Young, daring, talented and entrepreneurial. That’s just the tip of the iceberg to describe this photo-wiz who has achieved so much in a short space of time.And that makes him our Digital Hero for this month. Read on...
At an age when most of us would have knuckled down into our first years on the corporate ladder, Alex Ow took the brave plunge as an entrepreneur and, after a shaky start, succeeded to become a fixture in the world of commercial photography. You may have seen his work in numerous magazines, adverts and on the tele. We pulled him out of his busy schedule to give some insight into the life of a photo star.
Alex ow, top shooting photographer, who are you and how did you begin?
Alex Ow: I started photography like, coming to 12 odd years already. I’m 33 years old so I’m very old already.
I was a graphics student from Temasek Polytechnic back in 1992. From there I went to the army. Finished the army in 1994. During school I did my internship at the Shooting Gallery. My mentor was Sebastian Tan. After school I went to work for him for a while. Then the fateful day the letter came and it was time to be called up for National Service. I told him I had to go for NS. He said ‘ok, go ahead and when you finish you can return to us’. After the army I returned to the Shooting Gallery. Around 94/ 95 I was 25 years old, I left the place and started my own company ‘Wizards of Light’. I started with a small little 500ft2 studio in Chinatown.
Starting up at 25 is very brave...
It was crazy. Given the chance to turn back the clock I won’t do that again. After a while I tend to regret the decision to have left The Shooting Gallery because it’s only when you’re your own boss then you’ll realize how tough it really is.
I started with only 1 camera and less than 5 lights. I did reasonable small jobs and from there it just grew. I was going around showing off my school portfolio. People managed to give me the first break. My first year was bad with no income for the first 6 months. I remember starving during that time. I still carried on and held on to it. I remember I owed my landlord 9 months rent and he said ‘young man, just persevere and be hard working. And when you make money, remember to pay me back’. He was a good landlord, still in Chinatown with a couple of properties in hand. As I progressed I rented a bigger unit from him at Pagoda St. I stayed in Chinatown for 6 years! In 2000 it was a critical year for me. I saw this place at Kaki Bukit and just fell in love with the space.
But you’ve made it now and you’re quite successful...
I was just lucky. So many things have gone wrong in the journey to what I am today.
Who are your heroes?
In terms of photographers, there’re many of them. I don’t have specific ones. I sort of group them into specific countries. From Britain, I like Nick Knight; from US, there’s Bruce Webber, Herb Ritts. Mainly they’re the people photographers. I don’t consider myself a fashion photographer, there’re better fashion photographers in Singapore but I do love fashion. When the opportunity comes by I would love to do some fashion stuff but mainly I’m a people photographer whether in terms of my commercial stuff it has an element of people involved.
Your studio is HUGE?
At this location in Kaki Bukit, it’s about 3000ft2. It has a good office area right at the front and inside it has a lot of glass panels on the side like a loft design. There are two good shooting spaces to do anything. We’ve brought in a lot of things like motorbikes, huge furniture; except buses. We joke this place is large enough to turn into a 25 table mah jong den or a casino.
What mags have you shot for?
I’ve pretty done every magazine that’s available in Singapore. Some are still around, some are gone. In terms of corporate clients, I’ve covered a number of government boards from CPF to Parliament House to Singapore Police Force. In terms of Electronics brands, I’ve covered Nokia, Sony, Panasonic, Osim, Philips etc. There’s also a good record of retail Malls like all the ‘Point’ Malls (Northpoint, Centrepoint etc), Paragon, Heeren, Wisma, West Mall.
Photography here is a close knitted community. Either you set out your portfolio to agencies or graphic houses or you just by referral or word of mouth.
When did you go digital?
The industry made all the commercial photographers in 2000 to move to digital. I used a Phaseone digital camera that cost S$35,000 each. It was quite tough because we had an adjustment period to learn computer skills. I didn’t even know what was a megapixel or tiff files etc. Picturewise, there wasn’t much adjustment. We just needed to know colour management is right, our monitors were calibrated, to talk to clients and printers to make sure at the end of the output, when images passes hands, whether the colour is right for different types of paper etc. Everything is so convenient now. Shots just appear on the screen and helps us tackle the demanding clients who can then make faster decisions. It’s good but clients have the mentality that digital is free, even though we’ve sunk a lot of money in equipment and setup.
I’m a strict Elinchrom user and through the years, I’ve collected half the lights from their catalogue.
The arsenal of stuff we have is enough to have at least 2-3 photographers to do jobs at the same time. We have 2 digital backs, digital SLR’s (Nikons).
Who are the Wizards of Light?
I’m the photographer, director, owner. There’s a studio manager who handles admin stuff. There’s other photographers. I have a motion film department. We make TV commercials. We did 7 TV commercials. 6 for SPH for their sin Ming newspaper revamp. 1 for OCBC Titanium card campaign.
The Shooting Gallery’s protégés have been very successful. (The Shooting Galllery is Singapore’s leading studio)
People like John Clang, Chris Ling, me. It proves Sebastian Tan (owner of The Shooting Gallery) is a good teacher, mentor and friend, and a very good businessman.
What’s next for you?
More TV commercials and short films. It’s fun to enter film competitions. We managed to be finalist in last year’s Canon film festival. Not bad for a beginner.
How do guys with rinky dinky compact cameras become better photographers like you?
Practice more, take time to compose a nice picture and don’t be too snappy to take pictures. And after that when you’re comfortable with picture taking, you can upgrade to a digital SLR. They can also contact me if they want to get some experience as a studio assistant and see how lighting is done and what it’s like to do a commercial shoot.
First published in Go Digital Magazine Issue 8 Feb/ Mar 2005