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Meet James Khoo

I will regularly interview a photographer I know as I am sure it is interesting to hear from many different points of views, about photography, the way people do it, travel, approach people, and some tips for the ones who wish to learn. 


Today I met in Hoi An James Khoo. I have been following James on 500px and his facebook profile for a while, and we had been friends on facebook for some time now. James got in touch with me as he was coming to Hoi An, so I could not miss this opportunity to meet him.

Portrait of James Khoo

I met James and his wife Kim in a cafe in Hoi An, and was amazed about how cool he is. James is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He used to be a finance broker but is now retired, and spends a lot of time traveling. For him, it is a great way to spend his time. Also, and of course, James is doing photography (as a simple hobby he says). He has been doing photography since 1984 (I was 1 year old!) but really seriously since he retired 6 years ago.


James is shooting Travel photography, mostly in Asia. I do love very much his street photography style, playing with the light on the people. I asked him what he is shooting, and that is obviously people. James told me he has no interests in landscape photography, and finds it quite boring. “Once you have one long exposure of a creamy looking seascape, you have them all!”. Well, that does remind me of someone… 🙂

Copyright James Khoo

I asked James to define photography (love asking this question!). His answer was straight forward: “telling a story, capturing a moment.” He wishes that people look at his photos and understand the situation, where he was and what was happening. No need words to explain. Freezing a moment in time. He likes candid photos of people and really can’t stand staged photos. “Things are not natural, not real”.


I asked him about how he approaches people:

” Not everybody is approachable. What I do is that I try to catch the person’s eyes, and this tells me whether they are approachable or not. My own body language shows them that I am interested in them, and once they react to that, they show interest in me. This is when I start approaching them, and make them feel comfortable. Only after that I will take my camera out. And of course, showing our subjects their photos help a lot. My friends actually use me to approach people when we travel together, as I can read people’s body language well. But with time I had all sorts of things thrown at me! In India, a guy even unleashed a big dog at me!

Copyright James Khoo

Wide angle or zoom lens?

“I am definitely a wide angle guy. I am now using a Fuji mirrorless camera, and only use a fish eye, a 12 mm (18 mm equivalent), a 23mm (35mm equivalent) and a 56mm (85mm equivalent). To me, wide angles are not to stay far and shoot landscapes, but to get close right in the action.


I then asked him if he has any recommendation for anyone who wants to learn photography:

“Use your eyes, not your camera. I see so many people trying to compose through their viewfinder, but only your eyes can see. You can’t look at thew whole scenery only through the camera. But that means that the photographer needs to know their equipment, and be good with the lens they have on. Hence the advantage of using fix lenses.”

Copyright James Khoo

Another thing James told me: “the light is the most important. If there is no light there is no photo. But every photographer should seize each opportunities. For example rain is something good, it can lead to different photos.”


Thanks James for sharing this with all of us! And I hope to meet you again around South Eats Asia!

Copyright James Khoo


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Founder of Pics of Asia, Etienne is a teacher with a photography habit.


  1. Amina Naili (Darwiche) on June 1, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you very much for this beautiful portrait of the Photographer James Khoom ! His work and his artistic way are admirable. I would like , if that would be possible to consacre an virtual exhibition in new-artgallery about James Khoom. …(?). I precise that new-artgallery is not a commercial gallery, its vocation is to present and to share the artists and their artistic works.
    new-artgallery.com is also a virtual concept, that is easy to realize an exhibition from everywhere in the world ! …

    Have a very nice day.

    PS: It would be very interesting to present also your great work through or with this exhibition of J.Khoom…

  2. Susan Moss on June 2, 2015 at 12:00 am

    Very interesting article thank you Etienne, I look forward to your series of interviews with photographers.

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