The Origin of Yzhensiang.
This could be by far the longest and toughest written blog that I have done up to date. It contains some cold hard truth that most people don't know (not even my family and friends). Might regret the decision of pouring out too much but hopefully I won't as this will be a point of reference for myself in future. If you haven't already know, I am currently a full time architecture and event documentary photographer running my own business. As glory as it might sound, it was a tough and lonely journey being a self taught photographer relying heavily on online resources, years of hardwork to work things out and very own financial resources. Trust me it is only the beginning, as being a full time professional photographer is nothing like owning a camera and shooting good photos.
Alright, long story short, it all started back as early as I could remember holding the first film camera and clicking the shutter for random photos but that is not the origin. The origin? It came from drawings and paintings. I am always into arts even back in kindergarten. I believe it was a traits passed down from my mum. As she was the one that encourage me to join art competitions and will manage to get some award from most contest. It probably didn't matter that much but it certainly does enough to trigger that art genes in me. I continued drawing and painting up to a point where academics (secondary school) takes over all my time and slowly neglecting it.
To speed things up, as vividly that I could remember, it was in year 2007 that my passion for photography came about. It was during a Hong Kong trip with family and my dad had this Olympus 3.2 Megapixels (MP) digital camera with 128mb XD memory card which later on upgraded to 1GB card (just to put things in context, it could store up to a thousand photo back then and it cost about RM200). Alright, so how did all this contribute to part of the story? It did, because I was excited to shoot the photos of my family whenever I could. Seeing those photos printed later on excites me more than seeing a glass or champagne. Holding those solid photographs even though the quality wasn't good, but the value of memory was timeless. It was just a pure joy back then that keeps the passion going.
Fast forward to year 2009, where the digital age caught up really quick. I remember I got myself a Sony Ericsson G502 phone with a 2MP camera. Yes 2MP (pretty dope back considering viewing them with low res screens). Now that I own my very first camera, the passion towards photography continues to develop. The following year, 2010. This was the year where I was first hand introduced to DSLR (specifically Nikon D90 & D7000) by my high school friend. Coming from a very conservative family, getting a camera which cost few thousand bucks is definitely not an option back then. Well, lucky enough my family and I had the chance to do another overseas trip to Shanghai and few other provinces which allow me the opportunity to crazily shoot with my phone. The passion grew even more stronger and this time I was determined. It was still fun but I tell myself I will get a proper camera one day.
Moving on to year 2011, somehow carrying on the passion in my heart and with some help from friends. I pretty much involved myself in my high school photography society and became the vice president for that club. (Basically doing nothing but taking photos for school event while having fun skipping classes). Perks of that, I get to also practice using DSLR to make photos. It was a Nikon D60 camera with basic kit lens. Well, at least I "mastered" shooting using manual mode (because manual is for pros lol) back then after memorising the correlation of exposure triangle. Also upgraded my phone towards the end of the year to a Sony Ericsson Xperia Neo V. Sounds fancy? Well it is a massive upgrade from a 2MP to a 5MP camera and it was a industry leading android smartphone that time.
Leveraging all that I can to develop the basic skills in photography. I graduated high school in year 2012 and with the help of my brother, I manage to join a reputable camera store as a salesman for 3.5 months-ish during the holiday period upon waiting for major exam results. Through that, I manage to again salvage the opportunity to discover the world of expensive photography gears and feeling so small ever again. From Sony compact camera to Panasonic Micro Four Third to Samsung APSC mirrorless to Canon full frame 5D series to Nikon flagship D4 and full range of lenses and accessories. That year, I made a daring decision to go against my dad's will entering college. (He always wanted us to join government universities). With some connections from previous job, I manage to borrow a Canon 60D from my colleague and continue to actively involved in photograph random streets, college events, etc. Also got my very own laptop that year and started learning digital editing from Mr Google and Mr Youtube. As I am not able to shoot that much, it didn't stop me from learning. I would source for free photos and raw files to download and articles to read every single day. At one point where I almost finish all the resources available online. Also I was too poor to afford digital softwares, I was lucky enough that I knew some friends from facebook that was kind enough to share the software with me.
Second year in college, year 2013. While involving myself in organizing the Prom Night event. I was introduced to a college lecturer and I was then officially handling the photography side of things from advertising banners to portraits to documenting and etc. with college's camera Nikon D3100 and D5100 and strobe lights. My involvement got serious and at one point I tried to revive the photography club in 2 months time but obviously failed. Also started shooting some casual portraits with some funky and goofy edits which looks cool back then. If there is one thing that happened that year which is worth highlighting, it would be meeting my secret sensei from Indonesia which happen to be in Penang (Known him through a facebook friend from some photography sharing group which I have not met as well). I would say meeting him was the best thing that happen on earth, he would occasionally drop me wise words on life and photography. (Superbly thankful for that). At this point of time, the cumulative effort from all this while manage to gain me some monthly awards from facebook groups. That year I started to be obsessed with shooting panoramas, performing sky replacement, split toning and HDR editing as my knowledge towards photoshop expanded that year.
The following year, year 2014 is what I would label as a "dream come true" kind of year. It is the year where I daringly spend all my money from diploma education loan to get my first camera (Sony A7 with 28-70mm kit lens). Ps: I do not encourage doing this to anyone, I was only able to do this because I was under 100% scholarship. That very same year I manage to take part in Penang International Photography Awards (PIPA 2014) and surprisingly won the first place (Gold Award). A little throwback story on this, as far as I could remember I was rushing for the early bird submission (cheaper fee) and also did not have have enough quality images to participate. With not much hope, I ended up submitting only 2 images rather than 3 and forget about it after. Months later, I received a call from a guy named "Bryan" saying that I am a finalist (but did not mention which placing). So I flew back Penang from KL and attended the prize giving ceremony with my mum, the super introverted me was nervous and having serious anxiety attack when everyone gave me a weird look when I was registering myself. To make things worse, my name wasn't announced until the very end (the remaining top 3) and the pessimistic in me started to suspect that I was in the wrong venue or the wrong event or the wrong date. But out of sudden they announced my name as the Champion. Literally WTF moment as it was a totally unexpected thing. Through that competition, I manage to win myself the first international award, first large size (36"x24") print, cash RM2k and Fujifilm Xpro-1 with 18-55mm. and yes my face was also up in a few newspapers and online publication. Despite all this, pretty much most of the people I know (including some of my family) still aren't that supportive and skeptical (Some did ask me to quit as it will not do any good to me). Except for my mum who did gave me a low level approval after the awards making it easier to go out for shoots. (yes coming from a typical strict and conservative asian family, we do need approvals).
The kickstart year, year 2015. It was the year that I got my very first paid geek in shooting products for companies and cafes marketing materials. And! I also started venturing into the wedding industry and shot about 6 weddings that year. It was also the year that I got addicted in photographing sceneries from Penang Hill (light rays, crazy sea clouds, thick fogs, refreshing morning breeze and that one and only prime view of Georgetown). Towards the end of the year, I did manage to meet with 2 legendary milkyway shooters in Penang from LBW Photography (currently known as LTZ Photography) whom now became my good friends. They are the one that introduced me to the world of manual film lenses and got hooked since. Those lenses were decently cheap and good enough for me to experiment with different focal lengths and lenses other than kit lens. That very same year, I also shot my first residential interior and fell in love with photographing pretty space. Despite lacking of knowledge, it was pure fun and relying heavily on art sense (at the very least I got the composition right and verticals straight). Another crazy things that I did during this year was to again spending my education loan to get the new Iphone 6plus, which I used mainly in photographing and editing contents from cafes. (The cafe hopping trend was burning hot in instagram back then)
If each year has their own label, then year 2016 would be the year of "bankruptcy". These are the years where I spend a ton of money acquiring camera and lenses. Well, mostly because by this point of time the vision of what I wanted to be are pretty much clear. So I ignore all the other noises around me and went straight on! This lead me to a few awards and recognitions. Those notable ones that worth mentioning will be being a 4 times consecutive winnner of Sony Southeast Asia monthly contest and one of my work selected by the Federation of Asian Photographic Art and The Sprout Art Station to display in the Penangnite Photographic Competition.
Year 2017, the year of adventure! This year is particularly interesting as I decided to stop shooting weddings and focus solely on my own passion and skill development. From there I manage did a few travels around Malaysia while assisting one of my legendary friend which happens to be producing travel promotional campaign video for Go Asean Astro, titled Unseen Malaysia 2.0. I also had a first time experience flying in a helicopter around Penang. (Honestly I never even had a glimpse in my life thought I would be able to do that.) So grateful for how far all this passion chasing dream kind of thing (photography) has brought me. As my career in the corporate is stabilizing I started my saving in plan for upcoming business usage meanwhile developing a plan for the vague business idea into reality. Pro Tip: you should be able to survive 9 months to a year with 0 income taken into account all your loans, parents allowance, your expenses and etc. This will ensure that your change of decision does not impact those who are relying on you. To perfectly document how i ended this year? I broke my bank and upgraded to one of Sony most expensive mirrorless camera back then. Honestly, it was a way too overkill camera even as I was writing this today. Of course it doesn't just end there. I also got crazy with importing large amount of manual lenses and expand my photography equipment collections.
Growth is what I would summarise year 2018 to be. Probably most of you who are reading this now knew me from this year which is the year I started #100scenesinpenang project in Instagram where I aim to shine the unique beauty of Penang with 100 scenes. The initial idea of the project was to share 100 images of landscapes which I have completed in year 2017. However as the project commence, I thought it would be pointless for me to do so. Therefore the idea swayed from the initial starting point and I decided to curate a more confined set of photos for the remaining 2 months and completed the project in November 2018 with a video. I think this is also the year where my instagram "yzhensiang" (pronounce as "y" "zhen siang") started to be known. I also flew on the plane alone for the very first time and travelled to a few different countries. I think the most notable milestone would be the registration of my own business. It just makes the whole dream thing official! Due to my naive-ness, a few huge geeks and overseas client that I shot with didn't end with good note. Well I guess that is how we learn, we learn from mistake while figuring out how all these thing work. I also manage to grab a few awards this year. 2nd place in Sony Alpha Malaysia photo competition and 3rd place in Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building Photo Contest. Ohya, one of my photo was also used by the government for election campaign banner. (without consent of course, but we did settle off at the end thanks to the power of facebook connection). This was also the first time seeing my photo being blown up to such a size and located randomly over Penang. (Feeling a little proud but it would be better if I was made known earlier and not caught by surprise).
Year 2019. The year of change. If you have made it so far, thanks for following along as this is the climax of my journey so far. After working in the corporate for 3 years at this point of time, I decided to drop my full time job as a Treasury Analyst to pursue this crazy uncertain world in photography full time. Started building my brand from the scratch and figuring out the directions of my business. (I do secretly hope that I have done this a year ago but was procrastinating due to being pampered by employment). I would say the most challenging part was to overcome the depression, anxiety and self doubt that attack me every single day. There is never one day that I did not question my own decision on keeping this whole thing sustainable without affecting commitments and chasing dreams like a young naive boy. Eventually I grew to realise the ridiculous and naive goal that I have set is harder to achieve than I thought especially financially. The lesson that I learned? Having a 9-12 months expenses covered is enough to allow you to survive but not running a business. To run a business you will need to factor in additional cash for capital and business expenses. But all and all I kept reminding myself that I have come to a point so far and seem impossible years back that there is no turning back so why not keep striving forward.
It was mid of the year by the time I figured out my business directions which is to focus on my passion in architecture photography (I still do love shooting events but my body/health could not that it that much anymore due to lacking of sleep from working up to 17 hours a day). It might sound like I had it figured out, but again the start was not easy at all. To give you a context of how low it can be to survive. At one point of time I have to thicken my face and went knocking door to door just to get project. I can assure you being an introvert doesn't help at all but it is a matter of survival. Lesson learned? This method is not the most efficient and certainly not the best but it is effective at that point of time.
Well, this year is not all negative, it's just a like a can packed of sardin except that the can is the timeline and sardin is the event that happened. The positive events would be meeting lots of young and passionate people from the instameet that I have organised twice. I also had one of the most crazy traveling experience to Bromo with my buddy and had a family trip to Japan which I had many first time experience there. First time experiencing snow, first time experiencing sakura in full bloom, first time having kobe beef and even stayed up whole night just to capture and watch the milkyway rise and set above Mount Fuji. Also manage to bought my all time dream lens there, the Rollei 135mm F2.8 HFT Sonnar. This very same year, I also manage to achieve a total of 100 trips to Penang Hill since year 2014 and shoot my very first solar eclipse.
Despite all the negativity, I manage to end this year with a few humble achievements which are my #100scenesinpenang Project featured by medias, Penang Foodie and Kodakit. One of my photos was also selected by Fotografi Jalanan Malaysia, FJM for exhibition in Multimedia University, MMU. And not to mention I was also selected as the content creator for Samyang Optics Malaysia Campaign.
Lastly, year 2020 to current. I think anyone would agree with me that this is a year of chaos. There is just way too much to handle eventhough it is just a little over the first quarter of the year. If there is one word to describe this year would be a rollercoaster. Just as things were starting to play out fine as planned. Disaster strikes. Guess we will all have to expect for the worse and be patience for the time to come.
If you guys made it up this far, thank you so much! I appreciate all the time you had spend here reading my story. I am not a great writer but I do hope everyone learned a little thing or two from my story. I would like to emphasize on thing that I believe has brought me up this far. Everyone has their own timeline. There is no need to rush for it or compare to others. To those who wants to chase your dream, go ahead when you are ready to. Always remember to learn along the way after all the journey is the one that matters not the final result.
I do believe that "If you can do it cheap, you can do it expensive". Always remember your own roots, and this will be my root.