My interview with TODAY PAPER, 4 December 2014
Interview questions from TODAY
1. What do you do as a Nikon Ambassador?
Be myself and share my passion in Photography. It’s all about bringing back beautiful imagery from around the world to inspire the younger and amateur photographers. Thanks to Nikon for recognizing my work, also creating platforms online and organising roadshows to enable us to share our passion. As an ambassador I am supported by Nikon with professional gear whenever I am on a mission (shoot).
2. You’ve been capturing images of the world for 20 years. What do you makes a great travel photo? What are some elements and qualities you need to be a travel photographer?
A great photo is one that tells a story. Unless you experience the place, culture and people, you are not going to bring back stories.
Love travel and love photography! 🙂 Enjoy your journey. Love meeting people. Go with your mission in mind. As a travel photographer, I work with publishers and image banks like Gettyimages and I was given assignment on location. Pay attention to details, ask questions and capture the essence of lives and places. Travel photographers have to be very flexible and constantly changing hats, whether I am shooting the Spanish flamenco dance tonight, documenting city life tomorrow morning or climbing up a mountain to capture the sunset of a beautiful landscape. Over the years, I have trained myself to be versatile in all kinds of photo shoots, from journalism to street photography, portraits of people and to landscapes anywhere. I have to cover a variety of different subjects to bring out the essence of each place.
3. You’ve brought people on photo expeditions. What are they like and how do you try to teach them your tricks?
I try to teach photographers how to explore a place with me. Let them experience what I have experienced. There is no limit to exploration. If you ever journey with me you will discover the love for photography. We will be doing nothing but taking pictures. You get to ask as many questions you like in my journey. I remember one guy sharing during the trip, he said “capturing the silky water is what I wanted to learn all my life and I have just learnt it from Alex just a few minutes ago and thats all it takes”. In the trip, we will share our daily discovery, whether it is the people we spoke to or the image we have captured, it is all about story telling. There are maybe a few little tricks but most importantly you need to capture with your heart.
4. What are some suggestions everyone can use to take better travel photos?
First we have to ask ourselves what are we taking these photos for? “To share with friends and loved ones when we are back from our travels?” In most cases, I remember once a photographer asked me “I’m not sure what to capture here at Valparaso, Chile, there are so many things going on here!” she said. So I told her, “Look! There are little kids running after the birds, the old man fishing, or how about the boat coming towards the jetty, or hey look, someone is painting the harbor…, go capture 20 images at this location and bring them back to share with your children what this place looks like. So that they are able to see the place through your lens. And when you get better each time, you may take less pictures to tell the full story and when you are as good as the National Geographic photographers, you may only need to take 3 images that say it all or even the one stunning picture that gets published on the cover.”
5. With the rise of Instagram, do you think travel photography is now so common that it’s not special anymore?
We will never have enough story telling pictures to share. Instagram may gives a glimpse of that place but we still need to experience it ourselves just like photography did. Seeing a small picture on Instagram may not have the same impact of seeing it on a bigger photo print, and viewing from a bigger print doesn’t bring you to the place to experience the present. What’s so great about being a travel photographer is that I get to travel around the world to experience the realness of life. 10% from looking at pictures and 90% being there to experience it. Each format has it’s own uniqueness, whether it is Instagram from the phone or picture from a camera, it is a way to introduce people to the world we live in. Its never going to be enough as the world has so much to discover, thus travel photography will always be special.
6. What sort of gear do you bring on the road? is it possible to travel light with your equipment?
Yes, I do travel light and bring only what I can carry with me on each trip. Carrying less also means I’m able to walk a longer journey. I travel with my Nikon D3s and a mix of lenses: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, Nikon PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III (2X)
7. Your images have also been used in Our Daily Bread. What’s your fave most inspirational and reflective picture you’ve used for it?
These two pictures are shot during the same day and both were selected to be published on Our Daily Bread, a publication with a circulation of 17 millions copies worldwide. Walking up the steps of Huangshan (between 7am to 7.30pm) the view was breathtaking and the steps was breathtaking too. I remember falling down many times from the icy steps and half way up, I was very tired. There was a point in my journey that I wasn’t sure if I should continue up or go back down because I wasn’t sure when the steps were going to end. I pushed myself up on every steps and these are the images that I have used my blood, sweat and tears to trade for.
8. Which destinations do you enjoy going to for a spiritual awakening and reflection as well?
That would be my one month backpack in China. It is a self discovery journey. I basically drew a line on the map across China and gave myself one month to travel from point A to point B. What is in between is really amazing. It is a 114 pages of journal. I was humbled by the people I met along the journey and the places I have went to.
9. Do you find yourself taking so many photos that you forget to enjoy the essence of a place? how do you balance seeing and experiencing it for yourself versus through your camera lens?
People who knows me know I always enjoyed my journey. How could one capture the moments without experiencing the moments. I shared with photographers that our purpose there is not to just take photos but to make friends with people. Enjoy the journey, taking photos is just secondary 🙂
10. What are your favorite destinations for a photoshoot?
Wow this a tough question for me, it is hard to compare as each place has their own uniqueness. I love most of them and go with an open heart to learn and see on each trip. But if I may name a few, it would be Torres Del Paine in Chile with it’s majestic mountains, Hatton in Sri Lanka to find your soul at the quiet and peaceful landscape, 1200 meters above sea level, surrounded by it’s beautiful tea plantations. Driving through the coast of Portugal, walking in the desert of Arizona, United States or capturing the -15 celsius winter wonderland of Takayama, Japan.
11. You’ve also used your photography skills to organize The Rice Project and Project Road, can you tell us more about that?
Thank you for asking this question and I am so glad to share. Over the years I have been to many countries and some of the places I have visited has helped me discover the less fortunate ones. I could not forget what I have seen and that is why the place has brought me back. How often do we get to help or save another life in our lifetime? Since God has given me a talent with photography, then I should use it well . Since photography is a powerful tool to create awareness, I shall use this gift to tell the story of the less fortunate ones so that those need help, would get help and those who want to help, know where to help. Through photography and photo exhibitions, many will get to know the story behind each picture and it is also a form of education to our own people in this city of Singapore. Whether it is The Rice Project in Sri Lanka/ Philippines or Project road in Cambodia, the words that return to me from the less fortunate friends are so rewarding. I remember a Cambodian elder said to me “Alex, the 2.7km road that you and your friends have built, it did not just help the people… it has changed the lives of the people”, Wow! that has touched my heart and made me want to do more.
12. Lastly, have you ever gone into place and found yourself uninspired to take any photos?
Never. Always believe that every place has its beauty and it is my duty to bring out the uniqueness on each location. There may be times that my brain needs to take a break, thats where I put the camera away and enjoy the presence of the people and mother nature. Nothing like sitting on the top of the mountain, putting my legs out over the cliff to enjoy the beauty of a great expanse, God’s creation.