7th August 2013, Singapore – While half the world’s photographers are shooting “regular commercial” assignments, there are other photographers that ventures to great heights or into the depths. And more often than not, the latter group are the very niche and specialized photographers that does what the majority of us (me included) will not even think of doing.
Among my circle of professional photographers, there’s a name that had somewhat became an “industry-household” name whenever underwater photography is mentioned. No, I am not talking about shooting corals out in the sea or hunting down rare marine fishes, I am referring to shooting underwater portraits. He is none other than Patrick Poh, a (really famous) professional underwater photographer. Since Patrick is my personal friend, I will not settle for anything if he refuses to be interviewed. As expected, I got my interview.
Patrick started photography at a rather young age. While his then teenage counterparts are painting the town red and hanging out in arcades, Patrick choses to explore photography. He started his illustrious career “playing” with SLRs between 1996 to 1999 and as a student then, film photography was considered too expensive for a school boy so he did not really take it seriously but more of just learning and experimenting.
His genre calling came when Patrick discovered that he has a penchant for water. He shoots near water and soon, underwater. The process of learning saw Patrick completely destroyed 3 SLRs in the saltiest of sea water. That didn’t stop him at all – 3 SLRs during those yesteryears costs a lot of money! He persevered on and finally when the digital era dawn upon Patrick, he is already a master in this craft.
Known for his artistic underwater portraits, Patrick creates beautiful unreal renditions of people in a formless environment. Similar to a weightless environment and with the invisible flow of underwater currents which is totally beyond his control, Patrick had made the “uncontrolled environment” seems like a directed open studio – in any water. Although Patrick also does a bit of other jobs like wedding-related assignments, conducts classes & shoot what most of us shoot – he does them well, as expected from an accomplished professional, although Patrick still prefers to be inside the water.
Before anyone of you starts to dump your equipment into the water, Patrick had shared with me that shooting underwater is easily a hundred times more difficult than a regular shoot on dry land. But why Patrick chose water? You see, he had done almost everything that a commercial photographer had done before – and the monotonous regularity of shooting angles, poses, lighting arrangements or even shooting locations got into him. He wants to continue creating exciting photos which is getting harder by the day as he had tried experimenting (almost) everything. In short, he got really bored and decided that regular photography jobs are not what he really wanted to specializes in.
In water, it’s a completely new environment. New inspirations, new challenges, new equipment and according to Patrick, it is also a relatively new industry. He calls it “unchartered territory” filled with surprises and possible dangers especially when shooting out in the open sea.
When asked about his source of inspirations, Patrick shared that he is a keen follower of Zena Holloway when he started shooting underwater. Zena is in fact, one of the top underwater photographer in the USA. He draws inspirations from Zena’s incredible works and he seeks to learn and improvised from there. As Patrick matures gradually in this area, he started to draw inspirations from the rain. When he told me this, I was puzzled but why the rain?
“Most of my inspirations came from the rain. Have you ever seen how light bends and those reflections on the window after and during the rain? I’d always imagined a little fairy swimming in those droplets.” said Patrick.
And of course, the equipment used for underwater photographer is far more complicated than what we use on land. Patricks uses mainly Ikelite housings and strobes and if you are seasoned photographer and know those brands, you can roughly guess what kind of costs we are talking about here.
A Canon user, Patrick shoots mainly with Canon’s 5D series cameras and an arsenal of Canon’s “L” lenses. But he shared that recently, he had started moving towards Sigma brand lenses for speed and sharpness. Patrick used the “Price to Performance” ratio as a guide. The new Sigma lenses outperformed what he had been using in terms of speed, sharpness and in some cases colour. Patrick also added that for Sigma’s asking price for professional level of performance, deciding on which brand of lenses to invest becomes a “no brainer”.
“When shooting underwater, when the underwater current is in your favour, the pose is right, light is right, you need to have the right equipment to be able to capture that moment in the water as the very same moment will not happen again. Not in water. So speed is my main concern here, sharpness too is equally important, you cannot sharpen photos shot in the water like we did on land. Sigma’s recent releases (lenses) met my operational needs.” added Patrick.
When asked if he has any equipment on his wish list now, he shared that; “Technology for better pictures is always evolving. What is desired today will be superseded tomorrow.” That is wise and sound advice to many of us here.
And there are more;
“Pictures speaks for itself. Basically it is just using the right equipment for me for the job. If the equipment does the job to my expectations, why not? It is not as if Sigma is a bad brand in itself either! I said Sigma because that is the only other 3rd party lens I have, the other being older mount Rollei and Vivitar which I use for film.”
OK, next my standard interview question, I asked Patrick if he is not a photographer, what would he be doing for a living. Without hesitation, he replied “Videographer”.
And before I round up the interview I got Patrick to share some tips for our readers & people who wish to explore into professional photography?
“Get the basics right first before even attempting to be ‘artistic’. Focus on base skill to form the proper foundation to understanding more advance techniques/terminologies and interpreting styles.”
– Any advice to beginners?
“Shoot and REVIEW more. Write a log or something WHY you like some of your photos and WHY you discard the others. Overtime, you will see your improvement. “
Thank you Patrick for granting me this interview and shareing with our readers your insights and tips.
Hope the readers can be inspired and picked up all your precious tips!
Patrick can be contacted at: