In the Mind of the Portraiture Photographer

Edited by Loud Kitchen LLC

What makes photographers gravitate to a certain genre? What does it take to become good at it? As part of this series of interviews, we do a deep dive into the minds of veterans to see how they tick.

Today, we delve into:

Portraiture Photography with Ejun Low

EjunLow_Profile

Ejun Low is a portrait photographer based in Singapore with a background in Film and Animation from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

He is the founder of Pentaprism, a company that manages and brands developing photographers into industry professionals.

You can view Ejun’s work at: ejunlow.com

What drew you to Portraiture Photography as a career?

My personal inclination towards photographing people stems from a desire to document those closest to me.

Indeed, I believe that this is what makes portraiture one of the most beloved genres of photography. To me, there is simply no better way to relive a moment in time, than through a purposefully captured still photograph.

On a professional level, I’ve always appreciated sincere conversations with my guests. One-on-one portraits naturally allows me that freedom to express myself, and undoubtedly, my work better.

Successful portraiture photographers need to have a distinct style” – do you agree?

From a business point of view, not necessarily so.

In the modern digital age of photography where there is so much content around us, it is easy to be visually inspired by similar styles and approaches.

Undeniably, visual trends continue to be emulated quickly (and rather simply) through the use of modern software and apps.

In other words, simply adopting what is popular might do enough to appeal to clients and give you a certain degree of business success.

Photo: Ejun Low

From an artist point of view, then most certainly yes.

Being an artist is, to me, the process of expressing myself and the way I perceive the world, through my work.

Simply put, it’s how I’d like my work to look, how I’d like my clients to recognise me, and how I would want to be remembered as an artist.

A distinction in style becomes the differentiating factor between you and every other photographer out there.

Indeed, there are photographers who express themselves in a manner that only a handful of clients can appreciate. These photographers tend not to use revenue as a measure of their own success.

As a professional photographer, you’ll need to find balance between being an artist and a business owner.

As a portraiture photographer, you work closely with people. How do you communicate with them to get them comfortable with you before the shoot?

Photo: Ejun Low

I tend to start my chat with the question of how they heard about me. It’s a simple insight that gives me an opportunity to see if we have mutual friends who referred them.

From there, I look to build on and shift our conversation so that we can start talking about their experiences rather than mine.

All that time spent conversing is also useful for taking mental notes of things like preferred sides or challenging features that might need to be rectified either with lighting or posing.

The worse we can do really, is not to engage them in conversation at all — which pretty much make us an over-priced photo-booth.

Expression, pose and camera angle; how do you decide on these for a given subject?

A pre-requisite to being a good portrait photographer is having enough sensitivity to decipher your guest’s personality. Interpreting this correctly is imperative to deciding everything.

I’d also take to their social media to have a brief look at their lifestyle which tells me plenty about how I should approach with my photography.

Photo: Ejun Low

In photography, there are bound to be disagreements. How do you communicate with clients who are not satisfied with their portraits?

The simplest manner if it does actually happen, is to approach unsatisfied customers with a genuine “what do you not like about this photograph?”.

A better alternative however, is to occasionally provide visual feedback by having the clients look at how they are performing throughout the session.

If done appropriately, it would give clients a chance to comment on anything that requires improving, or if they aren’t particular pleased with how things turn out.

Would you agree that the photoshoot experience is more important than the final image?

I don’t.

Photography is a visual art that is taken in by sight, not by touch, and the final image is the reason why I was commissioned in the first place.

The experience I provide is an integral component to elevating my service standards.

When a photographer say he has a decade worth of experience, it means he can count on ten years’ worth of insights to solve client’s problems and make the entire project a much more pleasant one.

Ultimately, it’s the image that counts in the end though.

What’s your approach to lighting?

I photograph fairly minimally.

One light on the subject is usually what I perceive as being most natural. That said, I would use other lights to add depth to my background, when necessary.

Otherwise, I’d favour just having one (often giant) light source on my guests… just like how the Sun is to our beautiful Mother Earth.

What are some of your favourite gear?

Photo: Ejun Low

My camera, lights and a good softbox are the three things most crucial to my work.

My cameras of choice are the Fujifilm X-series mirrorless cameras and their line-up of stellar lenses.

In terms of size, functionality and what it can deliver for my clients, these are just a wonderful fit for my work — and a great aid to my deteriorating back since they are slightly smaller in form compared to a DSLR or Medium Format Kit.

Lighting and accessories wise, I’ve always been a fan of the Swiss company Elinchrom’s products. I find their gears relevant to my needs and very reasonably priced for the consistency I need to deliver quality work. My favourite will be their giant 5-foot Octa.

Outside professional work, my Fujifilm X100F has been a feature of the precious moments in life. If there’s a camera series that holds a special place in my heart… this will be it.

What advice would you give yourself if you could travel back in time to the beginning of your career?

First, stay positive. You will be amazed just how much a positive attitude can change a poor run of jobs.

Second, stay humble (a.k.a ditch the artist ego). This is especially true as you gain traction in your photography career. It’s one thing to know your worth, and another to judge others for what they can or cannot afford.

Is there anything about the industry today that bugs you?

Photo: Ejun Low

If there is any at all, it would be how often I hear people in the industry saying amateurs are spoiling the market.

Indeed, the game changer today is the fact that quality gear are so much more affordable and mobile apps can create stellar images.

It is up to the professional photographer to understand that being able to produce incredible images alone will no longer be a huge advantage. Providing an impeccable service experience will justify our price tags.

Any tips on starting out as a Portrait Photographer?

From a business perspective, I would advise starting a brand with a big enough market audience and branch into a premium niche once you have developed a constant inflow of clients.

From a mindset perspective, strive for competency in your skills before looking to build your wealth. Thereafter, you should look to find your purpose in life using photography as a medium.

Found this useful and want more?

This is part of the “In the mind of” interview series where we get top notch Singapore photographers to share their experience. You can read the rest of the series at:

Researched and Executed by Loud Kitchen LLC
Writer: Aaron Ang
Editor: Wee Yen Yee