Here comes a very interesting interview of a great photographer and friend. I met Drew about 2 years ago in Hoi An when he joined one of my morning photography workshops. We then met up a few more times over coffee, and quickly became good friends.
So when I mentioned that I was heading to Myanmar to explore the Chin State in October 2015, we could not miss the opportunity to spend some time shooting together, as Drew was also planning to be in Myanmar with his girlfriend Jess. We spent 6 crazy days, exploring some remote areas of a beautiful country, and discussing photography, and other silly things. So what a great time it was to interview Drew.
We are now sitting outside an eco-lodge up in the mountains of the Chin State in Kanpetlet, freezing our arses off (15 degrees!) and sharing a few beers.
Drew, please introduce yourself, and tell us how you fell into photography
“Well I am a 26 years old Australian from Coffs Harbour on Australia’s east coast in New South Wales. I’m very fortunate to live in such scenic part of the world. This is where my passion for photography was sparked.
My parents bought me my first DSLR for my 18th birthday. I had no intention of becoming a photographer, it was purely for my own enjoyment, but I really enjoyed taking pictures and exploring my natural surrounds. School wasn’t for me, I dropped out after year 10 and decided to learn photography and enrolled in a diploma course in digital photography. At this stage I had no idea you could make a living from shooting, but as a hobbyist I wanted to improve my work and it was a great excuse not to get a boring 9 to 5 job.
The diploma took a year to finish, but I’d honestly say I learnt more from experimenting with my camera and studying my camera manual. The next step was enrolling in another advanced diploma in professional digital photography, that focused on the business side of things.This gave me an insight in how a professional photographer works with approaching and finding potential clients, which was something that I struggled with; even today I find it difficult at times. After the completion of the second diploma I used what I had learnt and started working as a freelancer for a local newspaper and also real estate photography. I enjoyed the money, however it wasn’t fulfilling and lacked creative freedom. The newspaper closed down and I was jobless again and broke, which was when I made the decision to focus on what I enjoyed shooting, that being landscapes and nature.
Around 2010 I launched my website and started selling fine art landscape prints from the Coffs Coast and surrounding areas. I sold quite a few prints, mostly local buyers but also internationally my rainforest images were popular. I continued shooting and updating the site with new content, growing my audience across my social media sites and trying to market myself as a struggling artist. It wasn’t easy that’s for sure. Persistence and patience were the key to my sanity.
I personally know you as a travel and people photographer, so what happened?
2 years ago, my girlfriend Jess and I decided to do a 3 months backpacking trip to South East Asia. My Intention was to shoot landscapes but circumstances changed and conditions (weather, light, locations) weren’t favourable,so my vision took a new direction… After a couple of weeks on the road I found myself intrigued by the people and their cultures, this instantly inspired a new journey to photograph/document daily life in Asia, something I could not have imagined before. It was also here where I met Etienne after the invitation to join him on one of his morning photo workshops in Hoi An, Vietnam. Etienne’s style for people photography really caught my attention, the way he used natural light resonated with me and inspired me to give it a shot. He’s a great photography teacher, very kind and full of wisdom. It wasn’t until meeting him that I started shooting aperture priority. As a landscape shooter I’m always in manual mode, but having Etienne’s help he quickly convinced me to switch to aperture mode for quicker run and gun shooting.
Yeah I know I am probably the reason of your success….
“Haha, you can think that if that makes you happy 🙂
So what happened next?
Well, after coming back to Australia I was bored, uninspired and unmotivated. I missed the lifestyle back in Asia, the smells, sights and everyday life on the streets. I only had the same places to shoot back home, and it is very expensive to travel in Australia, so I felt I could not fulfil my desire of discovery and exploration. This is when I received an email from Australian Geographic, to use one of my landscape images in their desk dairy. I made connection with the production editor, we exchanged many emails and before I knew it I was off on my very first assignment: shooting the camel cup in Alice Springs. It was a bit of a test for me I guess but I was stoked, and I had full creative freedom. This was the start of a new relationship that has now seen me become a regular contributor to Australian Geographic. The next 12 months I spent working on assignments, travelling to some incredible places in Australia.
Currently, I’m sitting here, maybe a little tipsy as you interview me… Right now, Jess and I are 1 month into our 12 month Asia adventure. We are going to spend at least 3 – 4 months in India with the goal to publish a book with an Australian publishing house (really excited about this project). We are having an amazing time, and I know it’s continuously going to get better. We’ve really enjoyed Myanmar, the people, sights and culture. More on that in a future blog post.
Tell me Drew, are you a wide angle or a zoom guy?
I mostly use prime lenses for the better quality of the image and faster apertures. It’s nice learning to shoot with a single focal lengt, this can benefit your style of photography on a number of levels. It also makes me work for my shots and I find myself getting more creative with my compositions rather than finding a subject and zooming in on it with a zoom lens (which I’m also guilty of). My favourite prime is the Sigma 35mm f1.4 art series lens, perfect for street photography, portrait, landscape… A good all rounder.
Could you tell me, what is photography to you?
First, it is a way to express myself. It also brings to me a sense of discovery and allows me to sharesomething I feel passionate about with my friends, family and the world. For me it’s all about sharing, that’s the most exciting part of photography.
How do you try to express your personality in your photographs?
Haha, tough question… I guess it will depend on my mood: when I’m feeling adventurous, I try to put myself in unfamiliar locations; this often pushes me out of my comfort zone and inspires creativity. During my first trip to Asia I found I had a slight personality change. I used to be a mega introvert. I’m still verging on the introverted side, but these days I am less the introvert I used to be. It made me a better people photographer and also made me appreciate the beautiful scenery we have in Australia.
So what is the plan for you now? Which direction are you heading in term of photography style?
After a month in Myanmar I have realised that I am a bit over close up portraits. It gets really old and is too easy. It is more challenging to incorporate the environment and landscape around the subject. So I like my 35mm a lot for that. I also try and force myself to close my aperture down to give a greater sense of place. A nice portrait/headshot doesn’t speak much to me. People do seem to love these photos more,but I guess I am not about popularity and pleasing everyone.
I also find a lot of inspiration from Street Photography, and in Asia there are just way too many great opportunities, many decisive moments waiting to be captured. I think this is the direction I can see my photography going.
Drew, what advise would you give to beginner photographers?
Just get out there and shoot! It is not about becoming famous or having all the gear available on the market. It is about enjoying yourself and finding your own style. Shoot what you like shooting, and avoid copying the work of others with the belief it will make you a better photographer. It’s ok to follow other photographer’s work, that’s how you find inspiration, but look only and never compare.
Most importantly, save your money for a flight somewhere, not a camera gear. Memories are worth more, and great photos wait for no-one.
Thanks a lot Drew, it was great to spend some days shooting with you, and we have a lot of fun, and peanuts. I wish you an amazing trip into Asia and mostly India, where I am sure you will come back to us with the most incredible photos.
You can find Drew’s photos following these links:
Also, Jess and Drew started a great little website which is going to give tips about the locations they are travelling to: check out wander couple.