Today, I have the pleasure to present you one of my all time favorite photographers. He hails from Down Under and has in a short span produced some imagery that would make the most established photographers go green with envy. Please join me in welcoming Kah Kit Yoong. Kah Kit has been kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions on this blog as well as provide us with some samples of his exquisite artistry. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
1- You went from being an MD to one of the most terrific up and coming travel photographers in a few short years, what has inspired you to become a photographer? How did you manage to learn the craft so quickly?
After 7 years of being an MD, I needed a break. That was 2005. Up till then I had no interest in either travel nor photography. My girlfriend, on the other hand, was an avid traveller and photographer. We planned a trip to Europe. As anyone who knows me can testify, once my interest is piqued, I become very intense and obsessive. Just the process of making preparations made me want to immerse myself in the destinations. Since we would be spending the most amount of time in Italy, I organized a month in Florence to take a crash course in learning the language and getting a feel for the culture. This is something that still holds - I prefer to spend more time at a given location than trying to cover too many places in one go.
While I was organizing the ‘big trip’, I happened to be on the island state of Tasmania. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful part of Australia and has the widest diversity in landscapes. I was doing a lot of cycling around the state. Seeing some of these awesome views, I just had to capture them somehow, so I used a point-and-shoot camera to take the occasional snap.
Since I had no interest in photography as an artform previously, it was definitely the places I visited in Europe and Tasmania that served as inspiration. During the months we were travelling, I took heaps of photos every day. I learnt how to study the light, make exposure and transition from the automatic modes to full manual. At the end of each day we would review the images and learn from them. I was starting to see why certain compositions succeeded or failed.
How did I learn the craft so quickly? Lots of practice obviously as I have mentioned, but also the desire to continue to improve. I am constantly reviewing my body of work and thinking about how I can extend myself further as an artist. On my return from Europe, I started posting images to online forums to obtain feedback. Apart from the benefits of getting and giving critiques, I was exposed to the photography of others which at that point became an inspiration for me. Seeing the beautiful work of the TimeCatcher team made me want to expore more of the natural world.
2- Given the intense competition in the field of photography, how does one make that transition from a practicing doctor to a full time photographer?
I would imagine it to be very difficult to succeed as a full-time travel or landscape photographer from scratch. Making the transition from another field is easier. For instance, I could afford to buy all the necessary gear up front. My collaboration with Canon made the equipment side of things easier too. I had no background in marketing and it took a few years to come up with a decent business plan. I was very lucky to have my work noticed on the web recognized at an early stage by clients. This led to commissions, workshops and articles.
I still work a couple of months a year as an MD which puts me in a strong position financially. I have found that the saying ‘money makes money’ rings true. Earlier this year, we put in a significant amount of funds to build a new website. Since then I’ve noticed a distinct spike in sales. One of the other benefits of transitioning from medicine is that I’ve never been under pressure to undersell my work.
Still, at some point you’re going to have to cut back on work in your chosen field or even give up a position. It’s a risk so some sort of business plan is needed where there are multiple potential sources of income which usually include publications, stock, workshops, commissions, etc.
3- You live in one of the most amazing places in the world yet your photography covers a wide array of locales. How often do you get to travel to collect such an impressive collection of images? Most importantly how do you manage (logistically) to travel so often?
I have one self-funded major trip each year. In 2009 it was Namibia, 2008 it was Northern Italy and 2007 Canada. I recoup the money spent on the trip during the year through the images I bring back. Whether I break even, make a profit or not doesn’t matter too much; it’s my holiday for the year. 2008 was great because I picked up an assignment while on the trip and ended up selling enough images and articles even before arriving back home. The other few trips I make during the year are usually commissions. While it is nice to try out new destinations, it is usually easier and less stressful to return to a place you already know when you have to get x number of shots in y amount of time. I don’t usually get to travel overseas more than 2 or 3 times a year. Since I’m planning to run workshops locally, much of my travel is now focused within Australia.
4- Your focus to date has mostly been on travel and landscape photography, yet I believe I have recently seen some attempts at fashion photography. Are you just having fun trying something different or is this something you intend to pursue more?
I’m yet to find a genre of photography that I do not enjoy. So yes I am having fun trying something different but I also want to learn and develop skills in other areas. This year I have been trying my hand at fashion, portraits and wildlife. I’m finding that knowledge in one area can often be applied to others. For example travel is such a varied field that I can easily use skills from portrait, food and interior photography. My aim is to have enough know-how in each field to produce professional quality images. I have a larger plan in mind and that includes being able to provide a wide-ranging service that goes beyond travel and landscape imagery.
5- There is no shortage of amazing places to visit on our planet, is there one in particular that tops your list of “must-sees”?
I have a penchant for cold places rather than the tropics. Besides, I think my portfolio needs more pristine white imagery so Antactica or Iceland seem to fit the bill. At the moment my big trip for 2010 is a toss up between these two and Patagonia.