What makes the perfect photo? Is it one that’s taken with an expensive camera? Or perhaps one which has been edited to perfection? For Raymond Phang, an acclaimed photographer with over 10 years of experience in the industry, the answer is simple: a good photo should tell a story. The VolksLife team paid him a visit to find out more.
We have to admit to being a little nervous before meeting Raymond. After all, this talented photographer has won numerous awards, and shot some of the most creative advertising campaigns in Singapore. He even recently shot one for the Singapore Police Force. But upon reaching his home office, our nerves were cast aside when we were warmly welcomed in by the man himself and his cheerful wife Angeline.
We sat down, exchanged formalities and were honestly a little taken aback by the stunning photographs displayed around the office. To our right, there was an interesting shot of a couple and some students in what looked like an empty swimming pool – we made a mental note to ask them about it later.
We asked him how his incredible photo-taking journey started and he explained that it was by chance. “In 2008, I came across a photography competition and decided to submit one of my photos for fun. I ended up winning the Young Photographer of the Year award,” he laughs. “After I was done with National Service, I decided to take photos full-time.”
When asked what he likes most about it, he replies, “I like that it’s not a desk bound job. We get to meet different people, work on different projects and each time I learn something new.” His eyes light up as he continues, “And also the problem-solving.”
Problem solving? “You see, clients come to us with issues or requirements. And we try to ‘solve’ it in photography terms. It’s always fun and interesting thinking about how to achieve what they need technically,” he delves further.
We learn that he’s worked on a various types of photography. They include everything from commercial, weddings, automotive photography, to even casual family photos. We were curious about whether he preferred a particular genre. “I try do a little bit of everything. It flexes my creativity, helps me learn how to shoot the subjects differently and how to play with lighting to get a good shot,” he says.
After more chit-chatting, we couldn’t resist it any longer and decided to ask him about that photo of the couple at the swimming pool. Angeline explains that it’s called ‘conceptualised pre-wedding photography’, where techniques normally found in commercial photography are utilised for a couple’s pre-wedding shots.
Fascinating. But how did the idea come about?
“We do a lot of actual day wedding photography, and a lot of the time we see the couple’s friends just flipping through their pre-wedding photo albums really quickly. That’s when we decided to up the game and try something different. I want people to stop and stare at my work. If they look at my photos for more than 3 seconds, then I feel like I’ve won,” Raymond says.
“The good thing is that they’re also great conversation starters at weddings! But of course, the couples have to be quite bold and willing to do something different from the norm,” Angeline adds. We agree; we don’t know any of these couples but we found ourselves being so curious about their photos. Where do these crazy ideas come from?
“Usually they’re based on the couple’s story. We get to know them first – learn how they met, how they dated, their fantasies, stuff like that. Then we craft our concepts based on their stories,” Raymond explains. “A good photo should be able to tell the entire story at a glance.”
We probed further and asked if he could recall any interesting stories. He smiles cheekily and says, “There was a groom who liked collecting tissue paper packets whenever he went overseas. So we came up with an image where the bride’s dress is made out of toilet paper.”
“And of course, there’s this one we shot at an abandoned swimming pool nearby,” he says, bringing the picture closer to us. “The groom is a canoe polo coach and he wanted his students to be featured too. It took us quite a while to find this location.” Angeline laughs and explains, “This was the last shot of the day – the couple had to get changed after because they were all wet.”
“Actually, people are sometimes skeptical of the photos – they think they’re photoshopped. So we got a friend to help us film the entire process and the amount of effort that goes into every shot,” Angeline adds.
Sensing our confusion, Raymond and his wife screen one of these videos for us. There seems to be a huge amount of equipment and props used on every set. Before we can ask how they manage to shuttle all these things around, Raymond says, “It’s a good thing we have the Touran. We load it up with everything we need, and there’s still room for our team. It’s really spacious.”
Angeline agrees. “We used to own a Passat Variant which we liked because it was really sporty. But then we had our daughter, and we needed something that was more of a family car so we could put in child seats.”
“And recently, we’ve been considering the Sharan as our next car,” Raymond says. “It has sliding doors! You have no idea how convenient sliding doors are until you have a child,” Angeline joins in excitedly.
But working with bold couples and professional talents aside, how does one get people who aren’t used to the camera to warm up to the lens? Raymond nods, “It’s all about getting to know them – talking to them, asking them how their day was, what they had for lunch. It’s simple things like that allow us to capture genuine expressions.”
We can’t help but agree. In the brief time that we sat down to speak to Raymond and his wife, we’ve found ourselves completely at ease with them. It’s obvious they’ve got a special way with people – something that has definitely helped Raymond garner so many clients over the years. It’s then we realise that perhaps a good photo is not just the result of high-end equipment, fancy editing or numerous props.
Good photos happen when they’re taken by a great photographer.
Check out all the effort that goes into Raymond’s stunning images here: