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YT, you’re still only 27 years old and started in photography just 4 years ago. Now you shoot for Getty Images. What's your secret?
I guess I got lucky somehow! I sent in my work to several agencies all around the world, and of course there were rejections and there were ignored mails as well, but I just kept at it, sending in new and better work and eventually I was fortunate to get noticed along the way.
I just jumped at every opportunity I could to photograph sports. It’s like playing sports – the more you practice, the better you get.
What made you want to focus on sports?
I grew up playing basketball competitively, and it’s really tough to make a living through sport in Singapore. Sport is in my blood, and I was pretty good at writing stuff, so I ventured out into sports journalism, and then sports photography.
Today, as a media professional, you can’t make a living just writing or taking photos. The world values multi-tasking!
Are you a rider?
No, unfortunately not! I only experienced riding a horse when I was 15 years old. That was just for a short while, say about 15 minutes or so.
Do you think that your non-equestrian background has an influence on the images you take? They are not traditional poses for horse sports.
Probably! Because I’ve seen so many, I try to stand out from the crowd by avoiding the conventional images.
Due to my love for writing as well, I prefer to look at things from a story-telling perspective and at every assignment I go, I try my best to look for images that can help me achieve that.
What do you look for in a scene to get a great shot?
First and foremost, backgrounds are always vital. In sports, clean backgrounds – rid of clutter – are always desired for.
But sometimes, at certain venues, you can’t control such stuff, so I would opt for backgrounds that can help me complete a particular story or a theme, such as in equestrian, having the stables and riding equipment all over can tell you so much about the sport.
Interactions and peak moments are also vital. A good photographer must always be prepared and be able to capture these. Because moments like that last for only seconds, if you miss them, there is no way to replicate the exact moment.
What advice would you give to aspiring photographers wanting to make a break into professional sports photography?
The most important part about photography is that it's a lifelong learning journey. You always learn something everyday.
Some people start out small, earning tiny sums. Some start out shooting for their families, friends and peers at sporting events. But at the end of the day, when you feel like you’ve done enough and you got something decent going for you, start charging proper rates.
You also need to be able to take criticisms really well. People will tell you things about your images that you do not like and want to hear. You may like a particular image, but when someone else tells you that they do not like it, do not get offended.
After all, your photography is meant for the eyes of the world outside. People try to see things through your images and that’s what our images are meant for.
I’m growing to love photographing horses because there are just so many things happening at once – behind the scenes at the stables, at the field of play and so on.
Horses, just like us human beings, are alive and breathing and I prefer to treat them with the level of respect that we give to one another.
The relationship between horse and human is something that separates equestrian sports from others. This makes it a whole lot more interesting as a photographic subject.
What is it about horses and horse sports that gets people so excited?
I love animals and being around animals. To me, horses are majestic creatures. And they’re gentle. They can cuddle up to you even if they do not know you and most horses allow you to do so.
I’ve personally experienced it and seen them do it to others. It makes me want to own a horse!
To be honest, initially, I didn’t really think there’d be nice pictures to be made from horse sports. Interactions and the bonds between riders and horses were what changed my perspective.
I recall my first assignment for the FEI – I photographed the riders from Thailand and the Philippines. During rest times, instead of taking naps and relaxing, I saw the riders go up to their horses, shower them with hugs and kisses, say sweet nothings to them.
Coming from a non-equestrian background, I did wonder if the horses understood the words and the gestures. The horses actually responded by playing along, giving friendly nudges to their riders. Words cannot describe how beautiful the interactions were. This vivid, warm, fuzzy feeling has left me wanting to photograph more horse sports!
For me, it isn’t so much about the riders, but the horses. It's an honour and a privilege for an animal lover to be around some of the world’s most beautiful animals. Sometimes I’d wish I could just put down my equipment and spend time with the horses.
What albums are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been listening a lot to Rachel Platten’s Fight Song. I love everything about the song and I can relate to it.
Anything with potatoes!
All things sweet. I have a super sweet tooth!
Favourite part of the world?
The USA because it’s a sports photographer’s heaven with all the activities going on all year round. I’ve yet to travel to Europe – I’ve only seen pictures – but I’d love to be there one day!
Best film/movie you’ve seen in the past year?
I’d go with “Spy”. In the film, Melissa McCarthy’s role had her take on several prejudices and her character came out tall. This is what something similar to what I’m trying to do – prove that I have talents as an Asian.
Check out more of his work at www.ytlim.com