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Shavonne Wong

Shooting her way to the top in the world of photography

Five months into her job scooping ice-cream, Shavonne Wong decided to trade-in the scoop for a camera. A decision that went on to win her numerous recognitions and awards for her fashion photography.

Her excellent photography skills also caught the eye of the producers for the reality television show, Asia’s Next Top Model, where Shavonne was invited to be the guest photographer last season, and for Season 6 this year.

In this interview, we check in with Shavonne to find out her story behind her successful career in photography and what she thinks makes a good photographer.

Shavonne Wong

What made you fall in love with photography?

I have always been a creative since young. Used to study 3D animation in school and as much as I loved it, it took months to come up with a 15s clip. Photography was a lot more instantaneous, plus I got to play a bigger role on how I wanted the end result to look. It also gave me the opportunity to work with amazing talents to create some beautiful work.

What was the most significant break of your photography career?

Getting to shoot for Asia’s Next Top Model gave me the biggest boost in exposure, credibility and industry validation.

What were the challenges you encountered starting up?

Like most freelancers, especially creative ones, the money was very inconsistent. It was quite difficult financially and made it hard to appreciate any non-monetary achievements.

Were your loved ones supportive of your decision to become a photographer?

I have been very blessed in that aspect! I’m sure my parents were worried in the beginning, but they were still very supportive. It was important especially during the months when the income wasn’t great, and I knew I still had a bed to sleep in and food in the fridge.

What do you think makes a good photographer and a good photo?

Someone who loves to create and does it out of passion. Honestly, gear has improved so much over the years. To stand out, you need to have good ideas and intention behind what you shoot.

You’ve done so much photography work but if you have to choose, what’s that one photo that you would call it your best work?

Shavonne Wong's favourite photo

I chose this image not because I think it’s my best work but because of how it came about. I was setting up my lighting and sunlight was shining through the windows. I considered closing the windows so it would not affect the lighting too much but was a little too lazy so I wanted to see how it’ll look. And ta-dah! I guess in a way I was experimenting… through laziness.

Gears! What are your must-have gears when you go for shoots?

Honestly, I’m not a technical person. I have a 6-year-old camera (5Dmk2) and just three basic lenses (35mm, 50mm, 85mm). They’re also all second hand.

Do you lug all your gears when you travel for leisure? If not, what do you bring along for your travel photos?

I don’t usually lug my gear around for travel photos, but when I do travel even on holidays, I do try to plan photoshoots while I’m there so, in a sense, I bring my gear. But not for the usual travel photos.

You’ve travelled around the world to do shoots. What’s your absolute favourite place to shoot and why?

I loved shooting in NYC. There’s just so many fantastic talents to work with and locations to shoot. The air just oozes with creativity. Plus they also have beautiful natural light.

You are the guest photographer for Asia’s Next Top Model 2018. How’s the experience like?

Shavonne Wong on AsNTM set

Amazing. It was amazing the first time they got me to shoot for them last season but for them getting me again this year and flying me over to Bangkok to shoot was a real validation. It’s fun, working with the girls and people like Cindy Bishop and Yu Tsai. Also interesting to see me actually on TV.

You have achieved so much over the years. What’s next for you?

I hope to get into videography. The world is changing, and technology is just getting more and more advanced. I feel like as long as I am not too stuck in my old ways and continuously experimenting and having fun, it should be good.

What’s your advice for aspiring photographers?

Be yourself, don’t be a second-grade version of anybody else. And find yourself a mentor or be an assistant. You’ll learn faster.

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Andrew Lim - Drewspectives

Going underwater to pursue his passion

Andrew Lim is the founder of Drewperspectives. He specialises in commercial and underwater photography and it is the latter style of photography that sets him apart from others in the industry. At age 26, Andrew has already worked on projects that brought him to places such as Maldives, Bali, the Philippines to shoot amazing underwater pictures.

So how did he get everything started and what’s it like to be an underwater photographer? We caught up with Andrew to find out about his story.

When did you pick up the interest in photography? What was your very first camera?

When I was 17, I first witnessed my Shi-fu (Teacher), William Tan, a world-renowned underwater photographer, shooting marine life when I was on a dive trip with him. It captivated me so much that I got myself a Canon 450D and an underwater housing and started shooting.

There are so many styles of photography. Why choose to specialise in underwater photography?

Andrew Lim - Drewspectives

Image credit: Drewperspectives

Mostly due to my interest in marine life since I was little, and I love the challenge of shooting in perhaps one of the most challenging elements to shoot in. Also, the photography industry is incredibly saturated, and I believe in offering something different is always a good thing.

One of the common questions that people have about becoming a photographer is whether one needs to sign-up for a certified course to be regarded as a professional. What’s your take on this?

Disagree. Perhaps a school is good to learn about technicalities and basics of how a camera works, but anything more might limit a person’s imagination and creativity, especially when it comes to tests, teachers grade photos according to their personal preferences. Sometimes it works for them, but many a time it’s subjective, and it doesn’t mean a picture isn’t good if it is poorly graded. Right now, we are blessed with the internet and YouTube so you can learn tonnes of camera knowledge from there.

What were the initial challenges when you started Drewperspectives? How did you overcome them?

My expertise revolved around photographing marine life and not so much about humans. The initial challenge was finding a way to ease my clients into making them feel as comfortable in the water as possible. Previously, you’d probably only see supermodels doing underwater photoshoots, and that is what I am striving for each of my clients, which is with the use of water to bring out the beauty of everyday people.

What was your family’s reaction when you shared with them your ideas?

I am super blessed with a very supportive family. They thought it was worth a shot. Also knowing my personality, if I want to do something, I’d do it anyway. Haha!

Can you share with us the photograph that leaves the deepest impression in you, and why?

Andrew Lim - Drewspectives

Image credit: Drewperspectives

This image is of Danial Ashiq and his wife, taken during the maternity shoot I did for them. I grew up watching Danial in some of the local TV dramas and working with him was a great pleasure. They were the sweetest couple and were so natural underwater despite being eight months pregnant!

This particular image stays as one of my favourites because it looks incredibly ethereal. The lighting that day was perfect, the dress was beautiful, and you can almost see the love between the couple from this still image.

Has entrepreneurship open doors for you and what were your best moments?

Andrew Lim - Drewperspectives

Image credit: Drewperspectives

It has opened doors. But before all that I had to close some (significant) doors to pursue this business. For example, I was offered an attractive position at Temasek Holdings after my book got published but I knew working in an office setting would kill me. I took the plunge and went ahead with Drewperspectives soon after. To be honest, the best moments are the little things like being able to rearrange my schedules around and travel whenever I want to. The freedom Drewperspectives grants me is something I value much.

Have you ever regretted doing what you are doing now?

Never regretted, but gone through moments when there aren’t many sales, or when dealing with tough clients.

If you were not a photographer, what would you be working as now?

I would’ve pursued my other business venture.

What’s next for Drewperspectives?

World domination! Haha! I’m kidding. But I would want to reach out to more countries and offer my unique and exclusive services there.

What is your advice for people who wish to venture into underwater photography?

By all means, please go ahead! It’s loads of fun and something remarkably different from the usual photography. However, it is also not the best industry to be in if you are looking to make good money as it is too niche a service.


Jeshua Soh, founder of JRC and Startup Media SG

Connecting with people through the gears at JRC

Jeshua Soh was only 19 when he started Singapore’s first peer-to-peer camera gear and spaces rental platform, J Rental Centre (JRC), in 2015. Thereafter, he established another company, Startup Media SG, to help startups with their marketing and video productions.

At such a young age, Jeshua has accomplished a lot that people of his age are probably still wondering what they want to do with their life or the university they want to apply for their next level of education. So how did Jeshua do it and what’s his philosophy when running his businesses? Here’s his story.

JRC’s mission isn’t to make a million dollars, but to connect a million people (or more) – Jeshua Soh

How did the idea of JRC come about?

J Rental Centre (JRC)

Image credit: JRC

JRC.sg began as a Facebook page with just about 25 personal items that I wanted to share with others while I wasn’t using it. The idea then started growing organically, as customers and associates I knew also wanted to rent out their equipment. We created our first proper website in the middle of 2015 and the current site in 2016, where people can easily find and rent camera equipment from the respective owners islandwide. JRC today isn’t a traditional business, and we aim to connect people. We have been operating as a functionally non-profit company by putting revenue not spent on operations and marketing, into community initiatives such as filmmaking and photography workshops, events and competitions.

What were the initial challenges?

Having to explain the concept as well as our vision to partners and customers was and still is somewhat of a challenge. We hope that the ‘kampung spirit’ that is talked about by politicians and ordinary citizens alike will triumph over individualism and materialism in the long run.

What were the lessons learned while putting JRC together?

I have learned about the importance of focus as well as working with the right people (since that is essentially everything we do at JRC is about). The kinds of people I get to meet are very diverse, some more similar while others quite different in our background and goals. I believe that everyone has a story, and listening to another person’s needs and seeing how we can meet them should not just be a starting point, but something that may need to be done over and over again to build trust and community. On a practical note, I have also learned to keep operations lean to achieve other goals such as running the community initiatives that I mentioned above.

You run Startupmedia Singapore that helps startups with their marketing and video productions. How do you balance your schedule between work and family?

Startup Media SG

Image credit: Startup Media SG

Work-life balance is honestly non-existent for me. Thankfully, the Startupmedia.sg and JRC are quite synergistic, being in the same industry and dealing with things that I’m quite familiar with. I have to prioritise important family events, keep reminding myself of the importance of adequate rest, and take breaks to recharge. In fact, I just came back from an 18-day trekking trip to Nepal!

Speaking of your family, what were their reactions when you inform them that you are starting your own business?

My family has been generally supportive of the decisions I take, though there were differences in opinions to some degree, I am thankful that I have their support to go through this journey

There are a lot of partners listed on your website. Who are they and what’s their role in JRC?

J Rental Centre (JRC)

Image credit: JRC

Our partners are equipment/space owners and they are the community of individuals who share our vision to connect with people. They provide their items or spaces, along with their professional expertise and support us for ad-hoc promotions and other community initiatives that we embark on (more on this later). Without them, there is no JRC!

What’s the selection criteria to be one of your partners?

There are no checkboxes or rubrics, but we do have a conversation with anyone who is keen on joining as a partner. What we look out for are our core values of collaboration, service and trust. If someone is looking for a good way to connect, has a good number of kit in good condition to rent and the availability to meet others, those are typically good starting points.

Browsing through your website, we noticed that besides having more than 1,000 listings and 50 partners, there’s also the mention of 10 spaces? Are you referring to co-working?

These spaces are mainly studios at the moment – targeted at photographers and videographers. We do hope to list more creative spaces as well, which may be good filmmaking sets or places to conduct workshops, training, meetings and events. The move to list spaces was in direct response to demand from our renters, some of whom needed to use these facilities for their school or work.

J Rental Centre Studio (JRC) Studio

Image credit: JRC

Where do you see JRC and Startupmedia in the next five years?

Five years is a long time, but in general; JRC’s mission isn’t to make a million dollars, but to connect a million people (or more); Startupmedia could end up becoming a lot of things, depending on where technology advances and how we choose to adopt it. Today, we have AI video creator software, speech to text, OCR, image recognition among many new technologies already being used. My hope is that we would be helping more startups and SME’s with getting their story out to the world, and help large corporates to market with a startup mentality (move swiftly and act decisively for maximum impact).

What’s your advice for people who wish to start their own business?

I am no business guru, but I’ll say that in general, asking a lot of good questions is better than having a lot of knowledge. Maybe this comes from my background in media and interest in current affairs/economics, but when so many things need one’s attention, it is better to have a robust framework of dealing with the issue than an answer to provide off the top of one’s head.

Anything you wish to add and say?

JRC.sg is now having our second run of a community photography/video project called PictureTogether. This free competition aims to showcase what the community can achieve together and how WE see Singapore. Participants will be given three random themes upon signing up at the link above and have until 15th July to submit their entries. For the video component, this year’s theme is ‘Boring’ Singapore in 360 (Free equipment rentals will be provided for VR/photography equipment for those who are joining in the competition).

159 images (53 for Singapore’s age, in 3 canvas’) would be exhibited, together with the compiled VR/360 video at Scape from 1-9 August, in line with National Day. There would also be 115 prizes worth $14,000 given our during the exhibition as well! This competition is one of the ways that we hope to connect people- with workshops, networking sessions and the collective showcase of talents that will be happening from now through 9th August!

J Rental Centre Studio (JRC) - Picture Together


Justin Fernando

Giving up his monthly salary to own his time

Justin Fernando is a videographer and an award-winning photographer. He has recently left full-time employment to further his passion for camera works in the world of freelancing. So why did Justin trade a stable job for one that has no guarantee? Here’s his story.

Where were you before started freelancing and why did you leave?

After graduation, I joined my first company doing videography and editing for a year before I was approached to join another company that was starting up. In that company, I was the primary videographer and did editing and graphics as well. I was there for seven years and left just a few months ago to start off on my own. I guess I felt it was about time to venture out on my own and into the unknown. We all like to be comfortable, and I just decided to take the leap of faith and see what’s out there.

How did you conclude that it’s time for you to start out on your own?

I still love my job. However, after seven years I was looking for more progression. I decided to risk the safety of a monthly salary to start off on my own. It was a difficult decision, but it just felt right.

After almost half a year, I enjoy owning my time and developing relationships with my clients to understand their visions. It has become less of a touch-and-go, and more of coming together with them to create contents that are engaging and visually stimulating.

What was your loved ones’ reactions to your decision?

My parents have always been supportive of me pursuing my passion. Never have they told me to get a better job like banking or engineering or what most Singaporeans deemed as a “proper” job when I was growing up. This is the one thing I am grateful for – having parents who are supportive of what I am interested in doing.

What is your photography style? Portrait, architecture, landscape, etc.?

 

 

I love taking travel landscapes and portraiture. In my travels, I like heading into the rural parts of a country. The innocence and purity you can capture speak for itself. It’s a unique experience each time when you smile and ask to take a picture of them, show them the photo and see the gleam on their faces as they look at themselves and return the smile. It is humbling, heartwarming, and goes back to the basic of strangers connecting in a foreign land, even when we don’t share the same language. I usually get their contact and send them a print. In Singapore printing out pictures is not very common anymore, and it’s easy to forget the joy of having something physical and tangible to hold, look at, and maybe even passing on to their family in the future.

What was your most memorable work for photography and videography?

Having completed a countless amount of projects over the years, it’s difficult to pick one. When I first started off roughly 9nineyears ago, the Canon 5DM2 came out and changed the way videos were made. At that young age, I was tasked to shoot and edit my first television commercial. It was a surreal experience to have the opportunity to shoot a TVC and doing up a car rig when these were usually left to the veterans to helm. Seeing it broadcasted on national TV was tremendously memorable.

Since starting out on my own, I have had the pleasure of partnering Bask Communications to work with Red Bull Racing for Formula 1, revolving around the concept of Dan & Max trying durian for the first time. We had to work with a tight timeline of having only 15 minutes for the shoot, and editing it overnight so that it will be ready for timely dissemination the next day. The video garnered over 13 million views worldwide and won two PR awards – Best Use of Broadcast/Video and Most Creative PR Stunt – for the campaign.

Freelancing market in photography seems to be saturated. Just browse through Instagram, and you’ll see tonnes of them. So what differentiates you from them?

Yes, these days it does seem like everyone with a camera is a photographer! I try to let my work speak for itself and it’s equally important to provide good service and build the relationship with clients.

One of the most common questions asked in photography and videography is whether gear matters. What’s your take on that?

Gear to me is absolutely secondary. While it does play a big role in aiding you to achieve your final product, I have also seen great stuff done on a shoestring budget. Sometimes not having the luxury of expensive gear pushes you to think more creatively about what will generate the best results. Having always wanted to go against the grain, I decided to go with Sony instead of the obvious two choices around and have not looked back. Of course, every brand has its pros and cons, it’s a matter of knowing what to use to attain the needs of the clients.

What are the gears for both photography and videography would you recommend for beginners?

Sony Alpha makes great, small full frame cameras that film great videos. As mentioned, there is no one size fits all formula, it all depends on how comfortable you are with your gear. Samyang makes awesome glass at affordable prices so starting off on those primes is a sure win start.

What is your advice for people who aspire to be freelance photography?

My advice is just to go for it. The most important thing is that it should bring you joy. You should wake up in the morning not dreading going to work and that is how I know the work I do is not just a daily requirement in life but a joy that completes it.


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