Interview with GetCraft

First off, I wish all of you a very happy new year! Hope you had a refreshing break and are ready to kick off 2019 with a bang!

I start my 2019 with an interview with GetCraft. GetCraft is a leading marketplace for content creator in South East Asia and they asked me for an interview. They wanted to know the story of my photography journey, my 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. I've made the English Translation for you below. 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 good nature photograph, we can feel strong personal element that can be enjoyed without much effort. 

Just imagining the photography process can make us wonder to travel 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 to photograph 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 university in the USA. After graduation, I got a job in one big corporation in 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 and office and staring on the computer screen from 8AM to 5PM everyday. 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 the technical stuff in photography. During my photography learning process, I was very happy and I thought I had strong passion here. 

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 independent study in photography but there was one formal class that I took in the USA because I wanted to learn about digital editing.

As time goes on and without me 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 competition 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 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. In 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 big news in Indonesia. I was interviewed live on TV by Metro TV, a local Indonesian TV station because of this award. 

In 2018, the dream became even better. After getting many positive responses on 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 galleries are located in prestigious location 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 destination 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 in to get in National Geographic. Unfortunately, there is none.

National Geographic has a very unique way to scout and find photographers. They will make contact if they think the photographer's work is good enough for publication and the photographer himself has a solid background. If a photographer want 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 from 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. A lot of National Geographic photographers started their career in a field that's not connected to photography and many of them even hold advanced degree 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 opportunities in the photography industry 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 newborn photographer capturing a baby's first cry and you'll see 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 find a niche and dominate it with your style as a photographer.

For instance, in the wedding photography market, there is a smaller 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 we find 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 the number one there.

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

The first one is most good 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 what's 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 you need to have the story otherwise people will lose interest.

The second one is most people are so fixated in one particular camera brand and treat it like their religion. Even worse, they loved showing off their recently purchased equipments. Don't get too fixated on a particular camera brand and buy photography equipments to show off. Many people buy expensive photography equipments just for 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 are some must have photography equipments for professional landscape photography?

For me, the most important equipment is my vision. If I don't have a vision, having the most expensive photography equipments 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 greatly 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 suitable for landscape photography. Spend some time researching about the camera brand and the 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. In fact, I have written about this process in my book, "Traffic Light Photography System" in great details. I'll give you the short summary here.

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 are we trying to say with our photographs. After that, we use the elements of vision 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 be able to transfer it to the tools that we have. In order to do that, we need to master the basic of photography and know how to operate our camera. We need to be able to set variables such as aperture, shutter speed, metering and ISO when taking the 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 make 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 what is 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 out?

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, you need to practice 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 details on 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 in 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 Antartica and South Africa. I'll need to accumulate the funds to go to Antartica because it's quite expensive. I'll need to wait until I don't have to travel anywhere for 6 months before I visit 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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