I’m excited to announce March 2019’s Photographer of the Month, Dr. Kah-Wai Lin! I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with him in Northern Norway the past two winters and have witnessed just how hard he works to make a full-time living from photography. I hope you enjoy this interview!
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography?
Thanks for having me as you guest!
I was born in Malaysia, but I lived in other parts of the world for most of my life. I hold a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree from Lviv National Medical University, Ukraine and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in medical science from Karolinska Institute, Sweden – the institute responsible for selecting the Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine. Since 2012, I have made my home in New Jersey, USA. Following a research career at Princeton University, I followed my passion and became a fulltime landscape photographer.
I am an avid amateur astronomer since I was 13. I had my first telescope and I wish to record the beauty of the universe. Then I bought my first camera, it’s a film, a fully manual SLR camera. That’s how I got started with photography, I still remember the old day when I save the pocket money to buy and develop films.
In the beginning, I photographed everything, but I focused on architectural photography when I was in
After 4 years of laboratory life at Princeton University, I decided to quit my job and move on as a full-time landscape photographer.
You’ve had a successful research career prior to pursuing photography fulltime, how has your PhD and previous career helped shaped your photography and business today?
As for photography, I believe I have inherited the “scientific minds and methods” into my creative process. I like to deal with the problem with reason and arguments –
For example, I like to figure out all the possible way to photograph a scene with all the possible scenario and condition and analyze what more can be done next time (perhaps most photographer did that!). I like to
As for business, I am a newbie when I started the photography business, I picked it up by attending the business and marketing classes.
How do you describe your photography style?
I am addicted to color, I am addicted to long exposure as well. When they both met, they work out perfectly!
Many of the images in your portfolio are made using Long Exposure Photography techniques; what is it about this style that attracts you?
Some people said that landscape photography is all about shooting mountain and rock, things that are dead and static. Long exposure adds extra dimensions, i.e. the element of time and motion, to the image. Long exposure captures the scene that is invisible to our human eye, this fulfill the statement “photography is the art of seeing the unseen”!
You’ve teamed up with various photography related brands; how important do you think it is to participate in such ambassador programs and what are how would you describe a healthy relationship between an ambassador and the company?
I am the ambassador for NiSi Filter, Kingjoy Tripod, Skylum Software. I have been an invited speaker for nearly a hundred of events for Fujifilm China and NiSi Filter in USA, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. I am sponsored by Laowa Lens, Iwata Tech, and other companies, and I am managing the photo school for NiSi Filter, Skylum Software and PhotoPills in New Jersey.
As a fulltime photographer, I think it is very important to keep a good and healthy relationship with the company. They not only support us with equipment but also help us to spread out our name to the broader audience group.
There is no strict definition of healthy relationship, perhaps some photographers try to avoid of being tagged as “too commercialize”, as for me, I try to be
Photography tours are a big part of your business and I’ve personally seen how hard you work during one; what do you want a participant to return home with?
That’s a simple question yet a difficult task! First, I want my clients return home in one piece. Safety always comes first, unfortunately, many landscape photographers ignore it and result in tragedy.
Second, I want my clients to return home with great images. Regardless they are a beginner or advanced photographer, their goal to join the tour is to get great images that they are proud of, we must help them to achieve it with full force and enthusiasm! I don’t always have my camera with me during the tours, I am helping them as much as I can.
Finally, I want my clients to return home with sweat memory. Many of my clients see the aurora for the first time, this is an amazing and unforgettable moment for them.
What are some important things that other photographers wanting to run tours should be aware of?
Do it in the right way and don’t take the unnecessary risk! There are so many photographers that want to get into this business because they thought photo tour can generate good income while having a free vacation. This is a wrong concept! It is a tough business and 80% of what you are doing is not about photography but business and service.
I have seen some photo tour leaders put their client’s life in danger, for example, bringing clients to shoot very close to the Black Sand Beach, the most dangerous beach in Iceland, is definitely a very bad idea! I also like the idea of collaboration with other landscape photographers, instead of vicious competition.
Could you tell us some more about your involvement in photographic societies such as the
Photographic Society of New Jersey and what inspired you to found it?
In the past 10 years, I have been actively engaged in the photographic societies. I am the former vice president of the Photographic Society of America (PSA) – one of the biggest and oldest international photographic organization in the world; the founder and former president of PSA Metropolitan Chapter in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; the founder and current president of Photographic Society of New Jersey.
When I am not traveling, I am home. I love to engage with the local enthusiasts. I love to share my knowledge and experience with others. When I invite someone to speak in the club, I always learn something new. Besides, my members come from very diverse background and profession, and that affect their photography style. A scientist (like me) are more rational but a teacher can be more sensational, and I learn from them.
What’s one advice you’d give to someone who wish to pursue photography full-time?
Being a full-time photographer is a daunting (sometimes scary!) yet exciting adventure. Perseverance and persistence are the keys to success. You won’t get famous or rich in one day or even in one year, it takes time to build up your skill, your networking and eventually your business. There are countless of unavoidable challenges ahead and you just have to cope with them. You need to be creative, not just in photography, but in business. You must be different so that you can stand out from the crowd.
What are 3 pieces of equipment you never leave without?
A 10-stop neutral density filter, a tripod