidence in my photography skill, there is still a lot more to learn. It is like for a major branding exercise, photography is part of a much larger whole. The photographer must interface well the ad firm's creatives. The photography studio needs the resources to handle major logistics, styling, and digital touch up. It is like I am starting again.

This is a pretty big set back, but by no means fatal. I have been meeting other people than the top advertising agencies and I am formulating alternative career moves. I will write more on this in another posting.

Photos: Kodak's highly sensitive sensor | CNET

Photos: Kodak's highly sensitive sensor | CNET

Kodak has lessened the noise in digital sensors by modifying the Bayer pattern. Cool Bananas!!!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A working space

I have purposefully tried not to talk about my personal life in my blog. I am going to make a slight departure in this posting. We are not able to do photography as an isolated activity from the rest of life.

I am easily affected by emotions and my emotions are an important component to my own creative process. However, emotions can also overshadow one's life and work. Too much euphoria can cause me to take my eye off my work. Too much turmoil and things can become dark and depressing. As an artist, I need a stable calm base to work from. I need to be able to face my brightest and darkest emotions squarely and still function. It seems like a paradox. But the trick is to live through the emotions as they arise and let them go when they start to ebb instead of hanging on. Emotions are a natural part of life. It is when we obsess, refuse to move on, that we get stuck in a rut.

I am in a good place right now. I have not arrived, I hope I never to arrive, it means that the next step can only be death. I have a good mix of commercial portrait work and my personal shoots, dance and portraits. It is a slight struggle financially, but I maintain three staff. And the three staff help me focus on being creative. They help me take the grind out of work and I hope that we are all learning and having fun together. I am the boss and this is a big plus. On my part, I try to be fair, and treat my staff well. I give them fair payment for their services and hopefully give them the opportunity to grow themselves. My staff not only do their work, they are learning as they work. I hope that my two assistants will eventually be photographers in their own right. They certainly have the potential. They push themselves. My office manager is conscientious and really know how to take care of details. If you have to do the work you are paying your staff to do, that is bad. If your staff are not interested in what you are doing or where you are going, that is bad. If your staff want to only collect the pay check and get out of the office, that is bad. In summary, I have a team of people with with a good attitude to work, who are willing to work with me to create images. The main lesson is to work with people who will give you the necessary support to push your boundaries not obstruct your growth. Treat them well.

My greatest supporters are my parents. They have let me pursue my dreams even though I have a doctorate in engineering. My father has more faith in my photographic career than I have. It is amazing to have such personal support. When I ask my father whether I am doing the right thing, he assures me that as long as I am not doing the wrong thing, I am doing the right thing. They have given me the space to pursue my work as well. I make the effort to spend time with my parents and they let me do my work when I need to.

My personal relationships have been the most disruptive to my growth. I have always been drawn to tempestuous relationships. Talk about living life to the full, I guess that in some ways I have. But I can assure you, that this is bad for long term growth in my creative process. There may be people out there who thrive on emotional roller coasters, I have finally come to the conclusion that I am not such a person. At this point of time I am single. Although I am lonely sometimes, the peace and freedom allows to focus on growing creatively.

What I think is important is to find people who will support you. Don't take people who support you for granted, they are very precious. Treat them well and help them grow as well. People with constructive criticism are hard on our egos, but they are true friends. People who are unquestioning fans are good for your ego, but lull you into a sense of false security. Beware! People with continuous destructive criticism are to be avoided like the plague. They can destroy your life and make it a living hell. Choose your company well.

You have to find a way to take the worries and nitty-gritty problems out of your life. You cannot live life without challenges, but you can mimise the annoyance. Part of this is simply accepting that there are challenges in life that you have to overcome them. I was just telling a friend recently that reaching the top of Mount Everest sounds grand, but the trip up is a bitch. If you are unable to accept the challenges that climbing a mountain poses, don't expect to reach the top.

What am I saying here? I am saying that you need to create a stable foundation from where you can grow creatively. To me, the best way of doing this is choosing good companions on your journey and treating them well. And at the end of the day, the journey is more important than the destination. I hope that not only are my images meaningful, but all the people involved with the process enjoy the process and have good memories of the journey.

A working space is not just for working, it is where you define your humanity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Looking for volunteers to pose for photographs

I will be going away for workshops from mid-July to mid-August. I have a couple of very enthusiastic assistants who would love to practise their portrait skills. If there are any people out there interested in having studio portraits done for one to eight people during my trip, please leave a comment with your email or contact number.

The deal is quite basic, but volunteers will get images burnt on a CD to take away.

Friday, June 01, 2007