Just start with what you have
I thought my photography journey started through Instagram and that was rather recent, but I realized it actually started in 2010 when I experienced photography using a family-owned camera during an overseas family trip where I was ‘appointed’ as the camera man. The camera was sold away when I was 18, and I was pretty sad as I loved using it. It was my twin brother, Yafiq who inspired me to pursue photography professionally when he first invited me to an InstaMeet gathering. There, I was inspired by the aspiring photographers who all took their own photos except me. It was then that I decided to create my own kind of photography style and pursue creative photography to showcase different perspectives of things till today.
As a photographer, I prefer to shoot photos of architecture rather than that of nature since Singapore is known for its inspiring and beautiful architectures. I feel there is a lot of room to explore and play around with architectures. Besides, I’m used to lines and grids in my IG feed so it is easier for me to conceptualise my photos through architectures. Most of the photos I took are unplanned as most are heavily inspired by the location I’m in. Taking photos of nature is more unpredictable as it changes all the time and it is harder to know what to expect from it compared to architectures where you can envision how you want it to be.
My editing style is very different from my brother in terms of colours as at times, I prefer less saturated and mellow photos while Yafiq prefers higher contrast and more structure in his. At times, Yafiq does not like my editing and he even thinks I am colour-blind. We are not always a fan of each other’s work, but we like what we have done individually, so we will still post it. Recently, I’m trying out a different style on a few posts as I want to do something fresh for myself. I like to see how my Instagram feed looks like for my own satisfaction. It is my personal achievement and I want to like what I see.
People do compare between me and Yafiq. Usually, I do not mind the comparing unless I happen to be emotionally down. It does affect me then. Other days, I am perfectly fine about the comparison and could not care less.
As a photographer, I started my professional photography journey later than Yafiq. One of the major challenges is getting my family to understand and accept the fact that I do photography full time and professionally. Another challenge is us being judged by other professional photographers who do not take us as seriously because we do our shoots with smart phones. They feel that our photography skills are limited because we use smart phones to shoot.
We can use professional cameras to shoot. It is just that we prefer smart phones because of its convenience. It is also a challenge when we have to compete against photographers who use professional cameras when it comes to commissioned jobs. For example, if they need the photos to be in very high-resolution for larger print formats, it may not be possible to do so with phones. On the other hand, shooting with smart phones gives me new opportunities as I do receive invitations to teach photography using smart phones.
I have encountered some setbacks in my photography career although they were not the lowest points I faced. Once I had 2 clients who did not like the final photos I produced and it was disheartening to know that. There were misalignments in the expectations, and they didn’t manage to see the message I was trying to tell in the photos. However, it’s part and parcel of life. We just move on and become better versions of ourselves as photographers.
Another incident that affected me more was when I lost a rare opportunity to travel to a country that I have never been before during a campaign by a well-known brand because someone I know got selected instead, when that person was already involved in another competitive brand’s campaign. In the end, I took it as it wasn’t meant to be and there might be better opportunities waiting for me out there.
When the going gets tough, I tell myself to be positive and that I can prove my worth. I also receive a lot of encouragement and positive feedback from my followers on Instagram which also keeps me going. Most importantly, I have to overcome my own hurdles in this photography journey.
The most memorable experience in my photography journey was being a part of a Channel News Asia project “#DontForgetMe” where Yafiq and I were invited to teach a group of elderly how to take photos with mobile phones. It is something that Yafiq and myself will never forget. We do photography but at the same time, we have always wanted people to benefit from what we do. We did not know if we were going to be paid but we did not really care about that as we really wanted to do it out of passion and sincerity.
It was quite a challenge as I remember the first day of the shoot was also the first day of fasting month and we had to be there at 8am. We first had to teach them the basic functions of using a mobile phone such as how to save contact numbers before we proceeded to the photography part. The photos taken by the elderly were eventually exhibited and it was very inspiring. We wished the exhibition was longer as It really felt very satisfying and we were so grateful to be given this opportunity.
Some of our followers (I prefer to call them my Instagram family) watched the episodes and sent us positive comments - one of them who owned a cheesecake business even sent us a cheesecake to encourage us. It was delicious! I thought I was a very patient person, but this experience taught me to become even more patient. Another thing I have learnt from this is that we have taken for granted the fact that we grew up with technology and that everything is so convenient for us. We also realised that the pioneer generation has been neglected and we didn’t think how they have been coping without these technologies. We will never forget this meaningful experience!
In my photography journey, it is Yafiq who brings out the best in me. Although we are very competitive, we will try and help one another. I also feel my phone brings out the best in me since I can use it to pursue something I like.
With National Day approaching, I would like to reimagine a different kind of Singapore. It may seem that Singapore is a very green city but we are not doing enough. For example, look at how we manage plastics. I hope that Singapore can become a more environmentally conscious country starting with the bigger supermarkets stopping the use of plastic bags. If other countries are doing it, Singapore, a smaller nation should be able to do it too. Although we are encouraged to bring our own shopping bags, we are still not doing enough.. Personally, I do feel frustrated and bad when I forget to bring my own bags.
Other than being kind to our own environment, I think it is very important to be kind to one another too as we need one another to grow. No matter how a person is, we should just be nice as it will lead to a positive mindset and is gratifying. This also means having the ability to appreciate our diverse cultures. For example, when I was visiting Kuching, Sarawak, a Malaysian lady mentioned she wished there are food courts with both halal and non-halal food - most food courts in Malaysia only serve halal food. For us, our food courts have both, we eat together and we accept one another.
As a photographer, I do reimagine Singapore to become more futuristic and build more cool architectures in upcoming years so that I am able to capture more intriguing architectures through my mobile phone lenses.
My plan for the future is to become a better version of myself. As for my Instagram family, I want to tell those who like my work that it is not always about the gadgets. Just start with what you have.
In collaboration with creatives Yafiq and Yais Yusman, the Pillars of Support Series presents stories of everyday Singaporeans who demonstrate the strength and impact of individuals when we act, and boldly reimagine and recreate the Singapore we wish to see beyond our individual backgrounds. It speaks of the the relationships we have, the celebration of our shared strength, adaptability and our never-say-die attitudes, and what it truly means to be a Singaporean.
To see more of Yais Yusman's work, visit https://www.instagram.com/yaisyusman/