The Ask Me Anything series continues.
I occasionally run AMA’s on Instagram stories, but it’s quite difficult to get to everybody’s questions and it’s also hard to do justice to some of the answers. So I figure the blog is a better place to write out longer-form answers to some of the questions I receive.
This series of questions was asked while I was en-route to Macau for a job.
Also check out AMA #1 here.
The questions have been lightly edited for grammatical errors and clarity
Q. What’s your biggest challenge in becoming a full time travel photographer?
A. Prior to beginning this journey, I did everything I could to mitigate as much risk and challenge that I could foresee, so that I could smoothly sail into this new career.
Of course, not everything works out as smoothly as you plan, and for sure this journey hasn’t been immune to its fair share of ups and downs, but I don’t really have difficult challenges, every scenario has already been accounted for in some way.
That being said, the abundance of time on my hands is absolutely phenomenal, and yet, I find myself filling it with the lofty ambitions I have, other hobbies I like to pursue and other life things.
Parkinson’s law suggests that work (life, in this case) will always expand so as to fill in all the available time; and in this case it’s certainly true. I have to constantly set myself deadlines and maximise my calendar in order to get things done in a manageable manner.
Fortunately, adaptability is one of my strong traits, so even though that might seem like a rigid exercise, I’m actually super flexible within it too.
A big challenge for anyone about to go down this path though is to really cherish your time. I say this over and over and over again on all my channels. Time is all you ever really have. Use it well.
Q. Will you shoot on film?
A. Funnily enough, I actually get this question quite a lot. But the reverse question is more interesting - why?
Sure, I don’t mind the occasional roll of disposable camera, because it’s fun to mix things up every now and then. But from my perspective, you can replicate most everything in film with a digital camera.
Want to slow down? You can do that digital.
Want film colours? You can do that with digital.
Want all your images to be soft and potatoey? You can do that with digital too.
Aside from the kinaesthetic feel of a film camera, there’s little to no benefit to shooting on one.
That said, I’m a devote technologist, and I only have an irrational nostalgia for a few certain things - film is not one of them, despite how “cool” it might be.
Q. What music do you listen to to be creative?
A. My taste in music is as varied as a rainbow has colours. When I’m writing, I listen to the same classical piano playlist on Spotify. When I’m at the gym, I listen to heavy metal - real screamo shit. In the space between, I might listen to alternative or indie, or chillstep or vaporwave.
I listen to almost everything except for rap.
For photos and edits and stuff, it’s mostly vaporwave and chillstep.
Q. What do you enjoy the most about doing photography?
A. So, photography for me is actually a proxy for adventure.
Sure, I identify myself as a “photographer”, but what I actually love doing is chasing experiences and then documenting them. It’s the experience and the adventure first; photography second.
That being said, specifically photography wise, I love the idea that I can freeze a memory in time and space by pressing a shutter button. I have a bad memory generally, so recalling events and specific memories without seeing pictures is actually quite difficult for me - that’s why I’m not that great of a storyteller in real-life conversation; my recall is terrible. I need time to think.
So to answer the question, I enjoy looking back on the photos I’ve taken and having those memories flood back into my mind, because then they re-arrive, they’re beautiful and vivid and intoxicating.
Q. Have you tried shooting with Fujifilm cameras? If yes, what are your thoughts about it?
A. Sure, I’ve played around with some Fujifilm cameras before. I’ve said this before, but before I’m loyal to any camera brand, I’m loyal to good, progressive, technology first.
For Fuji, personally, if Sony wasn’t such a good fit for me technology-wise, I’d be on a Fuji. I don’t have a bad thing to say about them.
Q. What is your writing process for books, captions etc?
A. I love this question.
I love it because I enjoy writing a good long-form caption on Instagram over posting a great image on Instagram. I get more of a kick out of people saying “this caption is rad”, than “this photo is rad”. Is that weird? Probably a little. Maybe I’m just a romantic for the lost art of reading in this damn millennial age.
Anyway, it all starts with reading a lot. I’m a firm believer that you cannot be a good writer unless you’re a consistent reader. It’s like trying to be a good photographer but never looking at photographs. Or being a filmmaker and never watching videos or films. You need to read a lot to develop a reference bar of quality and understand the constituent parts that determine the quality. Same as any creative field.
It’s kind of like the idea that “anybody can be a photographer”. Sure. Anyone can take a photo. But not everyone can take a good one. Sure, everyone can write something that might “seem” good to them. But is it actually good? Good writing is deep. Like many creative fields, there’s a lot of subtlety to it. Most people can’t author prose while distinguishing grammatical correctness (if they even get it right to begin with) with stylistic devices. Or when to and when not to use repetition (and how to), or stitching together fractured ideas in multiple places, simplicity vs tactical verbosity, tying a story together, wordplay, and so much more.
For captions, the process is simple: If I come across an interesting idea or passage or quote in a book, I summarise it into a few keywords and jot it down for later.
Before posting time, I return to this big-ass sheet of notes and see what string of keywords speaks to me; topics to talk about.
Then, I spew out everything about that topic in a stream-of-consciousness style and refine it until I’m happy.
But the key here is that I usually write about things I read about and know a lot about: Philosophy, psychology, sociology, self help, creativity etc. So the thoughts have already been mulled over in my sub-conscious at some point in time.
For books and articles, it’s a little more stiff: I usually have an idea of what I’m going to write about, I’ll jot down a few key words to form the structure of the prose, and then I’ll write in a template style and fill in the gaps until it’s finished.
Sometimes, it feels like a chore to do this kind of writing, but hey, not all creative endeavours can be 100% fun all the time.
I’m also the kind of writer who can’t progress until the previous paragraph has been finished at least 95%. I’ve tried the drafts style: blurting things out in runs and doing multiple drafts, refining each time, but my mind finds it awkward. It never feels right to me. To each their own though, work out what works for you.
(Also related: it doesn’t hurt to read some books on actually writing well. It’s a skill, one that has theory and practice, like every other skill)
Q. What’s your advice on how I could pursue my passion so I can quit my corporate life?
A. Have a plan and mitigate risk.
You can’t just expect to throw yourself into a new career, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Life will chew the fuck out of you and spit you out onto the sidewalk.
I get this question and lot, and the general answer is: if you can’t make a plan to escape on your own, you won’t survive on your own to begin with.
It sounds really harsh, but it’s as harsh as reality is. The people who make it are the ones who made it for themselves. Remember that.
The way I see it: if you want it enough, you’ll spend the time to make the macro and micro goals, to do the research, make the plans, find the risks, take the time to mitigate them, make the sacrifices required, and just do it.
Because the reality is, not everyone is cut out for this life. Not everyone can do it; and that’s fine too. It’s hard. It takes a certain mindset combined with suitable circumstances and sacrifices and then you’ve gotta make the jump - not to mention what comes after that.
But if you believe you can do it, then prove it to yourself. But also remember that there’s nothing wrong with working for a big company and climbing the corporate ladder. Ultimately, you can be happy doing whatever; just make sure you’re self-aware enough to know what that looks like and how to get there if you’re not already.
Q. Have you been to Nikko in Japan?
A. Yes, it’s lit. Although when we went, there were supposed to be Autumn leaves and there weren’t any because we were too late. Sad face. Still, a nice place. Eat some Yuba.
Q. What do you think about phone photography?
A. I think photography is photography, and whatever you have to shoot on is whatever you have to shoot on.
It’s never ever about the gear until it is. And until you understand the true significance of that entire sentence, don’t worry about the gear. Whatever you’ve got is fine.
Seriously, even on my main account, I’ve posted images that have been taken on my phone, on my compact camera, and even drone shots have at maximum a 1” sensor. Once you understand how to shoot properly and edit well, it doesn’t matter what you shoot with, until it does.
When it does matter is when you need gear as a tool to successfully pull off certain requirements like bokeh, or low noise (but even then post processing is so good now a-days if you know how to use it properly), strobes or lights, focal lengths for a specific purpose like ultra ultra wide, or super super compressed etc.
For 99% of images, your phone - most any phone - is totally fine.
Q. What are your travel outfits?
A. Black, mostly. Ha.
I’m a minimalist, so I don’t actually have that many outfits. Plus, I have to keep my suitcase under 20kg. I don’t have a lot of variation and I’m okay with that. That being said, I still try to look as stylish as I can even in mostly black.
Q. How were you able to get your first shoot with a model?
A. My first portrait shoot was with my friend! And that’s how you should start too.
Typically, models need some kind of social proof to verify that:
- You’re not a creep.
- It’s not going to be a complete waste of time.
- You actually know what you’re doing.
You get this proof by shooting your friends who know you’re not a #1, that don’t mind that #2 will actually come true, and that you’re trying to learn #3. Aka, they love you anyway.
Once you’ve built your skills with family and friends, displayed it to the world by having those skills showcased online somewhere, only then can you successfully really approach models with intention to shoot.
It’s classic human nature: A collaboration means that it’s beneficial to both parties, so you need to make the other party know it’s going to be beneficial for them too.
Side note: Don’t be that person who expects advice, or meet ups, or things for free. Consider what you’ve done for that person first and what they’d get in return for their time. The person you’re asking is a human; not a sponge to be squeezed with reckless abandon. They have feelings.
Q. Do you always take photos landscape, then crop them to make them suitable for Instagram?
A. It’s a habit that I’ve certainly gotten better at over the years. Now, I shoot probably 80% of my images in landscape, although I make an effort to shoot most compositions in both orientations, but landscape is always the first shot off the hip.
Remember that to post on Instagram, you only need 2 megapixels. So that 12MP phone, or that 24MP drone, or that 42MP camera you have is most certainly overkill. Unless you need the compression, shoot wider and crop. You’re not going to lose quality on the export just because you shaved off a few MP.
Okay, that’s it for now! Stay tuned for the next AMA on my Instagram.