Interview with GetCraft

First off, we wish all of you a happy new year! We hope you had a refreshing break and are ready to kick off 2019 with a bang!

Andrew starts his 2019 with an interview with GetCraft. GetCraft is a leading marketplace for content creators in South East Asia, and they asked Andrew for an interview. They wanted to know the story of his photography journey, his recent meet and greet trips with National Geographic, and my tips for photography beginners.

You can read the full interview on their site here (in Indonesian).

If you don't speak Indonesian, we've done the English Translation for you below. We hope you find the interview inspiring and useful!

Andrew Suryono: Award-Winning National Geographic Photographer

You might often wonder, what creative process does a nature photographer goes through when creating his photograph? Curiously, every time we see a good nature photograph, we can feel a strong personal element that can be enjoyed without effort. 

Just imagining the photography process can make us wonder about traveling to many exotic places around the world. Not wanting to get stuck with hard to answer questions, Crafters got a chance to interview Andrew Suryono, a National Geographic photographer since 2016 who has won numerous worldwide awards.

Andrew himself is still learning and developing his own photography techniques. He wrote a book titled "Traffic Light Photography System" for beginning photographers who wanted to know the complete photography system that Andrew uses.

In the interview, we also talked about Andrew's photography journey, achievements, constructive criticism for the photography world in Indonesia, and dreams of photographing the world's majestic landscapes. He also shared tips and suggestions for photographers wanting to get into the photography industry.   

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How Did You Initially Get Interested in Photography?

I actually learned photography by accident. I'll tell you from the beginning.

I majored in Industrial Engineering and graduated from one of the best universities in the USA. After graduation, I got a job in one big corporation in the USA. Life was all set, I thought. I thought I would live like this until I get old. On the contrary, after working for 6 months, I felt that working in the corporate world is not something that I want to pursue in my life. I felt ridiculous having to waste my time working inside an office and staring at the computer screen from 8 AM to 5 PM every day. This routine became like a prison for me, and sooner this life became so boring!

Out of this boredom, I started learning about e-Commerce in my spare time because I wanted to work for myself in the future. In one of the e-Commerce lessons, I found that a photograph is a crucial element that can help you generate sales. I then started to learn about basic photography. I bought a tripod, lightbox and compact camera. I learned about lighting, white balance, exposure, and composition to make my product photographs that I was selling more interesting.

Thanks to my engineering background, It was easy for me to learn about photography's technical stuff. I was very happy during my photography learning process, and I thought I had a strong passion. 

I then started to get interested in applying my photography skills outside product photography. I used my new photography skills to photograph my family, landscape, event, travel vacation, and whatever I can photograph! I was having so much fun here. Learning photography was not a burden for me. It's something that can make me feel relaxed and happy after work. I mostly did an independent study in photography, but I took one formal class in the USA because I wanted to learn about digital editing.

As time goes on and without realizing it, my photography skills grew tremendously because I was constantly happy learning and practicing photography. I tested my photography skills by joining many international photography competitions, and after I won numerous awards, I decided to go full time in photography. Now I am doing many international publications and photography teachings. I have students from many countries, including Indonesia, Holland, Australia, and the USA.

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How Did You Get Started as a Photographer in National Geographic?

In the beginning, I loved to read books and magazines by National Geographic because they're a good source of inspiration. Other than the gorgeous photographs, I really liked their mission statement that says "We believe in the power of science, exploration, and photography to change the world." I kept learning and practicing photography with the dream of having my photographs published by National Geographic alongside other world-class photographers.

This dream became reality in 2016. This year, I received the "Honorable Mention" award in the National Geographic Annual Photo Contest for my "Orangutan in The Rain" photograph. This was a piece of big news in Indonesia. I was interviewed live on TV on Metro TV, a local Indonesian TV station because of this award. 

In 2018, the dream became even better. After getting many positive responses to my "Orangutan in The Rain" photo, National Geographic contacted me again. This time they ask to partner up with me to exhibit and sell my photograph in their fine art galleries across the USA. They own and operate 9 galleries there and every gallery is located in prestigious locations such as New York, Las Vegas, Florida, and Hawaii.

At the end of November 2018, National Geographic invited me to do meet and greet events in their 3 galleries: Las Vegas, Laguna Beach, and La Jolla. In the events, I was asked to tell stories about my photograph and my photography journey informally. I was also asked to give autographs and write dedications for customers who purchased my photograph. I felt like a celebrity there.

I was even more proud after knowing these 3 things:

1. I was the first Indonesian whose photograph was accepted in the National Geographic Gallery

2. My "Orangutan in The Rain" photograph was the one and only photograph taken from Indonesia in the gallery. It sets a record of being the fastest-selling photograph in the gallery.

3. I was the first Indonesian to be invited to do meet and greet events by National Geographic

You can click the following links to see more photos and stories from the Las Vegas, Laguna Beach, and La Jolla events. In addition, here's a link for my video interview.

It seems that after the event, National Geographic had made me more famous in the USA than in Indonesia. In the near future, I will keep cooperating with them as well as develop a photography education training platform and explore more destinations in Indonesia.

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How is The Creative Process as a Photographer in National Geographic?

I often get this kind of question. Probably because people think there is a special way to get in National Geographic. Unfortunately, there is none.

National Geographic has a unique way to scout and find photographers. They will contact if they think the photographer's work is good enough for publication and the photographer himself has a solid background. If a photographer wants to share their photograph, they can upload their photographs to the Your Shot section at National Geographic's website.

However, National Geographic is not only looking at your work there. They will also look at your portfolio website (real website, not social media), the photographer's ability to present his work, and the photographer's depth of knowledge about his subject. Many National Geographic photographers started their careers in a field that's not connected to photography, and many of them even hold advanced degrees in college. Some of them even have PhDs.

This shows that other skills such as presentation and deep knowledge about the subject matter are crucial things to have if you want to work with National Geographic.

As a senior photographer in Indonesia who has won numerous awards, what do you think are the photography industry's opportunities now?

The way I see it, there will be more niche markets that will definitely need photographers. If you're paying attention, in the digital era, people need photographers from birth to death. You'll see a newborn photographer capturing a baby's first cry, and you'll see an event photographer capturing a person's last, parting moment with his family in a funeral.

Looking at those, I think there are plenty of opportunities in the photography world in this digital age. The most important thing to succeed in the future is to find a niche and dominate it with your style as a photographer.

For instance, there is a smaller market in the wedding photography market like destination wedding photography (it's a photography service for couples who want to do weddings abroad). This destination wedding photography is a niche market.

After finding the niche market that we liked to dominate, we need to create our unique style for that market. Don't jump from one market to the next one. Find one niche market and be number one there.

Do you have any criticism for the photography industry in Indonesia? Especially landscape photography?

The first one is the best photographs here are not backed by strong stories. Find the story behind the picture. Most people take pictures of things that they think are unique or pretty. But if you ask them the story behind the photograph, they are often lost for words. The story behind the photograph is often more important than the photograph itself. A photograph is a good attention grabber. It will make people interested to hear our story. But it would help if you had the story. Otherwise, people will lose interest.

The second one is most people are so fixated on one particular camera brand and treat it like their religion. Even worse, they loved showing off their recently purchased equipment. Don't get too fixated on a particular camera brand and buy photography equipment to show off. Many people buy expensive photography equipment to show off. It is ridiculous and useless because, in the end, what people care about is the results, not the tools.

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What is some must-have photography equipment for professional landscape photography?

For me, the most crucial piece of equipment is my vision. If I don't have a vision, having the most expensive photography equipment in the market won't enable me to create good photographs. I use several camera brands. Currently, I am using Sony, Olympus, and Leica. When I use those cameras will depend significantly on the shooting condition and requirements.

If you want to choose a camera brand, select one that supports your vision. There is no perfect camera or brand. One camera might be suitable for street or journalistic photography, but it might not be ideal for landscape photography. Spend some time researching the camera brand and technology. This will help you greatly in the long run. We can always see your passion, the beauty of the landscape, and the fleeting moment in your photographs.

Do you have a personal process that you always follow when you're photographing?

Yes, I have. I have written about this process in my book, "Traffic Light Photography System," in great detail. I'll give you a summary here.

The first is to develop your vision. We need to have a vision before pressing the shutter button in the camera. We need to know what we are trying to say with our photographs. After that, we use visual elements like composition and lighting to deliver our message in a photograph.

Next is to transfer that vision in your photography tools. After we know our vision, we need to transfer it to the tools that we have. To do that, we need to master the basics of photography and learn how to operate our camera. We need to set variables such as aperture, shutter speed, metering, and ISO when taking a photograph.

Last but not least is to share and present our photograph with the world. After we create our photograph, we need to be able to tell the stories behind the photograph. What makes this photo worth looking at? What is the story behind the photograph? Most people photograph things that they think are interesting or unique. But when you ask them the story behind the photograph, they are often lost for words. The story behind a photograph is usually more important than the photograph itself. A photograph is a good attention grabber, but it needs to tell a story to engage the viewers at a deeper level.

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As a photographer that has inspired many people, do you have tips for new photographers who are just starting?

The first one is to find your unique vision. This will not come overnight. To find your vision, you need to learn from many photographers and do your analysis. Other than that, it would help if you practiced a lot. These two things will help you develop and find your vision.

The second one is to master the basics of photography correctly. Make sure you know in detail how to set your camera to take a particular photo and when to use the settings.

The third one is to find the story behind the photograph. This is what will make your photos valuable.

Do you have a place either in Indonesia or somewhere in the world that you'd love to photograph?

There are so many beautiful places in Indonesia and the world. In Indonesia, I'd love to visit Tana Toraja, Tanjung Puting and Wae Rebo. It's already on my list, and it's just a matter of time before I visit them.

Outside Indonesia, I'd love to visit Antarctica and South Africa. I'll need to accumulate the funds to go to Antarctica because it's quite expensive. I'll need to wait until I don't have to travel anywhere for 6 months before visiting South Africa. This is because it will be difficult to travel to most countries in the next 6 months if you visit South Africa.

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