Today’s interview is with Kien Lam, who is a freelance photographer and video artist. His youtube video: Around The World in Under 5 minutes went viral and it has over 2 million views.
Hello Kien Lam and thank you for participating in this interview! Would you like to introduce yourself?
I am an artist based in San Francisco. My work is mostly photography based, but I am expanding into the world of video. I enjoy traveling and find many sources of inspiration from all around the world.
How and why did you become a photographer? Did you go to a college to learn photography?
I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures. In my freshman year of college, I took an introductory photography course against the advice of my college advisor. After that one semester, I joined the university’s newpaper photography department, where I learned a lot just by shooting all sorts of different assignments. After I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, I took a job in San Francisco as a financial strategist. It was a job I really enjoyed, but I continued to take photographs on the side, and especially when I traveled. After I quit my job in 2010 and began my around the world trip, I decided along the way to try pursuing photography as a professional occupation. That is where I am now.
Could you tell us about one of your favourite projects you have worked on? and why you loved it so much?
The obvious answer is my around the world time-lapse video. It was something that just required so much diligence, making sure I had my camera on me as much as possible and capturing at least one scene in every city I travelled to. After I returned, I spent a fair amount of time learning all about video editing to put the video together. The challenge of doing something that was so different to what I was used to make the project worthwhile despite the countless hours I had to spend on it. Aside from that, I really enjoy any project where I’m doing something new and different. I take a lot of pride in the end result, so even if it’s my first time attempting something, I do everything I can so that the results don’t reflect that.
What do you enjoy the most of being a photographer?
I love to capture moments. We’ve all heard that life sometimes moves too quickly. I agree that it does, so it is special to me to be able to capture a split-second moment that freezes the happiness on the face of a mother look at her baby, or the innocent laugh of a child who for just that moment has forgotten that they are posing for a photograph. Being able to capture that and then to be able to share it with my clients, friends and family brings me a lot of satisfaction. I am happy that my job allows me to create something tangible that can trigger different emotions in people.
In your opinion what is the most important skill of a good photographer?
This is similar to my last answer. I think it’s important for a photographer, especially one who does portraits, to be able to look for and capture special moments. In order to do that, you can’t worry about things like shutter speed or aperture; that has to be second nature, and you also can’t just separate yourself completely from your subject. It differs depending on the type of photography you do, but as a photojournalist, you have to somehow blend into a scene despite sometimes having to be right in front of a subject during their most intimate moments. As a portrait photographer, your subject has to be comfortable enough to be natural around you. It varies, but I think it’s important to be able to connect with your subject.
What kind of networks do you use to get clients?
So far, it has been mostly word of mouth. I think that is the best way to get clients when you are starting out. I’ve also reached new clients through some of my other works such as the travel video or all my time-lapse videos. I think people are always going to be drawn to new or creative work. I try to let the quality of my work be my main source of advertisement.
Could you tell us what’s in your personal “toolbox”? for photography ie. Software, hardware, books.
I shoot Nikon professionally as a photographer. A lot of prime lenses. I edit in Adobe Lightroom. I travel with a Panasonic micro 4/3 format camera for its size relative to quality balance. To inspire me from time to time, I shoot with my Hasselblad medium format camera or my Pentacon Six camera and an old Polaroid Land camera.
Is there one Photographer or Individual who inspired you to become a photographer?
I’m inspired by many people and not necessarily just photographers. For example, I’ve read Richard Branson’s autobiography, “Losing My Virginity” at least 3 times already. He is an individual that continues to explore new territories in business and life even after all the success he has enjoyed. I’m inspired by the individuals who can live life completely in the present like solo climber Alex Honnold. He climbs incredibly difficult climb faces thousands of feet up with any rope or safety harness. One slip, one mistake and that’s it. For most people, that’s insanity, but he doesn’t think about how high up he’s going, or how much further he has to go. He only focuses on each hold, one at a time. These people inspire me to do try new things and to enjoy everything along the way.
Where do you go or what do you do if you are in need of inspiration for a new project? Are there any websites or sources you swear by?
The wonderful thing about having a lot of interests is that I find inspiration everywhere. It can be a scene from a movie, it can be a line from a song. It can be a particular photograph or an amazing culinary dish. It’s everywhere if we just allow our imaginations to roam free. Specifically, I think sites like Pinterest.com can be a great source of information since people are constantly posting neat finds as ‘pins’ and if you follow the right people and ‘boards’, you can discover new things all the time.
If someone reading this is interested in getting more involved with photography work, what sort of advice would you offer them?
I’ve learned a lot just by looking at photographs that I like. Maybe it’s the colors that grab my attention. Maybe it’s the composition, or the subject. I look at these photographs and I try to figure out how it was shot. I think about the technicals being it like shutter speed, aperture, the particular lens/camera combination that was used and the type of lighting. I also think about how the photographer decided to frame the shot, or how he got the subject to react a certain way or to look a certain way. If I can’t figure it out right away, I keep trying. I google, I read, I google some more. That drive has helped a lot. Along with a lot of practice, that’s been my main method of learning and improving.
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