10 Glamorous Photos from a Malaysian Photographer

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The power to truly observe is central to the abilities a good photographer must possess. Vatsala Devi meets a talented Malaysian photographer whose own journey is a lesson in observation, both through life and through the lens.

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About the Photographer

Sometimes, photographers are the envy of many individuals, simply because from the outside, the life of a professional photographer looks glamorous, jet setting from one exotic locale to another, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and making a living simply by taking pictures. How difficult can it be, one may wonder, as it doesn’t sound like a terribly hard day’s work. But ask any photographers out there and the rose-tinted glasses will quickly come off to reveal a job that requires not only the necessary creative skills, but also patience and a strong determination.

“It was only when I started off as an assistant in the business,” Penang-born photographer Michael Yeoh began, “that my illusions about photography came to an end. When you start off as an assistant, every day is a hard day’s work because you are assisting the senior photographer with everything from prepping to liaising with the client on the shoot. A real learning process also took place for me during this time because I could watch and learn from the seniors. There is no better way to learn than to observe and practise every day.

A man of a few words, it became clear as the interview progressed that the two topics that elicited the most enthusiastic responses from Michael were photography and sports. “My interest in sports peaked during my schooling years, and I didn’t limit myself to just one sport. I was involved in basketball, badminton, running, and other games that allowed me to be outdoors and to sweat it out,” the 32-year-old reminisced. “Among all these activities, I enjoyed running the most because of the challenge it presented. From 100-metre sprints to marathons and everything in between, it presented a different set of challenges that required the mind and body to adapt, and that was what I loved.” He paused, then added, “Having an inclination for the outdoors definitely fuelled my passion for photography as I’ve always wanted to capture its beauty.”

The youngest of three children, Michael’s interest in photography developed into a serious interest when he was in the Territorial Army. “After completing my secondary education, I joined the Territorial Army on a part-time basis for three years,” he explained, “and that is when I bought my first camera – a Fuji S-5000, which is a semi-pro camera. The purpose was to capture my moments in the military and also to take lots of pictures during LIMA – the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition – which was taking place that year. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to LIMA. I was on the speedboat from Penang to Langkawi, but we had to turn back due to bad weather.”

Although the camera didn’t help him record his time at the military or the LIMA event, it certainly helped develop his interest in photography. “In the Army, they are quite strict with allowing digital recording devices at our base, so during the weekends and when I wasn’t called for training, I would use my camera to shoot anything and everything that fell within the range of my lens to improve my photo-taking skills. It could be landscape, fashion shows, or even friends’ birthday parties and weddings.”To further immerse himself in photography and learn the traits of the industry, Michael worked at camera shops. This not only allowed him to be closer to the field he was starting to fall in love with, but helped him learn about cameras and the art of taking better photos. Slowly, that hobby grew into a passion and, in later years, became his career.

A self-taught photographer, Michael said that during that time, there weren’t many avenues for him to learn about photography, so he learned the tricks of the trade from reading local and international photography magazines. Once he got seriously involved in photography and realised he had to upgrade his camera, he used part of his study loan, as well as money borrowed from friends, to get a Canon 20D, which cost RM6,000 at that time. “It was then I realised that I wanted to make a career out of photography,” Michael said. “I moved from Penang to Kuala Lumpur in 2006 in hopes of pursuing my hobby and, hopefully, turning it into a career.”

Michael came to Kuala Lumpur at 23 and joined a commercial studio. He has been in that studio ever since, working his way up from being an assistant to a senior photographer. “From a forum, I found out that Studio Rom (which today is known as Image Rom) had a vacancy, so I applied for the position and joined them. I have been there ever since, and it has been a great learning experience for me by simply watching the experts at work,” said Michael who does a lot of photo shoots for well-known magazines. “Actually before I moved to KL, I came across a flyer that was promoting a course in Hong Kong, and I wanted to enrol in it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money then to get there, so I decided to work, save money by joining a photography studio, and then leaving to Hong Kong to join the course, but by the time I had saved enough money, I realised I had really learned everything needed to make a name for myself in this industry,” he said with a laugh.

Michael went on, “Not surprisingly, my parents weren’t entirely supportive of the idea, because to them – and to many parents of that generation – photography wasn’t recognised as a proper career. It was normal for parents to hope their child would have a professional career like an engineer, an accountant, a lawyer, or something along those lines. My dad was a business owner he and my mother both felt that being a photographer wasn’t going to help pay my bills when I got older and saddled with commitments.” Smiling, Michael then added, “Today, things have changed, and although my parents might not fully understand what I do for a living, when I show them the work I have done, such as billboards using pictures I’ve shot, and I point it out to them and tell them this is my work, they are now proud of what I’ve

Michael was promoted to become a photographer four years after joining Studio Rom. “I was ecstatic when I received the letter about my promotion, because my boss-cum-mentor, Steve Koh, is a very exacting and demanding person with high expectations, so to be recognised for my talent and skill and be promoted in four years, that was a big honour for me,” enthused Michael. Michael’s forte is fashion and commercial shoots for editorial purposes, and he feels that there are a lot of challenges that go into planning a photo shoot. “Despite the challenge, I like fashion shoots because of the beautiful pictures that are the end result of a hard day’s work. I also like it for the freedom and creativity it offers.”


Among the many projects that Michael has been involved in, a photography project for Tourism Malaysia remains memorable to him. “This particular project required us to travel around the country and snap pictures that showed Malaysia in a good light and as a mustvisit destination,” he explained. “The project lasted for three months and felt more like a holiday. The entire crew had the most fun in our last location, which was Langkawi – who can resist the sun, sea, and duty-free alcohol that was available once the shoot was over? It was a great way to wrap up a successful project.”

Though Michael has travelled to Paris, the Maldives, India, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia in the name of work, he plans to either publish a photography book or host an exhibition that centres on local content.

Michael feels that photography makes the world a more beautiful place, if only because photographers are in a unique position to capture the appeal in everyday objects and moments and showcase the good and beautiful attributes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. “Capturing beauty is not hard to do,” Michael reflected, “but to freeze a moment at just the right time – that can only be done by individuals who are patient and willing to wait for the moment to happen. The power of observation is very important to a photographer, because at every point in time, something is happening and if we don’t genuinely observe, we might lose the moment.”

That observation, in the hands of a skilled, creative photographer, becomes visual art. The photography industry, like many others within the creative faculty, is one that allows the pictures to do the talking instead of placing emphasis on the person behind the lens. And certainly, the images taken by Michael Yeoh during his 10 years in this profession speak volumes.

Read This: 11 Photos You Should Check Out from a Malaysian Photographer

Source: Senses of Malaysia March-April 2015

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