Eye Candy: We Talk Travel Photography With Joseph Mak, Founder of Unusual Expedition

Imagine going on holiday to a stunning destination. You see some incredible scenery and whip out your camera to take a photo – but somehow it just doesn’t look good enough for your Instagram feed. Well, that is why photo tour companies like Singapore’s Unusual Expedition exists, and who better to tell us more than founder Joseph Mak, an award-winning photo instructor and our Eye Candy of the month? To him, a photo is the best physical souvenir of any travel experience, and we agree with all our hearts.

First things first. How do you feel about being called an Eye Candy?

I’m not so sure about eye candy, but I can share a little more about my hairstyles. I’ve been changing my hair color every month for the past four years, and it’s formed part of my identity in a way. I do recall a funny incident where one of my tour members couldn’t locate me in the airport, because they were looking for a colorful haired person (I happened to be sporting a single tone dark brown at that time). So, a benefit is that I don’t need to carry a tour flag around when leading a group.

Can you share with us more about your background?

I’ve been running an IT company since 2003 and got interested in photography in 2009. I attended basic photography courses, and through the network I got to know more like-minded people. In 2011, I started traveling quite a fair bit for photography as a hobby, before I decided to turn this passion into my business.

What led you to want to start Unusual Expedition?

I’ve participated in quite a number of photo tours before starting Unusual Expedition – both local and overseas. I realised that in Singapore or Asia, compared to the western part of the world, there were not a lot of tour companies that focus on photography. And when there were, most were managed by individuals who did not have any travel agent licenses. So I formed Unusual Expedition to create a platform for both professional and amateur photographers to learn from each other.

Are photography expeditions the in thing now? How’s the market in Singapore?

The photography market in Singapore is relatively small as compared to other Asian cities, but photography expeditions are on an upward trend, mainly due to the development of quality cameras in mobile phones, Facebook, Instagram, and more people sharing their daily lifestyles online. Some people do not just want to travel. They wish to capture sights that they have seen, and we help them by imparting our photography skill and techniques to them.

What’s the weirdest thing that happened during one of your shoots?

When we were driving back to our campsite in Tanzania, we passed by an elephant. We stopped our 4WD jeep at a distance away so we could snap some photos. The elephant was grazing the grass and stopped to stare at us, and even though we were quite far away, I could sense the hostility and asked my driver to reverse back slowly. True enough, the elephant came after us. We hurriedly reversed our Jeep, and managed to hide ourselves among the tall bushes and grass.

This episode made me realise that mankind has done great harm to the elephants. They are constantly being poached by the hunters for their tusks, so it creates hostile memories towards humans.

Techniques aside, what must a memorable photo be able to convey?

A memorable photo must always capture clearly the mood of the moment, the expressions of people in the background, and other subtle things like the movement of the flowers on a windy or rainy day. The angle used, composition of subject, background and layering in the photos are all important factors that helps a photograph tell a story.

What are some things always in your photography kit bag?

Four lenses (16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 35mm), two camera bodies, a filter for landscapes, and a tripod. These items are always with me as I don’t want to regret missing a good shot just because I was lazy to carry them around.

I don’t suppose you bring a camera around every waking moment. What do you do when you’re not shooting or travelling?

When I’m not shooting, I love to eat! Food is an important factor as to whether I like a country or not. I’m blessed to say I have had the opportunity to sample and shoot food from all over the world.

What are some of the big destinations you have your eye on at the moment?

I am going to the North Pole to photograph the polar bears in my own charter yacht this August. I’m also going to Antarctica for my third time this year, and prior to that I will travel to Peru, Bolivia, and Patagonia for 35 days.

Any quick tips for amateur travel photography?

Slowly take your time to immerse yourself in the environment, feel and get a sense of your surroundings, and do not rush into capturing the scene. See what is worth taking, think about how to capture the scene, and most importantly, consider what you want to show the audience. Try to capture the same scene in different angles.

See more of Joseph’s works at Unusual Expedition.

Deputy Editor

Gary is one of those proverbial jack of all trades… you know the rest. When not writing about lifestyle and culture, he dabbles in photography, graphic design, plays four instruments and is a professional wearer of bowties. His greatest weakness: spending more money on clothes than he probably should. Find him across the social world as @grimlay