Artist Behind The Art: Live Vicariously Through His Picture-Perfect Shots

·7-min read
Photos: Wayne Ho

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet,” said the 18th century Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Many a serious photographer knows that adage all too well, and it’s a virtue that photography has inculcated in Wayne Ho.

“Often as a photographer, I find myself shooting a single scene for hours, finding the best angles and waiting for the best light. Not really a hobby for those with short attention spans!” says Wayne, who reveals that when he’s on vacation with his wife, some of her most used phrases include “Eh, can we go yet?” and “Hurry up lah, why are you taking so long?”

“I hope she isn’t reading this article!” says the easy-going public servant with a penchant for landscape photography, and whose weapon of choice is a Sony A7 RIII.

We speak to the 33-year-old, who tells us more about his jaw-dropping portfolio of work, and getting the opportunity to snap stunning landscapes that take us from the pastoral splendour of Europe to the volcanic grandeur and celestial magnificence of Indonesia.

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Photo: Wayne Ho

Can you remember the first time you picked up a camera?

My dad was the one who first got me into photography. He let me fiddle around with his film camera when we were on a trip to the US National Parks, back when I was 16 years old. Back then, not knowing much about photography, I eagerly went to a small Kodak shop to develop the few rolls of film that I had shot on.

No surprises here – a few days later, when I collected them, the shots were either out of focus, poorly exposed, or just plain unusable. The best photo I got from those rolls of film was one of my cat when we were trying to finish off the last few shots…

Photo: Wayne Ho
Photo: Wayne Ho

What made you get into photography and why?

My dad also gave me my first digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix, when I went overseas to study. That’s when I really started getting into it. Studying overseas opened up a whole new world to me. With cheap Ryanair flights from London, Europe became my backyard. (Venice and back for S$10 – unbelievable!)

I wanted to document my time overseas as a memento of my student days. The digital camera really helped too, and the ability to snap and review my shots instantly really helped me grow quickly as a photographer.

"A meteor streaks across the star-filled sky over Mt Bromo," Wayne describes. "This was a carefully planned shot, made all the better by a sheer stroke of luck. Make a wish, anybody?" Java, Indonesia, 2019. | Photo: Wayne Ho

A picture tells a thousand words - which of your works has the most interesting or memorable story behind it?

This one is easy! It was on my third trip to Bromo in May 2019. My dad and I went during the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. Earlier that day, I had scouted out a location on the caldera rim at Bromo, with the intent to have the Milky Way slice across the sky towards Mt Bromo itself.

We woke in the middle of the night at 4am to go shoot at the location, and the conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. We had clear skies dotted with a million stars, a bright Milky Way, and a light covering of mist over the “sand sea” around Bromo.

I composed and shot for about half an hour in a single spot, and we had several small meteors passing overhead, but none of which turned up very well in the photo. The sun was soon rising and the Milky Way was fading, so I was just about to call it quits when, in my last few shots, a bright fireball just streaked across the top left of my frame.

My jaw dropped as soon as I reviewed the photo – I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have caught the meteor in probably the best spot in the photo. Compositionally, it balanced the photo perfectly, adding just the right interest in the otherwise empty top left corner.

It is, until this day, one of the best works I’ve produced.

Photo: Wayne Ho
"The low sun in the sky cast long shadows over this scene in the Spanish farmlands," Wayne recalls. "Without the light, I wouldn’t even have considered shooting this scene, but the patterns really stood out to me." Andalucia, Spain, Dec 2018. | Photo: Wayne Ho

What's your creative process like?

It’s a little counterintuitive, but the first thing I do on arrival to a location is to not take out my camera. Instead I walk around to take everything in.

What feelings does the scene evoke? What is the light offering me now? What compositional elements can I incorporate in my shot – frames, lead-in lines, foreground elements, reflections? Should I focus on the entire scene in wide-angle, or should I go close up for details? These are all important to decide how I would shoot a certain location.

Sometimes, going there once isn’t enough either. I’ve revisited locations on occasion and shot a scene in different light – I’ve actually been to Mt Bromo three times, and each time I come back with different perspectives and shots.

"Close-up of a tree in late autumn, with the yellow leaves adding a dab of colour and contrast against the dark woods behind it," describes Wayne. Hokkaido, Japan, Oct 2018. | Photo: Wayne Ho

Your work is stunning! What are some of the ways you are looking to hone or develop your craft?

Thanks! I’ve been sticking to landscape and a little urban photography for the past 14 years or so, but in that time, I’ve been experimenting with different approaches to these genres. I began with very wide angle photography, but I find myself starting to prefer more intimate telephoto shots that help to better communicate the essence of each location.

Editing is also another area of development for me. Most photographers have a certain colour palette or editing style, but if you look at my Instagram page, it’s kinda like... whatever I am feeling at that point in time comes through in my editing too. I’m still exploring, and my style continues to evolve over time, but I do hope to one day settle on a certain style that I can call my own.

"A different perspective of the highly Instagram-ed location of Diamond Beach in Nusa Penida," says Wayne. "I spotted this little 'window' through a copse of shrubs, and knew that this was the perspective I wanted." Nusa Penida, Indonesia, May 2022. | Photo: Wayne Ho

Who and what inspires you?

I don’t have a particular person who inspires me, but I do like Thomas Heaton’s photography and vlogs on his YouTube channel. His compositions often emphasise simplifying a scene and identifying a few key elements to focus on, a philosophy that resonates strongly with me.

What really gets me going though, is the opportunity to find a new composition, a new perspective on a classic location.  I guess it’s always exciting to go somewhere no one has been before, and take a shot no one has taken before. It’s a very human thing to want to explore, and it’s what gets me up early in the morning to get that jackpot sunrise shot.

Photo: Unsplash/@jordanfmcqueen

Any tips or tricks for regular folks like us who only have mobile phones to take great landscape shots?

It’s not the camera that matters, it’s the photographer that’s behind it. Phone cameras have come such a long way nowadays that I almost feel like throwing my mirrorless camera away. Why am I even lugging 10+kg of gear around in my backpack, when my 200g phone can almost do the same thing?

But seriously, my tip would be if you see a crowd standing at a single spot taking a photo, that’s probably the spot you don’t want to snap your shot. Look around, explore different perspectives. Go low down to the floor, incorporate some foreground elements, use framing… the possibilities are endless.

Only when you try, will you know if the shot works or not. That’s probably the fastest way to grow your skills as a photographer. All the best!

Photo: Wayne Ho

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